Journalism and sensationalism

Journalists may be doing their jobs just fine, but readers are simply not interested in real news.

Kazim Alam December 23, 2011
The Express Tribune poll result published on this page on December 18 said that 91% of the respondents believed journalism in Pakistan was more about sensationalism than reporting facts. I partly agree.

But this should lead to the question as to why journalism in Pakistan is sensationalist. I believe that’s because people are more receptive to sensational news than facts-based reporting. Just go to the website of this newspaper and look closely at the sidebar that shows the most viewed, most commented and most emailed news stories.

These days, such stories will most likely be about Memogate, Imran Khan, Zardari, judiciary, ISI and Veena Malik. Ever wondered why business stories are conspicuously missing from the three most popular lists? That’s because it takes extra effort on the readers’ part to understand hardcore business, economic and financial journalism.

Op-ed pieces on the politics of Imran Khan – awash with meaningless words like ‘undercurrent’ and ‘middle-class narrative’ – are a dime a dozen in our newspapers. That’s because one, the writer doesn’t have to research the topic; and two, readers love to consume frivolous commentary on politics.

So why blame journalism when a report on this newspaper’s website about the new gas load management plan goes completely uncommented while the story about Imran Khan defending his politics receives over 60 comments?

While most ‘news junkies’ – a fashionable way of describing oneself in Twitter bios – know the flip-flops of Mansoor Ijaz, I wonder how many of them have read about the government’s plan to import 1.2 million tons of urea.

The news that the state was going to import 1.2 million tons of urea because it couldn’t supply the promised amount of gas to Engro’s newly built plant would’ve caused public outrage in any other country. Not so in our case.

Take another example. It’s widely believed that Pakistan has the second largest coal reserves in the world. If that’s true, then what about the five million tons of coal that Pakistan imports every year mainly for cement manufacturing? And although the installed capacity of cement manufacturing is far higher than our domestic consumption, why haven’t we built so far a dedicated dirty cargo terminal at any port of the country to facilitate its bulk export?

These things are reported in newspapers every day. But perhaps we’re too busy consuming inconsequential and sensational news. Maybe, journalists are doing their jobs just fine, but readers are simply not interested in real news. News consumers, not journalists, are to be blamed for sensationalism that’s creeping into journalism.

Kazim Alam
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.