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This article was written for Duke Today by Thomasi McDonald. Photograph by Rhiannon See.

So far, mass media strategies to survive the rise of the Internet have been as hapless as the dinosaurs’ inability to avoid the asteroid strike largely responsible for their extinction 66 million years ago.

Last week, the acclaimed, award-winning journalist Barkha Dutt shared media survival strategies with a Duke audience on the heels of a story recently published in The New Yorker that asked if the journalism industry is prepared for an “extinction-level event.”

“I think the media across the United States and across the world is looking at this sort of philosophical question,” Dutt said to a near-capacity audience at the Sanford School of Public Policy’s Fleishman Commons. “In this form, with what’s happening with Big Tech, with what’s happening with people like yourselves, young people who turn to social media: TikTok, Instagram, WhatsApp, to consume their content; how are journalists going to survive?” 

“What is the future of journalism going to look like?” she asked. “What is the future of media – not just journalism – what’s the future of media going to look like? Is there going to be a media at all?”

Toward the end of Dutt’s presentation, which included a panel discussion along questions from the audience, the pioneering journalist counseled embracing change.

“Don’t resist change. Change is coming anyway,” she said. “How many skills can you teach yourself? Be a participant in the change.”

Dutt’s commentary, “The Future Of Media In A Polarized, Big Tech World,” was organized by the Duke India Initiative and co-sponsored by the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy.

Dutt pointed to an atrophying media landscape where 2,600 journalists across the United States were laid off last year. She also noted that media attrition rates are happening not just to “small bootstrap newsrooms,” but also larger news organizations like NBC, Vice, Buzzfeed, The Washington PostSports Illustrated and The Los Angeles Times.

“I think there’s hope in only one space. One space that artificial intelligence has not and cannot consume. It’s human storytelling.”

Barkha Dutt

Traditional media sources have all suffered because of cheap content widely available on the Internet. Dutt also pointed to what she described as the “three tyrannies” bedeviling mainstream media in the United States and globally: state-controlled media, the market, algorithms, and the lapse of objectivity that has spurred polarization and the inability of people to communicate effectively across ideological divides.

Dutt drove her assertions home when she asked how many members of the audience read the newspaper. About one percent raised their hands. Even less turned on their televisions for news content. By comparison, everyone raised their hands when asked if they relied on their mobile phones for news content.

“I think the room tells the story of what [the] media is going through,” Dutt surmised. “We’ve all become mobile-first news consumers.”

Dutt offered a glimmer of possibility. And during a period defined by technological change, that possibility is as old as human existence.  

“I think there’s hope in only one space,” she said. “One space that artificial intelligence has not and cannot consume. It’s human storytelling.”

Dutt said storytelling offers a genuine human connection that’s diametrically opposed to mainstream media that has “become so self-consumed in it’s sort of navel-gazing” preoccupation with politics that doesn’t pay enough attention to people.

News consumers, she said, “stopped caring about the media because they didn’t see their own stories reflected in the media.”

Dutt is a native of New Delhi, India’s capital city where she still resides. After a groundbreaking 25-year career as a broadcast journalist that took her to war zones across the globe, she also worked as an anchorwoman, political journalist and network editor. She launched MoJo Story, a digital news platform, in 2017.

“Like so many people, I got disillusioned with the state of television and decided I had to move on before it devoured my creative capacities, and began my own digital company,” said Dutt, who also writes columns for The Washington Post and The Hindustan Times.

Despite the dismal situation in journalism in the United States and across the globe, Dutt described a vibrant news ecosystem in India where 144,000 newspapers and periodicals are published, along with 392 television news channels. 

Dutt is often described as a pioneer of journalism in India, but she points to her mother, Prabha Dutt, a journalist with the Hindustan Times as her mentor and inspiration.

She said that young women who are interested in becoming journalists must be passionate. Moreover, in a male-dominated industry, women must have a thick skin because they’re treated unequally and are judged more harshly than men.

“It’s not a convenient career choice. You have to feel it,” she said. “Don’t be apologetic. Other people’s opinion of you is the most irrelevant thing in the world.”