To borrow a Dickensian cliché, these are the best of times and these are the worst of times for the Manipur media. These are the best of times largely because of the rapid technology jumps it has been witnessing. A little over two decade ago, no newspaper in Manipur was capable of reproducing a news picture timely. All newspapers were printed on obsolete “letter press” printing machines and some even on treadle machines, which are not much more evolved than the first printing machine Johan Guttenberg invented and used 500 years ago. Three decades ago, media elsewhere in the Indian subcontinent was not faring too well either, with most still stuck to “letter press” machines, although far more advanced ones than those in use in Manipur. Page composition was done using a machine called Linotype which on the spot creates metal fonts, and the printing was done with three-storey tall high-speed rotary “letter press” machines. Many in the journalists circles in New Delhi at the time for instance would have heard of the offset machine but these almost had the quality of fables. But these fables were not too incredulous because there were foreign glossy magazines reaching the country for all to marvel and be astounded by the print quality. Then The Hindu started using offset. It sports magazine, Sportstar, became an instant hit with the high resolution photographs of sports heroes it packed the magazine with. The Hindu’s trigger, as expected, resulted in a dam burst and in a matter of months, all newspapers in the Capital which could afford it, went offset. But long after offset printing had become the standard, computers were still a mystery for the ordinary journalists. Newspapers then had to hire computer compositors who would key in into strange looking massive computers with tiny black and white monitors, the reports journalists wrote on their typewriters.
Then came the tsunami called “information revolution”. Information technology, and with it information hardware began dropping prices drastically even as newer technologies were continually overtaking each other. Computers too soon came to be personal accessories for journalists rather than a machine to be handled by experts. Five or six years after this tsunami swept the metros, it arrived in Manipur too. And here we are, a couple of decades down the line, reaping the benefits of this technological revolution. There can be no argument that newspapers in the state today are a very different market proposition than they were two decade or so ago. Not only local photos, but pictures from around the world are only a mouse click away, multi-colour offset printing is commonplace, news from anywhere in the world is only a matter of a few seconds of internet browsing. And yes, the internet is once again poised to revolutionise the media yet again, and as every revolution has been, it will yet again bring the worst times and the best of times.
Newspapers today look a lot better but the question that still haunts is, is this good look only skin deep? This is a troubling question for those of us in the media, especially in the face of the barrage of allegations recently that Manipur newspapers have been reduced to mere pin-up boards, where everybody could stick their messages, reducing the editors’ responsibilities to a mockery. Has there been an ironic twist to the taunting statement by a famous media tycoon that news is the stuff to fill spaces between advertisements? Not only news, but the worth of a newspaper will also have to be ultimately judged by the quality of debates it is able to generate. We can only speak for ourselves, and on this count, we must admit we have not met with much success. Very few seem intellectually provoked enough by either the events happening around them, or by articles that appear in newspapers aimed precisely at stirring up intellectual contestations. So here we are still left to quote stimulating articles published in newspapers and journals elsewhere in other cities in the country and abroad to illustrate our arguments or to understand our situation better. It is a matter of regret that unlike the technologically stirred information tsunami, no intellectual wave remotely near this phenomenon has been sighted yet. In more healthy situations, the first ought to have nudged and triggered the second. Perhaps it is a question of us all being content as passive receivers of ideas and information and not ones who would actively participate in shaping them. Whatever may be the case this has given a hollow ring to the growth of the media in the state.