World Bank consultant opens up about new trends in communication and journalism

Shajan C Kumar

Sangeetha Rajeesh

Communication and journalism are fraternal twins and both of them are undergoing revolutionary changes in the Covid hit-digital world. Sangeetha Rajeesh, a communication expert and World Bank consultant, opens up her views on the new trends in communication and journalism to Mathrubhumi.

World Bank has undertaken several projects for the common man. Therefore, can you explain what it does in improving global communication?

World Bank works with national and regional governments. Numerous projects are undertaken for both. Depending on the equations that they have with these stakeholders they initiate several studies, the results of which are shared across various segments of society. This, in turn, is further used for policy making. Therefore, communications happen from the research done by various research agencies associated with the world bank. Further decisions are taken based on the success of the pilot project, whether a specific model developed from the studies could be integrated with the policy framework of the state/centre. This is what they do across the world.

You had been in the mainstream media also. How do you differentiate your experience in working with mainstream media and in NGOs and corporate houses?

My career had gone through several transitions. I started with advertising and marketing, later I turned to the sales arena. Journalism happened by accident. I was so hooked on writing that I decided to take up journalism as my full-time career. When I started writing articles and stories on various facets of journalism, I realised that it wasn’t very satisfying, I was more inclined towards human-interest stories. That’s why I turned towards development journalism. It gave me a clear purpose to write. When you write about some good work happening somewhere, its impact on people and the readership associated with it was a fulfilling experience to me. The acknowledgement from such stories was a first-time thing to me.

I specialised further in the field during my stint at the Press Institute of India. I also dived deep into the field of rural reporting. Journalists who work in villages and small towns, often working in vernacular media, do not get their stories published in the English language medium. I was able to help them through a journal called ‘Grass Roots’, published by the Press Institute of India. It gave a platform to young and budding journalists from the regional press to showcase their stories and some of them even got several awards and recognitions.

When you compare your work with a media organisation vis-a-vis an NGO, it’s quite different. Rather than being a vehicle to talk about other people’s work, I wanted to be more embedded in the other side of development. That’s why I changed my career to NGOs. I have worked with Action Aide international and with UNICEF, documenting their work in Tamil Nadu. These experiences gave me exposure to the development world. My stint in these organisations also introduced me to several nuances in this field that a journalist often overlooks. At the same time, such organisations lack journalist perspective and objectivity in their writings, which is difficult to keep, but I had always adhered to it. I adopted a blend of these things and I tried to understand what is happening at the grassroots level and how it impacts the different levels of society.

I realised that it is a niche area and such organisations prefer people who have a journalistic background and objectivity. They don’t need a style of writing from a public relations perspective or strictly from a professional social work background. Having a journalistic bend of thinking and writing style is the USP for communications.

A new stream of journalism is coming up--solutions journalism from the field of development journalism. Do you think that journalists can put forward solutions to resolve problems in society?

Normally, traditional journalism advocates only presenting the facts and leaving the rest to the readers. Even if it is a subjective matter of opinion, then we have editorial and op-ed pages. But in the field of communications, people demand suggestions from you. They need a sense of direction and probable solutions. Communication is targeted towards a particular segment; therefore, you know your audience clearly. Suggestions could trigger a new perspective among them on issues concerning them. My opinion is that providing solutions is not wrong in today’s journalism. Because information is available in one click.

What is your take on fake news, misinformation and application of the latest tech and AI for its creation?

It is unavoidable. Every new technology or platform has its pros and cons. We were not prepared when social media started delivering news, and we also miscalculated its negatives, especially, how far it could be used for misinformation. Tech giants like Google are running several programmes for journalists and communicators to differentiate between fake and genuine news. The line between them is getting blurred. The problem is going to stay here and it is only going to get worse.

Stories published on various platforms are not providing everything that readers want. Do you think the current system of mainstream journalism is providing all the facts under the 5Ws and 1H?

In earlier days, there was a demand for long-format stories which amounted to 500-1000 words. Nowadays, journalists don’t love to write more than 250-300 words. The emphasis is more on ads and revenue. If one wants to read long-form articles, the only solace is niche publications and research platforms. Today, with the advent of the latest technology, people are able to know the what? why? and who? of an issue, what they really need is articles written in an analytical manner on the issue. They are not concerned about the basic information. The new generation of journalists know that and they are able to cater to such needs also but it is true that such writings are incomplete as they lack a proper structure.

What is the future of communications in this digital era?

Looking at it from a development communications perspective, the trend has changed. We are communicating virtually; new strategies are coming up which are more data-driven. People need more data and its quantification whereas the balance between quantity and quality is still under question. Creative content marketing and multimedia communications are further linking together due to the prominence of visual appearance as people’s attention span is shrinking. With the right technology, the same content can be put out with more depth of information, under the constraints of time. This makes communication challenging and only those with multiple skillsets can thrive as it requires juggling and learning new things every day.

The ability to connect national and global events and bringing them to the local level is needed, which is missing today. Unlike its international counterparts, communication in India is not channelled towards policymaking. Young journalists are not inclined towards it. In short, the field of communications is expanding, more niche and more responsible. It’s an important job as communicators are necessary for every field and they are the glue that sticks different sectors together. Content is the king but it should be dressed up properly and it should be targeted towards a specific audience. It’s the age of more channelled and custom made communication with clear, concise messages.

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