Monthly Archives: June 2007

‘What is free is actually costing us a fortune’

Proponents of user-generated content, participatory journalism, social networking, citizen journalism and all the rest can’t stop talking of the “democratisation of the media”. We are, we are told, being given more information, more perspectives, more opinions, more everything—and most of it without filters or fees.

But in a powerful and provocative new book, The Cult of the Amateur, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Andrew Keen argues that Web 2.0 isn’t what it is being made out to be.

He says deep analysis has given way to superficial observations; considered judgment to shrill opinion. Mainstream media and intellectual property rights have been undermined. And misinformation, rumours, speculation, spin are flapping around in a sea of anonymity.

“What you may not realize is that what is free is actually costing us a fortune,” Keen writes. “The new winners—Google, YouTube, MySpace, Craigslist, and the hundreds of start-ups hungry for a piece of the Web 2.0 pie — are unlikely to fill the shoes of the industries they are helping to undermine, in terms of products produced, jobs created, revenue generated or benefits conferred. By stealing away our eyeballs, the blogs and wikis are decimating the publishing, music and news-gathering industries that created the original content those Web sites ‘aggregate.’ Our culture is essentially cannibalizing its young, destroying the very sources of the content they crave.”

Read Michiko Kakutani‘s review: The Cult of the Amateur

A painter’s tribute to the eternal potmaker

What is a history lecturer who becomes a pioneering tabloid cartoonist, who becomes a broadsheet newspaper caricaturist, who becomes a children’s storybook illustrator, who becomes a multimedia graphic artist called?

Answer: B.G. Gujarappa.

After nearly three decades of experimenting in the various styles of art, “Gujjar” as he is better known, is now a full-fledged painter, “romancing lines, colours and the beautiful order found in nature”, and paying tribute to the eternal potmaker who shapes Man out of Earth: God.

Read the full story here: Gujjar, the potmaker

MUST LISTEN: Murdoch & Wall Street Journal


In India, newspapers are sold and bought, changed and transformed, and most times “suspended” or closed down, as if papers are no different from roadside tea stalls. All this goes in the name of “market forces”—buyer wants to sell, seller wants to buy, who are we to ask?

Little do journalists, academics, or readers realise the vital social, economic and cultural role newspapers, even the most reprehensible of them, play in moulding a democracy and shaping people’s thoughts. Result: there is little debate or discussion on the whys and wherefores.

In contrast, The Wall Street Journal is en route to changing hands from the Bancroft family to Rupert Murdoch. And the paper’s journalists, unions, readers are all significantly exercised over the prospects. And this 45-minute podcast, courtesy National Public Radio, is proof.

The WSJ may still end up with Murdoch, but it’s a must-listen discussion to understand what is at stake when a newspaper is bought and sold.

Related link: Why New York Times launched its hatchet job

B-school babes will soon have a new opening

Time magazine has an exclusive on Rupert Murdoch, and the soon-to-be owner of the Wall Street Journal responds, in true Murdoch style, if he will tabloidise the venerated business newspaper, a fear most of his detractors express, by, say, putting topless page 3 girls a la The Sun.

“When the Journal gets its Page 3 girls,” he jokes late one night, “we’ll make sure they have MBAs.

Read the full story here: Rupert Murdoch speaks

In Pakistan, fourth estate meets fifth column

At a recent press conference, the BBC Urdu Service’s Masud Alam walked up to a tall, rugged man, with close-cropped hair, wearing a white salwar-kameez and leather sandals.

“Which paper are you with?”

He pretends not to have listened. Some of the reporters around us have heard me though, and they are now watching us with interest.

“Excuse me,” I persist. “I’m so and so. And you are?”

“I am not a journalist,” he says.

“Then what brings you to this press conference?”

“I work for Special Branch.”

The Fourth Estate is deeply penetrated by the Fifth Column, and the friction is beginning to show as President Pervez Musharraf decides, like all dictators everywhere, that if he has to latch on to power, the adhesive he will require is an assault on the freedom of the Press.

Read the full story here: Spooks and hacks in Pakistan

Photographers, go fly a kite for such pictures!

Shooting panoramic pictures in Indian cities is a major pain for photographers, because of the security restrictions and the high cost of hiring a helicopter or glider. Randall Munroe shot this picture of Boston, with the main campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the frame, by fitting a Rs 1,000-camera to a kite.

“To get the camera to take pictures, I built a 555 timer circuit that, every 13 seconds, throws a relay wired to the camera’s shutter button. I used a small delta kite (larger ones on the way) and a cheap $30 digital camera with a large SD card.”

View more pictures here: Randall Munroe

Does a tree make a noise only for the cameras?

What is news? And who decides what is news? Is one politician attacking another, an event which happens every other day, always news? Is the stock market going up or down, an event which could happen several times a day, sometimes on the same day, news?

These are old questions and they get asked again courtesy this MSNBC video of a set of newscasters playing around with news of Paris Hilton getting out of prison. One of them, Mika Brzezinski, refuses to talk about the Hilton heiress, tries to set fire to the manuscript, and then shreds it—all the time with her eyes on the camera.

The point Brzezinski is trying to make, and it is a very popular point, is that we have had too much of Paris Hilton, that her being released is not news, and that there are bigger, more important things happening in the world.

Maybe, but is it even journalism to consciously avoid something especially after providing the oxygen for Paris’ “feats” which landed her in prison?

There is also an inbuilt belief that by depriving that oxygen of publicity to Paris, somehow she will stop doing the kind of silly things she has become famous for. Associated Press tried a week-long boycott for some time. And now Us Weekly has decided to follow suit.

But, seriously, does a tree make a noise when it falls, only when the cameras are around?

Who came first? Paris Hilton or MSNBC?

Also read: Can the media only cover what it wants to?

‘Thank God Blair called the media a feral beast’

Question: What do you do when the Prime Minister has your newspaper in mind when he calls the news media “a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits”? Answer: Hope that somebody will ask his successor whether he agrees with the surmise.

Tony Blair launched into The Independent while speaking at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism . And sure enough a reader of the paper did the needful and asked Gordon Brown the question that would have been bugging Indy.

Question: Do you agree with Blair’s criticism of The Independent?

Brown: As I said at The Independent‘s 20th anniversary party, it is a great campaigning newspaper and it always has been. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with the campaigns or not.

Elsewhere, in The Chicago Tribune, Steve Chapman argues that the Blair comment is nothing to be ashamed about. (Blair complained that the power of the press eclipses everything. For politicians, he revealed, “a vast aspect of our jobs today—outside of the really major decisions, as big as anything else—is coping with the media, its sheer scale, weight and constant hyperactivity. At points, it literally overwhelms.” The result is an unhealthy relationship between government and journalists that “saps the country’s confidence and self-belief,” asserted Blair)

But Chapman says it’s a relief to hear the comment:

“What a relief. Working in a field that, we are told, is increasingly irrelevant and outmoded, it’s nice to know that someone still regards the news media as capable of sapping the self-esteem of 61 million people who are not known for self-pity and who boast a heritage of Shakespeare, empire and the Beatles.”

Read the full article (free registration): Confessions of a feral beast

Entries invited for $15,000 journalism prize

“Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”

So said the French political philosopher, journalist and politician Frédéric Bastiat (1801–50). Now there is a prize named after him, worth $15,000, open to all published writers around the world. But the deadline is just a couple of days away, 30 June 2007.

The prize will be awarded to the entry that best embodies Bastiat’s spirit, intellect and wit. The competition is open to all writers—including think tanks and NGOs and academics —in all countries.

Previous finalists and winners include Sauvik Chakraverti of the Economic Times, Munir Attaullah (Pakistan), and Rakesh Wadhwa (Nepal). Entries can be submitted through an online submission form, or by post or fax. For more information and background about the prize, click here.

Link via Adam Smith Institute