Founding partner of Small Screen and newslaundry, Abhinandan Sekhri was a researcher at Newstrack and went on to become a reporter, always managing to do the story that was dropped. He scripted the political satire shows The Great Indian Tamasha and Gustakhi Maaf on NDTV’s news channels between 2004 and 2009. So he thinks he’s funny. Thinks!
A lil birdy told me
If you can deal with the venom and anger it’s quite a nice place. Twitter is not just awesome to get abused on and figure out what Poonam Pandey and Kim Kardashian have been up to, it’s also a fantastic tool to make journalism a little transparent, just a teeny-weeny bit -in 140 characters.
I’m not talking of social media as a news (mostly rumour) dispenser. I’m referring to it as supporting mainstream journalism. Twitter is the tool we’d been looking for, at least for now. It’s often non-committal and shy but it’s a start. It’s the first time you can see the biases, prejudices and ideological positions of those who bring you the news if they’re on twitter and if they tweet anything other than their programme schedules. Now that is one level of transparency. You can get to know more about your news suppliers and their politics.
In the pre-unselfconsciously partisan days of news – pre-Arnab for TV and pre-Indian Express opinionated avatar for print – most journalists pretended and even (unrealistically) claimed to be objective. Now we can run the news we consume through the twitter prism of those bringing it to us. This gives us a hint of the baggage the presenter brings to the issue.
Like I said, it’s not nearly perfect. Some disappoint, because on twitter they’re non-committal and vague even though on screen they’re unabashedly predisposed. But some brave ones do wear their point of view on their tweet. So here’s a quick summary for those who want to know who’s what on twitter.
I’m following 139 people on twitter as I write this, of whom I’m guessing around 110 are journalists – anchors and reporters.
Some general observations – many journos belong to the free market club for whom the solution to everything is ‘reforms’ and in those cases you know they mean free market reforms or what is also referred to as liberalization. They’ve internalized free market into the term reform, although reform in the judiciary or police (pending as per a SC order since 2006) has nothing to do with the market. The left-leaning types aren’t very active on twitter, perhaps because twitter is built by evil capitalist led-innovation using a platform (the internet) created by the capitalist interest-driven US military. Then there are the haters. Who hate everything and everyone. Which is a good place for a journo to be. At least he or she will be consistently nasty to all. And then there are the frauds – non-tweet tweeters who should really do more than list show-schedules. We get that from newspapers and promos.
The order of the tweet review below is random and has nothing to do with any hierarchy or personal preference or anything. Just saying, because much is read into the order of things.
Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) is very regular with his good nights, as regular as KRK (if you don’t know who KRK is you’re obviously a twitter virgin). What I have gathered from Rajdeep’s tweets is that he gets massages on Sunday, drinks Old Monk, has a dog and watches sports channels over weekends. He fancies himself as a sporty type – nice. But very little by way of revealing his politics and that’s a let down. Mostly gives you timings for his shows and others’ on his channel or applauds his colleagues and staff. That’s sweet, but as a follower you want more of what he thinks. He does sometimes comment on a political development usually the obvious, about price rise or Mamata being the opposition within. Often attempts humour but turns out like that good natured uncle we all had who cracks jokes that aren’t funny or are very old and all the kids in the room have to laugh reluctantly or the nice uncle will mind. Attempted humour below.
His latest tweets are all about CNN-IBN’s new show The Greatest Indian. He has a dozen or so tweets about it but doesn’t tell us on twitter whom he voted for. Come on dude, that’s the stuff you should put out there. Not who’ll be on your panel and what time the show will start. He’s one of the twitter superstarswith 4 lakh 70 thousand followers, and does get a fair bit of abuse.
Speaking of abuse, Sagarika Ghose (@sagarikaghose) with about 72,000 followers probably is victim to more abuse per follower than anyone else. And don’t mess with her, she just got verified. She tweeted about that too. Retorts were to be expected and they came. Some funny ones by – Reviewer.
Her most famous episode on twitter was when she wished her followers Happy Good Friday! For those who don’t get the faux pas – Good Friday is when Christ was crucified. It’s not the most jolly of occasions. She trended for a day or two and took down the errant tweet. Also has the bad-jokewalé-uncle syndrome. Attempts below.
Is hard to tell her politics or position on most issues, but clearly has justified contempt for the right-wing Hindu nuts who bombard her with vile abuse. Is also full of one-line advice like save petrol, be careful, spread jollyness and smiles-type things. A mix of Miss India and mummy advice. The only time she took a firm twitter position was for the now famous Kolkata student-CPM cadre asker of Maoist question Tanya, against the infamous Mamata outburst on CNN IBN. Other than that, she tweets us show timings. Uneventful and boring except when she pulls out a Happy Good Friday type moment which can be counted upon to come up. Standing by.
A very frequent tweeter Shiv Aroor (@ShivAroor) may not be the best known or a star reporter, but on twitter he positions himself pretty well. He lambasts and mocks everyone equally and strongly states if he thinks someone is right. No ideological position is obvious. He can have a tweet applauding V K Singh and then one trashing him, or similarly for the Anna movement. It’s universal irreverence,which is a great zone for reporters to operate in. He is a little obsessed with the armed forces and weapons. Every weapon test is a hard-on moment with frequent tweets about stats of weapon, range, capability etc. Boys-with-toys type of situation. I suspect will be very excited if any war or conflict breaks out. Peace probably bores him. Overall I’d say he’s not too fond of the UPA or Congress.
Barkha Dutt (@BDUTT) has close to 5,90,000 followers. The Shah Rukh Khan of journo twitterati. From a tweet beast who’d tweet constantly she’s now a tweet conservative. She is political and combative and there will usually be action on her timeline. Why it’s interesting to follow her is that she does have opinions on stories she’s covering, so her position is there to see and that’s great for a follower and viewer. I think it’s transparent and fair and worth emulating. Also, her chumminess or personal dynamic with many who are connected to or are the subjects of her stories gives an insight into the space she’s coming from. As a consumer of news, to me that is valuable and puts many things in perspective. Also, when she kind of wants to voice her opinion on something but not really, she’s learnt to play the system – she’ll retweet someone else’sview on her timeline. So it’s not like Barkha has said that Shah Rukh Khan came across looking cool and trashed the Shobha De’s of the world, but she retweeted someone who did. So although she hasn’t said it but she really has. Clever trick. Has been the victim of major twitter abuse and the only one I know who’ll get into the tweet pit to fight it out. Good thing. Combat keeps you sharp.
Ravish Kumar (@ravishndtv) is the twitter poet. Lest he gets pissed off please don’t think his is in the same space as Sibal’s text/sms poetry. Ravish is actually good. Three lines as an update – twitter haiku that throws up questions, twitter kaikoo? Am I doing a Rajdeep joke?’ He’s one of my favourite journalists and his tweets are often about the irony in some piece of news or the irony of news itself. Often a comment on a social issue and sometimes his twitter haiku flies over my head, but is deep and ironic in an existential context or something. I’d say he thinks more from his heart than his head even when it comes to news and his profession. That’s great because we still need some journalists like that. I’d put him in the left of centre but dismissive of the far left zone.
Sreenivasan Jain (@SreenivasanJain) only tweets occasionally. Like his languid laidback self he is that on twitter too – no hype…no truth even…just the show timings. C’mon Vasu you can do more. It’s just 140 characters dude.
And that brings us to the most prolific of news-and policy-related tweeter. God has a twitter account and it’s @acorn. Will be an Oak when he grows up no doubt (Rajdeep moment #2). News-and policy-related tweets with the finality of God. Can give a heavier lecture in 140 characters than Anna would in 140 verses. Nitin Pai who is so so angry with pretty much everyone and everything that he could combust you and the economy and the planet with a thought if he weren’t God and therefore forgiving and benevolent but is as livid as Surjit Bhalla on any debate. Pet peeve is P Sainath of The Hindu. Is the editor of Pragati, a publication on strategic affairs and policy. He appears to be a ‘founder and fellow’ at the Takshashila Institution. From what I understand by following him, that consists of being a free market cheerleader, reading lots and tweeting all day long (sometimes every 2 minutes) about what he’s read - displaying a smartest boy in class syndrome. Is followed by many journalists with good reason. Provides links to articles, columns, blogs etc. Decent place to get news – just one side of it, but good nonetheless.
And where there is a God there will be the fallen angel. As I close, I tip my hat to twitter’s Lucifer – Suhel Seth (@suhelseth) who is also followed by many journos (till recently not just on twitter but in the party circuit too) who showed us through self-sacrifice that twitter can get you into deep trouble. The Jay Gatsby of Delhi society, minus the sympathy that Gatsby evoked.
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