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Grassroots Journalism in the Digital Age - by Nalaka Gunawardene


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Talk given by Nalaka Gunawardene to a group of 75 provincial level provincial journalists in Sri Lanka from around the island who have just completed a training course in investigative journalism conducted by Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), with support from InterNews. The certificate award ceremony was held at Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI), Colombo, on 2 October 2015.

In this talk, I look at the larger news media industry in Sri Lanka to which provincial journalists supply ground level news, images and video materials. These are used on a discretionary basis by media companies mostly based in the capital Colombo (and some based in the northern provincial capital of Jaffna). Suppliers have no control over whether or how their material is processed. They work without employment benefits, are poorly paid, and also exposed to various pressures and coercion.

I question why, after 180+ years, the Lankan media industry broadly follows the same production model: material sourced is centrally processed and distributed, without much adaptation to new digital media realities. Who can disrupt these old models and innovate? Can disruptive innovators emerge from among provincial journalists?

Published in: News & Politics
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Grassroots Journalism in the Digital Age - by Nalaka Gunawardene

  1. 1. Grassroots Journalism in Digital Age: Innovate or Perish! By Nalaka Gunawardene @ Sri Lanka Press Institute Award ceremony 4 Provincial Journalists By Transparency International Sri Lanka Colombo: 2 October 2015
  2. 2. Opening with Tribute to: Priyantha Ratnayake Provincial journalist killed by elephant attack while on reporting mission in Minneriya, Sri Lanka: 5 Sep 2015
  3. 3. Provincial Journalists in Sri Lanka…  Ground level ‘eyes and ears’ of media industry, unsung & often unknwon  Primary gatherers of news + images for print & broadcast companies in Colombo/Jaffna  Work without contracts, income security or benefits like insurance  Exposed to harsh ground realities: pressures, threats, violence, coercion
  4. 4. Provincial journalists…
  5. 5. What is the State of Media in Sri Lanka today? Cartoon by Awantha Artigala
  6. 6. Cartoon by Awantha Artigala
  7. 7. Plenty of media products…. But readers confused? Cartoon by Awantha Artigala
  8. 8. State of Lankan media? Common man/woman ignored! Cartoon by Awantha Artigala
  9. 9. State of Lankan media: A blind media trying to lead public astray? Cartoon by Awantha Artigala
  10. 10. Lankan media pack goes news hunting: A recent citizen Meme News media conduct during recent criminal investigation on rape and murder of an abducted girl of 5 yrs
  11. 11. State of media in Sri Lanka today? Change must begin at the bottom! Cartoon By Gihan de Chickera, Daily Mirror, 18 June 2014
  12. 12. So…What is to be done???  Look at our media critically  Identify what is good and bad  Preserve and promote the good  Slowly change the bad  Make media more:  Authentic and credible  Sensitive to society’s issues  Responsive to public interest
  13. 13. Media industry worldwide…  Challenged by rise of digital and web technologies  Newspapers & magazines losing readers, advertisers to web  Broadcasting also under pressure  Younger audiences don’t share parents’ media habits  Industry to INNOVATE or PERISH!  WHERE ARE OUR INNOVATORS?
  14. 14. Ceylon Tea industry: Almost 150 Years  Started in 1867: small scale, then grew and expanded!  Well organised industry & trade  2014 revenue: USD 1.67 billion  Direct employment: 750,000  Total economic support: 2 million+ people  Small-holders: 400,000 approx  Marks 150 years in 2017
  15. 15. Two key pathfinders…  James Taylor (1835- 1892), started first tea plantation in Ceylon 1867  Sir Thomas Lipton (1841-1931) started distributing Ceylon Tea in Europe from 1890
  16. 16. Sri Lanka produces tea, but it’s Lipton that packets, distributes and sells tea worldwide  makes lots more money!
  17. 17. Ceylon Tea industry: Enter the Disruptor!  Dilmah Tea founded in 1974 by former tea-taster called Merril J Fernando  Lots of product innovation and value addition at source!  Marketing value-added tea directly to retail outlets  Dilmah sold at supermarkets in close to 100 countries!
  18. 18. “A Sri Lankan Underdog Battles Global Tea Giants” Dilmah mentioned in the New York Times, Jan 2010
  19. 19. Tea Small Holders: Backbone of this large industry  Growing on 10 acres (4 ha) or less  Mostly low country tea lands  Around 400,000 smallholders  Produce 60% of total tea production  2013 production by: 248m kg (out of total LK tea prod: 340m kg)  Smallholders’ cost of production per kg of green leaf: LKR 49.71 in 2013 (varies)
  20. 20. Sri Lankan media industry: 180+ years but not as evolved?  1802: Government Gazette  1832: Colombo Journal: started during 6th British Governor, Sir Robert Wilmot Horton (in office: 1831-1837)  1841: Udaya Tharakai (First Tamil newspaper, from Jaffna)  1860: Lankaloka (First Sinhala newspaper, from Galle)
  21. 21. Today: Many media outlets 100s of media products
  22. 22. Sri Lanka: Total ad spend of LKR 77b in 2014 (mostly in mainstream media) Source: Neilsen Based on monitored activities & rate card cost
  23. 23. Tale of Two Industries… Different evolutionary paths  Tea: Partly diversified, broader supplier base, changed through disruptive innovation, etc.  Media: Centralised production & distribution: models not changed much in a century (despite modernization)
  24. 24. Provincial Journalists = Smallholders of news industry? TEA INDUSTRY  Small growers  larger tea estates  processed tea  overseas bulk buyers  distributors  retailers (shops)  Small producers don’t have control after selling produce MEDIA INDUSTRY  Provincial journalists  news desks  processed reports  audiences  Originators don’t have ANY control: Fate of their stories decided by News Desks
  25. 25. Processing news from grassroots: This can - and does - happen!
  26. 26. Can prov journalists have own ‘retail’ outlets for news?  Bloggers: 3,000+ in Sinhala, Tamil or English or mixed media  Blog aggregators: listing latest blog posts: Kottu, Sathutu wessa, etc.  Twitter users: 50,000? in Sinhala, Tamil, English or hybrid or memes  Facebook: 2.5 million+ accounts. Only some using it in PUBLIC setting to discuss matters of public interest
  27. 27. When mainstream media hesitates, consumers find alternatives…
  28. 28. LK Media Industry: Where are our innovators?  Merrill Fernandos of media ind?  Disruptive innovation UNLIKELY to come from profitable, old-style newspapers or broadcast media  Watch out for small, struggling media or civic media or citizen journalist collectives to INNOVATE  Provincial Journalists can experiment, find news ways!
  29. 29. Finding web platforms to network:
  30. 30. Journalist in Matara Facebook Group sharing local news https://www.face st-in-Matara
  31. 31. Journalist in Matara: 29 Sep 2015
  32. 32. Journalist in Matara: 23 Sep 2015
  33. 33. Citizen Mems & video sharing
  34. 34. We urgently need: MORE Imagination & Innovation! Don’t be bound by old tools & habits!
  35. 35. Cartoon by Dharshana Karunathilake
  36. 36. Some Advice via Twitter…
  37. 37. Some Advice via Twitter…
  38. 38. Provincial journalists must earn an honest living too: Web-based income models not yet clear
  39. 39. Ravaya columns online: Twitter: @NalakaG Books: