Technology news from India?

Nikhil Pahwa, formerly editor of ContentSutra (or more like the one-man-army who ran CS in India) and a good friend of mine, has launched MediaNama today. He writes about the digital media business in India including new businesses, M&A, VC activity and other business related news.

His launch story deserves more than just a mention here. It is an interview with S Sivakumar, the CEO designate of Times Private Treaties and is titled “There Are Two Currencies For Advertising – Cash And Treaties; We’re Not Buying To Sell”.

Read on to make up your own mind about the core issue. But here is why I am interested in Nikhil’s launch story.

It may be old hat to those living in India and following the launch of Times Private Treaties. But to those who seek reliable sources of news from outside India, it confirms their impressions.

A few days ago, at a seminar in London, the MD of a glossy, newly launched in India, spoke of how difficult it was to find good quality journalism in India. The reasons, he said, were two-fold: a lack of classically trained journalists and an unsated appetite for gossip over analysis, which leads to any research or confirmation only post facto, if that.

The former, in my view, is an inevitability of a booming economy. There never can be enough of good resources to go around; and recalling the dot-com boom, this is how I really put it: “in boom times, even morons have jobs.*” The latter is plainly evident in any print or digital medium one accesses as I experienced in my most recent visit.

That is not to say that all journalism in India is of poor quality. I did find some good articles, admittedly heavier on data than on analysis, which I duly cut and brought back. But integrity in the press is less than universal what with open plagiarism, stories without attributions or bylines, and blatant cut-and-paste of editorials a common practice. All this also bugs some journalists.

The Times Private Treaties business is just another step along the downward slope where journalism is indistinguishable from advertising.

Good for a booming consumer market? Yes. Good for keeping a nation engaged in the job of nation-building? Not sure.

Which is why journalists like Nikhil Pahwa should be applauded and supported. For being fearless, keeping their integrity (you have to see his disclosures) and doing an honest job of reportage.

* Please keep your PC batons at home. I am aware of what the word ‘moron’ means. I happen to think it is more insulting when applied to people with mental difficulties, and more apt as a sarcasm when applied to those who seem to believe they have all faculties intact, when their actions cast a shadow of doubt over that belief every moment.

Do Wii agree?

I learnt this morning, via Paul Kedrosky, of Om Malik having suffered a heart attack. Om is 43, and a leading Silicon Valley technology journalist, commentator and writer, whose influential commentary is widely read. It sounds dreadful and sobering that a 43 year old should have a heart attack.

Om is also of Indian origin. For Indians, the prognosis for health issues especially those associated with weight gain and lifestyle changes, many catalysed by the economic boom and shift in work patterns, is not good.

With a young workforce, health is not a high priority on most agendas. For instance, while not statistically significant or conclusive, it is worth pointing out that there are only 13 articles (as on 4th January 2008) on health on the most widely read, eponymous blog on the Indian Economy. Of these, 4 articles were written by me.

At some level, we all know that it is not advisable to wait for an ‘event’ or ‘doctor’s orders‘ to make lifestyle changes which may affect our health positively. Even small changes would make a difference for many, whose lives are mostly sedentary.

Confusion caused by disagreement between experts is often cited as a reason by people not making a change, because they do not know what advice to follow. This disagreement can be seen not just in dietary advice but also in exercise related advice. If you were one of the fortunate few, who got a Nintendo Wii in their Christmas stocking, you may be interested in the Wii’s relative health impact on otherwise sedentary lives. You can read the whole post titled ‘Do Wii agree?over on my Obesity blog.

Second outing: Redux: the global warming "band" wagon

In a dilemma over to-print or not-to-print, a friend of mine in California and I were discussing our respective green karma. She is of the view that having grown up in India, and having lived there for a long while, I have saved enough water and paper not to worry about printing occasional materials for my writing.

She said that the US was the largest consumer of paper with an average American consuming 730lb of paper, and I found confirmation here.

She added: “Humans kill trees so they can wipe their bums. How would humans feel if we were killed so trees could wipe their leaves?” Pause for thought, eh?

She then suggested that this earlier post from April 2007, deserved a second outing. So here it is:

Warning: Contains some scatological references; please do not read if offended easily by mention of or reference to bodily functions.

More from Sheryl Crow, whose bio-diesel tour bus was mentioned in an earlier post, on saving the planet:

* Ration loo-roll to one square except on pesky occasions when 2 or 3 may be needed;

* Instead of paper napkins, use a cloth dining sleeve;

Interesting as these ideas are, I think they stem from deeply-ingrained cultural practices too difficult to change. The mantra for being green goes “reduce, reuse, recycle”. Sheryl Crow’s ideas are based on ‘reduce’ and ‘reuse’.

What about alternative ways?

It may surprise her to know that even in countries where there is a paucity of water, people use water, not loo roll (you could call the bidet a kind of western equivalent).

Further, I agree that paper napkins are a waste, but there is no consensus on the ‘green’ economics of paper versus cloth napkins. Much energy is consumed in washing and then (presumably) ironing cloth napkins, whereas paper napkins could be made from recycled paper and degrade easily without further use of washing up liquid, water or energy. An easier solution? Let’s all learn some table manners, use our hands to dust off loose flour and bits etc, and wash our hands after eating. Having grown up in a developing country, I can tell you with confidence that it takes about 30ml of water to wash one’s hands without soap, and about 100ml with soap.

While we are on the subject of eating, I must mention that many a time, I have been asked why Indians eat with their hands. Well, I explain, it is more sensible to trust the hygiene of one’s own hands than to trust cutlery that has travelled many a mouth. Further it saves washing up, but this ‘explanation’ I have admittedly made up. Instead of promoting the cultural shift needed to start eating with one’s hands, I would again mention innovation in edible cutlery about which my friend Shantanu wrote last year, and which I found in a neighbourhood vegetarian/ vegan store right here in the UK shortly thereafter. No cutlery, no washing-up, no detergent used, no water needed.

Too radical for Ms Crow?