The Gufa—a symbolic cave set at a corner of the restaurant at the Thamel-based Hotel Mandap. Five working journalists chained to their laptops, virtually cut off from the outside world, embark on a mission to bring some new insight into the value of new media in Nepali journalism. And they have seventy two hours to do that!
The countdown begins at noon, with a team of fellow journalists and media researchers showing them the way to the makeshift cave right after the press conference. The following three days would see the journalists being tested for their reporting skills in a most trying situation, with their mobility restricted to the confinement. Except for internet, they are disallowed to use any conventional means of communication, such as phone, or converse among themselves.
Each journalist is tasked with a feature story on a unique issue related to Nepal’s rural life, ranging from local effects of climate change to social cost of foreign employment to internet penetration in remote villages. They are put under constant vigil by a three-member research team which records their every move, including physical gestures, psychological reactions, and methods used while locating and getting across their sources and developing content.
With individual stories assigned and specifications laid out, the journalists suddenly find themselves racing against time to hunt down their sources. With severe reporting constraints, the first leads of their stories don’t get condensed before the new media stalwarts literally have psyched themselves out while making inroads for sourcing. At some point, the danger of failure loomed large over the Gufa!
However, Skype conversations kept reverberating and the laptop key-boards clattering for Facebook chats for tiring long hours, far into the nights. Assiduity pays off. Against all odds, the journalists soon get connected to local people of places as remote as Jumla, Karnali region and Mt Everest bases. With it, the stories begin to take shape. More dramas unfold. The assignments are over before the deadline slips by.
An interactive form of electronic communication, new media exploits social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, websites, blogs, etc for sourcing and developing content. Titled the New Media Gufa 2012 and organized by Media Foundation in association with the Vision for Nepal Foundation, USA, and Hotel Mandap between Sept 7-10 in Kathmandu, the Gufa’s primary mission was to experiment on the significance and tenability of new media in journalism in Nepal, where print media that uses static texts and graphics still by far and large reigns supreme.
Understandably, the successful Gufa experimentation calls into question and, to a certain extent, dismantles the long endured primacy of the traditional form of media over new media in Nepal. Almost all major media houses in Nepal have their online editions, acknowledging the growing value of new media. This also shows Nepali media’s desire to change with time and their readiness to go with the global trend of new media. As such, the Gufa experiment asserts and provides addition impetus to the impending arrival of a new form of journalism in Nepal.
With the onslaught of globalization felt everywhere, the flow of ideas and information has been gaining increasing prominence. Statistics show internet penetration in the country is getting deeper. Also the presence of Nepali community abroad is getting wider and thicker. As new media, through use of extensive social networking, enables people from a large geographical range to tell their own stories and help them stay closer to the content in an interactive format, the campaign certainly points to a paradigm shift in Nepal’s journalism.
CHANGING MEDIA LANDSCAPE
Given reporting limitations at Gufa, it could be an altogether different analysis of how relatively competitive the five stories have been. However, successful story-writing has not only helped establish the value of new media in journalism but also reinforced that new media, once seen as remotely tenable, is plausible in Nepali journalism on its own right. Not necessary, this could be an instant replacement for phone and field reporting. What can be said is that the experiment has opened up new avenues for widening the domain of news sourcing and reporting.
Indeed, the will to embody change requires action for trying and testing. The campaign, the first of its kind in Nepal according to the organizers, was inspired by a similar experiment in France—it certainly has created hype in Nepali media and media research field, with more such programs reportedly following suit. The campaign definitely is going to send some ripples across Nepali media, shaping the face of the country’s journalism in the long run.
Seeking new light in the secluded darkness of the cave, as sages are known to have done in ancient times, could be a powerful metaphor to reflect the quest for new possibilities in Nepali journalism. With the research team currently processing the details before coming up with more insights with its elaborate findings, it remains yet to be seen how effectively the campaign is going to shake up the conventional notion of journalism practice in Nepal. The New Media Gufa 2012 is over—but with that, the trend of greater use of new media in Nepali journalism seems to have just begun!
The writer was one of the five participating journalists in the New Media Gufa 2012, and is online co-ordinator, Republica.