Saturday, November 21, 2009

Brother's Keeper - Canon 7D first look

Well...well...well... The baby has spoken!

Here's my first with the Canon 7d. A short short on sibling interactions. It's done as a "One shot - One minute" film with minimal post editing.

Was checking out the depth of field possibilities - amazing! The cam offers the possibility of shooting video the way we look at still images with subject isolation!

This does what big buck cameras would not do.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Freelancer Perks and a new baby!

It may be a hard life being a freelancer in digital media but then there are the perks no office 'job' can beat.

Check out my office these days - a park bench in the old town of Mapusa!

My equipment?
- A laptop
- Nokia 5800 Cellphone
- EV-DO wireless broadband from BSNL (their best kept secret - I get amazing speeds of up to 1MBps in the park!)

Today, sitting in my office, I just made a down payment for my soon t0 arrive baby - Canon's 7D. They tell me I'll get it by Wednesday. I can't wait! It's so exciting!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Bubble that is Social Media?

Spotting Lemons

Social media sites currently rule the roost - or at least the cyber world. Practically everyone I know with net access has a Facebook, MySpace or Twitter account. And yet, with all of this buzz, could social media sites be heading for a bubble burst akin to the 2001 dot com crash?

In a recent article in Media Life, Paul Benjou makes a compelling case for just such a crash. It may be hard to believe, for many infatuated with social media, but it's not easy to ignore the signs.

Four years ago, Rupert Murdoch paid $580 million for MySpace. Recently top execs and 700 workers of MySpace were laid off. In February 2004, Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook. Today the site has over 200 million users but no business model whatsoever.

Benjou draws parallels to the telephone when talking of advertising on social media. 100 years after the telephone first rang on the communication scape, users still do not accept advertising. Anger over marketing calls prompted the "Do-not-call" registry. Social media is the same and Benjou argues advertising will always be considered an intrusion in social networks.

So without advertising and with users accustomed to an "always-free" model, where's the money to come from? And more importantly, what about users who are simply fed up with all that networking?

Reflecting user fatigue Susan Coils comments on a post by Charles Heflin:
Personally, I agree with Tonie - it’s all becoming a bit boring now. Is anyone actually still bothering to sign up to the latest, greatest, social networking sites?
Matt Hames at Share Marketing gives a different twist:
Clients have come to the conclusion that they have a Facebook page, or a Twitter feed (or something). Think about it: they don’t want a Facebook page to enhance their overall marketing. They simply want a Facebook. page. The prime ingredient for a bubble is the desire to do something because everyone else is doing it.
So if the businesses and individual users do drop out of social media, what's let for SM companies?

Hmm... smells like 2001.

What's your take?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Unethical Publishing Practices in India

I received a call from Better Photography magazine on Friday July 3, with an urgent requirement of a top-quality image that "defined Goa" and would "make photographers want to come to this coastal tourist state in western India." The image was to go with an article on Goa in the magazine.

After a quick email interaction (reproduced below), I was shocked to learn they wanted the images for free! This coming from India's top magazine dedicated to photography enthusiasts and with ads from the majors like Canon and Nikon. What was even more shocking is the reason for the no fee policy - the magazine I was told, had an estimated readership of 150,000. Hence, I suppose, photographers should feel privileged to have their images published.

I felt the need to post my response to this blog to inform others about this major scam. If sufficient photographers and creative individuals let it be known this is unacceptable business practice, perhaps the scene could be changed.

Here is my response to the email from Better Photography:

Hi Neha,

I am very happy to hear of the readership figures of Better Photography magazine. However I am also disturbed over the policy to use images without any fees.

As a professional working in the field, I believe your 'no fees' policy for photographs solicited from individuals (amateurs and professionals) is a bit skewed. While on the one hand BP informs people on making good images, on the other hand the magazine will not support the livelihood of those working in the same field?

At a cover price of Rs 100 and supported by ads of majors in photography, the publication is purely commercial and not a non-profit. As such, not paying for images and to say that photographers should be happy with 'publicity' in the form of a credit line "given the 150,000 odd readership", is an un-ethical business practice.

If viewership figures is the only criteria then photographers would be better off with images on Flickr where the hits are in the millions and visibility much higher. But of course, for us in the field, it's not just about visibility but also hard cash.

Unfortunately, this practice is being followed by more and more reputed publications - newspapers, magazines and journals, stepping on the already flattened stomachs of photographers and other creative individuals and, in particular, photojournalists.

But as a premier photography publication in India, Better Photography would be expected to do better.

I do hope BP changes its policy to show the way for other publications in India. If not you may just be killing the industry already reeling from editorial cuts in mainstream publications.

In the meanwhile, I must decline having my images published in BP for free.


Gasper DSouza

Here are the previous emails (in reverse cronological order) to make the scenario clear:

Hello Gasper,

Our publication is purely an educative one, meant for hobbyists and
enthusiasts. Our magazine is a well-read journal of 160 pages. We
print around 25,000 copies and every single copy is read by around 5-7
people, making our readership about 150,000. We get some advertising
in our magazine, which allows us to keep our cover price to INR 100.
And our aim is to showcase good photography. In light of this, we do
not offer a fee.

However, the prerogative to decline is entirely yours. But if you feel
you would be comfortable sharing the image with us please send us an
original high resolution file of the image.

Warm Regards
Email requesting terms and my normal publishing fee:
Hi Neha,

I can send you the high res images as required from my archives. Give me a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, since this is the first time, do let me know your terms of use etc. My normal magazine per image rate is .....


Response requesting high-res files of two photographs (no mention of terms).

Hello Gasper,

These are the images we would like to publish. I am attaching the image as well as the tag from the link you have sent.

The tag is : Other_Goa_12.jpg

The images should be 8x10-inches for Vertical images and 17x11.5-inches for Horizontal images at 300 dpi, so that if any image needs to be used a full-page bleed or as a double spread, we can.

Warm Regards

Initial email from me, following telephonic conversation, requesting images on Goa:

Hey Neha,

Sending you a few low-res pics that I dug out. Also check out the feature at:

Let me know if any meet your requirements and terms of publishing. I can send you high-res file once finalised.

I am all for helping causes and actively work in community media but I do not think a big media house is a "cause" that deserves free work - whether photography or other creative forms of expression.

I leave it to readers to judge.

NOTE: Better Photography is published by Infomedia 18 Ltd who also publish other big magazines like Chip (IT) and Overdrive (auto) with indirect control by TV 18 (CNBC TV 18 and CNBC Awaaz)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Newspaper Redesign: The Navhind Times, Goa

The Navhind Times - Promo Video from Gasper DSouza on Vimeo.

When I was asked to come in as a consultant for the redesign of the Navhind Times, my proposal was that the paper looks at the project as a re-think and not just a redesign. Design is an element to support content and not something that needs to get "in the face" of the reader.

With this in mind, every design element proposed and introduced in the new Navhind Times serves a purpose and is not just ornamental.

The re-design sought to address 6 basic areas:
  • Packaging
  • Colour Coding
  • Reader Interactivity
  • Usability
  • Unified Typography
  • Modular Layouts
1. Packaging and Colour Coding:
Taking into consideration lifestyles of the modern reader, the product was packaged for efficient reading.

At the broadest level, the sections were packaged for logical flow through the paper. First comes the hard news sections beginning with Page 1 and followed by local news, national and global news and ending in the Opinions page(s). Then comes the two page Business section. This is followed by the two entertainment and events pages - Buzz. The paper ends in the 3 page sports section.

However, due to various realities within the organisation, this logical flow unfortunately, could not be implemented in the final release. Hopefully, it will be incorporated at some later date.

Sections have been colour-coded, a unique concept, to give readers a better sense of where they are in the paper. The colours also go with the type of content -
  • Blue for hard news
  • Lively magenta for entertainment
  • Green for business and
  • Flaming orange for sports
The packaging then extends to the individual pages and stories. Similar stories are grouped together on pages for easy accessibility. For instance, crime and accidents, previously scattered through all the local pages, are now grouped in a box on P3.

P2 has scope for a daily feature/centerpiece story with more visuals and graphics. This automatically lifts the entire page, previously filled with a large number of small items.

Individual stories are also better packaged. Templates for sidebars make for convenient projection of story highlights for the reader. Visuals and graphics accompany key stories throughout the paper and make for better packaged stories.

2. Reader Interactivity:
A newspaper that does not involve its readers actively is headed for extinction. Today's readers do not want to be talked down to. We want to be involved in the conversation.

With this in mind, I have introduced scope for involving readers throughout the paper, in individual stories. The paper now has both email and SMS for interactivity. Editors can now invite readers to share their thoughts via SMS or email.

In the earlier format, readers could, at best, send in a letter to the editor (on the opinions page) or an article. There was no scope for contributing short "thoughts". Through the "Shoutbox" on P5, readers can now send in their brief comments instead of formal letters. This is in tune with the trends for social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

3. Usability:
Today's readers have fast-paced lifestyles and newspapers need to keep this in mind. The new design acknowledges this situation. Stories now have multiple entry points to guide readers to stories of interest.
  • Headlines: The headline remains the key entry point for the reader. But in addition to this, there are several more points of entry.
  • Decks: A deck above the headline now qualifies the headline with more detail.
  • Summary Graf: Key stories on a page come with a summary paragraph (two or three short sentences) that gives "on-the-go" readers a gist of the story.
  • Sidebars: These graphical elements give readers yet another entry point into the story with a small graphic and a bulleted list of key facts of the story.
On the same point of usability, the two magazines were to be converted to the tabloid format. The reasoning being the tabloid format is a more convenient format compared to the broadsheet. This is particularly useful in the case of the Sunday magazine Panorama that has in-depth articles. While the concept was accepted for the Saturday lifestyle magazine - Zest, it was rejected for Panorama. I'm not convinced with the argument that tabloid equals "lesser journalism." Worldwide, the trend towards tabloid is catching on and adopted by respected dailies.

4. Unified Typography:
A key change in the new design is unification of typography throughout the paper. As with other design elements, type is kept simple - just two related families in the entire publication. A combination of the two families is used for all elements on the page. The lead headline uses a dominant font while all other elements use variants with lesser weightage.

The special sections and magazines have also been brought into the unified typography scheme for the first time, to create a related look throughout the publication.

5. Modular Layouts:
Modular advertisement layouts was suggested as a design concept to go with the modular story design. The newspaper used a side stairwell design for ads that rise to the top of the page. The modular approach would ensure ads align horizontally and do not project to the top of the page. This format keeps both the reader and advertiser in mind.
This concept was followed on the initial launch, especially for P1 but then reverted to the traditional stairwell layout following "advertiser demand". Nonetheless, I am happy readers got to experience the Navhind Page 1 as I had envisioned, even if for just a couple of days.

These are the key points of the new design. Despite the last moment modifications, most notably in the flow of sections through the paper and modular ad layouts, I hope readers will like the product. Going by early reactions the new look seems to have gone down pretty well with traditional readers. What remains to be seen is if it will draw in new readers. But that's where compelling content comes in.

Before & After:

Page One:

Page Two:


Buzz (Society, Entertainment & Events):

Zest (Saturday lifestyle magazine, now in tabloid size):

Panorama (Sunday magazine):

Watch my video guide to the new look Navhind Times:

Monday, May 25, 2009

The "Citizen" in Journalism 2.0

Is the phenomenon of Citizen Journalism over hyped? Is it commonly mis-understood? What role does CJ actually play in today's journalism?

Dorothea Lange, photographer for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), sitting atop her 1933 Ford Model B, holding her camera in February 1936.
Space for good journalism and journalists still exists (Dorothea Lange, 1936)

For some time now, we have been seeking to train young citizens (from schools, colleges and young adults) in simple techniques of telling stories through digital means, through the GoCreat project. One of our objectives is to involve communities to create local content "from their points of view".

These experiments, in keeping with my own interests in community-based/alternative media, have been quite revealing. What we commonly found is that participants are extremely excited to learn the simple techniques and create their own digital stories. Enthusiasm levels are high during the workshops. But once the workshop is over, to expect them to keep at it, seems to be a big ask. For instance, we encouraged students from the Goa University to start a common blog. It was expected the blog would become a space where students would be able to recount experiences from their perspective. That experiment lasted but a couple of months.

Citizens in Citizen Journalism. A Myth?

This led me to pose the query "Are citizens actually interested in citizen journalism?" Here are responses I received via Twitter:
@camerawala: in demotix I have found many who r freelance journalists/PJs in India to join as contributors. Is it a degradation of status?
@lilliangoa: In a place like Goa, with a comperatively high educational level, I should think yes.
Then again, @camerawala says: I feel a very peculiar pattern from northern to southern part of the world. In Hufpost I see some true citizens as journos

Going by the buzz caused by citizen journalism (CJ), it would appear 'traditional' journalists need fear for their jobs. But I don't think so. As @camerawala says, in India, it seems journalists are themselves contributors to CJ sites.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Citizens in Journalism

Understanding why this is the case could lead us to the role citizens can play in today's journalism - Journalism 2.0

Take the case of Hari. Hari is a banking executive living in the big city. Like the rest of us, Hari, along with his wife, needs to "consume" through the day - food, drink, clothing, gas, entertainment, news... It certainly is not possible for Hari to produce everything he consumes. He buys his food from the market, goes to the gas station to fill up the tank and together with his wife, goes to the movies on weekends, to wind down. Similarly, Hari goes to an outlet (a mix of online, print and TV) for his news. The reason is simple. Hari has specialised skills and is building a career around those skills. He does not have the time or inclination to pursue news production, just as he has no time or inclination to produce his own food, gas or other consumables. There are specialists who do that. So Hari can concentrate on his own specialities.

So, what is the role of citizens in journalism/community media?

One obvious answer is "spot news" – events as they happen. Hari, for instance, may be on his way home from work and caught in a traffic jam. He whips out his smart phone, records a few minutes of the chaos from his perspective and uploads it to his blog. This aspect of CJ is borne out well by events like the Mumbai attacks, the London bombings, the Tsunami, blasts, accidents, protests, etc. These events show the value of CJ in covering spot news events. No news organisation can ever compare to the growing network of ordinary citizens armed with mobile phone cameras, caught in the middle of the 'action'.

Pic: Helen Penjam via flickr used under Attribution License

This is where CJ excels and is a powerful force. But what of areas such as tracking the functioning of the local governing body? Or the local police? Or corruption in the local public school? What about tracking the garbage as it goes through the system, to plug loopholes therein? This requires a level of commitment and perseverance and yes, a great deal of field work (i.e. leg work) and strong story-telling skills. Can this be expected of citizens, otherwise involved in careers of their own?

In Goa, we recently went through a mass movement of citizens against the regional plan and Special Economic Zones (SEZs). The issue was of rampant, illegal construction and development favouring the rich builder lobbies. This issue could draw out ordinary citizens onto the streets in peaceful protest. This is good. This is democracy. But can this citizen interest be sustained to create a continuing mass movement of vigilant citizens? Experience from this movement suggests otherwise. Since most citizens have jobs/careers they simply don't have the time.

Further, and perhaps more importantly, they lack the story-telling skills to convert activism to journalism. Some months ago, together with Video Volunteers, we organised a workshop on video blogging for community activists who were part of the mass movement in Goa. What we soon realised however, is that these activists feel the demands of story-telling - text or visual, is out of their league. As one activist said to me, “We can lead a fight against illegal development. But we'd rather have others produce the stories for us.”

Value of Citizens in Journalism

The point we learn from this is, the community media model that depends exclusively on citizens to produce and share their own stories may be fraught with pot holes.

Journalism is about 'good' storytelling. Stories that draw readers/viewers in. Stories that need a great deal of leg-work, time and perseverance. And above all, stories that are not fabricated. Can all this be accomplished by citizens who have careers/jobs to attend to? We have people specialising in medicine, law, farming, computer hardware repairs, electrical work... Is journalism any different?

But of course citizens do add value to journalism. Newspapers are floundering because they are still stuck in the old world. That's the cause of their problems. Not the recession as they would like us to believe. Nor is it due to citizen journalists. The journalist and journalism itself certainly isn't going away. But journalists need to move away from a "holier-than-thou" attitude. An attitude that suggests they know what's good for the rest of the community. Rather than feeling they are the 'voice' of the community, journalists need to tell their stories in the community's own voice. During a recent conversation I had with a senior editor of a daily newspaper, he made a statement: "Our paper enlightens the people". I was aghast. It is this all-knowing attitude that is going to be the death of newspapers.

Today, we do not like to be "sermonised". That's why the pulpit is not a big draw! We want a level field. No one wants to be talked down to. Taking this cue, journalists must move towards a willingness to work with the communities they represent, co-authoring content with citizens. The activist in our video blogging workshop had a lot of good material. All it takes is for a good journalist to work with him to produce his story.

Jay Rosen, press critic, writer, professor of journalism at New York University and strong supporter of citizen journalism, writes, “the best approach is to have no orthodoxy and to support very traditional investigative reporting by paid pros who are good at it, as well as teams of pros and amateurs, students working with masters of the craft, crowdsourced investigations, and perhaps other methods.”

Yes there is a role for citizens. It is for trained journalists to delve into the voice of the community and tell their stories in the community's voice. That looks to be the way forward in Journalism 2.0.

In my quest towards community media alternatives, I am working on possible models for this region. In my next piece, I will share my thoughts on a new-media platform in an inclusive age. As always, do send me your feedback/comments that will be invaluable in taking these experiments forward.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Writing - key skill for digital-age journalists

Angela Grant has this interesting video interview with Micah Gelman, executive producer for domestic video, Associated Press. Gelman talks about how writing skills are the key in the new newsroom. All else can be learnt, he says.

His last sentence is most interesting: Who knows what the jobs are going to look like 5 years from now. But the basic skillset of being able to write will always get you somewhere.