Media houses have traditionally viewed themselves in four key roles:
One, providing information & news to their readership Two, providing entertainment & helping their readers pass their time enjoyably Three, promote (actively or passively) a point of view or a certain set of interpretations that help shape opinions Four, act as a medium where contemporary culture and norms are reflected back to society, thereby strengthening the social validity of norms.
All these are powerful and impactful roles.
Through decades and across countries, successful movements have relied on media houses to promote their worldview & create consciousness around their ideas and opinions.
Can media houses go beyond their traditional roles? And more important, is it necessary for them to go beyond their traditional roles?
To answer this question, we need to challenge the premise of media houses that they are in the communication business alone.
In an increasingly digital society, where the sources of news are many – including websites, digital communication agencies, social media, and several thousand individual publishers of information through Twitter, Facebook, & Instagram, the media house as a unique provider of information, interpretation, entertainment, and cultural influences, will become less & less relevant.
Perhaps it is time for media houses to go beyond communication alone, and start playing a larger, more “actualizing” role.
What do we mean by the concept ‘actualizing role in society’?
We mean three actualizing roles:
- Acting as a catalyst for social transformation
- Acting as a vital link between different sections of society
- Acting as a vehicle for participative engagement with society.
We explore these three actualizing roles in greater detail:
1. Media houses can become catalysts for social transformation when they are able to get multiple stakeholders around a shared purpose. This means that they use their power of communication not to promote ideas alone, but purposes and shared societal outcomes. It means that they are able to get multiple stakeholders to perceive a shared endstate and also appreciate their own respective roles in achieving that endstate.
They can do this through multiple means – conferences, seminars, vision development workshops, etc. But the important point is not the medium, but the purpose that shapes the message which every participant is expected to contribute to, within that medium. There are hundreds of conferences where different people promote their own ideas and lead nowhere. But a single conference where a shared outcome is achieved, can deliver extraordinary value to all participants.
2. Media houses can become a vital link in the sense that they become exchanges wherein different vital participants in a social change project are able to find each other.
- This can take the form of a web-based exchange, where likeminded funders and NGOs can meet.
- This can take the form of a moderated community exchange, where, say, teachers, or any other professionals/ groups can share their concerns which can not only be addressed, but also take the form of “digital service centers” for communities where mentors can help various member community groups with vital assistance to address a crisis (i.e., help the community become an ecosystem or response – for example a digital service center that can help building societies access all kinds of goods & services during a crisis like Corona, or access to legal and other kinds of relevant support during other times).
- This can also take on the form of access to employment guidance/ government services/ right contacts/ potential employers, etc. on a localized regional basis, for say, unemployed youth or women who seek jobs, or retired people who need more income, etc.
Here media is taking on the large profit-seeking websites, and instead creating local/ regionalized, especially at a district and other levels which enables “local solutions to local challenges”.
3. Media houses can also become vehicles for participative engagement in society.
The need for participative engagement is living and urgent. Since the socio-political system has chosen for long to create a top-down participation on its own terms, the large mass of individuals have chosen to participate on their own terms and in their own way. This has led to the ‘echo chamber’ effect where each group – based on its social, religious or other affiliation – listens to itself again & again, by circulating ideas which all members already agree upon – and creates sharper divisions and deeper rifts in society.
Media houses need to create alternative participative engagement models that are built around the challenge of how to help people live better lives, rather than get people to believe in ideas alone.
This means participative engagement platforms around
- how to help a partnership group, say traders or vendors/ shopkeepers, evolve their livelihoods and strategies to deal with the rise of Amazons, Flipkart, and other online models;
- how to help SMEs deal with cheap Chinese imports that work away their livelihood;
- how to help less educated parents find ways to help their children secure their future;
- how to help women deal with several social, personal, and medical challenges that they find difficult to talk about & find answers to.
Some of these challenges are addressed by NGOs or specific bodies meant for that purpose, but what a media house can bring to the table is
- scalability through replication of success stories and models in multiple districts or community groups.
- socio-political impact and the power to influence policy choices and developmental practices at multiple levels of governance.
- assembling multiple sources of support from various enablers, such as corporate support, or creating the conditions for more NGOs or other social groups to participate in bringing change.
Participative engagement can begin with simple but powerful media-moderated WhatsApp communities which focus on helping members of a community bring their concerns to the attention of the authorities, and be developed into several such “voice of the people” groups that can be managed through various digital platforms like Facebook & Instagram which are already being used by people.
In short, don’t focus on the ‘tech-hardware’, don’t focus on ‘content creation’, focus instead on meaningful engagement that helps people lead better lives, solve their problems, create new economic, educational, social, & business possibilities for themselves.
What does this vision of a next generation media house point to?
A shift from a centralized model focused on communication of ideas, into a distributed, community/ district-centered model focused on communication for development.
A shift from the media house as a creator & distributor of content, to the media house as a curator of the community’s voice, and a dialogue platform between the community’s voice and the ear of the government or the state.
A shift from the concept of the media house as a passive observer while digital platforms take over the entire communication environment, to an active player which creates networks of small digital platforms that are individually localized enabler of communities, but collectively are an integrated development platform that enables government and various institutions to serve society people.