Friday, April 24, 2009

Economic Times Journalist barred by SEBI for forging letters to rig stock prices

As it is, Financial Journalism is not a high point in the annals of Indian Journalism. In its interim order, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) barred two promoters of Pyramid Saimira Theatre Ltd, and 228 others, including Rajesh Unnikrishnan, Assistant Editor, The Economic Time.

The Economic Times, India's largest selling business daily, is part of the Bennett Coleman Group. Flushed with cash from its print media operations, the group created Times Private Treaty, an investment group that does dubious 'stock for ads and editorial coverage' deals with companies.

Pyramid Saimira Theatre Ltd was a client of the said Treaty Operations. The Times Group has special editorial people to deal exclusively with Times Private Treaty clients in all of its major editorial offices.

Result: Hapless journalists who are forced to do what the master says - forget investigative reporting, work on his master's share market earnings.

In the Pyramid Saimira case, the journalist has been accused of forging a letter so that it appears to be a SEBI letter. Not surprisingly, this story has been largely ignored by the business press in India. Among the mainstream newspapers, only the Indian Express and DNA carry it.

What we must learn from India's largest Newspaper
The sorry state of Financial Journalism in India
The Indian Media would like us believe there is no recession

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

The only course in Online Writing that you must take (sort of)

There are no clear cut solutions for people to money in a Google-ruled world but check this (non)course in online writing titled 'Writing for Nonreaders in the Postprint Era' on Mcsweeney's, the list-making site for the smart set. Check out the prerequisites for the course:

Students must have completed at least two of the following.

ENG: 232WR—Advanced Tweeting: The Elements of Droll
LIT: 223—Early-21st-Century Literature: 140 Characters or Less
ENG: 102—Staring Blankly at Handheld Devices While Others Are Talking
ENG: 301—Advanced Blog and Book Skimming
ENG: 231WR—Facebook Wall Alliteration and Assonance
LIT: 202—The Literary Merits of Lolcats
LIT: 209—Internet-Age Surrealistic Narcissism and Self-Absorption

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Will somebody do a real study of blogging, please?

There is absolutely no useful study on blogging. The ones that we do have are from people who have vested interests. We are well past all those studies about what software people use to blog. People blog, period.

For example, Blog search Engine Technorati says there are many bloggers with 100,000 + monthly pageviews making $75,000/year. What kind of blogger would be making that money on that small a traffic other than affiliate spammer or the gadget blog rewriter?

Scott Rosenberg picks apart, one by one, all the wrong facts cited in an unusually bad and totally incorrect Wall Street Journal article by Mark Penn about the rise of blogging as a prominent profession in America.

The quality of bloggers/online journalists may be suspect in many cases but I reckon we have entered the Iron age equivalent for blogging as serious journalism.

Cases in example, Pulitzers for online journalism, public funding for online journalism and successful blog-based opinion networks.

1. We need serious studies of blogging to learn about skill sets, skill deficiencies, revenue models; and to look into new regulations for online journalists.

2. We need to how much of blogging is reportage, opinion, analysis, rewrite, investigation, unique comparison, spam, cross-post, pr-blog/fluff-blog, ghostblog and so on.

3. We need to know the inner-workings of blog networks [I was the founding managing editor of one]

I tend to think that a blogger does not only deal with words. She posts videos. She networks on social sites. Most of all, she is a starter of conversations.

Blogging is no more a fashion. We need actionable data to help us take blogging onto the next level - as a serious replacement of all overpaid, under-performing, lazy reporters.

That is why we must not let its study fester in hands of sundry marketers.

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Why Economist must be the role model for Online Journalists

Comparing struggling newsweeklies Time and Newsweek to the thriving Economist, Matt Pressman points out the difference between being yourself and trying to please somebody:

...instead of filling their articles with self-serving quotes from government ministers you’ve never heard of, The Economist’s correspondents just give you the essential facts and a meaningful takeaway, whether the information came from their own reporting, the local press, or some obscure think tank.
The Economist was one Western Product even Mahatma Gandhi liked.

Time and Newsweek magazines are 'Readers' Digest meets People' for the kind of people who are now getting their time-pass fix from online sources.

What makes The Economist different and successful?

1. It is about saying the truth as it is. Do more than original reporting and analysis. Blunt is good.
2. Fluff is bad.
Worse is fluff disguised in useless, fawning interviews. The Economist is sparse with praise and full of constructive criticism.
3 Do not listen to customers. Despite what you may have heard about Americans ignoring global news, The Economist will cover news from Bangladesh if it is important enough.
4. Be useful: Give actionable intelligence rather some self-serving interview with some corporate 'hero'.
5. Bylines do not matter if the words and ideas are too good to gloss over.

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How Online Journalism fared in the Pulitzers

2009 was the first time the Pulitzer awards considered Online-only news organizations. Sadly, no awards were given out 'to' or 'for' online journalism this time. Highlights about Online Journalism in the Pulitzers:

1. The Pulitzer Awards received 65 entries from 37 different online-only organizations.

2. Out of 65, 21 entries were rejected because the sites don't primarily do original reporting.

3. Only one primarily online organization,, a Washington-based politics news site, was a finalist - that too, in Cartooning. [Lesson: Politics and Cartooning are made for each other.]

4. Increasing role: Almost One in Four of all Journalism entries had Online news component.

5. Topics related to Online News content that were considered: Public Service News, Breaking News Reporting, Investigative Reporting, Local Reporting, National Reporting, Breaking News Photography and Feature Photography.

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How much does it take to support investigative blogging?

The Firedoglake blog is on a mission to raise $150,000 to fund a full-time, three-person team headed by Marcy Wheeler, who made her name with her scoop about Khalid Sheik Mohammed being waterboarded 183 times in one month. Marcy Wheeler also liveblogged the Libby trial, which is considered a breakthrough in online journalism.

On day 1 of the fund-raising campaign, they were able to raise $10,000.

For Bighow, I hope to have a 10-person reporting/blogging team. With average salaries of Rs. 300,000 per annum, I am looking at Rs. 3 million, or $60,000 approximately. Soon, I will be crowd-sourcing for a list of things to investigate.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Indian Bloggers getting into power lists

I am against people lists, especially the ones brought by foreign publications, which are mostly banal media branding/ego-boosting exercises. Having said that, it gives me pleasure this time around that an Indian Blogger is being considered on the same level as media magnates. Blogging in India may still be an Urban phenomenon, numbering in five figures, part-timers mostly, but the ground is changing fast.

Blogger Amit Verma at Indiauncut is listed as one of the 4 media-related entries in Businessweek Magazine's list of 50 most powerful people in India. I mentioned Amit in my story about biggest moments in Indian blogging history. He has a book coming up and has won the 2007 Bastiat Prize for his columns in Indian business paper Mint.

What do we learn from Amit's example?
Focus on some issues, write well.

Most importantly, start early.
Remember, Amit started blogging 5 years back.

Congratulations, Amit.
I sincerely hope to see more Indian bloggers working for change and using their power for good.

Related: The Biggest moments in Indian Blogging History

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