Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Taking journalism to the grassroots
Taking journalism to the grassroots

Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi 30/7/2008 7:53:31 PM(IST)

In the globalised era, the mainstream media has become increasingly commercialised and has the tendency to be insensitive to concerns and needs of people beyond the ambit of its immediate consumers. Major Indian dailies today give scant coverage to development related issues earmarking just about 5 to 6 percent of space for the sector. The rationale is that development pages do not generate any revenue. So media has become increasingly urban centric to match target consumers. Critical social problems, especially those that affect 70% of the Indian populace that lives in rural India are either ignored or are only briefly hinted at.

The Executive, Judiciary and the legislature do not come under any pressure to address these issues since the mainstream media, the fourth estate, or watchdog on governance deliverables, does not raise these issues. Even in the cities, urban poor constitute a major percentage of the population, whose travails and problems go unaddressed by media. Amidst such scenario, Tarun Kanti Bose has been awakening the latent talent for expression among the activists, children and women to enable them to become barefoot journalists and raise relevant issues and bring them to the fore through the via media of an alternative media framework to make up for the mainstream media''s deficit on these issues.

48- year old Tarun, a resident of Delhi has been working with this idea for the past 12 years under various dispensations and banners, with various communities (culturally and linguistically diverse), it has been possible to fine tune this idea to a large extent to be confident about the results it can produce. His idea is new and innovative because not many have tried to do it this way before, with any iota of success. His approach has fetched results since he started working on this idea more than a decade ago.

“It all started off, when I was covering displacement of tribals, Jaduguda's uranium mining, Tarapur's nuclear effluent leakage undertaking high degrees of risk. Then I decided to educate the local communities on their issues, which would help in developing their own modes of communication.”

While moving into the deeper of the interiors of the country, he saw those working among the communities had the emotional resonance linking up with the issues at the ground but what they needed was articulation. If their writing and communication skills were harnessed, then they could express themselves through modes of communication. So alternative media became an ideal tool for him to empower the communities, to raise and escalate the debate on urgent social problems of society.

He has focused on creating media assets within communities in the form of independent media vehicles that could be created and sustained by community effort itself. The independent media vehicles have been wall newspapers and community newsletters. These media vehicles are customised low cost medium addressing local needs. He has been creating a cadre of mobile barefoot journalists going to place to place and in turn training more people. His endeavour is to change the paradigm of journalism in the hinterland by integrating them into the mainstream through editorial infrastructure with a powerful focus on the development sector.

Stringers filing news stories from rural contexts have gained importance in the present scenario of an expanding media boom, but ground realities of their tenuous livelihood is at variance with that of the city-slick journalists, newshounds and the ubiquitous freelancer. Tarun has also been equipping stringers with professional tools and enable them to organise themselves effectively, by creating a robust and ethical reporting system that will promote active citizen's journalism.

He is also working on the idea of developing ‘Stringers Collective’ with the appropriate forward and backward linkages, in order to create small networks of such news-sources as these stringers and activists, and later, network them further into a state-wide network working in synergistic cooperation with each other.

Recently, he has developed a guidebook, which can be used by NGO functionaries, grassroots activists, children and women to kindle and bring out the innate talent that exists within the communities they work with on writing mechanics, so that they may harness them for their own use by creating local media vehicles. He provides 5-day rigorous in-house trainings and then participants go for on-the-site coverage on the issues grappling their day-to-day lives. The workshops makes them capable of mastering the skills to identify important issues of the society, compose the ‘intro/lead’ to be able to hook the reader for the entire story, construct the body of the story in a logical sequence followed by a conclusion which is often a hint to the possible solution of the problem. Back home, these trainees- be it children and women- are full-fledged barefoot journalists they output wall newspapers and paste them on the walls of community halls, village schools and other public places.

He has so far managed to put in place a loose network of contributors from several states, and have also managed to place their features, commentaries and reportages on several mainstream newspapers and magazines. But this activity has been going on in fits and starts, and under different banners, primarily due to the difficulties posed by keeping a dedicated team together that can do this work free of the uncertainties rife in pursuing livelihoods that are different from this activity.

In 2003, he founded ‘Chaturdisha’ and desires to create 1000 top-of-the line development journalists, in the next 10 years.

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