Bangalore Lit Fest, and a question for you

The 6th edition of the Bangalore Lit Fest begins tomorrow, at the Lalit Ashok. Here is the full list of speakers and performers, and here is the schedule. If anyone reading this is from Bangalore and attending, do come up and say hi — I’ll be there both days.

This also means that starting now, the blog is on a break till Tuesday morning (I have to record a podcast on Monday). I’ll post snippets from the more interesting sessions on Twitter, though, for those interested.

On my way out the door, this: A couple of conversations yesterday revolved around “the media” and its many sins of omission and commission. Both times, there was considerable dissatisfaction with the way the media functions; both times, however, the dissatisfaction was vague and non-specific; the goalposts kept shifting and it felt to me when trying to respond that I was dancing on quicksand.

So, a specific question for you: What is your take on the state of the media today? When you say “media”, who exactly are you referring to, and what is your specific grouse(s)? What specific examples have you seen that dent a particular media outlet’s credibility? Appreciate your responses, and there is no restriction on length. The reason for asking is, I want to work on an essay-length piece on the current state of the media once I am done with this weekend, and your inputs will help give it a focus and direction.

Thanks much, look forward to your inputs. (I won’t have the space to respond to each individual comment over the next three days, but I’ll find the time to read, and I’ll post considered responses once I am back).

Be well, all.

10 thoughts on “Bangalore Lit Fest, and a question for you

  1. Media as in media houses (TV and paper ) we all know how well they handled the jay shah issue and other scams of BJP. We expect the media to do what they did before 2014

  2. Pingback: Crowd-sourcing a column | Smoke Signals

  3. Also, one more that I missed. I attended the discussion in BLF with Rahul Dravid, yourself and Rajdeep. Next day I checked the newspapers on it. Each paper had their own thing to say in their own words in quotes. You’d think quotes mean what were said verbatim. Only espncricinfo carried the exact words as spoken by him. Do we have to go to specific silos for specific kinds of news?

  4. Your point about specifying which media is much necessary. Will become a set of troll tweets, read an article and ask “why isn’t the media covering this”?

    I stopped watching TV news a long time back, probably once 24/7 news became a thing. Not sure if it was because of the nature of the news or just that I stopped caring for news so much. Either way, a 24/7 media feels like it caters to consumers to sell more ads, which would mean they are constrained by what they can share. Too much depressing news – hey, farmers are dying in our villages, also look at these floods in Assam! – and they do run a risk of losing consumers to other news channels which tell them what they want to hear.

    So, as to where I get my news from, it depends. For bigger ones, like say foreign policy or some standoff, I do check the newspapers more – The Hindu to be precise, which we get mainly for the Sunday crossword (go figure), & fewer ads. For local news, again the newspaper. If you’re living in a big city, I think they do a basic job of coverage. Even there, yeah, there are major messups. The coverage of the metro while it was being constructed was very facepalm stuff. East, West, North, South were confused regularly left and right. Coverage of issues with wildlife leave much to be desired. Photos of 3 tuskers captioned as father, mother and child, near Mysore had me banging my head on the desk. And last year with the whole Kaveri fiasco and the rulings, cusecs were regularly reported as an absolute volume.

    Maybe, there is far less know-how of things outside of one’s field. A lack of general knowledge maybe. I see that in dealing with people in general, even an attempt to learn more (I did not know about cusecs either, but hey the “per second” should ring some bells!). But with a news outlet you expect more diligence, and if someone is regularly reporting on one topic, to know what is being reported and be a subject matter expert on it. I find that lacking.

    For most such topics, I find scroll and IndiaSpend doing a fairly good job. At least they won’t be caught with silly errors like cusecs or tuskers as female elephants. It might be because of having people who know their subject matter writing on it. Or at least doing due diligence with spellings, metrics etc. And also correcting the moment someone on twitter raises it.

    It might be just nostalgia, but I do remember thinking newspapers more diligent on these things during my school days. You would look up to them for things like grammar. You might be able to comment more on this, to compare how things were in the 80s-90s vs now.

    And yes, these things do dent their credibility. The twitter handle TheMetroRailGuy was specifically launched because he was appalled at how things were being reported in the media. He garners info directly from different Metro corps’ newsletters, press releases, tender statements, and DPRs. For wildlife and nature we have to look at specific outlets like DownToEarth or Sanctuary Asia. I wish it didn’t have to be that you go looking for specific info to specific places. A newspaper should be able to do a good job of covering the basics, and those with specific interests would prefer more intensive treatment of their favourite topics.

    I wonder if there’s space for more community supported reporting. Citizenmatters is an excellent initiative, and their efforts with the Mantri fiasco near Agara lake would not have been reported by others, and followed up so meticulously leading to its closure. But again, they need a proper flow of capital which comes with its own riders. (Disclaimer: Am a financial supporter). I know at least one case of a “famous” tech ex-CEO being a donor, and trying to influence their content to suit his needs. So it might come down to this: What are you willing to pay to get the news that you deem should be heard. And more importantly, if they unearth something that questions your existing biases and favourite political parties, will you take your money elsewhere?

    • Okay, there is a lot to unpack here, so I’ll do this as a series of responses over time, Vaidya. For now, two points. One, the point about Scroll and IndiaSpend and sites such as those: you are right, what they have going for them is that they have domain experts writing on specific themes, and supplement it with highly skilled reporters spending time in the field before they write — good examples are the likes of Supriya Sharma and M Rajsekhar for Scroll, to name just two who do excellent field reporting.

      The hidden problem here is the decline of beat journalism. Back when I was starting out, I — and my colleagues — had a lot of responsibilities in the newsroom. Also, since each news day is unpredictable, we found that we might without warning get dragged off what we are working on and asked to pitch in and help with coverage of something major that was breaking. But what we had going for us was that the editor assigned to each of us specific beats, themes, subjects we were supposed to read up on constantly and stay well-informed. When something happened that related to a specific beat I was assigned, I would be the one leading the coverage — so, even when it was major and required non-experts to pitch in, there was always someone who knew the topic overseeing the coverage and making sure facts were front and center. (I remember one major breaking story during my early days which snowballed over two days — city reporters, even sports journalists, were pulled off their desks and asked to pitch in on the coverage, but I led it, and at the time I was just six months old in my profession, but senior journalists who outranked me by far, including the managing editor, reported in to me for the duration). We just don’t have that any more, with the result that someone covering floods in Assam today ends up covering elections in Gujarat tomorrow, with no time to bring themselves up to speed on any topic they are covering. The result is coverage that is a mile wide and a centimeter deep, unfortunately.

      To your point about community reporting, that is the single biggest opportunity for our media houses, if only they were smart enough to see it. In advanced media markets, community journalism and beat journalism are the two big growth centers. (While on which, check out News Deeply — — and read up about how it got its start; it is an instructive story). We as an industry are totally blind to it, since our model is for a bunch of folks in Delhi to drive all the coverage, and the Delhi journalism circle is an incestuous lot, too much in the thrall of what their politician friends tell them and too little informed of what is actually happening in the rest of the country. (Check out, for instance, the national media coverage of any issue at all relating to any state south of the Vindhyas).

      The other opportunity is in translation. Regional journalists are doing a terrific job, breaking stories, uncovering things that those in power would like to keep hidden, but unfortunately, their work is limited by linguistic and geographical boundaries. If I were running a news organization today, I would ask for resources to set up alliances with “vernacular” news sites and newspapers; invest in sifting through and translating their stories and publishing — and propagating vigorously — those stories on the national platform, as a means to add depth and breadth to coverage.

      More later on, mate, I have to get to work on some serious deadlines. Be well.

  5. I will like to discuss Indian media in particular. I stay in Boston and Indian media for me is primarily through websites and apps. The shouting matches that people keep referring to don’t bother me at all. “The media has been bought by BJP” and such things seem untrue because somehow, the media houses sympathetic to BJP have very crappy web interfaces, non professional english and don’t bother looking at them.

    As far as websites/apps go, I follow NDTV and TOI. NDTV app is very well designed and TOI for it’s content. TOI has such a large base of columnists etc that gives the illusion of it being a neutral newspapers (I am sure you will have a different opinion). On the TOI note, I think I am one of those people because of which news like “Taimur’s diwali outing” appear prominently everywhere. So yes, what other people call frivolous stories like Taimur or say Hrithik-Kangana are totally justified in their place and it’s probably the hit count of those articles that decides the prominence of those stories. I am totally for democratically elected top stories.

    The third point about media is I absolutely detest the big 3 (Barkha, Rajdeep and Arnab) and all their wannabes. They have become much more important the news itself and I think they play a major role in shaping the hate of people towards media.

    Lastly, social media and blogs are increasingly becoming primary news source but whether it is good or bad, I am not so sure.

    • To your first point, Sandipan, the answer lies in the question itself: Distance inoculates. Living in Boston, as you do, your primary sources are the American media; you get to decide how much of Indian news you want to consume, and from what sources. That is a luxury we don’t have in India. Or put slightly differently, I notice that there is much angst in the US about Fox News and the alt-right media, with its constant efforts to shift the narrative each time the White House seems to be getting itself in trouble. For us here, it is not a thing, because distance insulates us and shields us from the real dangers — so we can watch that play out with a certain detachment, even an amused indifference.

      I understand your point about ToI (and no, I don’t disagree — if you are a committed reader, the Times has something for every shade of opinion (a friend of mine, the much-awarded libertarian writer Amit Varma, gets space there to do his thing, to cite just one example). I too am all for democratically consumed news, I only ask that media sites balance the softer news (Kangana-Hrithik et al) with sufficient content on the issues that should matter to our polity and society, and then let the people chose. My problem is that with newsroom staff and resources declining rapidly by the year, too many newsrooms focus on the low hanging fruit of viral stories and therefore end up with insufficient resources to cover the big stories in sufficient depth and detail.

      To point three, I totally agree — in fact, my anathema to those three and to the whole “talk show” format that has taken over prime time is longstanding and deep-rooted. (While on which, you and I are not the only ones — an illustrative example is the sudden prominence of Faye D’Souza, who on prime time for the Mumbai Mirror channel hosts a reasoned, intelligent, noise-free debate on contemporary societal and political issues that are reflective of true concerns. Her calm, sensible way of anchoring is actually winning her fans and applause, which is something the “big three” might want to consider, and learn from.)

      To your last point, I have a private list of news sources on Twitter than I meticulously curate. When I see someone talking sense and having a high signal to noise ratio, I add that person to the list; I include journalists, private individuals who are subject matter experts, and even organizations to it, the list covers both national and international themes and experts, and I am very particular about who I will include and why. My first act on getting up is to go to that list, not to the main Twitter timeline, and scan through what people have posted. And over time, I have found that using this list as my primary source of information keeps me remarkably well-informed about what is happening in the real world; the bonus is that I also find plentiful links to interesting/topical/nuanced stories on a wide-variety of issues. All the reading I do outside the list supplements what I learn from my primary source — so yeah, social media used right can be a huge blessing, a tool to filter down to what you want to know, from those you trust to tell you the truth.

  6. Today media has lost all credibility and it is difficult to say which news is planted and which is actual news. It has become a slanging arena, where truth no longer matters. Sad. I long for a DD style news, where only news is told and opinion is kept at a minimum. To think, I once used to consider DD news boring. Even newspapers look to sensationalise rather than report. Worst is the division that I see, either with us or against us. Why can’t news be neutral? Why can’t media be neutral? I long for the day when I can watch a news programme or comment on a news item without anyone questioning my credentials.

    • Thanks, I’ll add this to my roundup of next week, but a small caveat: If you notice, I twice use the word “specific” in my question. My point is, there is no such thing as “the media”. There are media houses, all independent of one another. Each has its pluses and minuses. When we use the all-inclusive “media”, it becomes impossible to provide a nuanced reply, because who are you talking about, and what example(s) underline your point?

      So if time permits, I’d truly appreciate a more specific answer. Thanks again

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