30 May 2009

The dilemmas of American journalism, and my tiny role in it

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a few music articles for the Advocate Weeklies, part of an American newspaper group. It was interesting to interview the musicians and the money was good. And what the heck, I got bylines.

I learned this week that this was sort of an outsourcing experiment. Here's their explanation for why they outsourced their issue.

And here are my articles:

Licking it clean (Interview with Cake)

Living up to The Dead. (Interview with Dark Star Orchestra)

A lot of people, Indians and Americans, are upset with the New Haven Advocate staff for this experiment and the debate is getting nastier on their site.

I presented my views to Peter Applebome of the New York Times in an email interview. Read the story here: Made in India, but published in New Haven

Read below selected parts of the email interview:

PA: First, as someone who loves writing on music, I really liked both your pieces. I'd hate to see what would happen if American journalists tried to write for Indian publications on Indian culture. It certainly would not have been half as good as the work you all did.

Were you happy with the result and did you think it was displayed and handled properly?

Me: I agreed to do the stories on Cake and Dark Star Orchestra because it sounded interesting, and it was.

If the New Haven Advocate staff was trying to prove that local journalism cannot be outsourced, I'd say they're laboring the obvious. A city is best reported by people who live in it. Period.

That said, they did not mention the quality work some of us did. At least, I have the NHA editor's word on it.

Anyways, I wouldnt hold this outsourcing experiment against them. I somehow feel this is a defensive reaction against the pressures the NHA staff, and US journalists in general, must be feeling in these hard times.

PA: I think they thought of it as an aesthetic experiment -- how would this work out? -- and, for the most part, the work was interesting and good.

Me: If this was a purely aesthetic experiment, why do they talk of losing jobs? Why do they quote the local theater employee saying, "Outsourcing stories to reporters living abroad is only hurting our wonderful local reporters, who desperately need the work right now."

Are they trying to use the aesthetic point to serve a personal purpose, that is, to hold on to their jobs?

PA: Were you told of the idea of the Outsourced Issue concept and what did you think of it? Did you think it was appropriate, harmless or in any way demeaning?

Me: No, I wasn’t told of the concept. Not telling me was harmless, I’d say. But, I’ll repeat, in not acknowledging the quality work some of us did and in implying that it couldn’t match up to theirs, they’ve been unfair. They say, “We hope this issue will provide insight as well as a strong note of caution.” Caution against what? Losing local flavor, or not matching up to American journalism standards? They’re not clear on that.

Also, this issue cannot be a benchmark on Indian journalism because among the contributors, there are very few journalists. I, for one, am a trained journalist.

PA: Do Indian journalists have the same level of fear about the future of journalism as Americans do?

Me: Well, we don’t have the same fears, that is, I don’t think any Indian journalist thinks her job can be outsourced. India is too intricate for that.
The media industry had been booming in India till the slowdown happened. So, am not sure we have the same level of fears.

PA: What advice would you have for American journalists and media executives afraid of seeing jobs continue to wither away? What should they be doing?

Me: Journalism cannot be outsourced. It is aesthetically and politically important that local journalists retain their jobs. Yes, American newspapers are going through tough times, but outsourcing is not the answer. And, unlike banks and car companies, newspapers cannot go to the government with a begging bowl for ethical reasons.

Will increasing their cover price help? I don’t know. There are no easy answers here.

PA: To be honest, I'm still trying to figure out what I think of this experiment. For the most part, it seems to me a pretty benign one -- you guys put out a really interesting issue, it's absurd to think you're going to take jobs from people in New Haven.

-- End of interview --

Others have been talking about the Advocate's outsourced issue, too:

So Here's What Happens When Alt-Weeklies Start Outsourcing Their Phoners With the Guy Who Plays Trumpet for Cake to India

Will Glide Outsource Hidden Track to India?

16 May 2009

Left Out!!

Ok, I have the flu as an excuse this time, yay!

The importance of Mamata's victory cannot be entirely clear to people who have not lived in Bengal or have followed its politics closely. (If you live outisde Bengal, what you think you know is not true. The English media do a very good job of not reporting things as they are.)

Some people within the state, too, are sitting up and taking notice of the 'rabble-rouser' (who's now being called 'the fiesty lady' by TOI!). She can no longer be laughed off, you see, and that is becoming inconvenient.

Linc's aunt from the US called and was ecstatic to hear about the election results. As I went on to give her more details, she quickly added, "Don't say that too loud. You never know."

I am hoping my children (to come) and I will not have to shush ourselves up like their generation did. That is really the whole point of all this.

04 May 2009

We are always asking for it. Men, beware!

This comes about 2-3 weeks late; no excuses for the delay. I simply have to catch up on my blogging. I had written down some thoughts when I heard of the American student's rape in Mumbai:

Going by what some people had to say on prime time TV about the TISS American student rape, and going by everything that I have come across till date, we women folk always seem to be asking for IT.

We wear a chudidar, we ask for it.

We wear a saree-blouse, we ask for it.

We wear figure-hugging jeans and low cut t-shirt, yeah, we are craving for it.

We wear clothes that show more than hide, you bet, we are most definitely asking for it.

‘It’ can range from men leching their brains out, being groped, whistled at, elbow-to-breast bumped, being told downright insulting things, molested, and being plain raped.

This American student went out with a friend at 10.30 in the night. (When I was in Mumbai for a short time, I saw that this was a pretty common thing: I’d see families coming back from Juhu beach with sand in their slippers and colourful balloons in their hands at 1 or 2 in the night.)

After some pubbing, she went to the flat of a person, who was friends with her friend. There were other men, too, by this time. According to a girl on TV today, she should not have done this, that is, going to the flat. Another aunty said that she should not have gone out at all at that hour.

Yeah, of course, she shouldn’t have. She went to the flat, perhaps because her friend was one of the men; perhaps because she was tipsy, sloshed, and wanted to cool it off; perhaps because she didn’t know she was about to be gang-raped.

But she should have known better, shouldn’t she, than to be the only woman – that too white – around 5 or 6 depraved Indian men, for whom a drinking, pub-going woman who then accompanies them to a flat in the middle of the night can only send out one message: am here for the taking, the raping, murdering, etc.

Am not even talking here about what some men may have to say about why they think they can rape women. No time for that shit.

But what enrages me is the attitude of those women on TV. I don’t expect them to side with the American student just because they are women. For the same reason, I cannot accept them laying down rules for another woman.

If you wish to live your life wrapped up in a saree, or believe that distrust of men is a woman’s best weapon, that’s your prerogative. Don’t dump it on another woman.

I find this attitude very sick: these women do not see themselves as individual beings, independent existences. They have fallen in line, and expect others to. It’s a sad thing when the oppressed becomes the oppressor and doesn’t even realize it. I wish I had more time to write about this, but I must stop here.

Some related interesting links I found:

Sleepwalking no excuse for rape (Now, Indian men don’t need such lame excuses, do they? Women are asking for it all the time, you know.)

A feminist theory of rape defense