Welcome to the World of News as Entertainment


Welcome to the World of News as Entertainment

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

When Cobrapost sting operation revealed that media houses took money to push certain kinds of news stories and agendas, I was both shocked and happy. I was shocked that I found it shocking, as if it was a new discovery that there was paid news. I was happy to learn that the nation’s leading journalists didn’t genuinely believe in the merit of covering Yogi’s hair stylist and Modi’s diet. They were simply paid to do those stories. Today, breaking news not just a TV phrase, it’s more of an accurate description of the wanton demolition of journalistic principles. Knowing all of this, will I stop watching news?  

Hell no.

You see, I no longer watch the news to learn about the latest global happenings. Facebook and Twitter memes cover that. I know I’m not likely to come across a rational, informed debate on a subject that concerns me. If custodians of my tax money are throwing around chairs in Parliament in the guise of debate, I have no expectations from ABP News. However, I do expect their amazing VFX team to recreate Sridevi’s death in a bathtub. I now look at news channels the same way my parents look at my career – with zero expectations.

I’ve decided to watch news for the same reason I watched The Dirty Picture – entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. Following debates on TV is a lot like watching WWE. It feels like it’s real, the talking heads all hate each other, but the entire thing is scripted, and they’re basically just playing characters. Make no mistake, it is not easy to play a character. Ask Shraddha Kapoor.

Even though you know how the whole thing will play out, it’s still fun to watch. It’s like watching a Formula One crash, it’s a terrible event but you can’t look away. I tune in every night and ask myself, “Will Arnab finally break the decibel scale today? Will he pay to have missiles fired at Pakistan? Will Aaj Tak recreate the Royal Wedding using Lego? Will Sudhir Chaudhary do a segment about sexting on Kimbho? Will ABP News interview Arbaaz Khan in relation to the French Open?”  

We consume news all day now, browsing through Facebook feeds or with trending hashtags.

As I started watching news for comedy, I realised I was using comedy to get my news. Kunal Kamra’s interviews seemed to be more fun, informative, and frank than Frankly Speaking, where hard hitting questions like “Was the speech impromptu?” are asked to the Prime Minister. Newslaundry used satire to get me interested about Parliamentary procedures, something I detested during Civics class in school. Many channels on YouTube are now using incredible animations, statistics, and simple analogies to explain complex issues, from Keynesian economics to getting more Tinder matches.

The media landscape has grown tremendously, like the education system in India, and news sources aren’t just restricted to newspaper and television. Social media, digital publications and mobile have changed the game. We now have more news platform options than MDH has masala flavours.

Our engagement with the news is no longer by appointment, like the old days, where you wake up and read the newspaper with a cup of tea and watch headlines on TV at night for 15 minutes on Doordarshan. We consume news all day now, browsing through Facebook feeds or with trending hashtags. We get news in the form of memes, GIFs, videos and text. You’re in train and there’ll be a notification informing you what Taimur Ali Khan is upto that day. “Oh, he called his father abba, how cute”.

The more choices you have, the better position you’re in to make informed and rational choices. If I want football news, I’ll follow the Sky Sports channel on YouTube. If I want to know about international elections, I’ll check what John Oliver is up to. If I want to know a film review with funny doodles, I’ll go to Twitter. And if I want to know when aliens are going to takeover the world, I’ll tune in to India TV. Like restaurants specialize in different types of cuisine, I have figured out where to go when I crave a certain type of news.

Has the media lost credibility? It’s the question being asked everywhere these days, whether it is on debate panels, newspapers, radio, TV and social media.

Maybe, maybe not.

But I think the relevant question that no one’s asking is, “What is the potential of news entertainment?”, a new category that combines elements of news with hardcore entertainment. They’ve already got the prime-time slots, and the actors-sorry-anchors well versed in the art of histrionics. I’d say that kind of potential is unlimited.

Bring it on.