Role of Journalists and Media in Digital Society

I am very happy that you have chosen a very current and relevant topic for this UCIP Refresher Programme: “Role of Journalists and Media in Digital Society.” The topic is very relevant because, as Vat. II decree “Inter Mirifica” on Social Communication recognized years back, the mass media continue to influence us enormously in our digital society.

My very first encounter with the digital world was in London in 1975. I went there to study journalism. Then, I became a member of Swiss Cottage Library. I marveled that when I borrowed a book from the library or returned a book, I did not have to fill any form or signed any record as I used to do in India. The library clerk just took a digital pen and drew a line on my library membership card and another line on the book’s ISBN number. The digital pen did not leave any line or mark neither on my library card nor on the book!

Then, I was looking for a book which I wanted to read very much. But the Swiss Cottage Library did not have the book. I was disappointed that such a big library did not have the book! Then, the librarian told me not to worry but to come back and collect the book after three days.

The Library had the facility of digital searching and locating the book in one or other libraries in London or in the whole of England! and reaching it to the client.

In those days there were no ATMs in London. But I could punch a number at a window of the bank in which I held an account and submit my bank passbook and I could get the money I wanted from the bank on a Sunday or a holiday. Then, I would get back my updated pass book in a day or two by post.

Some thirty five years ago digital services and facilities were rare in the world. But today practically the whole world has become a digital society and so today we speak of the role of journalists in a digital society.

Let me share with you some more experiences of the digital world in which we live. I went to meet the President of SIGNIS India (World Catholic Association of people in audio-visual media) Fr. Rappai Poothokaren, S.J. in his office in Gurjarvani, Ahmedabad. He was working at his computer with LCD screen. There were no printer or paper or pen anywhere in sight! When I remarked about it, Fr. Poothokaren just said that “in the digital world we don’t need paper and printer!”

Well, most of us have not reached that state to do away with pen, paper and computer – printer in our offices in our digital society. But we are keenly aware that we live in a digital society.

I remember my introduction to the computer world. It was my second visit to USA in Feb. 1982.Much earlier in the late1950s I was introduced to typing in English because my maternal uncle Msgr. Mathew Vellankal of Kotham angalam Diocese in Kerala had a portable typewriter and I was fascinated with it. So while in high school in 1962 I joined a typing school and learned the touch system of typing. So when I went to USA first time in 1977 I have been given an electronic type writer to use for my work first in St Catherine’s Church, a suburban parish at Bronx in New York for one month and then for 2 months as a sub-editor in the office of St.Anthony Messenger at Cincinnati, Ohio.

My second visit to USA in 1982 was to attend the UCIP council meeting at Boston in my capacity as the Vice President of International Federation of Church News Services. After the Council Meeting I spent one month in the office of Catholic News Service (CNS – the biggest Church news service in the world) to work and learn about news agency journalism. I was the Executive Director & Chief Editor of SAR News (South Asian Religious News) at New Delhi.

CNS office then had a computer which occupied practically the whole space of a room 10x10x10 feet and we reporters had monitors & key board terminals on our desks. I had on my desk both an electronic typewriter and a computer monitor & key board. On the first two days I used onlythe electronic typewriter to edit the news reports which the editor Mr. Dick Daw passed to me.

On the 3rd day Mr. Daw came to my table and told me to use the computer. I remember the conversation between Mr. Daw and me.Mr. Daw: Fr. Varghese, why don’t you enter the reports in to the computer and then edit them so that another person neednot key it again.

Varghese: Thanks Mr. Daw for the encouragement.But you know that I am preparing to go back and work in India. There I will be lucky to have a typewriter. And I do not expect to have a computer to work in my office in India at least for the next 10 years.

Mr. Daw: Who knows if you will have a computer in 10 years or not. But you try using the computer here. Learning something new will always be useful. I took Mr. Daw’s advice and started using the computer in CNS office at Washington in 1982.Back in India I was using my portable Olympic typewriter for my correspondence as well as for writing reports for SAR News.

Then, in 1986 I bought a bi-lingual electronic type writer which, the company sales-man told me,is only the second one sold in Ahmedabad, the biggest city in Gujarat.