Monthly Archives: August 2007

‘We, the abominable dregs of planet earth…’

“The lowest depth to which people can sink before god is defined by the word ‘journalist.’ If I were a father and had a daughter who was seduced I should despair over her; I would hope for her salvation. But if I had a son who became a journalist and continued to be one for five years, I would give him up’.”

Soren Kierkegaard

Link via Greenslade

‘Conventional journalism serves the powerful’

PALAGUMMI SAINATH, the Magsaysay Award winning rural affairs editor of The Hindu, spoke to Sunil Sethi, the books editor of NDTV, over the weekend, on why he chose to do what he chose to do: report from India’s remotest villages on the poor and the marginalised:


“In 1983-84, we had a very large drought in India. I was a very conventionally trained reporter… news agencies, newspapers, etc. I went out to cover it.

“The power of what I experienced… I found that the kind of journalism we practiced was completely inadequate to express that power. Because we end up always giving the final word to figures of authority.

“‘The collector said’, ‘the prime minister said’, although the collector may be a bloke who came there just 15 days ago. We privilege that collector’s statement over that of a farmer who has tilled the land there for 45 years. That’s stupid, that’s bad journalism.

“That’s when I came to the conclusion that conventional journalism is about the service of power. Journalism has two streams, journalism and stenography. We (in conventional journalism) really function as stenographers to the powerful.

“Again, in 1991, hunger deaths surfaced in independent india for the first time. This was just 90 kms from the nation’s richest city. We all wrote stories, won awards, but I was thoroughly ashamed. Had we reported better, those children could have been alive.

“Indian media is very good at covering events, not processes… It is a  paradox of the Indian media that good talent has come in at a time of great bankruptcy of media leadership. The dumbing down process is also looking at how to dumb down journalists. We take out them out of school/ college but the fundamanetal feature is the disconnect between mass media and mass reality.”

Also read: India is a nation of two planets: rich and poor

Ramon Magsaysay Award for P. Sainath

‘Newspaper upheaval isn’t cyclical, it’s tectonic’

RESTON, VIRGINIA: If America decides how to deal with its (mostly invented) threats from the secretive settings of the Central Intelligence Agency in pristine Langley, its newspapers are preparing for combat with their (mostly visible) foe from a similarly verdant setting not far from it, in Reston, Virginia.

CIA cooks up laboured names for its subversive operations (Phoenix, Infinite Justice et al), and the target is often the hapless other. But here, at the American Press Institute, Operation Newspaper Next leaves no room for confusion on who the target is.

The bazookas are trained at American newspapers, and the objective is to usher in a “regime-change” that will help them survive a threat that comes from netherworld.

Welcome to mission control of Newspaper Next, a project for the transformation of a vehicle of journalism whose obituary is being updated night and day, so much so that the grand ol’ man of American journalism Ben Bradlee says he is “flat-out sick” of hearing threats to journalism’s “dire extinction”.

The $3 million research and teaching project—or N2 as it is called, short for Newspaper Next—is a joint effort between API and Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, Innosight, and seven newspaper partners.

And the way Steve Buttry, API’s director of tailored programs explains it, the writing is not just on the wall for American newspapers, it’s in their face if it hasn’t hit them already.

# Daily newspaper circulation has dropped 16 per cent, while the American population has grown 26 per cent. The percentage of parents buying a paper is 17 per cent. That’s a 33 per cent drop in circulation.

# Seven years ago, newspapers were no. 1 in advertising with 21 per cent of the share. Now they are behind even direct mail. Internet advertising on the other hand has doubled from 2 per cent to 4 per cent.

# Newspapers are being sold, merged or downsized even as the options become limitless for the reader

The (newspaper) market is being fragmented, our world is being disrupted, says Buttry during the course of a clinical presentation that has surely been delivered dozens of times before. The business cycle is not going to save newspapers. What is happening to papers is not cyclical but tectonic. The upheaval is permanent.

The threat, as API sees it, is largely from the internet. And Buttry and the Newspaper Next project make it clear that newspapers should not make the same mistake telegram companies made when the telephone arrived.

A Western Union internal telegram in 1876 reportedly said, “The telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” Last year, Western Union sent the last telegram.

Or the same mistake that fixed line phone companies made when cell phones appeared on the scene. When AT&T came up with wireless phones, Mckinsey said there was a total market of 900,000. Today, as many phones are sold per hour round the world.

So, the wise guys behind the NewspaperNext project say newspapers should make three changes if they are to confront the online threat.

1. Newspaper should change themselves: What is now a monolithic product should become a portfolio of products

2. Newspapers should change the way they view readers: Readers should become audiences/participants

3. Newspapers should change the way they view advertisers: Advertisers should become business customers

Many American newspapers have been there, done that, and all they have got is more bad news that readers are deserting them in droves. Just 14 per cent of Americans now get their news from print. So there’s nothing to show as yet that API has cracked the formula.

Maybe, API needs to seek the answer to a different set of questions: do newspapers in their present shape, size, content and above all, delivery mechanism, deserve to be saved at all. Hundreds of products, inventions, devices have perished in the course of history without as many tears being shed.

Sure, the newspaper is not a product. Maybe, it’s a way of life. But when newspapers in polythene covers lie untouched and unopened at noon in the driveway of American homes from Georgia to Michigan, and everywhere in between, maybe the reader is sending a simple message. That his newspaper, however credible, however comprehensive, however “objective”, makes little sense.

So, should API’s and N2’s “scientists” sit down to crack a way in which the paper is delivered so that the reader doesn’t get day before yesterday’s news every morning?

Maybe, it rolls off the toaster or the coffee machine as per his customised choices?

Maybe, it is waiting there in the toilet, leaving no chance for Joe Sixpack but to tear it off and read?

Even the guys who have all the answers have no answer.

Also read: What is Newspaper Next?

Loo York Times: All the news that’s print to flush

‘Trivialisation is the leit motif of Indian media’

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Trivialisation and dumbing down of news with the lowest common denominator in mind are becoming the order of the day in Indian media in the name of giving audiences what they like.

Given the ferocious competition for eyeballs, newspapers and TV stations seem bent upon extracting tactile responses by increasingly (and disturbingly) focusing on celebrities and their frivolous acts, actions and activities.

On the other hand, what can relatively be considered far more serious news—developments which could have a long-term impact on our democracy—are barely being given the same kind of push.

To understand, all we need to do is look at how differently the following two sets of events have been covered in recent weeks.

Set A

1. Actor Sanjay Dutt sent to jail for possessing an AK-56.

2. Actor Salman Khan likely to go to jail for killing black bucks.

3. Actor Amitabh Bachchan forced to return land since he is not a “farmer”.

In all three cases, the reactions from the media has been to overreact and go overboard. There has been 24×7 coverage in front of their homes, at workspots, courts, and outside jails. There have been interviews with their friends and relatives. Media barons and shark-like editors have been yelling: get the story, the scoop and the shots.

Set B

1. Former Union minister Shibhu Soren released for lack of evidence of murdering an assistant.

2. Italian business Ottavio Quatrocchi slips out yet again in the Bofors case because the wrong papers were filed by the CBI, because of lack of incriminating evidence.

3. Sonia Gandhi‘s daughter PriyankaVadra is to buy ‘farm land’ in Shimla next to the mansion of a former President Of India after the Himachal Pradesh government bent all the rules.

In Set B, the media response has been low key. Sure, they have covered the news, but where are the reactions from media stalwarts such as Vinod Mehta, Shekar Gupta and M.J. Akbar? Where is the analysis? Where are the biting editorials? Where is the blanket coverage of what these issues mean? Why the ‘studied’ silence?

It may well be that audiences relate well to news about people they “know” than those they don’t. It may also be that audiences are more interested in knowing what happens to them. But it’s a chicken-and-egg syndrome. Would audiences have known as much about their travails if the media hadn’t covered them the same way in the first place?

What are we coming to as a media democracy?

Cross-posted on churumuri

‘Blogging helps journos understand readers’

Should newspaper websites have blogs? Should newspaper reporters and editors blog? Does it help?

For all three questions, Ray Hartley‘s answer is, yes. Hartley, editor of the recently launched South African newspaper, The Times, blogged even while the newspaper was taking shape. Now, in an interview with the African Press Network, he says, blogging helps newspapers become better and helps their staffers understand that a newspaper is not a lecturing platform, but an “engaging platform”.

“You have to ask yourself why critics are weary of blogging. It’s not just about blogging, it’s about a change in the organizational culture of newspapers. If you understand that a newspaper is not a lecturing instrument, but rather an engagement with an opinionated audience, you understand blogging right away.”

Read the full interview here: A newspaper is not a lecturing instrument

Link via Editors’ Weblog

The worst op-ed piece ever written?

Stanley Fish, the well-known postmodernist and New York Times’ columnist, thought he was doing something cool writing about how difficult it was to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks. In “Getting Coffee Is Hard To Do”, he wrote of having to wait in a queue, look for a spot to stand, add the milk and the sugar, and hear words like “‘double shot,’ ‘skinny,’ ‘breve,’ ‘grande,’ ‘au lait’ and a lot of other words that never pass my lips.”

What he gets in return for his “self-satisfied cluelessness” from Slate‘s Ron Rosenbaum is the label of the worst op-ed ever written which may or may not have walked off the pages of Onion (“Area professor befuddled by coffee place”).

“At the very least, Fish’s column showcases what happens when certain academics descend from the ivory tower to offer us their special insights on popular culture”

Read the full article here: The worst op-ed piece ever?

CNN Award for best of Indo-Pak journalism

The American satellite news pioneer, Cable News Network (CNN), has announced two new awards to honour quality journalism in India and Pakistan, commemorating the 60th year of independence of the two nations.

The CNN Journalist Award will honour journalism that reflects the social and political realities of India and Pakistan, while the Photo Journalist Award will recognise story-telling through pictures, New Delhi bureau chief, Phillip Turner said. The new awards will be in addition to the Young Journalist Award, which is currently in its fifth year.

Open to all Indian and Pakistani journalists irrespective of age, nominations are open to print/online and television journalists covering the broader and deeper issues in Indian or Pakistani society.

Entries for the awards should be published or aired between Jan 1 and Sept 30 this year.

Communists give full Marx to American journos

Are “market forces” prompting the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to get media savvy?

Its central committee met in New Delhi on Thursday to discuss the stalemate over the Indo-US nuclear deal. And, wonder of wonders, Onkar Singh of reports that the CPI(M) meeting was attended by “leading American news agencies”.

The idea behind inviting American journalists obviously was to convey to the United States the rationale behind their opposition to the nuclear deal but that the communist parties, who have been at the receiving end of Indian media houses, presumably kept the Indians out tells its own story.

The storm in the C-cup is a neat 36B

Even Britain’s serious newspapers give out CDs and DVDs to boost circulation. India’s magazines dangle everything from watches to suitcases to cars to add numbers. One Bombay newspaper even sent out alphonso mangoes in a plastic bag in the early 1990s.

So is a girlie magazine crossing the lakshman rekha in wooing readers by offering a breast enhancement for their girlfriends?

The Australian edition of the lad mag, Zoo Weekly, has offered its readers A$10,000 (Rs 5 lakh). It’s a cash prize for “a boob job for your girlfriend.” And as was to be expected, it has set off a tsunami in the C-cup.

The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) in India used to have a ceiling on the kind of gifts newspapers and magazines could offer to attract readers. Hopefully, Zoo Weekly is bound by a similar upper limit.

Obviously, it is a sales gimmick that is right up its readers’ valley, in a manner of speaking, but surely there is a health issue somewhere in here?

Read the full story here: Magazine offers boob job, sparks ire

Also read: Dead people, deadly prose