This is the third research note from Mrinalika Roy, one of the short-term social media research fellows at The Sarai Programme.
This is the third post of my project, where I look at the transformative affect that technology has had on the working of a rural newspaper Khabar Lahariya, thereby on the rural sphere and the lives of its inhabitants. In this post, I recount how Khabar Lahariya reporters are using technology at the ground level.
Sangeeta (23) looks out of place in her surroundings. Sporting short hair, wearing plain salwar kameez, a cheap Timex knock-off on her left wrist and a bag slung on her shoulder – she stands out amid the kachcha houses, narrow lanes of village Rakoura (situated 25 km from Faizabad). But she is not an outsider. “My home is just a couple of kilometers from here. It is a small village called Jarehi,” she informs me as I walk alongside her.
Sangeeta is out on her weekly news gathering/newspaper distribution exercise. She covers around 20 villages in the district of Faizabad. This means she is in-charge of covering all news emanating from the area as well as distributing newspapers to subscribers who live there. Her first stop of the day is Rakoura. She distributes latest edition of Khabar Lahariya to a few subscribers before bumping into the local village association head, Suhas. She learns about a few newsworthy stories. Suhas forwards her the name of few people involved in the incidents on Whatsapp. We move on. Next, she delivers some more papers at a local high-school and dispensary. She stops beside a field and starts clicking pictures with her smartphone. “We keep writing about the deficit rainfall and the condition of crops this season. These pictures will come handy for publishing with the story,” she offers by way of explanation.
I ask if smartphones have been a boon for reporters and she replies in the affirmative. “One of the first things my brother bought for me when I joined Khabar Lahariya was a cellphone. Initially, it was for my safety. A way for me to be in contact in case I got in trouble. Recently, I purchased a smartphone and now it also helps me in reporting,” she said.
Technological tools have made the whole process of news gathering and dissemination more seamless. Digital tools have helped reporters both on and off the field. Gathering news would be a futile exercise if it does not reach people. Technology helps reporters in printing and packaging process. “Till 2010, we had to type out all the news articles and take printouts. We use to copy all written material and visuals in a CD. Then, physically carry these to the printing press and provide an outline of the layout,” recalls Ms Krishna, who has been associated with Khabar Lahariya since inception and works at the Karvi office. It meant, women had to travel hundreds of kilometers from the district centers to Allahbad where the printing press was located. As most reporters had never used computers before, the typing was outsourced. Post 2010 and a couple of ICT workshops, the reporters started typing stories on Microsoft word and faxing the documents to Delhi, where they were proof-read and mailed across to the printers.
By now, reporters had also received some training on how to use internet to send and receive mails. In 2011, some of the centers were also provided broadband connections. However, the reporters were still under-confident regarding technology and how to use it. Many like Ms Krishna admitted that they were fearful of even touching the computers lest they broke it. “We had hired a local boy for all the computer related work. He mailed our stories, cropped and saved photographs that we took or browsed and downloaded pictures from the internet. We had the skills but were afraid to use computers, thinking we might press the wrong button and sabotage it. However, the boy we had hired treated us like fools. He was irritable, didn’t let us try our hands on the computers and we had to work according to his whims,” said Krishna. This was a turning point. Frustrated with having to depend on other s for their work, the women took reins in their hands.
In 2012, a new batch of young journalists was recruited. Four of these were Hina, Lalita, Shradhha and Sangeeta – the four who look after Khabar Lahariya’s Faizabad edition. The young girls proved to be more tech-savvy than their older counterparts and were quick in e-learning. “The young girls we hired in 2012 are much more comfortable with working on computers,” said Poorvi Bhargava.
The Delhi team thought that it was the right time to introduce Indesign – software used to design newspaper – to the rural reporters. The women were given training on how to make pages of the newspaper using the Indesign software. Now, the reporters in Mahoba, Banda, Faizabad, Chitrakoot had complete editorial autonomy. “It was always our aim to give reporters at the various districts editorial prowess and autonomy. It is their newspaper and they should be the ones designing it, deciding the page-wise content,” said Poorvi.
Today, the reporters gather news using their smartphones and point-and-shoot cameras, type out stories, plan the layout and design pages of the weekly newspaper on computers. Next, the pages are mailed to Delhi for proof-reading who send it across to the printers. A process that used to take days is now finished in a matter of hours.
An interesting fallout of ICT workshops and digital training was e-addiction. The Khabar Lahariya team had not anticipated that internet would prove to be such a distraction for younger reporters. “I had never accessed internet before joining Khabar Lahariya. I kept hearing my friends talk about IDs and had no idea what they meant, until I learnt about Gmail and Facebook accounts in one of the workshops,” said Hina. Most of the girls hail from small towns and villages. Cyber cafes are few and far between and still male bastions. Khabar Lahariya office became their sole source of internet. Facebook, Google, Orkut, Gmail, Yahoo – it was an exciting new avenue, now open to them and they made full use of it, some more than others.
“Yes, we did have minor issues regarding internet usage. Girls would come to work and spend most of their time online, often at the expense of work. We had limited computers and they would wait for their turn on the machine, so they could access internet,” explained Shalini, Managing Director of Khabar Lahariya. In the end, the team had to lay down some browsing rules. When I spoke to the girls at Faizabad office, they did seem quite eager to browse the net but it was limited to social media sites. They said that they never use the office internet connection for downloading.
The KL team at Faizabad has all the technology at their disposal – internet-enabled desktop, fax machine, cameras – to ensure that each weekly edition is made faster. However, what they often do not have is electricity. Powercuts, often lasting more than 6 hours in a day, stall the typing, editing and designing process causing delays in production
In the subsequent post, I will chronicle the extent technology has penetrated the rural sphere, in terms of internet usage and access and has it impacted their lifestyle, perception and reading habits. I would also try to answer questions like how or if at all Khabar Lahariya’s foray into e-world has been fruitful and in what sense.