The Onslaught Of Digital Media

A Tale of One Kalida

Sukanta Sarkar

The plight of Kalida relates to a northern suburb bordering Kolkata on the west bank of the Ganga. The locality is dominated by lower-middle class and middle class people. Now it is a small town with about two million inhabitants. There are shops, markets, branches of several banks, ATMs, post offices, primary, secondary, higher secondary schools. There is also a very old library. Then there is a small newspaper stall in the market of this town. 65 years old Kalipada Ghosh has been running this stall for the past 45 years. Even 10-12 years ago, this small stall used to see quite a large crowd in the morning and evening as well. In addition to daily newspapers, Bengali and English magazines were also available in the stall. Hardworking, honest and decent Kalipada Ghosh is popularly known as Kalida to all the locals. In the morning, he opens his stall after delivering daily morning newspapers from house to house. By doing this business of newspapers hawking, he gradually built a house of his own in this town. Kalida's family is full of wife, two sons, a daughter-in-law, granddaughter and brother. This very Kalida is not feeling well lately. He looks distressed almost all the time. Because, his business is gradually declining. And it reached its peak during the time of Corona in 2020. At that time many permanent customers stopped taking paper at home due to the fear of 'infection'. As a result of the lockdown, the stall of Kalida also had to be closed for several days. Then after the opening of the stall, he noticed that the number of people coming to the stall started decreasing, somewhat abnormally. Even after the official lifting of the Corona warning over a year ago, the picture has not only remained the same, but has become even grimmer. Although, some people come to the stall in the morning, it is not at all comparable to what was the scene before. And very few people come to buy magazines in the evening. The number of magazines in the stalls has also reduced a lot. English magazines are now rare at the stall barring a few related to competitive exams. When asked why they don't keep English magazines, Kalida said with a disappointed tone, "Now nobody even looks for these magazines “. Selling of daily newspapers is also getting worse with every passing day. A few years ago, he used to deliver more than 400 papers at home daily, now it has come down to around 300. “Often, one or the other house says, don't give paper from tomorrow or from next month. No one reads the paper at home." He said, "where there are elderly people, they still read newspaper. Youngsters at home all read paper on mobiles these days. They don't even touch the newspaper.”

Print media is facing the onslaught of digital media through internet every moment. There are 10-12 more people like Kalida in this small town. They sell newspapers and periodicals. Their condition is also very deplorable. Kalida said, ‘some people are thinking of alternative livelihood by leaving this line’. Tired of coping with the decline of the business Kalida is now even telling to his close friends and well-wishers about winding up the business. A sense of hopelessness haunts him all the time.

Before the internet spread its net, print media, mainly newspapers were the only means of getting news and information. But, especially in the last two to three decades, it can be said that there has been a rapid revolution in the field of information technology. And it is going strong. No one knows at this moment where this revolutionary action will lead the world in the future. Digital media or new media, especially social media is the biggest threat to newspaper or print media in today's world. Not only in India but all over the world. Dozens of print journals have stopped publication; both here and abroad. A newspaper or a magazine that readers hold and read upside down is technically called hard copy. And what is read on social media on digital platform mainly through smartphone, laptop or computer is called soft copy. Access to digital media has become almost essential for the new generation and even for a large section of the elderly, especially in cities for work and education. While lying in bed in the morning, on the way to office, on the way to work, whenever one wants to go back and forth, it has become a habit for most of the young and urban middle-aged people to check not only the country's news, but also the news of different countries on their smartphones. A recent survey claims that around 40 million people in India now own smartphones. The number is increasing every day. The number of people reading with paper in hand is decreasing horribly.

Print media is also using this revolutionary change in information technology in various ways. With the help of modern technology, unexpected changes have taken place in the field of printing. Millions of copies are being printed quickly with a few working hands in a very short time. Technology has penetrated the very inner working arrangement of newspapers. In the newsrooms too the old scenario has changed. Today, journalists no longer write news on paper. Copy is written on desktops, laptops and even on smartphones. Besides, editing, page-makeup is also done on computer. Therefore, there is no denying the fact that the revolution in information technology has also revolutionised printing and all aspects relating to printing.

If one talks about digital media, first of all it is said that the latest status and updates are available in moments. If one wants to know that update through the newspaper, he or she will have to wait for a day. Another big thing is that, apart from the papers that are available in the newspaper stalls, the news of the country and abroad can be seen or read at any time on digital media. In digital media, especially in social media, the reader can directly present their own opinion and exchange opinions if needed. It is interactive. Another thing is that news in digital media is very brief. But, the arguments against digital media are not weak at all. First, digital media is not yet accessible to all and most people in a backward country like India are computer illiterate. Hackers can easily distort news or information by attacking digital media and spreading false or fake news very easily which is not easy for the reader to verify. Any news can be easily deleted or erased in digital media. There is another area of great concern; several studies have shown that prolonged exposure to smartphones, laptops or tablets has adverse effects on the eyes.

On the other hand, in print media, be it newspaper or periodical, the text that is printed cannot be altered or distorted in any way. News or matter written by print media remains from century to century. That writing cannot be deleted in any way. Reports in print media which means in newspapers or magazines are very detailed and in-depth. In today's fast-paced and busy era, digital media has become an essential part of people's lives, but print media is still number one in terms of credibility.

However, seeing the growing popularity of digital media, almost all newspapers operating in the country have also started their digital editions since several years ago. There have also been layoffs in almost all departments, throwing many journalists and staff out of employment, arguing that newspaper sales have declined due to the use of information technology and the introduction of digital media. Journalists or non-journalists are undoubtedly in trouble. Retrenched journalists are now working for various news portals or book publishers for very low wages and some have changed their profession altogether. Most of them also have no permanent jobs. Laid-off non-journalists are also forced to work many odd jobs for paltry sum in small private firms or spend their days doing piecemeal business, insurance agencies etc. Apart from journalists, non-journalists, there are hawkers in the world of newspapers. Without them there is no alternative to reach the people for the newspaper. Hawkers are an integral part of newspapers establishments. So, if paper sales decline due to digital media, Kalida's existence is really in jeopardy. The people like Kalida will soon be members of a vanishing tribe.In this situation, hawkers’ organisation leaders suggest changing careers. Hawkers, who have been selling newspapers for twenty, thirty, or even forty years are now in their mid-forties, fifties or mid-sixties like Kalida. How can they take up any new profession at this stage and mobilise some capital to do something else! Leaders of hawker organisations are absolving themselves of responsibility by suggesting a change of profession. Then who will stand next to Kalida? But still, there is only one place of hope in this dire situation--- the reader. Every day some money is wasted by everyone. Dear readers, remember newspapers are still available for at least a rupee less than the cheapest cigarettes available in the market!


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Vol 55, No. 39, Mar 26 - April 1, 2023