Interview: Professor of Columbia University, Raju Narisetti

Raju Narisetti is an international and important journalist who should be considered as an idol for anyone who is involved or who wants to take part in the media sector. Narisetti, who has been media manager in many important institutions and has received numerous awards including Pulitzer, is now sharing his vast experience in this field with journalism students at Columbia University. We had a conversation with Professor Raju Narisetti on the media and that’s how I had the opportunity to meet him in person.

Do you think it’s true that the paper gave way to the digital? Will the great newspapers in the future bid farewell to paper printing?

The role of print -in its impact, reach, readership and revenue has certainly declined dramatically and continues to do so in many countries. In the US, for example, this is an ongoing and serious problem with local newspapers. In countries such as India, newspaper readership, particularly in non-English languages continues to grow. And in countries such as Japan, newspaper readership has held up relatively well in an ageing, habit-driven nation. What is universally true is that the pipeline of new and potential readers has really dwindled as younger news consumers clearly gravitate toward mobile news consumption. The demise of print has been predicted for many years and while it might yet happen in pockets, I don’t subscribe to the theory that newspapers, as a news and information format, will die. With only about 8% of global advertising spending, the business sustainability of newspapers has become quite a challenge but as part of “all-access” digital subscription bundles, some newspapers continue to find audiences.

Can you compare today’s journalism with the journalism of 20 years ago and 20 years later?

It is faster and much more competitive as the once-prevalent geographical isolation of readers has disappeared in the digital world and their access to journalism from around the world has dramatically increased. There are clearly fewer reporters, editors and fact-checkers in mainstream media while there is a lot more competition to attract, engage and siphon off your audiences. Digital platforms have also allowed for individuals, particularly politicians, as well as companies to reach out directly to their audiences and that has made the role of traditional journalism with its gatekeeping and fact-checking qualities less influential than it used to be.

Do you think the newspapers still have a political influence on society as strong as they had in the past?

Clearly less so but major brands, such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times in the US, continue to be influential and actually now punch well above their circulation weight, so to speak.

Trump, for example, won the election by winning a victory against many newspapers.

I wouldn’t attribute Trump’s campaigns against newspapers as the primary reason for his victory. It is clearly Trump, a businessman from New York whose ventures were never well respected, craves the attention and admiration of The New York Times and CNN so it is also personal for him in wanting to constantly attack those two organizations. And clearly he has capitalized on the polarized US audiences to his favor.

To what extent do you think the research and statistics that give information about freedom of the press reflect the truth?

If you take something like the World Press Freedom Index, its value is not necessarily in being complete or exhaustive but in clearly tracking changes over time and being able to have some sense of relative comparisons within a region, if not globally. It is important to keep the spotlight on journalists killed and other such repressive actions that governments can take against press freedom.

How independent do you think the newspapers are? Do you think a newspaper that is objective and independent to its core can continue its life?

It is difficult to answer this because of sweeping generalities at play. It really depends on the country, the laws, the governments, the source of funding and also ethics and standards, both within a newsroom and in the journalism ecosystem in which the newspaper and its journalists operate. There is little doubt, in my mind, that the majority of journalists in American newspaper newsrooms are allowed to have independence in practicing their daily journalism. That doesn’t mean the paper, especially the editorial pages, don’t have a point of view or even a collective bias in terms of being left of center or right. Even if one thinks the WSJ (right) and NYT (left) are biased, it is important to remember that both newspapers have continued to do stellar investigative work on the Trump regime. That is the real value of journalistic independence in that it can hold governments accountable.

What way should be followed to create an effective news website from scratch?

Start with what needs of an audience -however you choose to define that customer- are you going to fill and is there both a perceived and real gap among potential readers and do they feel like they would want to consume/support/pay for that kind of digital journalism. Success doesn’t usually come because some journalists think they can do something better than others can. A lot more factors have to jell.

You’re also an important academic. What are the names of the journalists you give your students as examples?

I am a relatively new Professor at Columbia University School of Journalism. And my focus is on business journalism and the business of journalism where it is less about acts of journalism which are vital and are, in many ways, table stakes, and more about how to figure out ways to sustain such journalism and find ways to fund it. So I tend to focus on news organizations and news brands that are willing to innovate, experiment and try new ways than necessarily about individual journalists.

What do you think about the Israeli media? There are many influential newspapers like Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Haaretz.

There are clearly a lot of different voices across the spectrum in Israel but some of the same forces of consolidation and ownership concentration that are sweeping across many countries in Europe and elsewhere, have the potential to sharply undermine the diversity of Israeli media.

What would you like to say about the media sector in Turkey? On issues such as freedom of the press, journalism.

It has been a deeply troubling few years under the current government. And my fear is that the modus operandi of leveraging the state and the court systems to systematically undermine independent media organizations and cause both ownership and coverage changes has significantly reduced press freedoms in Turkey. This is really unfortunate for what was, until recently, a very vibrant and growing media opportunity.

How do you evaluate the blocked access to Wikipedia in Turkey?

Turkish authorities have blocked access to Wikipedia across all languages since April 2017. This represents the most expansive form of blocking of Wikipedia ever imposed by any government in our movement’s history. Throughout these past two years, the Wikimedia community and Foundation (I am on the board of Wikimedia Foundation) have stood firm against political pressure to alter or remove accurate content from Wikipedia. The universal rights to freedom of information, expression, and inquiry are as fundamental to Wikimedia’s values today as they were when Wikipedia was first created. We believe that censorship in any form is a threat to free knowledge everywhere — and today we are again standing for our values. This week we announced that we are filing a petition in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the international court hearing cases of human rights violations within the Council of Europe, in order to lift the more than two-year block of Wikipedia in Turkey. In our filing, we argue that denying access to Wikipedia violates fundamental freedoms of expression        -freedoms that have been denied to the more than 80 million people of Turkey who have been impacted by the block- but also to the rest of the world, which has lost the perspectives of the nation in contributing, debating, and adding to Wikipedia.

About the Author
Emir Eksioglu, is a journalist and an entrepreneur. He published articles in important institutions such as Huff Post, Times of India, Economic Times, Jerusalem Post, U.S. News, Foreign Policy, GQ, Tehran Times and was introduced as the youngest media boss thanks to some of his investments in Turkey. He has many initiatives in technology and media fields. His biggest passion is Trabzonspor.
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