Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
|Amrita Shah, a contributing editor at the Indian Express, begins her book by recalling an incident from her childhood that was to leave a deep impression on her. One winter morning in 1971, “I remember very clearly the arrival of the newspaper … and my mother’s audible gasp.|
|‘What happened?’ I asked, trying to get a peek at the headlines.|
|‘A great scientist died,’ she said, visibly moved.”|
|So began a deep fascination for a man who, for Shah, “came to occupy a fuzzy space in my head, an idea of a progressive and romantic figure”. This book is a tribute to her admiration....Read more|
Monday, February 26, 2007
On the cover of this book is the picture of a turbaned Rajasthani villager, his camel seated behind him, the vast expanse of the
Edward Luce worked as the Financial Times' bureau chief in
Luce is at his weakest in criticising the Hindu nationalist movement that has swept this county over the past two decades. His bias presents itself vividly in his description of the Godhra incident of 2002, in which a train compartment packed to the brim with Hindus returning from Ayodhya was set afire by an unruly mob (comprising mainly Muslims) at the Godhra railway station in Gujarat. The incident occurred on
It is well known that Jawaharlal Nehru adopted the
Where Luce's book picks up is in regaling readers with interesting and often dumbfounding Chinese whispers. Can it really be that some Congress party members called their leader Sonia Gandhi "an uneducated Italian housewife" in Luce's presence? Luce adds that these two went on to become Cabinet ministers in the government that was instituted in 2004. It's too delicious a piece of gossip to not know.
The writing on certain states' skewed gender ratio is engaging. So is the impassioned cry against child labor. And Luce tickles the humor bone ever so often. Taking a dig at Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan's omnipresence in television commercials, he remarks, "Wherever you are in
The problem with the book is that it tries to compress lofty issues into 40 odd pages each. It's not that Luce hasn't done his homework, but he's done only that. Even as the reader waits for him to move from narration to analysis, the book wraps up as little more than the diary entries of an inquisitive reporter.
And yes, dear Andre, if you are reading this, your observation that in
Luce just might agree.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Ninan's piece is reproduced below:
|In the U.S., newspapers are becoming the dinosaurs of the media world.|
Losing ground: The Philadelphia Inquirer building.
IT feels more than a little strange to go from a country where new newspapers continue to enter the market to one where they are becoming the dinosaurs of the media world. Walk into a relative's home in Atlanta, and you discover that they don't take newspapers any more on weekdays. Ditto another relative in Maryland. Walk into a friend's home in New York and you find that they have stopped taking them altogether. Go around a graduate studies class in Philadelphia and ask how many read newspapers, and two out of 15 hands go up. True, the rest read headlines on the Net, but that still makes the bundle of paper at the doorstep a thing of the past. And a friend reports from the Columbia School of Journalism that in her class the number of grad students who said they read newspapers of the paper variety were zero. Even though they were available for free in the school. Imagine, she says hysterically, journalism students!
Which, of course, is doing something to newspaper establishments. At the Philadelphia Inquirer, which has had an illustrious past, a journalist waves at a long row of framed certificates on the wall and says "those are all the Pulitzers we don't win any more." The most recent one dates back to 1997. Last year the paper got new local owners, this year in January it sacked 71 people. Walk around its huge newsroom and you can spot the empty bays where journalists sat till a few weeks ago. Andy Maykuth, the journalist showing me around, was travelling to Afghanistan every year to report from there until a couple of years ago. He can still go to Afghanistan — if he can find a Philadelphia angle to the story.
The editor, Bill Marimow, reels off the reasons for the sorry state of affairs with the practised air of a man who has had to explain this quite often. There has been fragmentation of media. First TV took away advertising from newspapers, then it migrated to the Internet, now even podcasts are sponsored. Two, classified advertising has vanished with the advent of Net ventures like Craig's List. Sound familiar. Not so long ago, the editor of the Guardian in Britain was telling an audience in Delhi the same thing. Three, young Americans do not read newspapers. Period. Four, the cutbacks and reduced staff are making it very difficult to maintain quality. So readers are migrating to free newspapers and smaller suburban ones that have local news.
Whether it is The Boston Globe, or the Baltimore Sun or the St. Louis Post and Despatch in Missouri, the quality regional papers are suffering. And their journalists are paying for it with their jobs. The Globe announced the closure of three foreign bureaus last month in an effort to minimise the 19 job cuts in its newsroom that have been mandated by its parent company. If students in universities in any part of the country read newspapers, they are likely to be reading The New York Times which takes care to woo them with subscriptions which cost 50 per cent of the regular price for a home delivered copy. Both The Times and The Wall Street Journal are increasingly being read nationwide, while the latter has paying readers on the Net as well. NYT did its cost cutting earlier and is now investing heavily in its digital edition.
TV news suffers too
The picture is not rosy for TV news either. The young are scarcely watching it any more. They prefer YouTube or the satirical Daily News Show on Comedy Central. The average age for TV news audiences is about sixty years. Which explains why so much advertising on American TV news is for remedies for cholesterol, diabetes, arthritis and heart disease. The Pew Research Foundation has a chart showing that the percentage of those reading newspapers dropped steadily every year in every age group between 1999 and 2005. But 69 per cent of those in the 65 plus age group are still reading newspapers whereas only 38 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds and 37 per cent of 24 to 34 year olds are. Vincent Price, a communications professor specialising in public opinion research, says that each new generation heading in consumes less news than the last one.
And in all this turmoil newspapers are changing hands. The big chains like Gannet and Knight Ridder are selling less profitable newspapers, sometimes to local owners, sometimes to over-seventy billionaires who believe newspapers are read because they are still reading them. Jack Welch, formerly of General Electric, is reportedly trying to buy The Boston Globe, and Rupert Murdoch is apparently eyeing Newsday in Long Island. The decline may be terminal but America's broadsheet story is not quite over yet.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
The meeting was an eye-opener in other ways, especially with regard to American attitudes. For instance, we (that includes my sis, mom and I) were told that since announcing her interest in running for presidency in 2008, Hillary Clinton has been photographed from close quarters by several newspapers, revealing, in the process, her wrinkles and acne — in other words, signs of impending old age — while Obama, on the other hand, is pictured on the beach, indulging in water sports and generally coming across as a "rockstar". How did any of this matter, we asked, in a presidential contest? Surely, people would be more interested in what these people thought on various issues rather than how they looked. No, not so, was the refrain. "Looks," said Cheryl, "matter a great deal in American society. A lot of people would vote on how well groomed the candidate is when appearing in public, and not really concern themselves with other issues." That said, she added that despite a general wave of antagonism for Bush owing to the mess in Iraq, ordinary Americans are not vocalising their criticism of the war, because they do not want to let down the soldiers who are fighting under very tough conditions in the Middle East. This is especially resonant today because a lot of people remember the shabby treatment doled out to the soldiers who returned from Vietnam three decades ago.
Another interesting discussion was on the state of the Indian print media. Cheryl said that she did not like the Indian journo’s propensity to bombard the reader with a lot of facts without informing why one should care for them. "Simplicity is largely lacking from the papers here," she said, "and for a common reader, a lot of the printed news may end up meaning nothing much." Greg said the Indian media’s priorities are quite misplaced — he derided the big-bang reporting on the Tata-Corus deal, saying such a news item would only merit a tiny paragraph in an American paper. Why blow up issues that do not concern the common man at an immediate level? He said reporting on racism — as in the recent Shilpa Shetty row — makes sense since it affects ordinary lives, but a mega steel deal? He also agreed with Cheryl on the simplicity argument, saying Indian newspapers should look to the Wall Street Journal for inspiration. It’s the most widely read and respected paper abroad, yet very approachable too.
Also, in both Greg’s and Cheryl’s opinion, attending a journalism school is not quite the same as actually going out into the field and getting one’s hands dirty in the thick of reporting. Greg said interning with a newspaper was far better education than spending two years in a J-school to learn the ropes which you apply on the field only when you start working. So why not from the word go? That said, Cheryl conceded that literary journalism (since I evinced an interest in it) may call for some kind of grooming like the Arts programme offered by Indiana University.
Overall, it was a very fruitful discussion, helping us to clear quite a few cobwebs that had settled on our perceptions about the US. Greg and Cheryl too seemed to have had a good time. They loved the food and Greg particularly was amused at my mom’s solicitousness. Their extended Indian trip was an enjoyable one as well, including sojourns to Kerala and Rajasthan — easily the must-visit places on any tourist’s itinerary.