The stories from the rural parts of India receive minimal coverage in mainstream media. As per a recent study on ‘Rural Coverage in the Hindi and English Dailies,’ the author concluded that “only a minuscule proportion,” which is about 2%, make it to the newspaper’s total coverage on issues of rural India. I heard P. Sainath, the Ramon Magsaysay Award recipient rural journalist, say “mainstream media excludes the mainstream” in a talk he delivered at Winter Institute in Digital Humanities, held at my home institute, IIT Gandhinagar, in December 2019. These were the building blocks and motivation of my project on rural media cultures. I intended to explore the representation of rural India in today’s media cultures on an open access digital tool Timeline JS developed by Knight Lab at Northwestern University to specifically focusing on rural journalism.
Digital Humanities provides a space that helps bring together Humanities and Social Sciences research with technology of computing and digital platforms. The virtual development of interfaces has enriched the capability of research or producing a story with a digital platform. For example, one such digital tool, also my personal favorite, is Voyant, which analyses texts profoundly enough in less than a minute. This open-source and web-based application was developed by Stefan Sinclair and Geoffrey Rockwell in 2003 for data mining and text analysis. Voyant functions beyond the human tendency; it gives an overview of the corpus with precise details within minutes of the total number of words, unique words, most frequent words with graphs, sentence length, and count vocabulary density, etc.
For this project, I have used Timeline JS, an online open-source tool, which helps to highlight the earliest and distinctive voices of rural India in a chronological manner. The objective behind curating this timeline using Timeline JS as a tool was to bring the inspiring stories from the rural part of India to light and demonstrate the connection between media and rural areas over the years. Another essential factor to use this particular tool was to bring the different parts of stories scattered across the internet into one space. The tool speaks for itself — it is a digital ‘timeline’ where events are to be arranged in slides with associated years indicated on a scale. It is a useful tool to tell a story through a series of events in the course of a timeline. Indeed, Digital Humanities opens horizons and hosts space for storytelling while bringing many together. In this case, the disparate stories are at the heart of the methodology of this project.
The timeline includes the initiatives within different media cultures with rural India and its voice at their heart from the historical to contemporary spectrum. The timeline demonstrates people, documentaries, books, newspapers, and magazines bringing out the unheard voices of rural India. The early twenty-first century has more initiatives than the late twentieth century, which has a large share of online and digital journalism. I intended to merge them to show how the story unfolded over time. As emphasized in the Timeline, Gaon Connection, founded in 2012, strives to report the news from the corners of remote rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand. Although operating in the Hindi language, they call themselves ‘India’s Biggest Rural Media Platform.’ Indeed, its features in rural India bring nuances of lives from slums to slums. Next, Rocket Post Live, a digital news service that started in 2016, has made great use of social media. They are based in a rural district, Pilibhit, in Uttar Pradesh, India, and they broadcast the local news on the smartphone application WhatsApp. A significant name working in rural journalism, People’s Archive of Rural India serves as an online journal and archive dedicated to the stories of people from rural India. PARI was founded in 2014 by P. Sainath, and it is another milestone after Everyone Loves a Good Drought (1996), his book documenting field reports from rural districts of India. Similar to that, almost two decades later, Jaideep Hardikar published his book A Village Awaits Doomsday in 2013, which consists of ground realities and personal accounts of ‘ordinary people,’ rooted out of their land because of the Government land acquisition policy and development projects.
Rural India in Changing Media Cultures on Timeline JS depicts many such news media, like broadcast and online journalism, and alternate media such as books and research projects of journalists invested in empowering the rural journalism. It is worth mentioning that the project started with the thought of exploring women journalists in rural reporting. The pioneering voices in Indian media have existed from post-independence to India, and it is significant to branch out to find the nuances of the culture of Indian journalism. Digital Humanities, especially constructing digital archival spaces, are excellent methods to develop historical entities. The project trajectory then found substance in the collective voices and major events telling a tale of rural journalism in India. Evidently, in the early years of Timeline, the projects primarily include field reporting, whereas the latter part of Timeline has many different mediums. Thus, this timeline project also marks ‘transmediality,’ a concept meaning the literature, art, film, or music to exist in a large number and on different media. Accordingly, there are many ways in which the tool, Timeline JS can be further used for media innovations or related projects, such as:
• There can be a focused and narrowed down approach to identify a particular space and the existing voices, such as figures, eminent work, or start-ups in the respective fields of journalism.
• The emphasis on a particular kind of mass media to the arrival of transmediality offers an opportunity. For example, the media representing the lives of farmers in India can bring out a narrative unmasking the unpopular. A movie like Peepli Live received a global audience; however, there are endless possibilities to explore the many parts of rural India.
• The rural reporting innovations can further pinpoint stories with a focus on regional entities. The journalistic events of rural India from different or particular Indian languages through the regional radio shows, movies, and newspapers — given that one has the knowledge of different languages.
- As mentioned earlier, exploring the women’s voices in Indian rural journalism from a historical and contemporary spectrum can bring the subject of feminist voices to light, especially when their contributions have gone unacknowledged.
Acknowledgment: This project was done as part of a course on Digital Cultures and New Media (2020) offered by Dr Arnapurna Rath in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Gandhinagar.
This article was commissioned by Samya Brata Roy
Khushboo Sahrawat is a final-year master’s student at IIT Gandhinagar, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. She has completed a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi. Her masters’ dissertation deals with the case stories of pioneering women voices in Indian news media, with a focus on the study of the genre of Life Writing.