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An Eternal Romantic's Random Reflections

Matters of the heart and all else besides...

Updated: 2018-02-21T06:23:01.241-08:00


A lesson in sensitivity from my mother


My mother suffered fracture of her right shoulder towards the end of November last year. It was not just excruciating pain, but immobility that drove her to desperation. She could not move the hand, she found it impossible to get up on her own, and didn’t like banking on anybody’s support, the independent-minded woman she is. With her movement being restricted, there was no choice but to resort to diapers. That was something she hated, but she took it in her stride.

Whether it was diaper usage or something else, mother developed a sore in the buttock region which didn’t bother her initially. But three weeks with her arm in a sling, she began complaining of pain while sitting and lying down.  She knew it was the sore that was causing the problem. Ointments were having no effect. By the time we took a serious look at it, the sore had developed into an ulcer – the size of a one-rupee coin. I took a picture of it and WhatsApped to my cousin who is a doctor. He recommended surgery – pulling the skin around the ulcer together and stitching it up.

After I managed to convince mother that a “minor surgery’ was required, she was all game to visit the hospital. Cousin called me to his chamber once he had taken a look. Only a skin graft could solve the problem, he said. Skin from the thigh to be stapled to cover the ulcer area after it was cut and cleaned. It is mostly with some trepidation that you enter a hospital and, now, after his view, I started getting the heebie-jeebies.

Well, the surgery soon happened under anaesthesia hip downwards. Mother had an exhausting and nerve-racking time ahead of it – lasting several hours – wading through one test after another, being tossed and turned around with little concern for the pain she was feeling. The surgery was scheduled for the afternoon, but happened only around 8 pm. Mother was put on IV fluids at around 3 pm. The last meal she had was a mild breakfast at 8.30 that morning. The surgery took well over two hours. I found I couldn’t be rooted to any chair or sofa and, so, kept pacing up and down.

Finally, when my cousin sent me pictures (WhatsApp has its advantages, I suppose) of the skin having been grafted, I felt some relief. Half an hour later I was summoned to the room where mother had been moved to. I was expecting to see her semi-conscious or asleep or groggy and squealing in some pain. As I entered the room, I was surprised to see her lying sideways, face turned towards the door. A smile broke out on her face as she saw me. “I was asking the nurses where you were,” she said. “Have you had your food?”

Here was an 89-year-old woman, helpless in many ways, having just undergone surgery, having experienced a daylong ordeal, paralysed waist down (even if it was for the next few hours), aware that her battle to regain normalcy had just started and that it would be a long-drawn one… not concerned about herself but whether her son was all right and had food!

Here was a person who had risen above her problems, her discomfort, who showed me what care and concern actually mean – that there is just no limit to how concerned you can be for another human being... the ability to rise above pain and yet be sensitive. Lessons nobody can teach you at school or college or at the IITs and IIMs or at Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge or Yale… Thank you, mother. 

Making use of modern technologies wisely is the way forward


How is the media of today is functioning, how has it adapted and changed with the times, and how is it gearing up for the future? BBC News has been scoring with stories that use a mix of data visualisation and simple, stark facts. Its project titled Life and Death in Syria was able to convey to the outside world the dark world in Syria as the war raged. BBC News adopted a different way of presenting information interestingly, rather than just use graphs and charts and illustrations. It established a Syria violation documentation centre, comprising a network of activists inside the country, who worked to record the victims and the cause of their deaths. In the programme, the stages of fighting were set out in terms of civilian deaths, and how the price of food and the functioning of hospitals had changed during the period. Another technique was to use satellite imagery imaginatively, to show how the Syrian cities had changed visually over the years.The Daily Star of Bangladesh has captured the digital populace’s imagination with its bot service. With newspapers now having to compete for space with social media, the Daily Star had to think of strategies to survive and grow and, so, it launched a Facebook Messenger Bot to engage better with readers. The bot provides content on demand. The technology makes it possible to identify reader preference using artificial intelligence and provides customised news alerts. Clearly, more money is now being spent by news publishing houses on social media.The Rheinische Post AdLog GmbH handles the logistics of the operation for Rheinische Post. An automated Management Information System and a systematic planning approach help RP AdLog reach newspapers to readers on time. A system has been put in place to gather, analyse and manage data. IT tools for collecting geographical data and logistics tracking and planning are used.How important is video? An article in the World News Publishing Focus, reproduced in this issue, gives the example of Norway’s VGTV, the independent video company of VG (Verdens Gang), the country’s most read online newspaper. The core focus of VGTV’s strategy is news video. Social platforms have changed consumer expectations. The challenge now is to “integrate video much better in the news journey”. The challenge is also to find ways of telling stories differently, at the same time providing a seamless media experiencePaper accounts for 50-70 per cent of the total printing cost. Following best practices, using systematic procedures and optimising the process can go a long way in keeping costs down. Best practices in paper handling are important not only for economic reasons, but also for safety and environmental ones. WAN-IFRA’s OPHAL Project, a platform to optimise the paper chain, with tools to improve performance, is a remarkable initiative, built on existing knowledge and containing inputs from cross-industry experts all down the supply chain.Mention must be made of the good work being done by PrintReleaf in creating a global sustainability standard by certifiably guaranteeing to re-leaf the paper consumption of PrintReleaf customers.  PrintReleaf is a technology platform that measures customers' paper usage and certifiably reforests that usage on an equivalent basis.  The patented PrintReleaf technology not only tracks paper consumption, but also monitors PrintReleaf reforestation partners to ensure fulfillment.  Market-leading companies with a passion for the environment and a progressive concern for advancing environmental stewardship, together with their customers, can now rely on credible support. PrintReleaf, with the University of Colorado, has now evolved a reforestation standard, which outlines operational, financial, and organisational requirements for PrintReleaf global forestry partners.  [...]

Even when the going gets tough, keep pegging away


Yet another journalist has been killed in Tripura, the second in two months. Sudip Datta Bhaumik was allegedly shot by a jawan of the 2nd Tripura State Rifles about 20 km from Agartala. He was a senior journalist with Syandan Patrika, a leading Bengali newspaper of the city. On September 20, Shantanu Bhaumik, a reporter of Din-Raat, a local TV cable news channel, was killed while he had gone to cover an incident at Mandai, about 40 km from Agartala. And how many of us remember September 5, when Gauri Lankesh was shot dead in Bengaluru?The brutal killing of journalist and activist Gauri was one of the most horrendous we have heard or seen – of a journalist in India. A hapless victim of hatred, she was about to enter her house after parking her car when three bullets hit her, two on the chest and one on the temple. Gauri Lankesh’s fight was against injustice, she led a crusade against crime. In many ways, it was a moral crusade continuing the legacy of her father who left behind Lankesh Patrike, a hard-hitting tabloid. Gauri’s killing was a manifestation of something far, far larger – the maiming of a big chunk of the lives and futures of 1.2-odd billion Indians, no less, a big chunk of the fundamental rights of each citizen, and a big chunk of the Constitution that we gave to ourselves with such pride. Muzzling the press is not on. Indeed, we need pluralism and liberalism if we are to progress as a multicultural nation and dissent, whether from journalists, activists or the common man, only strengthens the polity.In the midst of all the gloom, it’s heartening to see journalists plodding along, reporting on subjects and issues that concern all of us. The Press Institute of India and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) present awards to journalists and photojournalists every year for best articles and pictures on a humanitarian subject.Malayala Manorama’s chief reporter in Thiruvananthapuram, Mahesh Guptan, sent in a short series of articles. Titled They Are Also Our Pet Children, the articles threw light on the sad plight of children with neuro disabilities, the issues faced by the children and their families, ineffective implementation of government programmes, lack of treatment facilities, and scope for social  support.Second prize-winner T. Ajeesh, Manorama’s chief subeditor in Malappuram, Kerala sent in an entry, Life on Wheels, a short, moving series of disabled people fighting the odds and winning. Mini Thomas, special correspondent, The Week, Bengaluru, received the third prize for her article, Able to Inspire — a story about how a young woman, after losing her hands in an accident, emerged as a powerful motivational speaker.The top three winners in the photography category were all from Hindustan Times. HT’s chief photographer in Jaipur had sent in an eye-catching photo-essay on the National Triangular Wheelchair T-20 Cricket Series. The two others, both special photojournalists with the newspaper, had taken some stunning pictures – of 52-year-old Monu, a dwarf, who transforms himself into ‘Charlie Mama’ at Delhi’s India Gate every day at 4 pm, and ofSuyash Jadhav who represented India in the men’s 50m butterfly, men’s 50m freestyle and men’s 200m individual medley at the Rio Paralympic Games. A three-part series on the India Spend website by Swagata Yadavar and Prachi Salve, examining what living with disability in India means, particularly with regard to access to education and employment, was cited for a special award.It’s stories such as these that will help keep the Journalism flag flying high in India and motivate others to raise the bar. Like Gauri Lankesh, Shantanu Bhaumik and Sudip Datta Bhaumik did always – without fear or favour.[...]

A passing phase, or are ominous dark clouds gathering overhead?


Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is a name that is well known in media circles. His is a familiar byline in print; his is a familiar face on television. He is a journalist and editor of stature and repute. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he studied in La Martiniere, Calcutta, the city where I grew up. Paranjoy would probably have become an economist or an Economics professor if he hadn’t decided to become a journalist – he graduated in Economics from St Stephen’s, Delhi, and went on to earn a master’s at the Delhi School of Economics. But Journalism gained (it got a top-draw investigative reporter) and, am sure, Paranjoy did as well (nothing can compensate for the satisfaction derived as a journalist in exposing wrong-doings/ corruption).It is said that it was the Emergency of 1975-77 that motivated Paranjoy to become a journalist. And, no doubt, it must have been the Emergency and all the things that were wrong during the period that goaded him to become not just an ordinary reporter, but a hardcore investigative reporter. That then, is the background of the man who has been a journalist for forty years now, who has earned his spurs.In April last year, the Sameeksha Trust, which publishes the Economic and Political Weekly, hired Paranjoy as editor-in-chief to replace C. Rammanohar Reddy who was editor of the publication for a decade or so. Reddy resigned; his was not a happy exit as some reports have suggested. However, there were no ripples as such then. Rammanohar is the son of C.G.K. Reddy, Business manager of The Hindu who helped found the Research Institute for Newspaper Development in 1979. Rammanohar, too, has had a close view of the Emergency, with his father (CGK) being arrested in 1976. In an article (When Friends Disappeared) he had written for The Hindu some years ago, he mentions how the “memories of the summer of 1976 in Delhi occasionally still send a chill down my spine”.Paranjoy’s resignation now has created more than just ripples. There’s been a lot about it in the media; prominent figures like Ashok Mitra and Ramachandra Guha have written about how he was unceremoniously shown the door (you can read all of it on The Wire website). It all really boils down to an article being taken down (from the EPW website) at the behest of Sameeksha Trust and the editor’s position being compromised, the editor being badly let down. Yes, there might have been some administrative matter that Paranjoy didn't handle the right way and which the trustees didn't like, but letting go of an editor this way is definitely not on.When the Trust appointed Paranjoy as editor-in-chief, the trustees must surely have knownhis background as an investigative journalist. His report (he was part of a committee set up by the Press Council of India) on ‘paid news’, for example, had created a storm seven years ago. He had written books – on crony capitalism and the Ambanis (no less), and how corporate entities were affecting reportage and democracy.So, did the Sameekhsha Trust bow down to pressure from the powers that be or was it due to the fear of litigation? In any case, it’s not something you would expect from the trustees – all people of eminence – of such a respected journal like the Economic and Political Weekly. You would expect a journal with such pedigree as EPW to stand up and be counted. But not in this fashion.Harsh words have been used in some of the articles that have appeared (Murdering a GreatJournal, etc), but suffice to say that what has happened at EPW is deeply dismaying and does not augur well for healthy and robust journalism. The least the Sameeksha Trust can now do is to provide its side of the story and try to clear the air, appoint another editor of stature, never again bow down to pressure or succumb to fear of any kind, and restore EPW's lost glory. Indeed, as freedom shrinks and a climate of fear is created, it’s hard times for investigative journalism. And on the 70th anniversary of [...]

As freedom shrinks, it’s hard times for investigative journalism


In October last year, a young journalist came to meet me when I was in New Delhi for the presentation of the annual PII-ICRC Awards. She was a former winner of the award, an outstanding journalist. For a series of stories she had done for a national magazine, focusing on the trafficking of children from Assam to Gujarat and Punjab to ‘Hinduise’ them as it were, she was vilified, threatened and mercilessly trolled. Her character was questioned, obscene pictures sent every day to her email account, and a case filed against her in Guwahati for inciting communal hatred. She had covered child trafficking for ten years; her stories had the desired impact with many children benefiting. In this case, she had spoken to all ‘stakeholders’ connected with the story. Instead of countering her reports with fact and reason, those in the dock resorted to the use of force, threats and other vile means. Several other journalists in India are facing similar ire from groups and outfits who fancy themselves as custodians of our nationhood and national pride and consider dissent of any sort as akin to sedition. Do violence and such loutish behaviour have a place in the practice of Hinduism? And now, the editor of The News Minute, Dhanya Rajendran, has been abused and trolled by (supposedly) actor Vijay’s fans who did not like a comment she made in relation to a film of his. An FIR was registered and four persons were charged for their threats and abuse on Twitter targeting the journalist. Finally, today, actor Vijay did what we were hoping he would do – calm down his ‘fans’ and tell them such behaviour is not acceptable. A report in the Hindustan Times says “Tamil superstar Vijay has asked his fans to not abuse women. In a statement issued on Wednesday evening, he has asked his fans and supporters to not post anything on social media that can be taken as an insult to women”. This is what he said: “I respect women in society. Anybody has the freedom of expression to criticise anybody’s film. In my opinion, whatever the circumstances, no one should reveal contemptuous or disgraceful comments on woman. I urge everyone not to post anything on Internet with the instinct that harms women.” That’s welcome news, indeed. May his tribe increase!A study commissioned by The Hoot finds that there have been 54 attacks on journalists and 25 cases of threatening them in the past 16 months. Seven journalists were killed, but “reasonable evidence of their journalism being the motive for the murder is available only in one case”, says Geetha Seshu writing about the ‘silencing of journalists’ for the website. The attacks are not just from vigilante groups. “The data with The Hoot shows that law-makers and law-enforcers are the prime culprits in the attacks and threats on the media,” Seshu points out. Overall, the situation seems quite frightening, and not only in India. Agence France-Presse reports that press freedom has hit the lowest point in 13 years, threatened by US President Donald Trump's media bashing and restrictions pursued by both democratic and authoritarian governments. The report cites US-based Freedom House, a human rights organisation, as saying that only 13 per cent of people worldwide enjoy a ‘free press’. The Freedom House survey highlighted growing concerns over efforts by governments around the world to clamp down on media and dissent. “Political leaders and other partisan forces in many democracies -- including the United States, Poland, the Philippines, and South Africa -- attacked the credibility of independent media and fact-based journalism, rejecting the traditional watchdog role of the press in free societies,” says Jennifer Dunham, who headed the research. Significantly, the report mentions press rights are being eroded by the efforts of politicians in democratic states to shape news coverage and delegitimise media outlets.However, many countries fare far bet[...]

Of love and longing in the Sixties


For me, the 1960s was the defining decade of the last century – the Swinging Sixties as I always like to call them. The decade was part of my growing-up years and, now looking back, I feel privileged to have been so much an intrinsic part of it.  So what makes the Sixties special? Art, music and fashion flourished like never before. Miniskirts were in vogue. There was a certain kind of sexual liberation. Hare Rama Hare Krishna, that cult Hindi film of 1971, exemplified this feel a few years later, portraying the decadence of the hippie culture. The Sixties was the age of music, perhaps the kind you had never quite heard before. On the international stage, the Beatles formed a cult rock band in 1960 leading on to Beatlemania three years later. The Fab Four had fans drooling over them, from Love Me Do to Abbey Road and for years later, making them possibly the best-selling musical band in history. There was the Rolling Stones who came together for the first time in 1962 and, like the Beatles, reflected the youthfulness and counterculture of the Sixties. Rooted more in the traditional rhythm-and-blues sort of music, the Stones had a great run through the late Sixties up until the early Seventies, starting with Their Satanic Majesties Request on to Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. There was Cliff Richard, too, who became a huge star in the UK, only to be overtaken by the Beatles.And, of course, there was Elvis Presley who, despite taking a long break during the decade, remained in public consciousness, thanks to his making a foray into Hollywood films and doing the soundtrack albums in them. And 1968-73 heralded his comeback years. Who can forget From Elvis in Memphis, which was released in 1969? Two years later, he would meet US President Richard Nixon at the White House. And, just like Dev Anand tried to do with Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Presley would decry the hippie cult. For me, the 1960s bring vivid memories of Calcutta, of going to school in a hand-pulled rickshaw, waiting for mother to come and pick me up, forging friendships with some of the boys in class and, later, falling secretly in love with a teacher or two and studying hard to remain at the top of the class. Most evenings, sister and I would tune in to AIR’s Jayamala to listen to Hindi film songs and on weekend afternoons to Lunchtime Variety and Musical Bandbox. Jim Reeves was a favourite, especially his Welcome to My World, I Love You Because, I Won’t Forget You, and his Christmas songs. However, most of the songs I remember listening to often on the radio during the period and which have grown on me over the years were all from Hindi films. It’s impossible to name all of them but here is a flavour. How can I forget the peppy bar bar dekho, hazaar bar dekho from a little-known film called China Town? Sung with verve and panache by who else but Mohammed Rafi, I find myself still humming the song sometimes. Shammi Kapoor is on the dance floor, guitar in hand, and as he grooves in his typical style with the young men and women of the generation, it is the feeling of the yearning for freedom and exuberance that the song exemplifies, so reflective of those years.Shammi Kapoor was the dapper dancing hero of the Sixties who, more than any other actor, exemplified the carefree spirit of those years. There are so many of his films you itch to mention, but Brahmachari is a film that I love watching every time it appears on some television channel. The film won for Kapoor the Filmfare Best Actor Award; it also bagged the Filmfare Best Film Award for 1968. Awards apart, it is the songs in the film that give you goosebumps – songs of love, of feelings seemingly unrequited but not quite, all a reflection of the era of love and longing and a breath fresh air. Dil ke jharokhe mein tujhko bithakaris a Rafi classic that tugs at your heart strings; chakke mein chakka, chakke pe gaadi has Kapoor taking a group of small ch[...]

‘Work with the world as you find it, not as you would have it be’


Speaking at the Future of Newspapers Conference in Turin, Italy, Jeff Bezos had some advice for the newspaper industry. “When you're writing, be riveting, be right, and ask people to pay." Focus on readers first, not advertisers, he stressed. While responding to a question about the similarities between running Amazon and the Washington Post, Bezos made it sound all so simple. “We run Amazon and The Washington Post in a very similar way in terms of the basic approach. We attempt to be customer-centric, which in the case of the Post means reader-centric. I think you can get confused, you can be advertiser-centric — and what advertisers want, of course, is readers — and so you should be simple-minded about that and you should be focused on readers. If you can focus on readers advertisers will come.” What Bezos means is that the reader is the boss. Wasn’t it always the case? Bezos also made another pertinent point – that the Post should be run as a profit-making business and that news organisations shouldn't hold out for rich patrons who are willing to lose money indefinitely. “This is not a philanthropic endeavour. For me, I really believe, a healthy newspaper that has an independent newsroom should be self-sustaining. And I think it's achievable. And we've achieved it.” Reminds me of what we were taught in journalism class 25 years ago – that a successful newspaper is a commercially well-run newspaper. Bezos also said whining about the Internet and the death of the old business models won't help. “One of the first rules of business is complaining is not a strategy. You have to work with the world as you find it, not as you would have it be.”The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) has today focused on what it calls “an unlikely player in the digital media”. While referring to 39 of the staffers laid off from HuffPost last week (their union contract guaranteed severance pay and health benefits), CJR provides “a snapshot of an evolving landscape for digital media labour”, in which the NewsGuild and Writers Guild of America play a growing role. News unions “never really went away,” Gary Weiss writes for CJR, “but for the first time in memory they are proactive rather than on the defensive. They are strong on promoting diversity and editorial independence, and often provide impressive raises, but tend to skimp on traditional worker protections — overtime pay and even just-cause firing — because they aren’t seen as that important to the new generation of newspeople.” According to CJR, since 2015, staffs of several online news operations have opted for union representation: Vice, Gawker, The Guardian US, Slate, and others. CJR cautions that amid a digital advertising market increasingly controlled by the dual-headed monster of Facebook and Google looms a fearful prospect that a broader digital media bloodbath may be approaching and that those old-school worker protections (unions) may yet have an important role to play. Something news publishers here in India might have not thought about, published by Mousetrap Media, an independent online publishing company, says this year’s Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, just published, is full of the usual concerns about fake news, failing business models, and the growing power of platforms. “In many ways, the headline figures around news have got even worse in the last 12 months, with low trust and high levels of news avoidance, combined with staff cutbacks in commercial and public service media, which suggest we may be locked into a destructive and downward spiral of confidence in the news.” Lying behind these bleak quotes and statistics is a growing recognition from publishers, platforms and consumers that something ‘must be done’ to restore trust, confidence and fortune. Many news organisations have been refocu[...]

Engaging with local readers and serving the community can be profitable too


Sufficiently engaging with local readers is now said to be the key to attract readers to a newspaper. Writing for The Conversation, Rachel Matthews, who has worked in the regional newspaper industry for 15 years and is a lecturer in Journalism at Coventry University, the UK, says that the national press is given more attention by both academia and industry despite regional titles dominating in terms of local readers and profits for much of UK newspaper history. A significant point she makes is: profit and community benefit are not incompatible. “Now, with cost cuts, digital editions and other concerns, it can be just as easy to forget about this community role which local newspapers have made their own – but equally, it needn’t be a choice between revenue and serving a community. The future of the local newspaper lies in it working in a way which supports its role as watchdog. By investing financially in and articulating clearly that it provides a service to the community, local newspapers can weather any changes,” she explains.

Matthews points to the new generation of ‘sociolocal’ newspapersthat would put community benefiton an equal footing with an element as important as circulation. It is not some distant dream or academic hypothesis, she says, providing the examples of the family-owned Isle of Wright County Press and the cooperative-run West Highland Free Presswho “have written this relationship into their business model, and are working to preserve community values while turning a profit”. “If these newspapers are to have a sustainable future, they need to be rescued from the tug of love battle between profit and community which has beset them for 70 years.”

A report prepared for the Geraldine R Dodge Foundation by Jessica Crowell and Kathleen McCollough talks about the importance of running focus groups in the local news community.
As newsrooms reinvent their business model, design new products and services, and invest in community engagement efforts, it is critical that they listen deeply to their communities, they suggest. According to them, focus groups are one model of listening that can be very effective in gathering feedback from a cross-section of people who represent different voices and stakeholders in an area. “The feedback gave newsrooms the confidence to test new ideas and take risks that otherwise might have seemed like blind experiments. We believe that these kinds of focus groups can be important tools for newsrooms to listen to their communities.”

Steve Gray, VP of Strategy and Innovation at Morris Communications in the USA, writing for the WAN-IFRA website, says that as the relentless decline in ad revenues empties more and more newsroom desks, there’s been a little-noted side effect: waning commitment to locally written editorials. Gray intends to make the case for strong local opinion writing as a key element of community journalism, which creates value. Narrating his experience as an editorial writer, he says he came to understand that the most important editorials were those that unravelled community issues with a combination of facts and logic borne of a desire to raise the common good.

Print still scores, but newspapers need the money to play game


Writing for The Guardian website, Roy Greenslade says print (still) remains a favourite with readers. He refers to a new study that finds newspapers are read for an average of 40 minutes a day, outstripping by a wide margin the time spent on online reading. If that is the position in the developed world, the amount of time spent on reading a newspaper in a country like India could be far more, which must surely be heartening for newspaper owners and publishers.Greenslade thinks “print in future will largely serve a niche market (a reality already for magazines)”. An educated, affluent elite will most likely be prepared to pay for the pleasure of getting ink on their hands, he says. What he finds worrying, however, is “whether anyone can find a business model to support independent, trustworthy, quality journalism on a large enough scale to stage a daily national conversation”. A question many of those in the know about the media here have also been asking. Greenslade finds the growing use of social media to access news “equally problematic”. He refers to his colleague at City, University of London, Neil Thurman, who has just published a study, Newspaper Consumption in the Mobile Age, which shows that 89 per cent of newspaper reading is still in newsprint, with just 7 per cent via mobile devices and 4 per cent on PCs.  Thurman’s research, Greenslade points out, shows that while newspapers are read for an average of 40 minutes a day, online visitors to the websites and apps of those same newspapers spend an average of just 30 seconds per day. A fair wind seems to be blowing for newspapers Down Under as well. Fairfax Media, while announcing a half-year profit, plans to keep printing newspapers, says a report on The Guardian website. Fairfax chief executive Greg Hywood says the company will keep printing the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age “for some years yet”. The report mentions the publisher radically restructuring the way the papers are run.In India, print continues to be robust, especially in the vernacular. The newspaper reading habit dying all too quickly is not only unthinkable in these parts, it is also highly unlikely. When television arrived years ago, doomsayers predicted the death of print. That never happened. A similar sentiment was expressed when the Internet boom occurred. But the printed newspaper held out strongly. And there are still millions in India who cannot do without the morning newspaper over a cup of tea or coffee. However, there is some amount of uncertainty prevailing especially after the ABP Group had many journalists leave and the Hindustan Times closed down a few of its smaller editions. A senior marketing executive in The Hindu I spoke to yesterday said the newspaper was going through tough times. It may well be that most leading newspapers are facing a similar situation. Could it be the demonetisation effect? There seem to be no remedies in sight to get revenues back on track. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out in the days and weeks ahead.  ******************** Can Mark Zuckerberg really fix journalism? Well, Emily Bell, director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, says “what independent journalism needs more than ever from Silicon Valley is a significant transfer of wealth”. It is not necessarily enough just to re-energise existing institutions (although the involvement of Jeff Bezos and his money at The Washington Post has been, from a civic and journalistic point of view, wholly beneficial), she says, adding that Zuckerberg has “a chance to make a generational intervention which will dramatically improve the health of America’s journalism”.America, in Bell’s view, needs a radical new market intervention similar [...]

Why the media needs a crash course in journalism and more


Earlier today, I was drawn to an article on The News Minute website with the headline, ‘Jayalalithaa’s health and why the media needs a crash course in social media verification. The article was by Kalyan Arun, faculty member at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai and former journalist at The Indian Express. What had riled Arun was the fact that, while reporting on Jayalalithaa’s health, the media had “lapped up... (WhatsApp) forwards of unknown origins and parroted them as gospel truth”, that television channel reporters had announced a holiday being declared for schools and colleges that come within the ambit of Madras University and Anna University, when that was not the case. Arun uses strong words when he says that “some journalists, sitting in newsrooms of television channels, as well as some of the reporters on the field (outside Apollo Hospitals) seemed to have suspended their common sense in accepting this forward as gospel truth without any verification”. He adds that the reporter of one TV channel even quoted from a WhatsApp forward to ‘confirm’ the news. Responding to Arun’s article, senior journalist Vincent D’Souza, publisher, Mylapore Times, had this to say: “To NDTV's credit, the anchor did keep telling viewers not to be taken in by WhatsApp messages on Sec144/schools closure, etc. Apollo and other private and state-run organisations can learn a lot on how they must handle their communications in the public space.And yes, we all need a course on social media and news; but how many media folks / organs want to really learn / unlearn?” Vincent wonders whether ACJ (social media sourcing and verification is part of the curriculum at the college) and the Press Institute of India could conduct such courses and, if they did, how many journalists would seriously want to learn. Arun feels there is a distinct aversion among the journalist fraternity towards organised skill enhancement. And I agree. My thing in this has always been: If you wish to follow the fundamentals of good journalism (truth-telling / honesty), then you have to check, double-check and clarify at every stage. That's what we were taught in journalism classes years ago. But the point is how many journalists today would want to go the extra mile when the battle seems largely poised at getting there first, not getting it right?In the mad scramble for news and bytes, ‘checking’, ‘condensing’ and ‘clarifying’ have taken a back seat. How many young reporters today thoroughly know the subject they are covering, or even make an honest attempt to understand it? How many have the patience for legwork and the desire to put in hard hours of work to get to the bottom of a story, rather than ‘Googling’ up information or using the mobile phone to network and put together a hastily written piece?Youngsters today have good opportunities to train or apprentice. But is there appreciable improvement in the quality of journalism? There is widespread agreement both within the profession and among the public that media output has been deteriorating in terms of both language and substance. The record of our news media on accuracy even at the most basic level of journalism – reporting on a routine event – is not very inspiring.  Accuracy, fairness and balance have taken a beating. Often the main points made at the event are missing.  Facts are often randomly selected for inclusion, the main points made at an event are missing, facts are rarely presented with the context necessary for a reader to make sense of them, direct quotes attributed to speakers are often not correct and sometimes even attributed to the wrong speaker.Creating frenzy by appealing to the emotions, not the mind; ignoring reality and any search for uncomfortable truth ... that is the media of t[...]

Striving to put public interest first is great, but do it with humility


As I sit down to write this piece, I receive a phone call from my aunt. It is almost 9 pm. She is in quite a bad way, combating vertigo. But that is secondary for her – what is most important is her daily date with the News Hour on Times Now. She is calling to say she will miss Arnab Goswami terribly and hopes he will be back on television soon. I cannot resist reaching out for the TV remote and switching it on. Goswami is still anchoring the show, the day reports had appeared in all the major newspapers, even on the front pages of some, that he had quit Times Now. It was my daughter who sent me news the previous afternoon about Goswami quitting, her WhatsApp message providing the link to the news report that had appeared on The News Minute site. By then, the news had already gone viral. In all my life I haven’t seen a media personality being discussed so much, someone who mattered so much to competition.There has been a certain drag and monotony to News Hour the past few months with even some of the early faithfuls keeping away but what was it really that made Arnab Goswami attractive to young and old alike? I have seen youngsters watch his ‘super prime time’ show in what can only be called mute admiration. Clearly, here was a man who held people of all ages enthralled, almost like he was astoryteller unfolding a magical tale. Of course, there were many who hated his high-decibel volume, his constant hectoring tone of voice, and his elbowing participants into submission, but whether you loved him or hated him, you did spare time to watch him. While debating issues, he made no bones about letting viewers know where his sympathies lay, in certain cases pressing the patriotism button too many times for comfort. That really wasn’t healthy journalism at all. At the other extreme was his chameleon-like change – his interview with the Indian Prime Minister appeared so thoughtfully choreographed that Twitterati had described the show as if they were “watching a date”.Whichever way you may look at it, most will agree that television’s Angry Young Man not only changed the debating style in the television studio newsroom but, more significantly, voiced the feelings of the common person. Goswami vented his ire on the rich and famous, the film star, the sportsperson, the diplomat, the religious head and several others, but, mostly, his seething anger was directed at the politician. It was as if the collective frustration of a country had finally found an outlet, a worthy outlet which people in high places just could not ignore. It was as if India’s common man had finally found an effective, thundering spokesperson. And much like Amitabh Bachchan reflected the hopes and aspirations of Indians in the 1970s, intolerant of exploitation and delivering speedy justice, Arnab Goswami came down hard on oppressors of varying kinds, not by using his fists but by his sheer gift of the gab.Goswami’s innings at Times Now may have come to an end but it isn’t as if Indian television has seen the last of him. The competition must have squealed in delight when the news broke out but they will be waiting and watching. There will also be millions, like my aunt, waiting, which is all well and good. So, what’s the moral of the story? There may be more than one. Whether it is personal or business, both the sides have to work to keep a relationship going, which, of course, is easier said than done (news about Goswami quitting Times Now arrived the day Gautami announced her split with Kamal Haasan, and a few days after Cyrus Mistry was ousted as chairman of the Tata Group). The other thing is, no matter how big a star you are, it pays to work with hu[...]

Putting readers first matters – they are not passive anymore


There is an interesting article by WAN-IFRA’s Cecilia Campbell on the whole issue of online users downloading ad blockers because they are so fed up with online advertising and, as a result, publishers wondering what to do. While Campbell goes into the crux of the problem and provides wide-ranging perspective, what she says towards the end of her piece is quite pertinent: “For all the talk of data, your customers are actual people. They will respond to how you treat them. They may respond to explanations about the cost of good journalism and the value exchange. But first and foremost, they need to know that you’ll protect their interests and that you care about and control what is published on your website, as well as who has access to the underlying data. If we’re to stop more people from resorting to ad blocking, everything must flow from this: trust.”That the reader is king in today’s world of journalism there is no doubt. An article on the Newspaper Association of America website talks about the rise of the opinion section in newspapers. It says that several news media outlets have recently announced the expansion of their opinion section offerings, even creating new ones, to accompany its current news coverage. These include The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune and The Tennessean. All of them having the “common desire to engage and connect with readers”. The article talks about “the importance of an engaged readership that feels represented and is encouraged to participate”. The publication’s readers are no longer simply ‘consumers’ or customers (the word Campbell uses) – they become active participants in representing the news that matters to them, the article points out. So, in many ways, the wheel has turned full circle. A recent report by the American Press Institute emphasises the importance of a collaboration between publishers and their audiences.  The key focus of the study, which features feedback and insight from 25 news leaders and innovators, stresses how a strong relationship between journalists and their consumers can help to “produce strong, engaging content that is of value to readers”. Collaboration, the report says, “is not about what your audience can do for you, but what you can do with your audience”.Monica Guzman, writing for the American Press Institute about the best ways to build audience and relevance by listening to and engaging your community, says people don’t just consume news today; they participate in it. “People have access to vast and varied information. They pursue news on their own time, and on their own terms, connecting with others who share and help satisfy their curiosity about their world. This presents an opportunity for news publishers strained by shrinking resources and growing competition: Now more than ever, journalists can engage their audiences as contributors, advisors, advocates, collaborators and partners.”An article by Ingrid Cobben on the WAN-IFRA website talks about building a community willing to pay for quality journalism. She provides the example of Danish publication Zetland, which is well on the way to doing so. Cobben says one of the co-founders and the editor-in-chief, Lea Korsgaard, wanted to create a platform that puts readers first, strongly believing that journalistic authority comes from standing among the audience rather than above them. “We consider our readers active not passive. They are more than capable to not only read, but also react, and use our stories out in the world, but also critically capable of giving us ideas, input and new perspectives,” Korsgaard had told the World Editors Forum recently.   Asked how she was building a strong community, Korsgaard tells Cobben[...]

Even as social media takes charge, newspapers retain their special charm


It was just a while ago that I  read an interesting report on the Newspaper Association of America website, which has an interesting story by David Chavern, its president and CEO. Chavern had attended the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit in New York City, a summit that explored key topics and trends affecting the digital publishing industry and where he spoke on a panel about how social publishing affects the future. Chavern believes there are three key points to consider if as a publisher you are looking to expand your presence on various social platforms.First, always remain reader-centric. The first thing Chavern says you should ask yourself is: What is my audience interested in? He urges publishers to look at audience habits, reader engagement, number of clicks and other key metrics to help understand what platforms make sense.  Second, don’t be afraid to experiment. Although understanding readers and their preferences can help publishers make smart, informed decisions about which social platforms to devote time and dollars to, Chavern says it is difficult to figure out what will work if you don’t actually try it out. Third, if done right, social publishing can lead to new revenue opportunities. Publishing directly on social platforms or linking to articles via social media, Chavern says, requires a re-thinking or re-structuring of a publisher’s pay-wall system to ensure that enough information is being offered to social followers while still maintaining a level of exclusivity for paying subscribers.Chavern’s views echo distinctly in an article by Ingrid Cobben on the WAN-IFRA website, which talks about  the reality journalists world over have to face today – news increasingly ‘breaking’ on social media platforms before publishers and broadcasters have even had a chance to get to the story. With Facebook Live enabling audiences to live stream, the role of the news industry to provide breaking news has changed, irrevocably, she says. Advances in technology and platforms, and the actions of publishers – rather than consumer demand – are the main drivers behind the growth of online video, she adds, referring to the recently published Digital News Report 2016 by Oxford's Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.  Indeed, so much has changed, and changed irrevocably, the past two decades that it is oftentimes even difficult to believe. While today’s generation is moving more and more towards digital, there is still a large readership out there, certainly in India, that swears by print. It was in the midst of reading Chavern and Cobben’s views that I received an email from a veteran journalist. G.V. Krishnan retired in 1998 as a Times of India correspondent after spending two decades with the newspaper, with postings in New Delhi, Bhopal, Chandigarh and Madras. He was earlier with the National Herald in New Delhi. As someone who had spent a life-time in newspaper organisations – as reporter, sub-editor, and even as editor of a London-based fortnightly, the Afro-Asian Echo – Krishnan says his old-fashioned mind will not accept anything that isn't on newsprint as authentic news. Also, a newspaper, home-delivered or picked up from a news-stand, has a feel, a smell that no on-line creation can emulate, he adds. How true!Why freedom of the press is paramountAt a time when there is a lot of talk about freedom of the press here in India, and fierce debate about which TV anchor is right and who is wrong, etc, Krishnan’s memories of the 1975 Emergency provide a sobering  as well as chilling effect. Referring to Sachidananda Murthy (New Delhi resident editor of The Week) writing recently about the nig[...]

Catering to the young and the old, in an effort to forge lasting bonds


It is interesting to read on the NiemanLab website that The New York Times (NYT) is taking its expertise and access to the classroom. The article by Ricardo Bilton says “the dual challenges of sinking print readership and contracting digital ad revenue are forcing legacy publishers to ponder new ways of making money”. NYT seems to have found a new way by opening a summer camp. Bilton says a few hundred high school students will spend a couple of weeks at the NYC Summar Academy this summer to get through “a set of courses designed to give students a comprehensive, cross-sectional look at some of the big areas within the Times’ wheelhouse”. Some of the courses offered include Sports Management and Media, Writing for Television: Inside the Writers’ Room, and The Future of Fashion.Newspapers in India and indeed across the world have over the past several years been trying hard to attract young readers. Now, this initiative by NYT seems a sensible thing to do and newspaper publishing houses in India should consider offering similar courses for students. The idea is not just to earn extra income. Bilton quotes Raymond Ravaglia, director of the precollege division at The School of NYT: “The goal here is to get the students out of the classroom and into the intersection of ideas and careers. They spend a lot of their time studying and getting new ideas, but they don’t have a sense of how these ideas get operationalised in the world in terms of careers.” How true!Such exercises must give students an opportunity to focus on the community, the neighbourhood, the city they live in. And you never know – from such exercises may dawn a student’s love for heritage or civic issues or sport or food, or even Journalism. Bilton says NYT charges nearly $4000 for the two-week summer course and that the cost has not discouraged students from signing up. By Indian middle-class standards, this is pretty expensive. I am sure media houses here can work out a reasonable fee. What’s also important is to get their reporters associated with the programme. We have students applying to intern in newspaper offices, but newspapers taking the initiative to draw students is quite different. It’s indeed a welcome step by NYT. Nothing like providing young and impressionable minds a true experience of what it is like working in a news publishing house.We have all heard about newspapers reaching out to young readers, but here is something remarkably different. Writing for the Columbia Journalism Review,its contributing editor Trudy Lieberman explains why one local paper launched an online section for older readers. The new effort from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, she says, is a little unusual: it’s aimed directly at older audiences. In April this year, the paper launched Aging Edge, a section of its website dedicated to the interests and concerns of the area’s “older adults, their familiesand the professionals who deal with them”. The idea, according to Lieberman, came from Gary Rotstein, a veteran Post-Gazette journalist, the objective being to cater to a region that has a high proportion of the elderly. Some of the subjects covered include ‘staying healthy’, ‘aging at home’, and ‘preparing for the end’. The reporting, again, is more localized and community-driven. Yet another example worth replicating here in India. [...]

Let us drive home the message that smoking is bad for health


Cigarette smoking is injurious to health. We’ve all heard that a million times. But who cares, anyway? There was a time not so long ago when smoking a cigarette was seen to be a cool thing (to borrow from today’s oft used terminology) to do, when boys just out of school and in college smoked to ‘impress’ girls or simply because if they didn’t, they would not be considered adults and be sneered at. The statutory warning, ‘cigarette smoking is injurious to health’ was carried by cigarette packs even then but few took the trouble to read it. Within families, empty cigarette packs were sometimes passed on to children to play with, and if you had the money to buy a pack of 20s of Dunhill or Benson & Hedges or Marlboro or Rothmans or State Express 555, you would have flaunted them; they all came in very attractive packages. And, of course, they were all status symbols of a kind.Despite those rather glamorous heydays when film heroes smoked to make a point, in recent years, thanks to repeated warnings and mainly due to the fear of the dreaded C (cancer), many smokers have managed to give up the habit. For some, the initial stages have been akin to leading a wretched life. But having been brave enough to withstand and overcome the trauma, they have emerged stronger and wiser. Unfortunately, many in the young generation are getting into the habit of smoking cigarettes, like their fathers and grandfathers did. College girls and young women, too. Is there a way to stop them? It’s a free country, isn’t it?So what do cigarettes do? Does tobacco smoke contain harmful chemicals? Yes, at least 250 of them. Is smoking addictive? Yes. It’s almost the same as being addicted to heroin and cocaine. Doesquitting smoking lower the risk of cancer? Yes. If you quit when you are younger, the better for you. It’s some of these messages that Dr V. Shanta, chairperson of the Cancer Institute in Chennai, athis year’s recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, tries to get across at various forums. For her, it’s one of her life’s missions. And I feel it is our duty to strengthen the tireless efforts of doyens like Dr Shanta.[...]

Let there be progress and change, and let us learn from shared experiences


Veteran journalist Pamela Philipose has captured well the flavour of “the throes of a great churn” as she puts it, after attending the recent WAN-IFRA Digital Media India Conference held in New Delhi. So, there is progress, there is change, and, of course, there are challenges. At the two-day conference, some significant points came to the fore: not every single new Internet user is proficient in English; Hindi content grew five times that of English; search queries in Hindi grew at a ten times faster pace than those in English; and, significantly, by mid-2017, the Hindi ad inventory willovertake the English ad inventory. In fact, the share of local language adspend on digital is expected to rise from 5 per cent last year to 30 per cent by 2020. Ad revenues will be under threat as the future becomes digital. And, what might not be welcome news to news publishers and television channel owners — with newspapers, television too increasingly appeals only to the 35-plus age group. However, riding the digital wave has never been easy or smooth. Yes, social is where the story breaks first, social is where journalists tend to follow up first. But being on social media and garnering ‘likes’ is not enough, mainstream media houses would need to translate the ‘likes’ into a continuous engagement, Philipose echoes the views of some of the speakers.At the conference, Philipose listened to Torry Pedersen, CEO/editor-in-chief, Verdens Gang AS(VG), Norway’s largest media house. The only way to go it seems, according to Pedersen, is to experiment and learn from each other’s experiences. He makes some very pertinent points. One, you have to be the fastest – the Usain Bolt of the media. Two, you have to be live and present, and to be alive today all you need is a selfie stick and an iPhone. Three, your content will have to create emotion -- of course, you have to be opinionated. The biggest proportion of traffic from our Facebook is the opinion section because people like to express their views and you have to let them do it. Finally, you have to instil the ‘fear of missing out’ in your audience, so that peoplekeep coming back to you. The discussion about going digital is usually preceded by a caveat on the consequences. RicardoGandour, director of Brazil’s Estado Media Group, which includes the 141-year old flagship dailynewspaper, O Estado de SPaulo, says fragmentation of media introduced by digital technology and now amplified by powerful social platforms comes with a risk to journalism and democracy. “Social media has boosted superficiality, with instant responses of either like or dislike, contributing towards a polarizing society. [...]

It’s a seething cauldron of emotion, the media must tread with caution


Incidents of the past few weeks have been rather disconcerting to say the least. Whether we are publishers or editors or journalists or technical managers working in newspaper presses, this is a matter that confronts us all. The nation seems to be seized by a sudden pang of conscience. Words such as ‘national’ and ‘anti-national’ are being used in many of the conversations we hear. It all started off in institutes of learning, in universities, with students in the thick of things. The institutions read like a Who’s Who if a list were to be made – the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune, IIT-Madras, Hyderabad Central University, and the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). With the storylines being similar, agitations have spread to other institutes and centres of learning. The cauldron started to simmer in January when Rohit Vemula, an Ambedkar Students Association leader at the Hyderabad Central University killed himself, leaving a suicide note that touched many hearts. Then things came to a head in the second week of February when JNU Student Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on sedition charges. In all the cases, the response from either the administration or the government has not been adequate to deal with what at times threatens to be a conflagration that could well devour everything in its wake if left unchecked. What has been even more disconcerting is the role being played by the media in this whole thing. As it is, with feelings running high, the responsibility of the media in such cases is to be extremely cautious while reporting the events as they unfold, to ensure that everything is double-checked and that only facts are reported. However, the reporting by some journalists, especially by those working for television channels, has done little to instill confidence in readers/ viewers and to restore the faith of people in the media. It was sad day for journalism in India when it emerged that the video showing Kanhaiya Kumar raising incendiary slogans was allegedly a doctored one. The Hindu reported that four such videos were in circulation. The question many people are asking is how is it that when Kumar had not raised any anti-national or anti-India slogan, the videos doing the rounds of news channels showed something different. So, was an audio track superimposed on the video? To make matters worse, there were accusations and counter-accusations between senior journalists, the one between the head of a prominent news channel and the co-founder of a prominent online news portal standing out. Of course, readers and viewers are fairly intelligent to judge for themselves. But the fact that there seems to be so much of dislike and animosity between members of the media fraternity is really sad and does not bode well for a healthy and robust media and for a healthy and robust democracy. And most of it really fuelled by competition, the race for readership, eyeballs and TRPs (television rating points), or whatever. In the midst of all the cacophony, where might seems to be always right, what the media is witnessing is further erosion of its credibility. It is I suppose also a reflection of the times we live in and symptomatic of a wider malaise that has crept in our society. If journalists can be beaten and threatened as we have seen happen at the Patiala House court complex after the Kanhaiya Kumar episode, we cannot stop wondering whether we are a tolerant country after all and whether the freedom of the press is in peril. For sure, we need far more sane voices within media than we have at the moment, to quieten the voices of incitement. It’s still a r[...]

Let’s be objective and let facts speak for themselves


Journalists may leave newspapers or magazines for varied reasons. Usually, the reasons trotted out are not being able to cope with work pressure or gaining a better opportunity, status-wise and salary-wise. One young journalist I bumped into a while ago said he was wanting to quit because the management of the newspaper he was working for, had come under a cloud. I told him if he was happy with his work and as long as the newspaper had a sizeable readership there was really no reason for him to contemplate quitting. But, of course, public perception plays a major role in many of the things we do, even if it has to do with a job. Even as a reader, for instance, being seen with a particular newspaper matters at times. In journalism classes, everybody talks about following good editorial practices, adhering to ethics, the qualities a reporter should have, etc. There is not much focus on the ownership of a newspaper and how a newspaper needs to be run well commercially for it to be a successful product. ‘Commercially’ doesn’t just mean the economics of running something, it also means adopting the latest technology (printing presses and sundry), even sourcing the right newsprint so that the ink looks good on paper. Many of the newspapers in India are family-owned, there are very few that are run by trusts. Corporate ownership of the media is a relatively new development. Whatever be the form of ownership, it is clear that somebody has to own a newspaper. Even a corporate entity is backed by a human mind. So, owners are entitled to have opinions and a newspaper’s policy is normally charted out by the owner (s). Editors and journalists are expected to follow the policy and if for some reason they disagree or are unhappy following such policy, they have the freedom to leave. Generally, the owner does not interfere in the day-to-day running of a newspaper and the editor is given a free hand. There have of course been numerous instances of pressure being brought to bear on editors to change course or editors being fired because they did not follow the policy laid down by the newspaper or ran an article or a series of articles to considerably upset the political dispensation. However, what a senior journalist told me a few days ago caught me by some surprise. According to her, an editor today can tweet about his preference for a political party and some senior journalists and columnists are setting themselves up as spokespersons and defenders of the ruling party or others. So, what about objectivity and ethics? What is disturbing is that it could set a dangerous precedent.The fact is, many of our reporters and sub-editors, including those who work for top newspapers, do not know the rules enough and certainly not how to handle sensitive issues. They do not even refer to the style sheet. In the mad scramble for news and bytes, ‘checking’, ‘condensing’ and ‘clarifying’ have taken a back seat for some years now. How many young reporters today thoroughly know the subject they are covering, or even make an honest attempt to understand it? The record of our news media on accuracy even at the most basic level of journalism – reporting on a routine event – is not very inspiring. A lot of all that is manageable, but a mainstream news publisher repeatedly driving only a highly subjective point of view and trying to influence the opinion of readers or viewers by not presenting the other side of the story can be disastrous for journalism and all that it stands for. Let us steady the ship before it is too late. [...]

How do you keep pace with the dynamics of the Mobile Revolution?


No other instrument has created a greater impact in our lives, at least in recent decades, than the mobile phone. There are more than a billion users in India of the mobile phone, but more than the numbers it is the sheer power of the instrument, especially the smartphone, that is amazing. If at home it may not be surprising to see silence reign and members of a family engrossed in texting, pinging, chatting or whatever with their eyes glued to the small hand-held screen, the transformation of the media landscape and publisher business has been quite dramatic, so much so that several organisations, including the majors, are now focused on meeting the challenge of catering to the customer of today and tomorrow – Generation Z – who, according to Dushyant Khare of Google India, is likely to be a mobile-only user. For owners, publishers, editors and technical heads, riding the “smartphone wave” hasn’t been easy and it is unlikely to be smooth in the days ahead. For the mobile revolution is still as dynamic as ever. As Khare says, the question that is uppermost in their minds relates to money, especially at a time when print subscribers have dwindled.So who is going to make sense of the “digital phenomenon”? We may have to wait a while for that to happen. The latest World Press Trends Report has found that for the first time, circulation revenue of newspapers across the globe has surpassed advertising revenue. Declining advertising revenues are posing yet another challenge for publishers– how to make print more attractive. Kasturi Balaji, director of Kasturi & Sons who now heads the World Printers Forum, suggests that a redefinition of the newspaper may be required if the printed newspaper and the printing plant are to be sustained. Can newsprint compete visually with high-quality displays on mobiles, tablets, he asks. We all know the answer to that. So, what’s the way forward? One of the ways could be users buying the articles they wish to read. Blendle’s micropayments system holds promise for publishers not only as a revenue stream but also as a gateway to selling subscriptions. The concept as far as I know is yet to take shape in India but it is an interesting concept nevertheless. Then there is the whole issue of mobile revenues not keeping pace with the rising number of people using smartphones to consume news. Google, Facebook and Twitter seem to be making all the money while others are left wondering what to do. More than half the readers of four UK national titles (Independent, Daily Mirror, Express, Guardian) access content only on mobile devices (smartphone or tablet), not in print or on a desktop computer. And that not only makes the picture clear but also strengthens the view many of us have – that the future will be more about mobile devices. [...]

Yes, Mr Raghavan, it matters to have gentler ways


B.S. Raghavan’s piece on his blog about the exit of Malini Parthsarathy as the editor of The Hindu and some of the goings-on within and outside the family that runs the venerable newspaper may have surprised all those who have read it. A couple of former senior IFS officers I met yesterday in my office, who know Mr Raghavan well, told me it was so unlike him to put it all down for the record as it were. A senior journalist I spoke to said the same thing. We might all wonder what prompted him to write such a piece, but it appears as though he wished to just get a load off his chest. Whatever may be the churning developing apace at The Hindu, it’s probably none of our business as long as they don’t affect us as readers of the paper. But there are some larger, pertinent points Mr Raghavan has made, which you just can’t shrug off as being unimportant. Perhaps the most important point he makes is the one about Humility, about the need to be humble at all times. He uses the phrase, “the ephemeral and transient nature of life and its trappings” and how people change when they reach exalted positions. He uses the words “insensitive and encrusted bureaucracy” to describe some of the goings-on, and how his repeated emails never received responses. In my three-decade-long career, first as an officer in the insurance industry, then as a public relations manager for a leading corporate entity, and later as a journalist and an editor, I have always responded to telephone calls and replied to letters or emails. And been courteous with customers, visitors and staff. Busy is not a word I generally use. According to me, feeling is everything. So, if you wish to do something, you will find the time to do it. It’s as simple as that. Often, in recent years, my calls or text messages or emails to editors and journalists, even to those I have worked with, have elicited no response. Sometimes, I do get a reply – a rather brusque “Noted” or disinterested “OK”. I often wonder what it is that stops them from even writing a full sentence. Surely, nobody in this world is so 'busy'!However, even among publishers, editors and journalists, there are exceptions. B.G. Verghese, who passed away a year ago, was one. He would occasionally even string two or three sentences to say he liked a particular issue we published or suggest something useful. Now, coming from a person of his stature (a former legendary editor who was press information advisor to Indira Gandhi nonetheless), it shows that the truly ‘great’ people are usually humble. I was fortunate to meet him once when he had come to Madras and get him to sign his book (First Draft: Witness to the Making of Modern India) for me. In fact, it was Mr Verghese who had sent me details of his visit before leaving Delhi and invited me to the programme, long before I received a call from the local host. Another example I can recollect is that of Gopal Krishna Gandhi, former distinguished civil servant and diplomat, and West Bengal Governor, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson. When I once called his residence number with some amount of trepidation, I was pleasantly surprised to hear his voice at the other end, asking me if it would be convenient for ME (!) to meet him on so-and-so day and time. Recently, I met him at a wedding and later went to him and wished him. He remembered me well and spent a few minutes chatting with me.It was quite extraordinary. But that is the kind of person he is. Now, these are giants I have hardly known, quite different from let’s say, my mentor S[...]

Rising intolerance: Onus on media to play a responsible role


Tolerance and intolerance. Two words we are getting to read often nowadays in newspapers in India. So what really has happened to sobriety? Filmmakers, artistes, writers and scientists have returned their national awards to protest “growing intolerance in the country”. Their contention: the government is stifling freedom of expression. The return of the awards and all the talk about intolerance comes at the head of a series of occurrences – Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi being killed, Perumal Muragan having to quit writing altogether, a fatwa issued by a Mumbai-based outfit against A.R. Rahman for scoring music for an Iranian film, a warning issued to actor Rajnikanth for accepting the role of Tipu Sultan, and a bomb attack on the office of Tamil TV channel Puthiya Thalaimurai. The happenings prompted Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi to say that intolerance is on the rise and there is a "dialogue deficit" between the government and its people. They have also prompted Moody’s (one of the world’s Big Three credit rating agencies) to state that the Indian Government needs to rein in elements that are out to intimidate media and society. And none other than President Pranab Mukherjee appealed to people to preserve India's multiplicity and pluralistic character. Overall, there seems to be a sense of fear, for all those who wish to voice opinion, as journalists, bloggers, tweeters, and those who are active on Facebook or on WhatsApp. As I was writing this, I received a long, forwarded message on WhatsApp with the opening sentence reading: “this is a very important message if you care about the unity, peace and progress of India”. I was asked to forward it in turn to “every Indian so that the evil face of media is exposed”. “Our media is wolf in sheep's clothes”, the framer of the message seemed convinced. While listing out some of the connections and relationships journalists had with politicians as well as the presence of some cozy clubs, the thrust of the message was: why is the media 'manufacturing' these stories of so-called intolerance. The English language press and English TV channels were continuously “harping about things like 'rising intolerance' and making a big issue of some isolated incidents...”, mainly to scare away potential foreign investors when on the ground common people were leading normal lives, the message read. Today, the onus is on publishers, editors and journalists, perhaps more than ever before, to adhere to the principles of honesty and truth-telling, to be accurate and fair and balanced and, most importantly, to be sensitive to the pressures of the times. It’s a time also for reflection and to make an honest judgment.  ****************************Well, it’s a tough time for journalists everywhere. UNESCO convened events in Paris, London, New York and elsewhere on 2nd November to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. In the past decade, 700 journalists have been killed for reporting the news: one death every five days. In nine out of ten cases, the killers go unpunished. Less than one in ten cases involving the killing of journalists is ever resolved. It is almost as if there is near complete impunity for the perpetrators of crimes against journalists. Governments, civil society, the media and everyone concerned to uphold the rule of law are being asked by UNESCO to join in the global efforts to end such impunity. Yet, as we all know, the challenge remains steep. In Ind[...]

Newspapers still the most reliable, continue to attract younger audiences


The findings of the 15th edition of a data-heavy Newspaper of Association of America report (Circulation Facts and Figures) released recently may be interesting to publishers and editors in India. Rick Edmonds, writing for (The Poynter Institute), says that among 175 papers responding to a Newspaper Association of America (NAA) Survey, the median ‘bottom-line contribution’ of circulation had risen from 42.6 per cent in 2011 to 56.1 per cent in 2014. He quotes John Murray, NAA’s vice-president of audience development and author of the report saying that the significance of that improvement should not be underestimated. “I think we haven’t told the story very well of how the industry has managed to stay profitable after five to seven years of declining ad revenue,” Murray told Edmonds.Typically, Murray found the median rate for a one-week seven-day subscription rose from $3.66 in 2008 to $4.50 in 2011 to $5.74 in 2014. That is a 64 per cent increase over the six years. Edmonds mentions that three quarters of the papers now also charge non-subscribers for digital access and that typically the higher-priced print subscription is bundled with digital access. Nearly 60 per cent of ‘paid starts’ in 2014 were for this combination, he writes.If that’s about the commercial side of running a newspaper, I found encouraging news relating to the editorial side from an article written by Brian Tierney for (The Inquirer/ Daily News). The skyrocketing audience of newspaper content on all platforms, he writes, is evidence that journalism still touches an important chord in society today. In reality, more Americans read newspaper content today than ever before, he adds. Some 88 per cent of adults - that's 176 million Americans - consume newspaper media on digital platforms, according to recent comScore research. “And despite popular myths (must be indeed heart-warming for publishers and editors of newspapers), comScore shows that newspapers continue to attract younger and younger audiences: 92 per cent of women and 87 per cent of men ages 25 to 34 read newspaper content, with similar numbers in the 18 to 24 age group.”It's easy to see why, Tierney points out. “In a world of information overload, newspaper content remains the reliable shortcut to news that is actually accurate and interesting. Some 59 per cent of Americans trust newspaper content, compared with the 37 per cent who trust information on social media. This trust allows journalists to shine the spotlight on matters that require our attention, wherever they find them. It allows newspapers to carefully cover issues of local importance, from government to sports to the newest restaurant. And it is that trust, earned over years of shining the spotlight on such issues, which allows investigative reporters to be taken seriously and gives newspapers the power to confront corruption - even in law enforcement.” So, clearly, newspapers have quite a bit going for them.[...]

Nothing quite matches the ‘spellbinding’ power of a newspaper


Have you ever heard of an alphabet being the focus on the front page of a newspaper? Well, if you haven’t, here’s a story that might interest you – it’s all about how The Alphabet Project transformed a newspaper’s front page. Catherine Payne’s article on the Newspaper Association of North America website caught my attention. She writes about how one letter dominated the front page of the Sentinel & Enterprise, a community newspaper in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Monday to Saturday, July 13 to August 11 this year. The project, supported by a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town Grant and commissioned by the Fitchburg Art Museum, was led by New Orleans-based artist Anna Schuleit Haber. Payne says Haber invited 26 typographers from different countries to contribute an original letter to the project. Each letter inspired not only a day's front-page design but also content – amounting to 103 written pieces. Haber worked with contributors and interns, says Payne. The interns, including high school and college students, helped with writing, editing, research, communications and logistics. Sentinel & Enterprise editor Charles St Amand summed it up well when he said the project had brought energy to the newsroom. But what a wonderful achievement – getting the young interested in contributing to a newspaper. In Payne’s words, the project showed how spellbinding print media can be. If you are interested in ordering for a collector’s set of 26 issues (each for one alphabet), you can log on to where the details will be up soon.Another interesting piece I read – by Aralynn McMane, executive director, Youth Engagement and New Literacy, WAN-IFRA – mentions a former prisoner, Chandra Bozelko, writing in an essay (that appeared in Quartz, the online news outlet of Atlantic Media) how she found newspapers better than books for herself as well as for women with low reading skills. McMane quotes Bozelko: "Better than any book, newspapers were lifesavers that pulled me closer to shore because each new edition marked a new day, an invitation to rejoin a world that kept moving while I was inside." Well, such is the power of the newspaper. So, how can newspapers ever die?It is perhaps just a coincidence, but a pointer nevertheless, that at the World Printers Forum Conference in October, in Hamburg, keynote speaker Hermann Petz, CEO of the Austrian newspaper Tiroler Tageszeitung, will be making a strong case for the power of print. Petz, according to a WAN-IFRA release, is on a bold mission to put an end to today’s endless bashing of newspapers. ‘The newspaper is dead? Long live the newspaper!’ is the title of Petz’s recently published book, written on the occasion of the Tiroler Tageszeitung’s 70th anniversary. The title pretty much sums up the sentiment and I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually all talk about the death of the newspaper will cease.[...]

Too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing


In India, the recent horrific deaths of Jogendra Singh (in Uttar Pradesh), and Sandeep Kothari and Akshay Singh (Madhya Pradesh) are only reflective of how unsafe the country has become for journalists who dare. Jogendra Singh, in a declaration made before a judicial officer shortly before he died, identified his assailants and charged they had carried out the attack on behalf of a local government minister. Clearly, investigative journalism is a risky venture these days and if your work antagonises people (those in power) within and outside government, then you are in dangerous territory. Yes, too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing for journalists. Trends in Newsrooms 2015, the annual report published by the World Editors Forum, lists ‘source protection erosion’ as the rising threat to investigative journalism. It used to be possible to promise confidentiality to sources – guaranteeing the protection of their identities, even on pain of jail – in countries where legal source protection frameworks were robust. But these protections are being undercut by government    surveillance and data retention policies, and it may no longer be ethically possible to promise confidentiality. These developments have an enormous impact on investigative journalism and are giving rise to increasing attention to risk assessment, self-protection and source education, says the report.  It was quite by coincidence that I chanced upon a report in the PressGazette, UK, stating that parents in the UK would rather their daughter marry a banker, marketer or teacher than a journalist. The article by William Turvill refers to a Yougov Survey which found that 3 per cent of 1756 UK adults would like their prospective son-in-law to be a journalist. Women journalists (as prospective daughters-in-law) fared slightly better, with a 4 per cent score. However, the rankings fell way short of other professions. The most popular son-in-law profession was doctor (38 per cent), followed by lawyer (24 per cent) and architect (23 per cent). Even teacher (15 per cent), entrepreneur (11 per cent), banker, musician (both 6 per cent), and nurse, soldier, athlete (all 5 per cent) ranked higher. Doctor was also the most popular choice of profession for daughters-in-law (35 per cent), followed by teacher (26 per cent), lawyer (24 per cent), nurse (16 per cent) and architect (14 per cent). So, is there a story here? Is it because journalists are losing jobs and are considered rolling stones, because journalism has become dangerous, or because people are slowly losing trust in the media? Perhaps it’s a combination of all this and more.  Trust. Which brings me to the BBC’s annual review. The report shows that BBC News has “yet to fully recover from the scandals of 2012 in terms of perceptions of trust from the public… Audiences continued to rate BBC News much more highly than other news providers, although perceptions of trust in BBC News have not returned to the record levels of 2012.” BBC still scored with 53 per cent for “impartiality of news”.  Overall, the situation is rather grim. It’s a trying time for journalists worldwide. Apart from the daily pressures of the job, you now have to contend with danger at every corner. And when your job is to expose, without bias, the misdeeds of those in power, the harsh realities on the ground are making it well-nigh impossible.[...]

Concerns relating to the media surface in Copenhagen


Senior journalist Shastri Ramachandaran has worked with leading newspapers in India and abroad, his last major innings was as senior editor and writer with Global Times and China Daily in Beijing. He, of course, prefers to be known as just an independent political and foreign affairs commentator based in New Delhi. Shastri was invited to the Global Media Freedoms Conference 2015 in Copenhagen in April. Hosted by Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in partnership with the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), the two-day discussion was on key issues such as: threats to and the future of independent journalism; securing a future for news in the face of technological, commercial and security challenges; the critical role of media in the development of societies; and, how to deal with risks to independent journalism and journalists. The growing worldwide concern over increased threats to the functioning of a free and independent press found expression at the conference. The role of the media is obviously a point of discussion in several countries. Shastri refers to Eric Chinje, chief executive of the Nairobi-based African Media Initiative, talking about the African Experience, but with “lessons that are universal and relevant to all societies that look to media to help make sense (of) and master the changing realities of daily existence”. Chinje, he adds, touched on the strategies, initiatives and collective actions taken to ensure respect for ethics, strengthen technological adaptation, put media at the centre of national and regional development and agree on media’s role in governance. The last two, Chinje said, had “sparked a defining debate on the role of media in Africa today”. Shastri also mentions a seven-point agenda spelled out by Chinje on what should be done to engage and implicate the media to make Africa’s economic emergence sustainable and achieve lasting peace and social cohesion. The agenda identifies the greatest, self-induced, challenges to media freedom as: putting out content that has little regard for what audiences and readers want; disregarding the ethics of the profession; not maintaining high professional standards; and, not paying adequate attention to the business dimension of the news business. Shastri then branches off to another insightful presentation (and of greater relevance to South Asia) by Shirazuddin Siddiqi, BBC Media Action country director for Afghanistan. In his paper on the role of media (in the development of society) in developing and fragile states, Siddiqi points out that Afghanistan is not only a fragile state but also has a fractured society. His focus is on how investment in media in fragile states falls short of ensuring plurality in social dialogue, promoting tolerance, enabling dialogue across fracture lines for people to negotiate differences and agree on principles towards building a shared culture and identity. What is missing, Shastri points out, is the institutional resolve and resources to bring people together and create conditions to make them accommodate differences within a shared national identity.Despite all the criticisms we level at the media here in India, there is no doubt that we have a fairly vibrant Fourth Estate; journalists by and large have a lot of freedom and we are a fairly tolerant society. It’s at conferences such as this that you tend to see the good side[...]