Archive for May, 2009

How come nobody heard or saw the worm turn?

29 May 2009

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Hindsight, as the moronic aphorism goes, is always 20/20.

And we have been seeing plenty of hindsight dressed as foresight over the last fortnight following the announcement of the results of the general elections, which bucked the “anti-incumbency” cliche and put the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance back in power.

# Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta has said the politics of aspiration trumped the politics of grievance. CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai writes that it is a vote for decency in public life. Outlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta sees it as a vote against hate and abuse.

# Journalists aligned to the BJP like Swapan Dasgupta have said the BJP failed to keep pace with the realities of a new India. The BJP spokesman Sudheendra Kulkarni has said stability won over change. Atanu Dey says the Congress managed the media better.

# Many analysts have seen in the surprise Congress win, a vote for youth. Political psychologist Ashis Nandy detects a vote against arrogance. The economist Bibek Debroy among others has attributed the Congress win to its social welfare programmes. Pratap Bhanu Mehta has said the era of votebank politics is over.

And so on and on.

And on and on.

The grim truth is that all this is post-facto rationalisation by media sages, policy wonks and psephologists, ever so wise, as so many of us usually are, after the event.

Like the blind men who felt the elephant, they touch different parts of the gargantuan electoral animal now that it has come to rest, and they feel different things.

The reality is nobody in our media—television, newspapers, magazines—and nobody at the top, bottom or middle, knew what was going on. And what we were being peddled for days and weeks was drivel as wisdom.

Why?

And how does this happen election after election?

In 2004, the media had “called the election” in favour of the BJP-led alliance and was acting as if “We, the People” should only go to the polling booths and fulfil their prophecy.

Well, “We, the People” decided to spring a surprise and put the Congress-led alliance in office.

In 2009, most media vehicles somewhat got the winning alliance right, but chastened perhaps by the 2004 experience, weren’t willing to stick their neck out beyond giving a wafer-thin margin for the UPA over the NDA.

In reality, the huge gap of over 100 seats between the victor and the vanquished; the surprise showing of the Congress in States like Uttar Pradesh where it had been written off; the number of first-time MPs belowed the age of 40 (58); the number of women elected (59), etc, shows that there is something truly, incredibly, unbelievably wrong in our mass media’s connect with the masses.

Of course, the term “media” is a loose, general one because there is no one, single media oeprating uniformly, homogenously in every part of the land. There are various shades to it, in various languages, in various forms, in various States and regions, etc. And then some more.

Still, how could almost all of them get so much so palpably wrong?

Did the tide turn in the favour of the Congress inside the secrecy of the voting booths preventing our esteemed men and women in the media from knowing what was happening?

Or was it building up slowly but we were too busy or distracted to notice?

If it was the latter, why?

Is there a disconnect between mass media and the masses? Is the undercurrent of democracy too difficult to be spotted? Or are our media houses and personnel not equipped with the equipment and wherewithal to detect these trends?

Given the poor presence and even poorer coverage of the mainstream media in the rural countryside, it is understandable that we were unable to get the rural countryside wrong.

Why, even the one English paper with a “rural affairs editor” was backing the wrong horse which, it turns out, wasn’t even in the race at all, all the while.

Little wonder, the electoral magic being ascribed to the National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) scheme and the farm loan waiver—moves which were dismissed as wasteful expenditure by the neoliberals in the “free market” media—went largely unnoticed.

But what about the urban pockets?

The powerhouses of our media pride themselves on being fiercely urban and urbane; serving the aspirations of the middle-class and the wannabes. Yet, the fact that so few of them could detect the ground shifting from underneath the urban, middle-class BJP’s feet shines an unkindly light.

The Congress and its allies (DMK, Trinamool, NCP) won all the metros—Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Madras—except Bangalore and Ahmedabad. Why, for example, was it difficult to detect the anger of the urban middle-classes against the BJP’s abuse of prime minister Manmohan Singh before counting day?

Or their thirst for fresh, young faces before they were elected and sworn in?

Certainly, the function of the media is not to serve as a soothsayer. It is not expected to tell us what will happen in the future. Nevertheless, it is expected to have a finger on the pulse. Two successive electoral failures suggest that we are consistently holding the wrong vein and coming to the wrong prognosis.

Indeed, on current record, we seem to be living in an echo chamber, hearing our own voices, and relaying it to the world as gospel truth. Or selling our space and airtime without batting an eyelid.

As a piece on the Satyam scandal on this site asked:

Is journalism that doesn’t shed light journalism?

Or puff?

Or PR?

Or Advertising?

Caveat emptor!

Also read: How come media not spot Satyam fraud?

Media owners, journalists holding democracy ransom

Cost-effective, yes, but is it good journalism?

28 May 2009

ADVONH20090528N1

Pasadena Now, a California-based website, tried to outsource local civic affairs and political coverage to India two years ago. Now, New Haven Advocate, an American alternative weekly covering local news and arts, has decided to check out the limits of “outsourced journalism”.

It posted ads on Craigslist in Bangalore and Bombay in March seeking journalists to put together one issue of news, arts, food, sex advice, the auto column, the horoscope.

“In just weeks, we had over 100 replies from Indian freelancers willing to do just about anything for us. Some were journalists with impressive credentials — The Guardian, BBC, The Times of India — and others were “content writers” or technical writers hungry for any assignment we could throw them….

“It wasn’t our intention for our little outsourcing experiment to put us out of a job. But it’s clear that in an age when publications are aggressively cutting costs and reducing staffs, India’s millions of wired English speakers may present an irresistible resource. If so, our Indian colleagues will have earned the last laugh.

“Call us old-school, but we think good, old-fashioned shoe-leather journalism is worth the price. Outsourcing could certainly fill pages, probably very cheaply, but what’s lost is the very essence of local newspapers: presence.”

Photograph: courtesy New Haven Advocate

Read about the experimentOutsource this!

The 10 women (and one man) who made it possible

Also read: Outsourced journalism suffers a welcome blow

7 times bigger than the leading English channel

27 May 2009

getimage

Another day and another claimant to the crown of the most viewed television station on 16 May 2009, the day the results of the elections to the Indian lower house were announced.

After the three main English news channels diced and spliced the ratings over the last 12 days, it is turn of the Hindi channel Aaj Tak owned by the India Today group with two key claims.

# “Almost 45 per cent ahead of the nearest competitor.”

# “Almost 7 times more than the leading English channel.”

Also read: Never let facts come in the way of a good story

Do newspapers, magazines have nothing to claim?

Three tips for journos on how to use Facebook

27 May 2009

How should journalists use Facebook? Joe Grimm, visiting journalist at Michigan State University school of journalism, has three tips:

1. Be cautious about what kind of personal information you put out.

2. Add friends to your network, not strangers.

3. Don’t “friend” sources on your beat.

Read the full article here: How should journalists use Facebook?

Visit Joe Grimm‘s website: News Recruiter

How much do readers distrust us? Not much.

26 May 2009

The 2009 general elections have been marred by widespread accusations and whispers of media hanky-panky.

The Wall Street Journal‘s India bureau chief Paul Beckett accused reporters, editors and newspaper owners of holding the Indian democratic process to ransom. Women journalists in Andhra Pradesh wrote to the Election Commission drawing attention to Telugu dailies selling news space to political advertisers. And on top of all this, there are well-established institutional deals and so on.

How much of all this buying and selling affect reader trust in media vehicles? Not much.

The National Election Survey 2009 compiled by the Lokniti team of the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) for The Hindu asked precisely the question:

Question: “Do people trust the news they read in newspapers?”

Answer: “Forty-five per cent of respondents said that they greatly trusted what they read in newspapers. A similar number said that they somewhat trusted newspaper reports. Around 10 per cent had little faith in what was reported in the papers.” (emphasis added)

Also read: Forget the news, you can’t trust the ads either

Sucheta Dalal on selling news and buying silence

The scoreline: different strokes for different folks

Salil Tripathi: The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility

In prosperous Gujarat, everybody can buy media

Do papers, magazines have nothing to claim?

25 May 2009

star (2)

NDTV-24x7ADVT I B N-ADVT

The political winners and losers of the Indian elections are, respectively, exulting and sulking. But the dust is still to settle over who won the air waves and grabbed the most eyeballs.

Rupert Murdoch-owned Star has jumped into the fray claiming that its network of Hindi, Bangla and Marathi channels was number one on counting day. NDTV 24×7’s print advertisement extolling its predominance is based on a  survey of 12,407 people while the station’s website makes similar claims on a sample size of 5,240. CNN-IBN, meanwhile, uses TAM ratings to crown itself No.1.

Tellingly silent in this war of claims and counter-claims are print publications—newspapers and magazines.

Also read: Never let facts come in the good story

With so many polls, somebody had to get it right

23 May 2009

LIVE INDIA-ADVT

Duck’s eggs, it is said, are tastier than hen’s eggs. But more people eat hen’s eggs because, well, the hen lays its eggs and advertises its feat, while the duck keeps quiet about it.

That’s the bon mot of a very successful newspaper editor.

As if to underline the point, Live India, the TV station more famous for a sting which stung it, claims it predicted the results of the general elections on air more accurately than its better known competitors like NDTV, Aaj Tak, CNN-IBN, India TV has taken out an advertisement to crow about the taste of its egg.

Also read: It’s their opinion that they have done an opinion poll

But why are we only testing water-boarding?

23 May 2009

Christopher Hitchens tried it almost a year ago and lasted all of a few seconds.

Now, right-wing radio host Erich “MancowMuller has done so again, fared no better, and come to the same conclusion: Yes, waterboarding is torture.

Sure, in the context of the debate in the United States over the interrogation techniques adopted by the previous Goerge W. Bush administration, all this “experiential journalism” makes for a fine spectacle, but how about going hungry for a few days (like in sub-Saharan Africa), facing a few bombs (Iraq, Afghanistan),living with the Taliban (Pakistan), living without a roof (everywhere), etc, to drive the point home?

Read the Alternet article: Radio host gets waterboarded

‘I never learned a thing when I was talking’

22 May 2009

“There’s something I learned long ago: I never learned a thing when I was talking,” says Larry King, host of CNN’s Larry King Live, answering readers’ queries in Time.

Q: Whom do you most want to interview that you haven’t yet?

A: Fidel Castro certainly. Always wanted to interview a Pope. Any Pope. And J.D. Salinger, who is probably the most impossible interview to get. The Catcher in the Rye had a major impact on me. I’d ask him, “Where’d you go? Why’d you stop writing? Did you run dry after four books?” That just boggles me. That’s something I could never do. Disappear from the scene.

Photograph: courtesy New York Times

Read the other nine questions and answers: Larry King

2 new biz publications in 4 days of Cong win

22 May 2009

forbes india

New business publications are raining in India after the unexpected scale of triumph of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance in the general elections on May 16.

On Monday, May 18, the Indian facsimile edition of The Wall Street Journal was launched in association with the Indian Express group with long-time WSJ man Suman Dubey at the helm. And on Thursday, May 21, the Indian edition of Forbes published by Network 18 and edited by Indrajit Gupta hit the stands.

“Why invest in a magazine when readership is dwindling all over the globe?” Raghav Bahl, the founder and editor of Network 18 writes in the premiere issue of Forbes:

“Because India is in a transformational phase unmatched in human history. Demographic mobility is creating a huge generation of first-time readers, who will simultaneously watch TV and begin to surf the Net. This demographic push is wo wide and deep that many will not skip the “touch and feel paper-reading phase” of their advancement into newly literate adults. But the magazines for this “digital and paper” generation will have to morph and evolve. They will have to go beyond the first information reports screaming on television and web sites. Magazine editorial will have to become like second-skin analysis, get closer to the bone, display more shades, investigate deeper, be more sensitive, deal with ambiguities, explain the greys and tell it with new-age chutzpah and design.”

An India edition of Financial Times is also on the cards, and ET Now, the business channel of The Times of India group is due to go on the air any time now.

Also read: Is this man the new media mogul of India?

An Indian address for ‘The Capitalist Tool’

The 11 habits of India’s most powerful media pros

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