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OP-ED: Between journalism and research

  • Published at 02:23 pm August 23rd, 2020
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Academia can help rejuvenate our dying media sector 

A shortage of meaningful and high-quality academia-industry collaboration is holding the media development back in our country. It must go beyond the existing patterns of cooperation like the placement of interns to the media or journalists working in academia as adjunct faculty, etc. 

On the contrary, a more constructive and professional relationship between the two should be established to revive the media sector. It may include a myriad of activities but collaborative research and development of proper business models for the media sector are the areas I would prefer to emphasize at present. 

The problem is that neither side -- university journalism departments or the media sector -- fully believes it. In the early 90s, when I was a student of the journalism department at Dhaka University -- the sole media department in the country then -- I wrote an article on academia-industry relations for the promotion of our media sector.  

Slightly frightened, I entered the editor’s room of an English newsweekly to ask him to publish the article titled “DU journalism dept can be an effective think-tank for our press.” 

The editor of the weekly was a veteran journalist of the country during that period.  After reading my article, with a wry smile on his face, he said “I don’t believe so.” 

But I think he did not want to discourage the enthusiasm of a young student -- and one fine morning, I saw this article had been published in the weekly. I then took it to one of my DU teachers to show him. He read it and hesitantly expressed the same viewpoint as the editor.

Regrettably, this kind of mutual distrust is still evident between the academia and industry as far as the media sector is concerned.

During this hard time of the pandemic, we have not seen academia-industry collaboration to that extent, especially in terms of research, to help our media sector effectively reach their audience. Media also have not approached academia for any kind of support,

Uncertainty in the media sector is the new digital age reality which is further compounded as coronavirus rattles the industry. Perhaps no one would argue the point that hardly any media is profitable now. 

The media, especially newspapers, are losing readers; they are also losing money from advertisements and other sources of revenue collection. Journalists, with devastating eyes, are watching that even our premier media outlets have joined the job cut spree.  

The academia-industry interface should be the pressing priority to salvage our media sector now. Hundreds of journalism students, studying in different public and private universities, are waiting to see a rejuvenated media sector. So, this demand is mutual and both sides have to come forward. 

Peoples’ aspiration for credible information has not decreased. Panicked, I see that they are becoming more and more dependent on foreign media agencies working in this country like BBC and Deutsche Welle Bangla services, etc. 

Their online services are highly interactive. Almost unnoticed, these news agencies are making inroads in our mainstream journalism, taking advantage of our resource-poor, shrinking media sector.

Sadly, in the age of globalization, we have to go back to the old debates of the Cold War. We have to see and analyze the events of our own country through the prism of Western media. 

As a media observer, I often follow their online Bangla services and, to my utter dismay, I see that many of the news and analysis in these media are not at par with our very own cultural norms and standards. 

More often than not, they initiate debate and discourse in a way that only contributes to the fragmented polity in this part of the world. 

The media departments of different universities of the country can carry out rigorous research on this aspect and make it available to different stakeholders of the media sector. 

They can also sensitize the people and policymakers of the society about the pitfalls of the dominance of Western journalism in the country, and its repercussions on our society and polity. But this is not the only problem with foreign media. 

Our experiences show that foreign-sponsored media training, research, and professional development courses often fail to bring any qualitative change in the media landscape of any third world country setting like that of ours. 

Perhaps no one would argue about it when, despite many such initiatives as well as pumping of huge funds on their part, our media is still refusing to come to life. 

These are the areas where our academia can intervene. Our media can also ask for sponsored-research and training on changing audience outlook, effective storytelling, newer business models, and the like. 

Instead of large-scale research, I would rather suggest small-scale action research type studies, which may have immediate policy implications and with limited funding requirements. 

This is how we can create a win-win situation for both the academia and the media industry.

Md Shamsul Islam is a media consultant and a newspaper columnist. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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