Revisiting Taj Mahal after 16 years

15 Sept. It is after 16 (almost 17) years that I visited Agra. Last time it was for educational tour (as Mass Communication students! Remember visiting the then Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda on 26th February 1997. He was gracious to us; we had a high-tea with him at his residence. And then we had some question Entry-Taj

answer session with him. I had asked him when would Mr Sitaram Kesari (Congress President) remove him from his PM’s chair. I had used a very complicated sentence to sound like a journalist!  Mr Gowda had repeated a few times, ‘I am  a poor farmer of humble origin; … I never wanted to be PM, …’

Taj 4

We also faxed a press release about it sitting in his garden in New Delhi; and the Times of India had carried it on the first page! And after a month he had lost his chair! That was our ‘wow, didn’t I ask HDD about it!’ moment!

After that we had visited NDTV, met Prannoy Roy, visited Anita Pratap of CNN at her residence, met the India today guy (whose name I forget now – you know it’s so many years!) and IGNOU, Indian Express, Door Darshan, and Agra before landing up in Kathmandu for another ten days!)

Taj CU

Taj Mahal was beautiful then; it was my first visit anyway! I liked it immensely. I was passionate about photography  – that old hobby with Pentax K-1000 SLR camera and those rolls and rolls of Konica-100 film reels! Back in those days, it could cost a pretty penny! We had to think a dozen times before clicking a shot! But when it came to Taj, it just didn’t hurt! It was pure fun. Lots of photographic, angular, light, distance experiments! Plenty of them!

Taj RR & SP

This time I started for Fatefur Sikri; but somehow changed our minds to Taj Mahal! Was that a pull!? And then, both Steven and I, wanted to visit Agra Fort where the “builder” of Taj Mahal Shah Jahan was kept under arrest and given the privilege of watching this monument of his beloved for all his captive-days. Once again, I forgot till I returned to my hotel room! Wasn’t it a pull of the Taj!?Taj RR

Be that as it may!


Taj RR2

Taj has stood the test of times for 400 years; but could it not wait for another 17 years? This time the Taj looked a bit pale, yellowish, surrendering to the polluting industries in and around Agra! SadTaj2CU



But the feel was massive, yet! Its beauty, its symmetry, its brightness (or at least the way it speaks of it!), all these evoked the 1997 memories

Preparing for SJC – CIME workshop on Social Media and Data Security

11 Sept. After the astounding success of Allura, the annual national media fest conducted by the students of Visual Communication (BVC), at St Joseph’s College Autonomous, Bangalore, the Department of Communication is geared up to host a workshop on Social Media, Data Security and Copyright. The half-day workshop is organised in association with Centre for International Media Ethics, UK.

It will be held on 19/09/2014, at St Joseph’s College Bangalore.

Venu: Xavier Hall

Time: 1.30pm – 4.30pm.

This workshop will be followed by a two-day national conference on challenges to media in the context of globalisation and digitisation.

Date: 27-28 November 2014

Call for Papers (CFP) is out. Contact the organisers (or leave a comment on this blog!)


Just imagine Indian media’s euphoria at Narendra Modi getting into election fray for the elections in April-May! And when actually won the elections, the Indian media’s joy knew no bounds – so much money had done!
And what happens to Modi’s media-savvy image? That very modi who had answer to every asked and un-asked question, has no time or any inclination for the media! What do you think this means?
Media, from a pillar to a stone
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it clear in a 100 days of his government that the media is the most dispensable item on his agenda. Journalists have been placed at more than an arms length with the Prime Minister deciding the timing, the content, in fact the entire management of any media event according to his own set rules.

The big media houses who had joined their corporate owners in projecting Modi as the politician best fit for the job of Prime Minister got their first blow when the government made it clear that the reporters with cameras were not welcome on Raisina Hill where they used to lie in wait for ministers and visiting dignitaries for the virtually proverbial sound bites.

The second blow, almost simultaneous, was a clear directive from the Prime Minister to his Council of Ministers and all bureaucrats not to interact with the media. This has become a huge ‘no no’ in this government with senior officials fearing the sack if they even so much as wave out to a scribe they used to know rather well before the general elections. The Ministers are constant reminded by Prime Minister Modi about these instructions with even MP’s cautioned against hobnobbing with the journalists.

The third blow came with the realisation that the Prime Ministers office that always had a points person in the form of a friendly media advisor to meet at least the journalists had now closed its doors to all scribes. PM Modi has dispensed with an advisor and has just a Gujarat information officer who he relies on completely for his ability to issue quick and timely press releases about his activities. In fact the grapevine that is about all journalists have left these days has the story that a senior journalist met the Gujarat information officer, and rekindling old contacts suggested they meet at some point over a cup of tea. Pat came the response, “I do not drink tea.”

The fourth blow came with the PM’s decision to travel abroad without the usual bunch of journalists who vied for a seat in former Prime Ministers aircrafts with the favourite media houses being rewarded with a trip every single time that the head of government went abroad. Needless to say these visits, cushioned in state and five star comfort, had become a major attraction for the scribes who paid for their inclusion in the list accompanying the Prime Minister with extensively flattering reports. However, PM Modi has stopped this completely only the official media from Doordarshan and the Press Trust of India to accompany him on the flights abroad. Others are told that they can fly to the particular destination on their own expense if they so desire.

And again according to the grapevine during one of his first foreign visits to Brazil he was met with the Indian television teams that had travelled on their own to cover the BRICs meeting. Seeing them the PM is said to have remarked a trifle derisively, “accha to yeh toli yahan bhi aa gayi hai?” ( So this lot has arrived here as well). He refused to stop and meet them with all efforts proving futile through the visit.

The Prime Minister has also done away with the practice of on-flight briefings. There is not a single briefing by him, unlike in the past when Prime Ministers would interact and hold at least two press conferences on board the aircraft with the journalists accompanying them. This used to be the highlight of the travel but PM Modi has ensured that not just he, but even the high level officers and ministers accompanying him, do not speak with the journalists short of a ‘are you comfortable’ interaction.

PM Modi while contesting the elections had made full use of the television, print and the social media to campaign and put forth his views. However, it soon became apparent to the journalists—at the prodding of opposition leaders—that while he allowed them to cover his every event he did not speak to them directly at all. Following criticism on this, he gave specific interviews towards the end of the campaign to television channels giving them sufficient sound bites to chew on for a few days.

After he emerged successful and was sworn in as the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has virtually banished the media without appearing to have done so. All information is now regulated, and very little reaches the media through the ‘sources’ it had cultivated and relied upon. Particularly galling, as a senior editor said, is the fact that most of the ministers today are the garrulous BJP spokespersons of yesterday who now avoid all contact with the journalists except when specifically cleared to do so. Ministers, thus, will host a meal or invite the media for a briefing but all these interactions are structured now, and give the impression of having been cleared from the top.

The fourth pillar of democracy is thus floundering, covering the ‘events’ that the Prime Minister creates and manages without direct access. He has ensured, however, that he does not play favourites and the same rules apply for all the journalists at the moment, in that all are kept away from the corridors of power with no exceptions. The power play between television stars and celebrity editors has thus ended in the process, with all reduced to standing outside the door hoping for a peep in.

In the process, however, journalism has taken a decided knock as the watchdog of society is being deliberated reduced by the executive from a pillar to a stone. The journalist has the right to demand information, but given the fact that the media had become part of the revered establishment over the years, this right had been abrogated at its own hands a while ago. PM Modi is now completing the process, by establishing his control over information, and determining what will be given out and in what manner to the media, and what will be withheld.

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Rajdeep Sardesai, Let The Journey Begin!

Let The Journey Begin!.

Why the newspaper feels like an anachronism

The era of the newspaper is over. For the first time, Indian newspapers have registered decaying readership

                   by Aakar Patel

At the World Editors Forum 15 years ago, the people strutting about were likely to be the Indians. This annual holiday, hosted usually in some western European city in the summer, had editors pretending to deliberate on the state of the world between three vodka lunches and intermittent moaning about declining circulation.

The moaning ritual excluded the Indians, whose mighty and expanding newspaper industry was the envy of the West. In a world of fewer readers and falling advertising, India and China were exceptional. The Chinese came to these meetings but, not knowing English, stayed in their huddle while we Indians consoled the Europeans and Americans.

It was assumed that circulation and readership in India would keep growing for decades. This was because, we told ourselves and others, literacy rates were still low, and the rural illiterate would first read a regional language paper before ultimately migrating to English. Everything is tickety-boo, as Danny Kaye sang.

So confident was the industry that, at one newspaper I edited, the proprietors deliberately restricted distribution in particular neighbourhoods (“too downmarket”) because they wanted a sharper readership profile. We would pick and choose who read our papers.

This happy fantasy was dismantled by two inventions in software and hardware: social media and smartphones. The era of the newspaper is over.

For the first time, Indian newspapers have registered decaying readership. A survey in the fourth quarter of 2012 and the latest one for 2013 show this for the top three English dailies. The Times Of India has fallen from 7.6 million to 7.2 million readers, the Hindustan Times is up from 3.8 million to 4.3 million while The Hindu is down from 2.1 million to 1.4 million.

This is fine and English readership has been more or less stagnant for a long time. The hammer blow has come in languages.

In 2013, Dainik Jagran was 15.5 million (down from 16.3 million), Hindustan was 14.2 million (up from 12.2 million) and Dainik Bhaskar was 12.8 million (down from 14.4 million).

In every language, from Malayalam to Gujarati and Marathi to Bengali, readership is down sharply. In my opinion it has peaked and is in permanent decline. In the West this happened over many years, following the spread of television. In India it will hit crisis levels in a much shorter time. An editor friend of mine said the other day that the paper’s proprietor gave the industry four years.

We shall see, but already the newspaper industry has no wriggle room in terms of pricing. India is the only place where the reader is subsidized. Subscriptions to Pakistan’s Dawn and The Express Tribune cost Rs.20 a day. In India, most papers cost a couple of bucks and are twice as thick, meaning a lot more expensive to produce.

The other thing is how subscriptions are sold. In Gujarati, Hindi and other regional markets, dailies offer schemes. A form is printed in the paper on the first of the month and for three weeks, the paper carries every day a little stamp that is to be cut and pasted on that form. When it is brought in filled after three weeks, a gift is handed over. At the paper where I worked in Ahmedabad, redemption rates were 90%, and this was on a million copies. Every end of the month saw people mobbing the office to collect their bucket or washing powder or whatever was being doled out. So this decline is happening despite such efforts (whatever one may think of them, they are effective) at retention.

The fallout is not waiting to be observed in some distant future. In Bangalore, The Indian Express, which was printed under the National Standard masthead, and DNA have shut their editions in the last few weeks. Another paper, I will not name it, is in danger of going under by the end of the year. Yet another, the tabloid Bangalore Mirror, is thought to be changing size so as to better attract advertisers. And all this is just, as I said, in Bangalore.

V.S. Naipaul said in an interview that the Russian novelists were essential to educating the country about itself. But, he added, with television, reading was no longer needed. Saadat Hasan Manto says the same thing about cinema versus print in a piece of his on Bollywood.

The newspaper feels an anachronism. It used to be because it got whipped for time on breaking news, first by television, then news websites and now by social media, but I think even other aspects are touched by this.

For instance the very idea of columnists paid to fill up space (what a splendid practice—let’s have more of it) seems outdated. There’s any amount of free opinion to be found on the Internet, and who can say it is inferior to the stuff found in newspapers?

I saw an interesting video the other day on how computers are replacing journalists and producing reports on their own. The fellow (and I believe it was a fellow, not a computer) who made the video added that even opinion writing was no art and was already being mechanized (this did not surprise me—I have long suspected that some Indian columnists are not human).

The inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that in just three decades, at which point many of us will still be around, things will have progressed in science so far that computers will take over invention and science and every other thing that requires us today. For the newspaper- wallahs it’s not going to take that long.

Some of us are soon going to be put out to pasture, and about time too.

Bring Back Black Money; Expose Culprits

When the UPA-II was in power at the Centre, the one cry of the-then main opposition BJP, and its ally was ‘Black Money stashed in Swiss Banks”. Congress and its allies failed to expose the culprits and bring back the black money. Now the-then opposition BJP has come to power with full majority. Why is it not exposing those looting the country? Why is not bringing the black money back?

Shekhar Gupta moves out of India Today two months after joining

Shekhar Gupta moves out of India Today two months after joining.

The Lowdown on Longhand: How Writing by Hand Benefits the Brain

My Catholic school third grade teacher was extremely tough on me. Her biggest gripe was my handwriting, which looks more like an EKG scan than penmanship. For years, I harbored not-so-fond memories of her, but now I know that her strictness about penmanship was actually helping my brain develop. Recently, scientists have shown that longhand writing benefits the brain.

Today, cursive writing is becoming a lost art as note taking with laptops becomes more and more prominent in classrooms. But what we are losing is much bigger than a few scratches on a page — we are losing a robust way of learning.

There has been much debate on the use of laptops for note taking in classrooms. The pro side sees laptops as an efficient way of collecting and storing information. The con side sees laptops as an opportunity for distractions and multitasking. What’s missing is an understanding of how taking notes by longhand influences the brain. Recent studies have shown that students taking notes with laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than the students taking notes by longhand. In short, they had the information on their computers, but did not have an understanding of that information in their brains.

So in this age of technology, I’m suggesting that students take notes with paper and pen. It’s a crazy idea, but hear me out.

A Plea for Penmanship

When students take notes with their laptops, they tend to mindlessly transcribe the data word for word, like speech-to-text software. But taking notes verbatim is not the point. What is lacking in their note-taking-by-laptop is the synthesis, the re-framing, and the understanding of the information. Students that transcribe with laptops have shallow connections to what’s being presented to them. However, those who are taking notes by hand are processing the information and representing it in a way that makes sense to them. They are learning.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that longhand writing is so 19th century. But we need to answer a question: do we want students to have a deep or shallow connection to the information we’re giving them? While we live in a world of short sound bytes where news is thrown at us unprocessed, this should not be the mode for schools. In the 21st century, the ability to connect knowledge in new ways is more important than the knowledge itself. So students with deeper connections to information can link it in new ways — they can create.

The Pen is Mightier

All this begs the question of how we can incorporate longhand in a digital age. What about a daily notebook, written by hand?

A lost art in the world of science is the lab notebook. In it, scientists write down observations, impressions, and all the variables and outcomes of an experiment. If you are teaching STEM classes, might I suggest that you resurrect the lab notebook and have students personalize it? Give them assignments where they have to hand-draw pictures of what they see and what they predict. Let them figure out how to visually represent these things — without digital pictures, by the way. The datasays that taking images with a camera does not improve one’s memory either, so these notebook entries must be written or drawn. Skill doesn’t matter. What we are fostering are experiential links in a child’s brain, and one of the best pathways is through their fingers.

If you are not teaching STEM classes, have students carry a personal notebook in which they write down observations and draw things by hand on whatever topic. We are trying to create more connections to information, and developing fine motor skills along the way.

If you have a classroom with lots of technology, try to integrate note taking. Often when I give my PowerPoint slides to students, I pass out a version that doesn’t have all the information that students are seeing on the screen, which means that they need to fill it in by hand. And when I glance over their notes, I see how their work doesn’t always look the same. This is great because my students are doing the most important thing we can teach them — they are learning how to teach themselves.

So let us not confuse efficiency with the real goal of teaching. Teaching is not a job of cramming as much as we can into a brain. It is about learning. And getting students to learn means that we must use every pathway to connect them with the information. Using laptops reinforces the Industrial Revolution ideal that every kid should get the information in the same way, and that it should come out the same way. But by occasionally replacing the laptop with a pen, learning happens, which is why we got into this business in the first place.

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What is SJC Communication busy with?

31 Aug. Are you wondering what is happening at Bangalore’s St Joseph’s College Autonomous? Quite a lot! Probably, you just can’t complete reading.

So, let me restrict only to the Department of Communication:

Currently the Under Graduate (UG) students of Visual Communication (BVC) are busy preparing for their  annual national media fest: Allura! Mark your calendar: 5th & 6th September.The fest is full of fun and insight. The students have put their best foot forward. In preparation, they conducted a food fest – mostly overshadowed by the first years (though the seniors gave them a “run for their money”!)

Then the flash-mobs in the College and city-colleges. A lot more work on sponsoring and designing and printing. If you would see some of the promos they have created, you would understand what I mean! Crazy, in youth-lingo!

In between came Pratibha (the College, inter-class competition of talents), and the final year BVC retained the championship.

Then came the two-day Exodus by the CSA (Christian Student Association); it is over today. A massive initiative by students!

This week it is all the way Allura! We are waiting for some big Kannada film and TV stars, besides industry leaders.

Then on 19th September is CIME workshop. CIME is a UK-based Media NGO promoting ethics in media. On this World Media Ethics Day, our Bachelor of Vocation (B.Voc.) students will lead SJC as well as other college students and some industry into a meaningful discussion on Social Media, Data Security and Copy Right issues.

And then, on 27-28th November, the Post Graduate students of Mass Communication, will hold their annual national conference on globalisation and digitisation of media and challenges it faces. Hope to get some top national television personalities to grace the occasion. A lot more work is going on than I can say here.

Be with us. If you can, please do come!

The Times of India just instituted a bizarre Twitter and Facebook policy


The Times of India just instituted a bizarre Twitter and Facebook policy

August 25, 2014

Hundreds of journalists working at the Times of India and its sister publications have received a peculiar request from their employer: hand over your Twitter and Facebook passwords and let us post for you.

Even after you leave the company.
Under a contract unveiled to employees last week, Bennett, Coleman and Company Ltd—India’s largest media  Continue reading
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