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What Makes Hindi Journalism Tick


Mahima Kaul

WRITING SOCIETY THROUGH MEDIA: ETHNOGRAPHY OF A HINDI DAILY
By Per Stahlberg
Rawat Publications, Jaipur, 2013, pp. 248, Rs. 750.00

VOLUME XXXVIII NUMBER 4 April 2014

I picked up Per Stahlberg’s book, or rather, his doctoral thesis, Writing Society through Media: Ethnography of a Hindi Daily with a lot of interest. A keen look into what makes Hindi journalism tick, especially seen through the lens of a journalist working in the Hindi heartland) is a fascinating topic. I used to work in a newspaper myself, have travelled in Uttar Pradesh, and been for a few media conferences with Hindi journalists from the state, and heard from them their opinions on the condition of journalism, the increasing trend of paid news and concerns over caste equations in the offices. From that point of departure, the book didn’t present new material to me personally, though I did enjoy revisiting media theory and some of Stahlberg’s observations about the nature of Indian journalism, and Indians in general.   However, that Stahlberg has chosen to deconstruct Hindi journalism in particular is a welcome choice. Especially given the times we live in, much attention is given to the ways of TV news media and social media. And in the big cities like New Delhi, where I live, not much is known about the vernacular media except that it carries highly local news. Analysing the quick growth of the vernacular media, Stahlberg credits increase in literacy as one factor, the new technology of the offset press, computer typesetting and computer modem as another, allowing vernacular languages to be printed with ease, and finally, a shift in the structure of ownership, with an increasing number of businessmen and politicians looking at the newspaper industry as a commercial venture. Another point that Stahlberg refers to in the book is how Indians, denied any real news during the era of the Indira Gandhi-led emergency, devoured the news once it returned to them. Another reason that led to the rise of vernacular journalism, and in particular Hindi journalism, was the rise of Hindi nationalism and the focus on promoting the Hindi language in Uttar Pradesh by both the BJP and the Samajwadi Party.   Stahlberg spends some time tracing the history of newspapers in India, and in particular their relationship with the freedom movement, which is valuable to those who might not be familiar with the topic. Next, he chooses to focus on Lucknow newspapers and their overall ‘look’, describing the kinds of headlines, articles, photographs and snippets that dot the front page and subsequent ...


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