What you see reflected in Indian journalism is its diversity of opinion, culture and approaches: Paula Newton

Seasoned conflict reporter and CNN correspondent, Paula Newton speaks about sensationalism in Indian news and the impact of digitisation on reporting

e4m by Madhuwanti Saha
Updated: Feb 5, 2016 7:54 AM
What you see reflected in Indian journalism is its diversity of opinion, culture and approaches: Paula Newton

Seasoned conflict reporter and CNN correspondent, Paula Newton visited India recently as part of her TV series-- ‘On The Road’. The series explores the culture, heritage and customs of countries across the world; from Ghana, Tanzania to Poland and Japan.  Her career has combined coverage of the wars in the Middle East, Kosovo and the Balkans, with political affairs reporting from the major G8, NATO and Commonwealth Summits. From her experience in India, she gives us an idea of how journalism here is different from other countries and the impact of digitisation on reporting.


How is news anchoring in India different from other countries?

It’s not necessarily different. It’s certainly more complicated, given the depth and breadth of stories that we wanted to cover in India. But the focus was what we did and we‘re pleased to say that we decided to focus on Indian youth. It’s well known that India will have the youngest country on the planet by 2020, and it certainly will have a large cohort of youth, teenagers, children and newborns and certainly the hope for India’s future lives with its young people.

So we were thrilled to be able to examine things like how science is changing the future of Indian children in the classroom. We went to Amritsar and spoke to young Sikh children to see how they could incorporate their religion into their lives as they grow up and mature. With India we definitely wanted it to be a very positive show. India certainly has many well-documented challenges about how to grow the economy over the next generation. We thought of looking at the youthful spirit of the country to get a better insight of where India was going, and we certainly did.

How would you define journalism in India especially in the context of its practice in other countries? Do you think the news content is sensationalized beyond the permissible?

Being the largest democracy carries a lot of responsibilities for India. What you see reflected in Indian journalism is its diversity of opinion, culture and approaches, and I think it’s fantastic. One thing that seems to be missing in a lot of the reporting is context. For an outsider I confess it’s difficult to understand that.

And I won’t comment on whether or not it’s sensationalized. Many people could criticise the European media, North American media for being just as sensational. One thing I did notice, though, at times things seem to be reported without context, and that was difficult for me to get used to. But I am sure in India it’s quite normal. I think it’s fit for India to have so many publications, Radio stations and TV stations, considering it has such a diverse democracy and, moreover, trying to get everyone’s opinions and voices reflected in the media is difficult. But media organisations are doing quite well.

According to your observation, what type of content or genre is the true representation of the Indian story?

It is daunting at times to try and figure out how best to represent India. India has so many things. So, concentrating on youth really saved us. We went from cricket grounds to dance halls, from schools to temples. We really tried to cover a variety, but I hope it’s an accurate reflection of just a snapshot of where India is headed. I don’t think it’s different vis-a-vis other global Asian markets but it’s certainly at times much more consequential. India is such a huge country that you really need to make the reporting consequential and relevant. You need to take it to audiences so they have a better understanding of what’s going on in India and we hope that with our program ‘On The Road’ we did that.

How has digital changed viewership and reporting trends as far as news content is concerned?

If you do any kind of a search on the internet, CNN is normally one of the search results that comes up quite quickly. And that carries a huge responsibility for me and the CNN. If someone is just doing a cursory search of India, they will come up with some of my material which is great, but as I said earlier, it’s a huge responsibility. I think it has changed in that you want to be able to give people some depth of understanding, give them something that they didn’t know before, a place they haven’t been.

There are so many different details about routes to places like Taj Mahal that people can find out very easily. What we want to do is take them to the off-beat track and offer them something about the people, culture, and history, something that they didn’t know. In terms of trends, this is the kind of information people want to know, especially in a digital and television context. It is important that you give them something they haven’t seen before, the depth of knowledge that they are not going to get from other platforms, especially internet.

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