The power of news: anthropology and the observation of local news-making practices
Ursula Rao (University of Leipzig)
Paper short abstract:
This paper uses the discussion of a case study from India to reflect on the contribution of media anthropology to the study of mass media. A particular focus is the way subalterns in North India use local newspages to promote their own interests, thereby creating a distinct news culture.
Paper long abstract:
This paper uses the discussion of a case study from India as a starting point to raise questions, and make suggestions about what is, could be, or even should be a particular contribution of Media Anthropology towards the study of mass media. The paper offers a characterization of local news-making practices in the urban center of Lucknow, India. The last 15 years have seen an extremely rapid growth of the press in India. One effect of this development has been that today Indians can chose from a wide range of newspapers, which all try to cater to their particular local interests. The desire of journalists and managers to offer the newspaper as a local product has turned them - also - into a political instrument used by resource poor people for the realization of their own interests. People lobby through the newspaper for the improvement of the local infrastructure, they expose the arrogance of leaders, press for political change, not only at the level of 'big politics' but also with reference to caste conflicts, neighborhood fights, etc. Spelling out such examples the author describes local news-making as an interactive process that is shaped through the coordinated action of journalists and citizens. The excessive production of local news, the paper concludes, creates a context for the emerging of a new culture of forging relations of power. Such a conclusion is the result of a long term involvement that enables the researcher to study news-making not only as a professional culture or a relation between privileges elites, but as a process of networking, also at the margins. Here contacts are often mediated through hierarchies of leaders; they are ephemeral and need permanent molding by informants. It is anthropology with its elaborate knowledge about the contextuality of power, together with its instruments for the study of social relations that enables the researcher to unravel news-making as a culturally embedded process and thus generate a deeper understanding of the power of news - and of course news-making.