31 July 2008

Should Scrabulous go to WTO? (And who cares, when it has become the Napster of Facebook?)

Oh, Calcutta!
That was the name of a controversial play involving nudity in the 1970s. The current controversy over the brothers from Kolkata, Rajat and Jayant Agarwala, reminded me of the last time when the West majorly engaged with the now-renamed city.
We have headlines all over that the brothers, on a request from social networking site Facebook, have pulled off their popular word-game Scrabulous following a lawsuit from Hasbro, which owns the official Scrabble game. The brothers have responded with their own version of the game called Wordscraper as this story from Reuters says.
Details of all this apart, two points I wish to make:
The game has been pulled in US and Canada, but does Scrabble enjoy worldwide rights over the game? Should this go to WTO as well? I had remarked some days ago that the Google-Yahoo war over search should go to the World Trade Organisation, because US regulation and anti-competition laws are not adequate or relevant in a larger emerging context.
That brings me to Point Two. Napster started the business of file-swapping, and died a death, more or less. But not before it legitimised the legal transport of MP3 music and on-line sale of songs, as opposed to albums or CDs. Apple's iTunes today owes its existence in a sense to Napster.
Likewise, creative destruction is playing out on the Net in a similar environment. Hasbro will realise that it cannot overprice Scrabble or stick to an old distribution formula. Patents and trademarks will work up to a point. After that, the Net is about freedom.
What is stopping someone from starting a Facebook group called "Out with Scrabble, in with Wordscraper?"

30 July 2008

Crowdsourcing: where social media meets reportage

The other day, I spoke of how Twitter feeds can become a source for reporters covering a hot breaking event -- because people with mobile phones and access to eyewitnesses can instantly put stuff into the World Wide Web.
Now, I have discovered a smart new word for it: crowdsourcing.
Here is the Wikipedia entry for that word.


Are you getting an overdose of social media?

Are we having so much of social media?
Is there too much of a networking thing going on?
Is there excess of content?
Is attention getting meaninglessly fragmented?
For some of us, who grew up reading long articles on lazy afternoons, the overload of Internet content is less about success and more about excess. And guess what? We could be right;-). Here is a perceptive piece from Mediapost

I am tired of people using their BlackBerries in meetings. I am really tired of getting useless social networking updates on people I barely know ("Bob is playing with his dog."). Most of all, I am tired of this self-righteous, misguided notion that wearing a Bluetooth hands-free dongle in your ear somehow makes you important.

I don't care about Bob, or his dog. I also don't care about the boring conversations of Bluetooth-wearing loud talkers. Collectively, we need to get rid of technology as fashion accessory and demand a little peace and quiet.

We have become an ADHD nation. The constant fragmentation of our already short attention span is a really dangerous trend. Not only does it reduce the quality of meetings and conversations, it also creates serious challenges for marketers.

In a brilliant article in Forbes titled "Can You Hear Me Now?" Sherry Turkle of MIT compellingly argued that this new era of hyper-connectedness is just a fa├žade. While we have increasingly more means of instant communication, we are building less meaningful relationships.

We have become a nation that is a mile wide and an inch deep. We use social networking to get updates on people without having to take the time to actually talk to them. We send text messages in place of conversations. Worse, we are often already in a conversation when we send them. And don't get me started on Twitter.
If our society continues to divide its attention into ever-smaller chunks, the marketing industry is in for a rude awakening.

It is not hard to imagine that 10 years from now, all video will be delivered over the Web. Most magazines and newspapers will as well. Consumers will sit behind a fat broadband pipe getting email, instant messages, social networking updates, and text messages while simultaneously consuming Web sites or video. Good luck getting their attention.

While this trend may be impossible to reverse, the solution for marketers is to steer into the skid. Marketing that appears next to content will get ignored. Marketing is going to have to become deeply integrated into the communication platforms.

Most publishers are woefully unprepared for this change. The majority of content Web sites today lack even a basic Application Programming Interface (API) that would allow an advertiser to integrate simple widgets. It is critical that publishers expose APIs to enable advertisers to modify your user interface (within set limitations, obviously), and create widgets or full interactive applications that can run on your Web sites.

Deep integrations will enable publishers and advertisers to work more closely together than they have in the past to capture unprecedented consumer attention — and, more importantly, unprecedented revenue.

Instead of Fandango paying for TV commercials that consumers skip past with their DVR, they could integrate a widget into movie content sites that enables users to get notifications of upcoming movies, buy tickets, and invite their friends. They could be part of the conversation, not stuck in the corner drinking punch and watching everyone else dance.

Why would anyone pay to reach 100% of consumers watching a TV show, when only a small percentage is paying attention? Advertisers that use traditional advertising are increasingly throwing money away.

The attention span problem is already visible in younger generations, who were raised with broadband and multitasking as the norm. It has gotten so bad that college admissions officers are receiving admission application essays with text messaging abbreviations ('I g2g 2 Harvard, I'd do gr8!').

As I become more conscious of my own technology-driven ADHD, I have started to seek changes. Five years ago, I developed an idea I called "real time." Consciously spending a block of time just focused on the moment. Every year since, I have taken a vacation in a location that had no cell phone reception, no Internet access, and often, no running water.

In a few days I am leaving for two weeks in Kenya and Tanzania to climb the Lemosho Route up Mt. Kilimanjaro and then go on safari in the Ngorongoro Crater. I won't have a laptop, cell phone, or Internet access, but I guarantee I will have a lot of meaningful conversations.

Are you tired of always being connected?

29 July 2008

Oh, those irritating PR calls!

\New Face of PR\

I rue the day the mobile phone happened. It may be fashionable for chatty teenagers and people trying to look busy and/or important.
Not me.
I got one call today, asking if I was interested in Henkel doing something in schools. Excuse me!
Another one said: "Infosys has developed this solution...." and I said: "Stop there, and send me a mail"
(It doesn't help if they follow an ostensibly polite line: "Is it a good time to call?" or "Do you have a minute?"...I do want to say: "Yes, I do have a minute. But not for you" or "Never is a good time to call" -- but then, more often than not, I try not to be rude)
Why are PR people calling me about irrelevant stuff? Or stuff they OUGHT TO KNOW is irrelevant or of no immediate importance for me?

Why are rank juniors with no sense, sensibility or experience being foisted upon to make cold calls that would put a credit-card-selling random-dial dumbo to shame?

What are their bosses smoking?

Why can't they first e-mail (It exists, you know!) first on stuff that is less important?

Why can't they call on the landline, if at all it is worth following up?

The problem with being a journalist is that you have to keep your phone line open for that one-in-100 call that makes some sense. But in the name of PR, I get so hear more and more of useless calls.
This is because there is a whole tribe out there which cannot tell the difference between sales, advertising, public relations and media relations.
They are four different things, you know.
And then: I got a heavy-duty load of attachments from a company today: it offered me in JPEG format (Gawd!) about eight press releases --- or was it 12?
They were in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati etc etc.
Could they not individually mail relevant press releases?
Is spam and cold-calling the new face of PR?
You tell me!

28 July 2008

When Bangalore was bombed, Twitterers turned reporters

I thought I had seen it before.
But I was not sure.
Where have I seen this before, I wondered.
Oh, it reminded me of my days in Reuters, when the editorial system saw cluttered reports from correspondents and stringers piling into a box, similar in topic but diverse in style and datelines.
Only, this time, the loop was not closed and secure.
When bombs went off in Bangalore last Friday, the savvier techies were turning to a social media "friendfeed" to make sense.
This is what I read on Ashish Sinha's pluggd.in


"There are ~8 bomb blasts reported so far. Since telco networks are jammed, please use this twitter id to share your status (so that your near and dear ones can know your well being).Or else, use spy to track the bangalore news across social media.

Word of advice: if you are in your office, stay there. Please do not add to the traffic jam/chaos by leaving for home right now!"

What is "spy"?
It turns out that this link is what he was talking of
Click on that, and you are officially evesdropping on stuff related to Bangalore.
On that eventful day, this was like a reporter's dream come true.
Of course, like in all cases, reporters can face hoax calls, crank messages and sundry useless stuff coming their way. And this was no exception.
But it was educative to see how "citizen journalism" had at least come somewhere near reasonable tip-offs for mainstream reporters.
A lot of the messages that day were get-well-soon type twitters or inane kill-those-terrorists rants..but some of it made a lot of sense, as eyewitnesses and alert citizens fed information from the ground -- for ANYONE who cared, ANYWHERE on the planet.
This is what newsrooms must be alert to in the Digital Age.

25 July 2008

Is User Generated Content heading for bust?


There is a quote my father used to cite, though I am not sure who this is from. Possibly Samuel Johnson: "No ass ever wrote anything but for money."

Now, we are living in the age of User Generated Content.
This blog is one example, but then I am told I can make money by using the Google AdSense program (me!).
Yahoo has Answers.
Everywhere, we have social networks being described as the hottest Internet thingie.
Message boards, discussion forums, self-created cartoons, photographs uploaded from the family album.... the list is long.
To this long list may be added this "citizen journalism" thing.
As a professional journalist, I often ask myself: Am I heading for unemployment, sub-employment, oblivion, whatever...?
I don't have the answers, but I can tell this much: It suits the creators of technology platforms, and those who make money on advertisements, to get content for free.
User Generated Content assumes that writing, singing, photographs...they are all done only for fun and self-satisfaction.
Some marginal money is shared through programmes like AdSense to encourage good content, but in the end, I do have my reservations about UGC.
If it is good, it must be worth the right price!
How much does one pay for something that is good?
In the current phase, there is a trend of disruption in which demand and supply are not being properly measured. The industry is, as it were, groping itself to find its own shape!
There are geeks trying to figure out how to get on top of Google Search lists.
There are geeks trying to measure how users consume content.
There are geeks trying to measure hits, impressions and usage patterns of content.
It is the lack of accepted measurement metrics, and the sheer novelty of uploading something on the Net that is creating a culture of "UGC-generated" revenues.
I expect this to settle into a rhythm.
Having seen the first dotcom boom -- and bust -- I expect the din on the side of the UGC evangelists from the technology and publisher side to die down.
Clarity will emerge a while later.
Remember the days when kids had 7 mail IDs?
Remember the days when a new email account resulted in 23 forwards read per day and 4 forwards done per day?
All that changed, and I expect this UGC thing to settle into a simple rhythm. A part of the advertisement revenue will most certainly go there, but a lot of the action will be in the mainstream media business.
Techies and ad-sellers trying to behave like publishers is a passing phase.
Loser Generated Content has its limits.
Just wait and watch.

24 July 2008

Magazine with flashing digital-light cover! Esquire does it in style!

This is technology at work. I had written a post last year about foldable electronic paper and was wondering at it. Now comes Esquire magazine which is flashing its old-world charm in a 21st Century package!
Here is the story.

23 July 2008

A take-off on tech-toys...loved this

M&A comes to blogging...

A feeble poll I set up on this very blog a few days ago ended yesterday. It asked: Can blogs turn into viable businesses? Only four people cared to vote and three of them said yes.
Now comes the news that GigaOM a blog-based content network founded by Om Malik in the Silicon Valley, has made its first acquisition...actually, the acquisition is by his venture-funded blog company, Giga Omnimedia.
In simple terms, the word blog can be misleading. Though its origins lie in the word web log, blogging tools are online publishing tools acquiring sophistication and method everyday. No wonder, quality blogs can and will -- as we see in this merger and acquisition of sorts involving GigaOM -- count alongside mainstream media.
Let's hear it from Om Malik on his deal:
"In the life of every company, there comes a time when it is faced with the choice of how to extend its reach: Either build a new product or service, or acquire the one that's already established itself as the best in its class. Larger companies face that question every day, but it is rare for a nano company like ours to have to make such a decision.
I am pleased to announce that Giga Omni Media, the company behind GigaOM, has acquired jkOnTheRun, a blog started by James Kendrick and Kevin Tofel that focuses on the wonderful world of mobile gadgets, including mobile phones and cloud client computers. James and Kevin will join GigaOM, but will continue to work from their respective homes of Houston and Telford, Pa., and jkOnTheRun will become the sixth blog in the GigaOM Network."
Congratulations, Malik Saheb!

22 July 2008

When corruption thrives, so does satire

Stumbled on this funny take-off talking about allegations of bribery in the vote of confidence in the parliament.
Just a little while later, it was bizarre to see members of parliament waving wads of currency notes on live television. I am waiting to see equally bizarre SMS polls on the mushrooming news channels.
Meanwhile, I decided to do a spot of do-it-yourself cartooning on the Net. A fantasy come true..and a tool just right for the moment.

Is television dying? Or is it prime-time? Or is that the soap opera?

Am I eating crow?
Did I speak too soon when I predicted the end-of-prime-time-as-we-know it?
Have I been betting too much on online video?

A new study by CBS says rumours of the television's death may be premature. It says online video is not going to kill TV.

Did video kill the radio star?
Did movies kill theatre?
Did television news kill newspapers?

Hmmm. I wish to go back to the details of my general drift during the three years that this blog has talked time and again of prime-time.
The emphasis should be on end-of-prime-time-as-we-know it

What it means is that a profusion of easy-to-launch digital TV/direct-to-home channels, online videos seen on PCs and other devices, and mobile videos streamed from a variety of sources (including blogs) will collectively erode the awesome power that 20th Century-style television had for about half-a-century.

This is what I say. Just as theatre, newspapers and radio had to re-invent themselves and undeniably lost their clout, so will television, primarily of the thousand-pound-gorilla-prime-time variety. Some of the soap serial makers like Ekta Kapoor, raised on a diet of greasy parathas and TRPs (television rating points) may wish to reach for a handkerchief, mimicking the ladies of their much-watched prime-time serials.

Now, will audio-books make reading go out of fashion? That's another story.

21 July 2008

US newspapers head south. What will happen to Indian nupes?

American newspapers are getting thinner, local news is up, stock tables have disappeared. So have TV listings. Revenues are down. Picture is expected to worsen.
So reveals a survey of editors in 1,217 -- and only 259 responded.
The survey comes from Pew Research Center under something called the Project for Execellence in Journalism.
More stuff in this in Reuters Mediafile here

Now, I do believe that Indian newspapers will get thinner as well.

18 July 2008

Can you measure journalism? How much is Picasso worth per square inch?

How do you measure journalistic productivity? Can you put numbers on stories executed to judge reporters? What the hell is a good-quality story? Does it involve writing? Balance? Reportage? "Consumer" value? Editing? What is the value of designers/copy-editors? Ideators?
Who should decide the quality? A vice-president with an MBA?
Is this a science? Is this an art?
What is subjective?
What the hell is objective?
No easy answers, but here is an interview with Chicago Tribune editor by Reuters Mediafile, which I am providing as food for thought/grist for mill.

(If I have the answers, I am not going to tell you now:))
And, oh yes! If you read the script below carefully, there is an open acknowledgement that newspapers are in crisis.
That is something that Indian newspapers don't seem to be saying...how interesting!

Here is the interview:

Tribune Co is keeping media reporters and headline writers busy these days with news of how the company is trying to turn around its newspaper business and stay afloat under billions of dollars in debt - all while creating a culture that, as Chicago real estate tycoon and newly minted press baron Sam Zell says, does not take itself too seriously.

That is growing more difficult as the company embarks on another round of job cuts at its papers, sparking fear and loathing among employees, and launches an ambitious plan to redo the papers' sizes and looks. Tribune also set journalism types' tongues a-wagging with its plan to review reporter productivity as a possible condition for staying on board. That might not sound so controversial, except that many people have interpreted that as saying it's not about the quality of your stories, it's about the quantity.

Gerould Kern, Tribune's vice president of editorial and the successor to departing Chicago Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski, addressed some of these topics in a phone interview with Reuters.

Q: What is your immediate task as the new editor of the Chicago Tribune?

A: As we report almost daily, the newspaper business is in a crisis. And I want to do everything I can in my power to save it. And you know, the Chicago Tribune has played a huge role in the history of the nation and the city, and I know it and I'm proud of it and I want that history to stretch far into the future. So I'm optimistic that we can solve these economic problems, the economic dislocation that faces us and that we're not only going to survive but thrive in the future.

Q: How do you make the business thrive with fewer people?

A: I think it becomes a lot harder and that's going to force us to be a lot more innovative and entrepreneurial and resourceful than we've ever been before. There's been a lot of misinformation and confusion about productivity as a topic. I think the idea's fairly simple. Let's turn over every stone, let's do every smart thing we can to stretch the resources, to use them to serve people and build our audiences and bring in revenue to support journalism.

It means our full-time professional staff is going to get smaller. And that's been happening to newspapers all over the country. And yet we're having to support more local media channels than ever before. … At the end of the day we still will have the largest newsgathering organization in this city by far. And if we are really smart and resourceful about using them we will be able to a fabulous job for consumers in whatever channel they choose.

Q: What do you say to the reporters who say they're scandalized by the idea of being judged on how many stories they produce, rather than the quality of individual stories?

A: I think it is unfortunate that this has been focused on in this way. I understand it based on some comments that [Tribune Chief Operating Officer] Randy [Michaels] made on the middle of that call. Let me just say this: I talked in a broader sense about productivity, which frankly is the way I'm looking at it. What can the whole organization do that's smart, that's strategic, that's resourceful.

But on bylines: All of our newspapers are looking at all kinds of information to see what is valuable in making some of these tough choices… Some of our newspapers in some departments have been doing byline counts over the years. It's not the first time that anybody's ever done that. From the beginning, we made it clear that this should be viewed as just one data point and, frankly, probably not the most valuable and that it had to be combined with other information. … Everybody knows for instance that you have to evaluate investigative reporters differently than other kinds of reporters. Because reporting takes a long time… And everyone was aware of that.

In the end, the information and the judgment calls [were] left strictly up to editors in the newsroom and that's where it will remain. So, I think much more is being made of it than really is there.

17 July 2008

Editor & Publisher mag to offer electronic edition

I remember my days 20 years ago, when I used to visit the American Center library and thumb through a magazine that stood for a vibrant newspaper industry in North America. It is now available in an electronic "same-as-print" edition, thanks to a partnership with Hyderabad-based Pressmart. Pressmart is an amazing company which is putting some of the world's leading newspapers into online editions that look the same.
Here are some details from the media statement:

E&P Publisher Chas McKeown said "the Pressmart state-of-the-art solution will provide our readership access to Editor & Publisher on multiple digital distribution channels including eEditions; Podcasts; Mobile devices and eArchives."

Editor & Publisher is the authoritative journal covering all aspects of the North American newspaper industry, including business, newsroom, advertising, circulation, marketing, technology, online and syndicates.

Based in New York City, the magazine dates back to 1884, when The Journalist, a weekly, was founded. E&P was launched in 1901 and merged with The Journalist in 1907. E&P later acquired Newspaperdom, a trade journal for the newspaper industry that started in 1892. In 1927, E&P merged with another trade paper, The Fourth Estate. In January 2004, E&P switched from weekly to monthly publication, while revamping its Web site to offer more breaking news and content on a daily basis.

E&P Online (www.editorandpublisher.com) offers breaking news free to all visitors in our Top Stories section. Each week, selected proprietary stories from E&P staff are made available free to all visitors, but the majority of our analysis, industry news, features, columns, and trends are restricted to E&P subscribers.

16 July 2008

See, I told you? Video Entertainment in 2013 Will Be Less Than 50% Traditional TV

More market research in the US reveals more about Life After YouTube (and Hulu, and broadband, and mobile video!).
TV is fading away in the sense we know it.
Mediapost, quoting Solutions Research Group on a study covering US media consumer behaviour, says: "While daily time with TV will remain close to 4 hours, traditional TV's share of the total video entertainment pie is projected to shrink from 63.9% today to 47.1% by 2013, given the overall increase consumers' in total video-based entertainment consumption"
It kind of validates a lot of stuff I have been writing on this blog since it began in 2005.
Am I supposed to say: Watch this space?

What the Long Tail did next?

The Long Tail, did you say?

How about the tail wagging the dog?

Here is a company which is trying to aggregate chunks of the long tail and converting it -- or trying to convert it -- to a thousand-pound gorilla.

Or should I say, a hydra-headed monster?

Here is the story

15 July 2008

How to fool the media..lessons from Helion VC

Now, now.
Ashish Gupta is a nice bloke. He is the guy who co-founded Junglee.com which was sold for a reasonably obscene amount to Amazon.com. Ashish has gotten rich, and he was always clever (You know, IITK, Stanford, all that). He is one of the key blokes in Helion, a confident, smart venture capital fund.
Ashish also knows his Hindi well. He probably has heard the story of Ashwathama from the Mahabharata (Read it here)

To cut a long story shot, Yudhishtra does not lie but wants to weaken Drona. So he announces the death of an elephant called Ashwathama in a manner that conveys to Drona the impression that his son is dead.
The story is now re-told in the age of venture capital funding.
Helion has supposedly denied funding SMS Gupshup -- a hot Internet startup founded by some very smart guys of whom I have written.
The so-called denial, which is reproduced below, came after very respected technology blogs including GigaOM, TechCrunch and others reported it.
Please read it below, and then read my comments that follow, which I have marked in bold letters.


Well last week the news of Smsgupshup being funded for 10 Million $ by Helion Venture Capital and Charles River Ventures was published all across the leading digital blogs in India. It all started with a plug by pluggd and spread to medianama which also had an excellent article on why Smsgupshup would need the 10 Million $ (medianama is started by the earlier editor of contentsutra), vccircle and contentsutra itself (which aggregates news from vccircle now a days for the lack of an editor). Also techcrunch seems to have picked the news up as well and linked to pluggd as the source. They have an update as well terming it as an unconfirmed story. (thanks raghav for the techcrunch update)


While all this was happening WATBlog was trying to get in touch with both SmsGupShup and HelionVC on any official update on the status of the funding if any. And here I am publishing the respective responses from the concerned parties on the issue.

Response from Chirag Jain, VP India Operations "Thanks for your mail. Unfortunately we have not issued any notification and are not in a position to make any comments at the moment."

Well the above diplomatic answer was expected. But what was not expected is a categorical denial from Ashish Gupta, Managing Director - Investment Advisor of Helion Venture Capital.

ashish gupta

Ashish Gupta

When we emailed Ashish the following "Just wanted to confirm this story and if possible get some bytes from you on the same. SMSGupshup has raised 10 Million $ funding from Helion VC. Will await your response on the same.

Ashish sent us the following one line reply "the line below is incorrect."

On probing further with this question "Would it be correct to say that helion has participated in the 10 million funding? Will await your response."

Ashish Replied "we have not done any funding for Gupshup."

So as far as we know and from the Horses mouth itself and not from any reliable anonymous source the funding has not happened through Helion Venture Capital atleast till 4th of July and thats when we recieved this denial from Helion.

So did blogs report something on speculation? And why didn't Smsgupshup deny the story? And who are these sources that are confirming the story when Helion itself seems to be denying the same! No one will know until and unless both these parties come forward and speak up. On the issue of Smsgupshup's funding I have no doubt that they both need and to certain extent even deserve the funding given that smsgupshup has taken off as the premiere group sms service provider. But who are these investors we shall hopefully know soon


My take: Please read the above carefully.

1) Ashish denies funding Gupshup -- What he does not say, in true Yudhishtra style, is that the company that owns SMS Gupshup is Webaroo Technology (India) Pvt. Ltd.
You don't fund a Website -- you fund the company owns it

2) Helion routinely issues newsletters and tom-toms its investments. If it has not done so in this instance, it is because the funding has not tied up, or the news got leaked before the deal could be ready for announcement. It probably is still in an advanced state of negotiation.

3) There is no outright denial -- If the deal was closed with no funding from Helion, it would have been more forthcoming in its denial

4) There is a vague, cryptic sentence that says "The line below is incorrect" -- What line? Why be cryptic?

It is very clear that the balloon got out of hand before it could be filled with Helion's helium...so we got a lot of hot air.
Smoke and mirrors?
We shall wait the final and official word. But I will stick my neck out and say the original story was not a plug.
Blogs attempting to break new ground in journalism need to read through the spin and denials.

14 July 2008

PaidContent marks a milestone

The acquisition of PaidContent by the UK-based Guardian group confirms (again) my belief that "blog" is just a word -- It can turn into a business and become part of the mainstream media. Indian-born Rafat Ali has taken the group of sites logging the growth of the digital publishing industry in a "collablog" publishing venture to new heights and has thus become a pioneer. He joins the likes of Sabeer Bhatia and Vinod Khosla in marking new milestones in the Internet economy. The New York Times found it relevant enough to write a meaningful story

Can Pitchh.com make the ad biz more transparent?

My friend and fellow blog-world philosopher Rajesh Lalwani has brought in the business of competitive pitching into the open -- and on the Net -- with Pitchh.com.
Yet to check this site out but the idea looks promising and disruptive. Basically, we can try to answer the question: If it is competitive, who should there be a closed loop?

CBI= Central Bureau of Insinuation?

The Arushi murder case in Noida is proving to be an excellent case study on police and media behaviour in India.
CBI fumbles and bumbles
Media grumbles and mumbles
And they both tumble.

Questions and Answers:

Does the media think CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) is a judicial or quasi-judicial agency?


(For Gawd's sake, someone should tell them it is just the federal police...just a bunch of guys who swapped khakhi trousers for ill-fitting safari suits, ok?)

Does the media understand or care to explain to the readers/viewers the nature of CBI?

Who cares? A story a day keeps sensible analysis away

Can you cover up one bad allegation with a whitewash spin?

Yes. Why not? CBI is in the business of uncovering crime, not blaming the innocent. That is a job for the media to do.

Why is Arushi being the only victim getting so much media attention?

Because she is a regular middle-class TV-watcher-populace's game.

Does this help anyone?

Who cares? You can't win elections with TRPs, but you can make money


In the light of all the above points, here are some new expansions for CBI:

Central Bureau of Insinuation
Central Bureau of Improvisation
Central Bureau of Innuendo
Central Book-keepers of Innocence

11 July 2008

Inside Bloomberg..reads like a movie script (And the discovery of a legendary journo!)

Anyone wants to write a Wall Street-meets-media movie script? This story on Bloomberg, whose terminals dot financial dealing rooms worldwide (and which played a vital role as Brand X during my years in Reuters) can provide valuable grist. A very good read.

Now, I wrote the para above a few minutes ago and wanted to find out who wrote that riveting, well-researched stuff that seemed like great journalism and great literature all at once. Turns out she is a colossal woman, knocking 80 years of age and a legend in her lifetime..
I did not grow up reading Fortune magazine, and therefore, I am not surprised I had not heard of her before. But I am patting myself on the back for smelling out such a figure by simply waking up to the quality of her work. Here is a biographical sketch of Carol J. Loomis, the author of that piece which I strongly recommend.

10 July 2008

The Google-Yahoo war should go to WTO, not Washington

I chanced upon this post by the Silicon Valley's respected Net-watcher Om Malik, and it seems he has forgotten his days in Delhi. Basically, he wonders if the war over Google's alliance with Yahoo (and by implication, Microsoft's acquisition/merger attempts) should go to the regulators -- by which he means Washington's powers-that-be.
The Internet is a global medium, and I don't quite fancy US-centric people holding forth as if the rest of the world does not matter. They have not learnt their lessons from Vietnam/Iraq, whatever...

So, here is my beginner's guide to anyone commenting on the Google-Yahoo saga

1) The US is not the only nation in the world. It is one of about 150. George W. Bush doesn't get this. Do you?

2) Google is a global search engine and Yahoo is a global media company. The World Trade Organisation (WTO), not Washington, is the place to decide anti-competition issues on this.

3) Online advertising is not the only kind of advertising. Google's share should be measured as a part of global advertising revenues in all media.

4) If online ads are to be treated separately, let it be done only for US IP addresses and let there be technologies to segregate and analyse all this. (That will give use to more startups.Wow!) Or else, revenues should be segregated on the basis of geographical origin.

5) Google is leading the process of creative destruction in the global media industry as a whole. Anything disruptive in this nature is by definition pro-competition until such time as it acquires critical mass in market-share. And digital ads have only just begun!

6) If Microsoft's desktop market share in OS or the browser war is not a problem, why should Google's online revenue share should be?

7)In the case of document standards, the International Standards Organisation showed the way to go. Let there be a similar global discourse (oops, do they use this word at Stanford? Must ask my friends from Oxford). This should be done at the World Trade Organisation.

Geneva, not Washington, is the place to decide this. And Mountain View and Wall Street are small dots on Google Earth.

Or how about the United Nations, Om?

The Logic of the Four Screens

The "Silver Screen," television, PC and now mobile handsets --media convergence is increasingly about converging these four and optimising their mix. I am not even talking about print here. My friend Ajay Jain makes an interesting analysis of the four-screen play in his site here

8 July 2008

Wisdom on the Sun Valley: Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one

At Sun Valley, Idaho, global media moguls are meeting this week for the annual retreat that is fabled to generate mega deals. Now, will moguls be spelt as Mughals this week? In other words, how important is India for the likes of Google, Yahoo, Newscorp et al?
No doubt this is an interesting market, but, as the Reuters report observes, the US economy is the prime concern, and issues like the Microsoft-Yahoo saga dominate.
Now, while that happens and we look for the signals, here is some sobering insight. When the likes of Murdoch, Eric Schmidt (Google) and others confabulate, where are the journos?
They are busy reporting it all. Is any of the moguls/Mughals in question a former entertainer or journalist? Very few, if at all.
In the end, this is about business.
All those who have woolly ideas about the power of the media must remember my friend Srini's e-mail drop-line: The freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.
That saying, I believe, is credited to A.J. Liebling of The New Yorker magazine

7 July 2008

Media vs Media...When one news organisation covers another

What happens when a media organisation does a story about a rival? How does the dog cover dog when its job is to eat it? An interesting article in New York Times is at its ranting best.

I am not even commenting, but the plot does look familiar.

State of Hindi news television ...hilarious

A promising site provides much-needed satire on Indian media.

Fly You Fools - An Indian Webcomic about life and it's Irritations
Fly You Fools - An Indian Webcomic about Life.

Courtesy: http://www.flyyoufools.com

4 July 2008

Why YouTube must be saved -- (Oh, help me watch the Bhutto speech and Liril ad)

YouTube is in the news. In the US, privacy groups are worried that it may be forced to share viewer data. In India, two companies of the T-Series group hav dragged the online video-sharing site owned by Google to court for copyright violations.
But I had the delight of catching Riz Khan, the former BBC and CNN anchor, again today after I logged on to YouTube. Riz is now with Al Jazeera which interviewed me yesterday on Asian economic issues. I could not watch myself on air because Indian direct-to-home cable operators don't seem to be offering the Qatar-based global channel.
YouTube and online television are a boon for people like me, who like to have a choice. It would be a pity if the channel does not evolve a meaningful business model to help us enjoy and find online videos. I have stumbled on some great stuff on YouTube, like rare Carnatic music recordings and a Bhutto speech made in 1971 that brings out the flavour of the man for a generation of folks like me who did not have access to such stuff.
YouTube is also a delightful source for retromercials -- or ads that bring nostalgia back. Here is that lovely Liril ad we grew up on.
Or a piece of music that made me sit up and discover a guy called A.S. Dilipkumar -- who later became known as Bollywood and Tamil movie composer A. R. Rahman.
Somone puh-leez make sure YouTube does not suffer.
Are you listening, Sakina Arsiwala?

3 July 2008

The Long Tail? I prefer to say the Shorter Head

An engaging concept that is shaking the world is that of the Long Tail, a book by Chris Anderson based on an article he had written -- to the effect that content and much else in the age of Internet is getting fragmented in choices and opening up countless possibilities in content and commerce. This is being challenged in a Harvard Business Review which in turn is being discussed rather well in this piece in TechCrunch.
I am yet to catch the original book, but it is intuitive as well as empirical that we are spending more time on the Net and doing stuff I would not have been able to do as a kid.
(For instance, the other day I caught on YouTube an engaging video of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's outburst at the UN Council in December 1971, when Bangladesh was carved out of Pakistan -- it certainly inspired me enough to want to read more of that period, and created a "demand" inside me! -- more on that later)
Now, the Harvard review, in my opinion, must be analysing "facts" of the present, while concluding that the Long Tail is not going far in generating a sufficient variety of demand.
My argument is not that the tail will lengthen, but the head will become smaller.
Mass media of today is like the head, and the Internet is like the tail. People will continue to need some common ground for their social and communal needs but will flock to bigger sources for bigger things.
I am beginning to liken the Internet like water: We use it all the time, and have various devices and uses for it and do it based on our ease and necessity. If you draw water from a river and irrigate a field with a canal, the chances are high you visit the river-bank less everyday. It is a bit complex from the point of view of advertising metrics, but the Long Tail and the Short Head are a fact of life now, Harvard or no Harvard.

Who is PR for? Companies or their honchos?

"You don't do the Boss column anymore?" the PR person asks.
"No," I reply, with an increasing sense of glee.

Dealing with public relations folks is part of the drill I have to go through, but you will not believe the number of PR agency dudes and dudettes who have called me about a column called "Boss Day Out" which we at Hindustan Times also ran for a while later under the tag "Boss After Work."
It was a nice thing to tell readers about the other side of the blue suits and pinstripes, but it can get a bit sickening when every two-bit trainee in a two-bit PR agency calls you up to discuss the two-bit CEO of a two-bit company. Very often, the request was to prop up a 20-something with a fat title who got there because papa told him.
Ah, figures. The honcho signs cheque, agency pleases honcho, agency hounds press. All is well with the world. But does that do the company any good?
There are companies that I have never heard of or rarely so, and the PR person would call up and say nothing about the company and often prop up somebody who in our scheme of things is hardly high enough (Gawd! vice-president-marketing isn't quite it!).
That's some tripe hype gripe!

LA Times or Layoff Times? Net is in. Nupes are down. Jobs are cut

Here is a story of job cuts in Los Angeles Times, with the details of how the Internet is eating into the newspaper business in the US.
It feels strange at a time when newspaper launches are getting common all over India, with new editions being launched all around and even brave, new brands hitting the market, even in the English language business, where, presumably, readers have or will have increasing access to the Web.
Am I missing something here?

2 July 2008

The dilemma of business journalism -- or how the US media messed up on corporate woes

A perceptive article
in Newsweek talks of how the US media failed to predict corporate troubles lays threadbare the intricacies of business reportage -- which the writer remarks suffers from the same syndrome as sports journalism. You celebrate what you need to examine, and forget looking deep into something because you need to cultivate the sources or hang out with them.

Hiring biases are real!

The Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) represents advanced countries. And, despite all the talk of political correctness, there are clear biases that are part of the recruitment culture there. A survey by OECD illustrates this. Here is the release.

I write this after my last post on supposed biases in media organisations -- just to illustrate a point that biases are everywhere!

Ethnic Indians arrive in global media scene (Adventures through the glass ceiling?)

First, a bit of tom-tomming. This post is the 100th since this media blog kicked off about three years ago, when I started this to illustrate the then-largely-unknown concept of the blog to a bunch of media students I was lecturing at COMMITS, a media school in Bangalore..
It is fitting that I should hit this landmark number with a story in Mint on how Indians are rising to new highs in global (read Western) media giant labels such as Time and Wall Street Journal. The story links these appointments to the rise of the "India story" which kind of devalues the merit of the people in question-- as if to say that these people are making it big because they are Indian and not solely because they are capable of running global set-ups. I am not sure if that is the correct way to look at it.
Some of the dudes in question are my former colleagues who left Indian shores for greener pastures. and have worked hard to get where they are. There is plenty of Indian talent both at home and abroad, though some of the people in question have swapped native Indian wisdom and depth for US-ishtyle reportage which has its own charms and balancing qualities.
When I left myself for Reuters, there were those who cautioned me about the perceived glass ceiling in international media companies. I did not find any significant problem, except with occasional individuals or their worldviews that concealed unconscious biases.
I will not say there are no biases at all in Western media organisations, but I will add that Indian companies have their own biases. There was certainly a period in both information technology and media when Indians had to work harder to get to the same spot but that has changed a lot. It is an evolving world in which professional values are being increasingly recognised, though there is some way to go both in Indian and international organisations.
Some look at everything through the looking glass of self-loving mirrors and others through imagined glass ceilings. In the end, the details differ from case to case, person to person.
Now for the big question: These are big labels they work for, but will they stay big? In the "World is Flat" globe of level-playing fields, is the media industry an exception?
Bring on a guitar. I'll sing "the answer is blowing in the wind."

1 July 2008

Should you blame an Indian sub-editor who has not heard of Johann Bach?

A Goa-based group has pulled a fast one on three Indian newspapers, concocting a story about the arrest of a Nazi war criminal called Johann Bach. Reuters has a highly effective blog that has chronicled the fiasco.
Mercifully, I have heard of the Western composer Bach and even Nazi war criminals...but I am not particularly outraged by the goof-up. It is true that there is a new generation of journalists in which many lack historical knowledge. It is equally true that chief sub-editors and news editors of the old vintage are few and far between, thus reducing the cross-checking culture.
The Reuters blog rightly remarks that a Google search would have got an easy cross-check.
However, I do want to ask if Western reporters or subs have heard of Thyagaraja or Muthuswami Dikshitar, the leading Carnatic music composers or face frequent challenges on learning about 18th Century India when they do their day-job.
The point I am trying to make it is that Indian journalists working in the English language media have to carry an enormous amount of general knowledge on both the Western world and India to make things work.
Frankly, there is neither sufficient incentive nor enough facilities or mentoring available for them to do this seriously.
A call centre agent with a fake American accent makes more money at the age of 20 than a master's degree-holding print journalist in a leading newspaper at the entry level. Unemployment is not exactly a problem for fluent English speakers in India, and the old charms of smooth writing or idealism is no longer drawing enough people into Indian newspapers (the better ones with similar talent go for advertising, television or even consulting jobs!).
You gotta pay and train for the right talent. I don't see that happening.