Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Steve means success

MN Kundu
Hindustan Times

If I were to define success, I would say it means "Steve". By changing the digital world and thereby bringing a revolution, Steve Jobs, who died last week, changed the approach and lifestyles of people all over the world. He dared to rebel and walked the untrodden path. His stress was: Be different and see the difference in your life. Steve was not only different but made it possible for the rest of mankind to think that they too can be different and agents of change.

I found the best tribute paid to Steve in a tweet: "Three apples have changed the world. One seduced Eve, the second awakened Newton and the third one was in the hands of Jobs." Steve wanted us to always follow our inner voice but give a damn to dogmas and tradition. As if he knew the imminent end of his journey on this planet, he said, "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogmas. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your inner voice."

The man who made the world of technology richer with his iPhone, iPad, iPod and desktop PC, saw to it that the worlds of computing, music and mobile phones were no longer the same. Steve was a dreamer who could convert and shape his dreams into reality. His passion bordered madness. Until he succeeded in achieving something different and new, his search for new ideas made him ruthless and restless. He used to say, "innovations come from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea."

Steve was a prisoner of hope. He was the kind of man who, in the words of Emerson, would hitch his wagon to a star. The lesson we get to learn from his life is: do not vegetate and dare to be a little bit of a rebel. Open up your mind and the whole world will open up for you. Steve Jobs did that because he knew that "without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible"--Khalil Gibran.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Headlines you will never see...

Sevanti Ninan
The Hindu

Last fortnight, a new documentary screened in Delhi had a packed hall in thrall. Called "Brokering News", it glided effortlessly through a succession of sound bytes and TV news clips to suggest a range of unethical practices prevalent in the media. The existence of election-time paid news, of complicity between stock market experts and the TV channels that feature their tips, of cosy deals that enable each newly released film to get varying degrees of prime time pre-release exposure, of increasingly political ownership of channels, of seductions to journalists, abundant "reviews" of new gadgets and automobiles and so on.

This documentary has been made by Umesh Aggarwal for the Public Service Broadcasting Trust and will be shown on Doordarshan, which will doubtless be delighted to air it. It was a brisk film built largely on circumstantial evidence and assertions of a general kind. Business journalist Sucheta Dalal saying for instance that: "Every single aspect of news is for sale," or filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt saying that the publicity a film gets is what it negotiates, not what it deserves. Or sports journalist Pradeep Magazine revisiting the cozy relationship that existed between media houses and the Indian Premier League until things that went sour for the IPL. The documentary had a compelling case study and specific accusations were levelled by a journalist who said he quit in disgust. The audience loved it.

In a country consumed with the issue of corruption, the discussion on degrees of ethical deficit in the media never moves beyond first base. Noteworthy, but unsurprising. Media corruption is not an issue that the State wants to tackle seriously for the same reason that corporate corruption is not an issue for the media until it becomes impossible to ignore. You need each other. Where would a politician be without publicity of any kind, where would a media house be without corporate advertising?

There is also another reason why the State will not stick its neck out on this issue. When a media house is raided, the community shrieks about the violation of press freedom. This has happened in some notable cases since the late 1990s. During the Anna agitation, the Law Minister Salman Khurshid asked on Headlines Today why Team Anna's draft of the Lokpal Bill had not called for investigation of corruption in the media and the NGO sector? The anchor asked him in turn why the government had not chosen to investigate those who figured in the Niira Radia tapes. And the good Minister said that if they did so the government would be criticized. "Now you are asking why the government has not investigated. If we go ahead with the investigation, we would be accused of being insensitive. If we do, there would be a mass movement for the media."

The major difference between corruption in public life and corruption in the media is that one has become a raging issue and the other not enough of an issue. To the extent that you need the media to make corruption an issue, media corruption will never become a big ticket item on the national agenda. And the interesting thing is, to the extent that civil society cannot fulfil any of its own agendas without using the media to ride on, it will leave media corruption well alone. In the list of problems Indian NGOs work like gnomes to address, those involving media abdication or transgressions are very hard to find.

We did not invent media corruption, nor do we have a monopoly on it. Trawl on the Internet and you would find journalists from Kenya, the Philippines and Nepal speaking on the subject. The Philippines too has paid news.

And then corruption is not sufficiently nuanced word to describe the problem. Paid news and journalists, big and small, on the take are the relative uncomplicated face of it. What of journalists not doing their job and going only after soft targets rather than big corporate or government fish because their owners need advertising from them? At the bottom of the pile, corruption exists because journalists are not paid enough, at the top it is at the management level and because the advertising the channel or paper is able to summon is not enough to cover costs, particularly since the cover price is low and no costs are covered at all. You sell a newspaper that costs Rs. 15 to produce at Rs. 3.

Desperate measures to finance escalating costs of production are also happening because hordes of players enter the media sector for a variety of reasons. There are no less than 40 news channels across the country financed by political parties or families, according to the aforementioned documentary. A highly fragmented market that shows no signs of consolidating.

The more expensive news gets to produce and the less advertising there is to go around, the more shows you will get on gadgets and cars and movies. And fewer news crews going off the countryside to report what is happening to ordinary people. Not reporting is not a cognizable offence, but it undermines the reason for the existence of journalism in a free society.

So, who will bell the cat? Not civil society, not government, not the corporate sector, not the media themselves, not the political class. We should look around at other societies to see what mechanisms they have come up with and pursue a variety of solutions. Until then, we will titter every time the Niira Radia sound bytes are played, but nothing will change on the ground.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Thank You, Steve Jobs

The death of Apple founder and former CEO Steve Jobs, as tragic it was, brought back some hope for aspiring journalists like me that it was possible to find positive stories amidst death. For probably the first time, I learnt not to be boggled by the scams and the brain-numbing figures associated with each scam. Though it was a tragic end for Steve at the young age of 56, it rekindled a hope that it was possible to find and unearth positive stories even during adversities which could find a mention on the front page of a newspaper.

He, of course, left behind a legacy which is tough to replace. He created one of the world's best companies, Apple and led the company to a towering success with his inspiring leadership qualities and a unique vision. What he left behind is far more important was that he left the world as a role model for many people. He left behind the possibility that one person can make a huge difference. He proved that even school or college dropouts had the potential in them to dream big and make it large. At this juncture, it is interesting to note how school and college dropouts often emerge successful as architects of a better future than the ones who spend years studying in IITs or IIMs.

Steve proved many experts wrong by his sheer conviction and his high vision. He demonstrated beyond doubt that clarity of vision and a passion for that vision which settles for nothing but the best and an unwillingness to compromise on principles, ethics or on the need for excellence, one can achieve much more than what is actually unimaginable.

As the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once stated: "All progress depends upon the unreasonable man." Steve was the best example to prove this point. He was unreasonableness personified. It is often said that reasonable people do only reasonable things. Starting from the basics in a tiny garage, he succeeded in building the Apple empire with a vision and a demand of nothing less than the best which has given us the Apple we know of and love today.

He loved doing what he was doing which explains why he emerged successful. In a philosophical angle, doing something which you love is known as swadharma (self-duty). Swadharma is the basic quality in man who has the ideas and potentials. As also, there is always something which a person loves doing which does not seem to take much effort. It is generally believed only self-realized people can live up to the standards of following their swadharma but it is not the case. In this case, Steve personified grit and imagination applied to technology. As a writer once said: "To computer jobs, he brought simplicity. To an industry known for its geeky/ugly functionality, he brought beauty." The day Steve resigned as the CEO of Apple Computers, the Oscar winning music maestro AR Rahman said: "A true master knows when to quit. We will miss you, Steve."

In his impactful Stanford Commencement speech in 2005, he said, "Remembering I'll be dead is the most important tool I have encountered to help me to make the big choices in life. Because almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death; leaving only what it is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to close. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart." Such great words coming from a college dropout and more importantly, a cancer patient can only make us stand up in awe of the greatest innovator and mass communicator of the 21st century.

He surely had an enormous impact on the modern life and the changes he initiated in the field of computers and technology will roll through our lives for decades. But for millions, he will epitomize the man who stood for encouragement, belief in one's self and being a role model who could exactly demonstrate how much of an impact is possible by a single man.