Twitter journalism in India

Turn on your TV, open a broadsheet newspaper, tune in to a radio station, and you’ll inevitably find journalists passing stories off as originals when in fact they’re not. Much of India’s journalism, in my view, doesn’t stack up. it just isn’t good enough. Maybe its because of the massive explosion in the Indian media sector – where every journalist and organisation has to work even harder for stories that they in fact start passing off trivial stuff as being news-worthy.

All you have to look at is the huge dependence of Indian journos on Twitter. Over the past week since I’ve been on vacation in India, all the newspapers have written stories for their main sections based on 140 characters tweeted by x or y Indian celeb! I’m not saying that India is the only place it happens, as I also read stories in the UK that are sourced from Twitter, but I see a much larger number of these tweets written up as bigger articles in India.

Editors ought to realize that they risk strangling the goose that laid the golden egg if they don’t improve the standards of journalism. Twitter, and social media tools are valuable sources of information, but ultimately a call needs to be made as to whether a story on x celeb stating they’re no longer entertaining their followers on Twitter, or they’re endorsing a new skin whitening cream really needs to take up 300 words in the main section of a “quality” newspaper.

I’m a big fan of the Indian media sector. They’ve entertained, explained, exposed, and generally done a fab job over the years, but my recently concluded visit has stirred me enough to write this blog-post.

There’s nothing wrong with gossip and tittle-tattle, I enjoy it as much as the next person, but they do a great disservice by passing of such trivia as genuine news.

There’s cows on the roads!

Ever since my kids were born, I’ve wanted to take them to India – the land of my ancestors. Partly, as I wanted them to connect at an early age with their heritage, and partly as I think they’ll be better equipped for the future if they start understanding the nuances of India – a country that everyone’s accepted as being central to global prosperity in the future.

In their lifetimes, they’ll see massive change. The centre of gravity will shift from Europe & North America to India & China. Given their obvious link to one of these future superpowers, our purpose was to introduce them to the sights, smells, and joys of our motherland.

So, we took them to Mumbai – home to the Indian film industry, commercial capital of India, and a bustling metropolis that is, arguably, the most outward looking of all Indian cities where their eyes came alight with – not the razzle dazzle of neon lights – but by seeing cows, goats, and pigs sharing the roads with the human race and by witnessing the sheer number of people on the streets of Mumbai.

Although I say it in light jest, it’s an important lesson that they realize that a civilization as ancient as it is, respects & shares with others, and that the concept of private space is (a luxury, and) perhaps, unique to the western hemisphere.

Along with the (rather, costly) saree shopping we had to endure on this visit; on New Years Day, we took the opportunity to visit a community school run by a NGO called Pratham in a Mumbai slum. I’d heard and read a lot about their stellar work, but visiting projects such as the ones we did reminded us that India may be a wonderfully colourful, vibrant, and hip place to be but there’s absolutely no escaping the fact that India is still home to a third of the world’s poor.

Cars, scooters, and rickshaws not only share roads with cows and other animals, you also visibly see the increasingly affluent sharing their immediate vicinity with some of the poorest people on the face of our planet.

My kids visited a crammer class of 20 students aged 7, who all sat cross-legged on the floor in a one room building with a teacher who used a blackboard to coach them on how they could attain a 80% pass rate for an exam, which if they did would provide them with 750 rupee (just over £10) scholarship to study further.

We worked our way through the slum – with open sewers, noisy workshops, and a dhobi ghat, to visit a room that also doubled up as a community library, which had fewer books than, not our local school library, but the books on the shelves in my children’s bedrooms! It may have been woefully inadequately resourced, but what came through was the immense pleasure of the children’s faces from being able to read the few books that they had at their disposal. With every page they turned, you could see their minds working overtime to grasp and understand what the author intended.

Lastly, we visited another home, where 20 children aged 2 – 6, who had never gone to school, were able to say the days of the week, read an early stage book, and respond in English to us.

All of this served to bring to the fore not only that we’re materially better off and have comforts that so many don’t, but the fact that there’s an entire generation that’s young and hungry to succeed. They’re going to take every opportunity that comes their way to improve their lives.

Economic forecasts show that as a result of various factors, primarily due its very young population, almost 25% of the world’s workforce will reside in India, not in 50 years, but in the next 15 years – in our lifetimes!

The basic message that we want our kids to recognise is that they have an inbuilt advantage, which they would be wise to embrace given the strides that India’s going to be making. Their economic well being in London, will in some shape or form, be dependent on how they understand and interact with India.

As parents, my wife & I committed to doing everything at our means to ensure our children run faster than we did, have larger dreams that we had, and in all are able to stand strong, not on their own, but realizing they belong to an increasingly interdependent and connected ecosystem – on in which they understand that their actions can have a major impact on someone else’s prosperity and vice-versa.

Whilst, I’ve focused on the material benefits of a relationship with the Indian subcontinent in this post, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that that’s all India offers for the future. It was Mark Twain who aptly described India as “India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only”, meaning that her ancient traditions, religious practices, philosophical outlook could perhaps address and teach us how to be better people and, just perhaps, answer the mother of all our questions – “what is the meaning of life”.

My daughters are way too young to grasp such issues, but, I hope that as a result of the connection they made in their 2010 Christmas break, they’re able to run that little bit further, climb a bit higher, and dream a bigger dream.

Kingfisher Airlines – all hype, no substance.

Seldom do I use this blog to register my dismay about things, but I wanted to let you know about the recent Kingfisher flight that I took for my family vacation to India from London.

No one can fault them for the severe snowfall we had in London in the week preceding Christmas, however they need to (a) sharpen up their communications, (b) be more honest & transparent with their customers, and (c) provide an agreeable standard of customer service.

Let me cite some examples:

On the day of the snow, all newsreports said that Heathrow was shut down, however the Kingfisher website showed the flight as being scheduled. So, after hanging on the phone for over an hour to their call-centre, we made our way to Heathrow as instructed by their operator. On arrival, I was totally dumbstruck with the mass of people in Terminal 4. Literally, there wasn’t an inch of floor space that you could occupy.

Having witnessed the scene, it was obvious to me that the airport would need to be closed, but just to check, I spoke with the Kingfisher representative at the check-in zone, who after being surrounded with the chaos around them for the whole day, suggested we check in as there was a “good chance” of us leaving, despite the fact that the plane meant to be taking us to Mumbai had been diverted to Brussels and in all probabilities wouldn’t land or take off from Heathrow that night!

Anyone in their sane mind could see what was going on around them. So, I quizzed another representative who admitted that their instructions were to encourage passengers to check in, despite knowing that they’d be nowhere for them to go. Pushing a lie is simply not acceptable or honourable.

Thankfully, we didn’t check in and made the decision to return home as in my view no flights would make it out that day. When I got back home, I learnt that Heathrow had since closed, and was therefore relieved that I didn’t follow the reps advice to check in and proceed as normal through immigration, else I would’ve been stuck without my luggage or transport with two kids and four suitcases in tow.

Over the next few days, I tried to rebook our tickets, and managed to confirm some seats for travel on Christmas Day, which I was happy to do as I had come off lightly from the experience so far. Rebooking the seats was burdensome, as for the first two days, they were unable to confirm which date they could accommodate us.

I tried contacting them (Kingfisher and Vijay Mallya – the guy who owns the airline) using all methods, including Twitter. But they seemed intent on ignoring me. I was irritated, frustrated, and felt I was wasting time.

What’s the point of getting onto a platform like Twitter if all you intend on doing is pushing your sales messages to customers. Everyone knows Twitter is about engagement and interaction. Customers hate it when companies push their marketing down their throats, and even more so when the tweets are simply irrelevant. Next time I want to know about Bollywood films, I’ll check your Twitter feed instead of Stardust magazine! What a total joke!

So, as I was traveling with my young kids, I specified their dietary preferences and booked kids meals for them, to find that they weren’t available on either leg of my flight! The vegetarian food they had onboard was far too spicy for a child and they didn’t have any alternatives. So, my kids went hungry.

The only hope I had was that the in-flight entertainment system would keep them occupied, but to find that it kept on freezing – not just for me but for many others – on both legs of the flight. I almost felt sorry for the staff on the plane, as they had to continuously push a lie to passengers who complained by saying that this was a one-off – as was confirmed by their stewardess who said “we’ve been instructed to say these faults are a one off”. Again, we unearth instructions from management for their frontline staff to push a blatant lie.

I booked Kingfisher on the recommendation of a few friends who often travel in Business Class, thinking that those of us in Economy would prevail of some of the luxuries, such as good food and a good entertainment system that would keep my kids occupied for the duration. Sadly, this wasn’t the case. We were let down, despite our tickets being more expensive than other airlines like Jet were offering, who I’ve always been perfectly happy with. I was suckered by Kingfisher’s marketing in thinking they were going to be better.

To rub it in, at the beginning of the journey, Vijay Mallya delivers a welcome message on the in-flight system saying that he’s instructed his staff to treat customers like his personal guests. If that’s the case, Mr Mallya, I dread your hospitality at home.

It’s known that Airlines make their money in Business & First Class compartments, but it’s sickening that Kingfisher takes “guests” in economy, literally, for a ride.

Going to India, for many, is a phenomenal, lifetime experience. They associate India with great hospitality. If you’re going to claim to be a flag bearer for India, please stop. You’re doing her a great disservice.

Kingfisher fails on so many levels. All hype, no substance. A definite thumbs down from us and from the sound of it, from fellow passengers on our flight.