Sunday, April 3, 2016


Rajendra Bora

Way back in 1970s we used to passionately talk about Development Journalism. Now it seems it was another world in another era. We also used to assert that Journalism is an attitude, either you have it or you don’t have it. Those who do not have this attitude – a sense of responsibility towards social good-have no business to be in this profession. 

With Mr. Sunny Sabestian, Former VC of HJ University of Journalism and Mr. Mohammad Iqbal of The Hindu

We felt that a journalist doing development journalism was doing his job to help the people by doing more than filling space in the paper.

But the new trends in media in the liberalized economy when market forces have started not only asserting themselves but guiding the democratic process by creating a new culture of “profit” which seems attractive and glamorous to many  are forcing us to think as to what is the media establishments are up to. In this scenario we want to reestablish Development Journalism and practitioners of this kind of journalism true surrogates of the masses being left behind in the development process.

The term "developmental journalism" goes back to the Philippines in the 1960s. The Thomson Foundation sponsored a course called The Economic Writers' Training Course (Aug. 14 to Sept. 5, 1968) when the seminar chairman Alan Chalkley coined the term "development journalist" and passionately asked the journalists to become development journalists.

Later a trend of investigative journalism started and the media world was entering into a new era of sensationalism. But now we realize that Development Journalism is more than investigative journalism. Development Journalism is about real people and real voices. We may also call it Community Journalism to achieve larger objectives of social justice, improving health, education and bringing people together. It is difficult job as it implies extensive research rather than quick-fire reportage. In a way development journalism is more complex and labour intensive than it might appear. 

Jo Ellen Fair, Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication, conceptualizes 'development journalism' as reporting that relates to the primary, secondary and tertiary needs of a country’s population. She describes it as news that satisfies the needs of a country’s population and enhances self-reliance, i.e. news that relates to development or to social, economic or political problems.

Contemporary educators like Johan Galtung and Richard Vincent also provide a refined concept of development journalism. According to them the journalist’s task is to unravel the threads of the development drama that take place both in the centre and on the periphery, pick them out of the intricate web of relationships, hold them up in the sunlight, and demonstrate the connections to readers, listeners and viewers. In essence, therefore, development journalism means giving individuals a voice to articulate alternative visions of society.

Why we want to promote Development Journalism? Because we are dissatisfied with the present media scenario in which the mainstream media is too obsessed with the news that is “fit to sell”. In contrast the development journalism has a mission to fulfill – mission of improving the lives of the people by focusing them. We believe that the market driven media establishments of today are not reaching out to the people with 'relevant' and 'clear' information. It is more comfortable with negative news and spot news bias whereas development journalism aiming at reporting development process. It is no longer enough to get people informed. To get people involved and act on information should be the goal of development journalist. 

Reporting the news is a tool, rather than an end in itself. Thus, journalists become organizers, mobilizers and players rather than merely observers. We find a kind of tiredness among young journalists who can be rejuvenated only by development activism. Development Journalism calls for new ways of practicing journalism and defining new values of news coverage. Rather than highlighting spot news or events, development journalists spend more time and efforts on covering process news.

This is only natural because both national development and community revitalization and reintegration are processes. To cover process news, journalists have to collect information over more extended period of time and do some research. In a way they are engaged in, what is known as, 'enterprise journalism'.

To prepare development journalists we shall have to expand their horizon. They have to understand the development process, provide information or knowledge helpful to the development. We shall have to prepare them to look at the process critically and find out the problems. They have to raise the consciousness of the people about national development and mobilize people to participate in the development process.

Instead of merely focusing on events, development journalists talk with the people in the communities, find out their concerns and report them not in a drab manner but in a forceful manner.

Development Journalism force politicians to address development concerns and itself become promoter of a healthy community life by mobilizing people in a community and make them participate in solving their own problems.

Development Journalism is not an easy task. It is really a challenge because the task places on it very high demands. Those pursuing development journalism have to expand their knowledge base to be competent and well-informed enough to cover the complicated processes of development. They have added task of understanding complex economic, technical, scientific and sociological information and translate and interpret it to their generally lay audiences. Therefore, development journalism can be very valuable as a tool for social justice.

Some may argue that development news may not be as interesting or exciting as breaking news or spot news for the audiences. Here the role of educators and trainers comes to the fore. Extra effort and talent are needed to make development news become relevant to the people and interesting to the readers. Institutions like universities that prepare journalists would have to take up this challenging task of inculcating this extra effort and talent among their students. 

In a way development journalism requires a re-orientation of conventional journalistic principles and courses in journalism schools.   

A fundamental change in the newsrooms is required too for which an effective collaboration between journalism schools and media establishments would have to be evolved. In addition to development reporters we need News Editors too who start promoting the philosophy of development journalism.

By reaching out to the people at the lowest ladder of development speaking for them the development journalist can inform the policy makers and implementing agencies about people’s concerns and aspirations and also the issues confronting them. This way the development journalism can also become a tool for empowerment of the ordinary people to improve their own lives.

Development journalist is also the one who never forgets the dimension of plural democracy, a crucial characteristic that is required as a must in the profession.   

The task of development journalist is to report what the system is doing or not doing. Democracy can only function when there is a free flow of information between people, the system and the media. Development Journalist use media to make people visible, both as objects and as subjects. 

We are aware that communication has lately have been revolutionized and the process still continues. But at the same time the gap between communication media and human aspects of information that relates to common people has also widened in a similar proportion.

Here the need for development journalism comes in. The profession would have to spread its roots in development communication.  And Journalists became a part of the picture simply because of their crucial role in communication.

(The paper was presented at a Round Table, organised by the Centre for Mass Communications of the University of Rajasthan in collaboration with the UNICEF).