Foreign Correspondence in the Digital Age:
An Analysis of India Ink-the New York Times' India-Specific Blog
Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University
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- Newly Paul
Manship School of Mass Communication
Louisiana State University
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This paper is a case study of India Ink, the New York Times’ first country-specific blog, launched in September 2011. This paper examines the blog’s content in order to analyze the ways in which participatory Web 2.0 tools have changed foreign coverage. Findings indicate that through interactive multimedia, crowd-sourced content, and collaboration between Indian and American reporters, India Ink is helping foreign correspondence thrive amidst drastic newsroom budget cuts.
In May 2011, when 33-year-old Sohaib Athar from Abbottabad, Pakistan, began sending out live
Twitter messages about a helicopter hovering above the city at 1 a.m., a mysterious blast and
shaking windows, he did not realize that he was documenting the U.S. military attack that took
down al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden. In 36 tweets, Athar described what he heard and
saw around him, reports from his local network of friends and rumors from the web.
“Osama Bin Laden killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan.: ISI has confirmed it << Uh oh, there
goes the neighborhood :-/,” he tweeted, just hours after Operation Neptune Spear ended, 1.5
miles away from his home (McCullagh 2011), thereby becoming one of the most-interviewed
citizen journalists in recent times. In the years before Twitter and social networking sites (SNSs),
readers would have to wait for traditional foreign correspondents to get news from around the world. But with Twitter and SNSs, the world is flatter and news travels faster. As Hamilton
(2009) points out, “Until recently, journalists had a? virtual monopoly on news gathering and
dissemination…The foreign correspondent was indispensable. The weblogs or bloggers are
evidence that the monopoly no longer exists.”
The widespread use of the Internet means anyone with a camera and Internet-enabled
phone can be a journalist. This changing media landscape is causing a swift evolution in the role
of the foreign correspondent. While dismal economic conditions in American newsrooms do not
allow for editors to maintain traditional foreign bureaus, they do not mean that foreign
correspondence is dying. It’s simply changing in tune with the changing times and technologies
(Hamilton & Jenner, 2004). An example of these changing times is India Ink, the New York Times’ first country-specific blog, launched in September 2011. In this paper, I aim to conduct a
case study analysis of this blog. By examining the blog’s content and the reporters’ use of digital
media tools (video, slideshows, embedded links, etc.), I attempt to answer questions about the
nature of the New York Times’ coverage of India-related topics in the digital age. Have
participatory Web 2.0 tools improved coverage in any way? What kinds of stories appear in the
blog? How do American and Indian journalists influence the content? These are some of the
questions my paper seeks to answer.
Previous scholarship on foreign correspondence approaches the topic from a number of
perspectives. The historical perspective (Marr, 2004; Hamilton, 2010) traces the growth of
foreign correspondence through the ages—from the age of telegraphs and telephones to satellite
phones and the Internet. Technological determinism guides this theory, the argument being that
evolving technology has guided the evolution of foreign correspondence. The feminist
perspective (Geertsema, 2009) on the study of global news argues that in an era of increasing
globalization, women are underrepresented and stereotyped in national, international and global
news media. Giving the example of the representation of Arab women in Western media,
Geertsema (2009) notes, “The problem is exacerbated when geographic boundaries are crossed
and the media in one country report on issues and events, particularly those that impact women,
in another country.” The critical cultural perspective (Berger, 2009) is similar to the feminist
perspective in some ways. It reflects on imbalanced flows between developed and “developing nations.” As Berger, 2009 argues, the developing world experiences the Internet as an
international medium, from a subordinate cultural and linguistic position.
Compared with the amount of scholarship on foreign correspondence, there is a lot more
research on digital media and online journalism. Many scholars have studied the blog as a news
format and the changes it has brought to the traditional news format. Robinson (2006) defines a
news blog as “a cross between a column, a news story and a journal.” Tracing the history of the
development of blogs, she says in the beginning blogs were a way for people “out there” to take
back their news, to comment on mainstream journalism and to present their own analysis of news
events. Wall (2004) called it a sort of “black market” journalism. But the trend of mainstream
publications such as the New York Times starting their own blogs gives an interesting twist to the
attempt to recapture journalism authority. Wendland (2003) notes that blogging consists of
“news that is happening now almost in real time – not filtered, edited, or delay delivered, as with
traditional media” (p. 94). According to Pohlig (2003), journalism blogs are popular because,
“they allow the reader to see the journalist as a human being, connecting with them without the
stiff, imperial voice that turns so many young people off. And most blogs allow– indeed thrive
on–reader interaction” (p. 25). As Robinson sums up, the very notion of blogging challenges
traditional journalism framing practices, and the result could be different frames, or no frames at
all. My study analyzes India Ink from each of these perspectives.
My sample for this study includes 87 items published on the blog between September and
December, 2011. This sample includes interviews, news and feature articles, photo-essays and
videos. I think this study is relevant because it explores a rapidly changing aspect of the news
industry in America, especially at a time when the news industry is undergoing rapid change. A
census of foreign news bureaus taken by the American Journalism Review (AJR) in
December/January 2011 stated that the number of foreign correspondents employed by U.S.
newspapers had decreased markedly since the last AJR census in 2003. “A count largely
conducted in July shows that 10 newspapers and one chain employ 234 correspondents
(including one vacancy) to serve as eyes and ears to global events. In 2003, AJR found 307 fulltime
correspondents and pending assignments,” said a report (Kumar 2011). Further, surveys
such as the State of the News Media conducted by the Pew Research Center, show worrying
trends about the importance of foreign news in American newsrooms. “Barely a quarter (26%) of editors from larger papers still consider foreign news as “very essential,” compared to just 6% of
their colleagues from smaller dailies,” reports the State of the News Media, 2008 survey (Pew
At the same time, however, it has perhaps never been more important to know what’s
happening in the other parts of the world. Expectations from international news reporting are
changing, mostly because of “the growing interconnectedness of the world, through global
communications, ease of travel and increasing migration” (Sambrook, 2010, p. 47). International
political and economic interdependence has made it important for the “foreign” to be wellknown.
Then there is the ever-expanding diaspora community that pays special attention to news
from the homeland. As Hamilton (2010) points out, “The foreign-born population of the United
States is the largest it has been in the past hundred years,” (p. 479) and it is important that the
American news media serves “these immigrants and their offspring in the way African-American
correspondents served their audience during World War II—by providing news specially tailored
to their interests” (p. 479).
India Ink: Background and Structure
The Times has maintained a long tradition of commitment to foreign news. One of the
reasons it has managed to carry on this tradition is that publisher Albert Ochs’s heirs have
maintained control over the majority of Times stock voting rights. This has made the newspaper
“less susceptible to the sentiment of investors who want bigger returns” (Hamilton, 2010, p.
484). The launch of the India-specific blog, however, was not completely free from financial
considerations. A report about the launch said the New York Times’ new venture suggests
“Western publishers may look to the large Indian market for growth potential, especially as
broadband penetration and incomes rise there” (Kaplan, 2011, para 1). By sharpening its India
focus, the company was following a series of U.S. websites, broadcast channels and newspapers,
such as Wall Street Journal, The History Channel, Forbes and Fortune that entered the Indian
market in the past few years through content, partnerships and collaborations. For now, access to
the blog is exempt from the New York Times’ digital subscription package, hence it’s unclear
what the site’s revenue model is. Currently, India Ink has one prominent space for
advertisements toward the top right corner of the site.
Describing the editorial content of the blog, Jim Schachter, associate managing editor,
NYTimes.com, said in a press release that the aim is to provide “a richer, deeper, wider report
for an audience in India – and the Indian diaspora – that is hungry for independent, authoritative
coverage reflecting Western journalistic values.” The blog is edited by the NYT staff in India
and the International Herald Tribune in Hong Kong, led by lead writer Heather Timmons, who
has covered business in India for the NYT for the last four years. The blog lists 22 writers—a
mix of Indian and American nationals based in India and abroad—who contribute to the content.
Of this pool of writers, 10 work exclusively for the Times, writing articles for the main
newspaper as well as India Ink, and the rest are freelancers. The blog’s producer, Pamposh
Raina, is based in India.
The blog’s webpage design is similar to that of the main website. A blue and black logo
of a fountain pen appears beside the site’s headline: India Ink—Notes on the world’s largest
democracy. The site is updated several times each day, and there is an average of seven to nine
stories per day. Though it is a news site it does not provide breaking-news updates on everything
that happens around the country. Instead, as Schachter explained, the journalists “attempt to lead
a conversation through the day about the most important news of and about India, and to frame
the big issues of everyday life in a fast-changing society.”(citation?) The site provides news
summaries of the day culled from leading Indian dailies, commentary on society and culture,
photo or video features, and special series on topics such as education, economy and poverty.
Each article has a section for readers’ comments and share options using Facebook and Twitter.
The website offers an RSS feed and an option to sign up via email to receive daily headlines.
The blog is divided into two columns. The left column carries editorial content, while the
right has assorted items. Below the main advertisement on the left is the site’s Twitter feed,
where journalists provide links to interesting stories from the NYT website, usually India Ink
content, re-tweet followers’ content, and interact with followers by asking questions,
commenting, or answering questions. Another feature is a chart displaying information from the
financial markets of India, Asia, U.S., Europe, and the commodities market, and currency
exchange rates. Apart from this there are two sections, one titled “Global Business News,” which
has a collection of links to articles that appeared in the NYT Global edition’s business section,
and the archives section where articles that appeared in India Ink are searchable by the month in which they appeared. A blogroll titled “What we are Reading,” with a list of the most popular
news and opinion websites from India, and a section linking to opinion pieces by Thomas
Friedman, Nicholas Kristof, Paul Krugman and Roger Cohen complete the rest of the elements
on the site. The articles of each of these writers, except Kristof, are accessible only to
Content and Themes
The growth in news opportunities to consume is in direct contrast to the freeze across
professional newsgathering. News distribution channels have expanded exponentially. If we
want to find out country-specific news, we can use a simple Google search to get it directly from
the website of newspapers in that country. It is unnecessary to rely on the New York Times’
coverage of country-specific news. Similarly, news for radio and television stations is available
online, complete with video and audio packages and podcasts, encouraging readers to download
and listen to their favorite at their convenience. With the market for fact or evidence-based
journalism becoming highly competitive, it is hardly surprising that opinion-led journalism is
becoming popular with news editors. The India Ink blog, however, is positioned in a unique
place because it offers a mix of facts and opinions.
In 2005, remarking on the changing media landscape, David Hoffman, the Washington
Post’s assistant managing editor for foreign news said: “We now live in a nanosecond news
cycle. Correspondents must be ‘information warriors’” (Hamilton, 2010, p. 450). He expected
reporters to write first for the web and then for the newspaper. That double process, he argued,
“makes the second story better organized and written with more flair, which is essential if a
reader is going to pick up a newspaper when the main points of the story are already out via
television or the Internet” (Hamilton, 2010, p. 450). Though India Ink is web-based, it functions
more like a newspaper in Hoffman’s sense. While every article is built off current events, there
are no breaking news updates—the emphasis is on commentary and explanation.
Choosing opinions over facts has an advantage. Opinions are useful compared with other
papers that make use of news agencies, thereby creating an echo-chamber effect where the same
points of view reverberate repeatedly, or worse, causing factual and other errors to get disseminated widely. As Paterson (2006) notes, discourse on international events of consequence
within the global public sphere is substantially determined by the production practices and
institutional priorities of two information services—Reuters and the Associated Press. By
minimal use of news from the wire services, and by using original reporting in its feature, indepth,
and opinion articles, India Ink successfully builds credibility with readers.
In the following paragraphs, I perform an in-depth analysis of the various components of
News in India Ink:
Every week, a reporter summarizes the week’s events from around the country as
reported in the Indian press, in a section called “Newswallah.” The write up provides a succinct
summary of news, with special emphasis on the biggest political and social stories. These
snippets have embedded links leading back to the original articles in the national Englishlanguage
newspaper websites. Newswallah has several editions. The long-reads edition, as the
name suggests, summarizes profiles, feature-length articles, interviews, and other examples of
long-form journalism in the Indian press. For example, the Newswallah long-reads edition on
September 11, 2011 (Polgreen 2011) included a profile of Arvind Kejriwal, the man behind
India’s most popular anti-corruption movement in recent times published in The Caravan; an
essay in Tehelka magazine by veteran journalist and analyst Prem Shankar Jha who argued that
the only real way to tackle corruption is through election reform; a piece in Outlook Magazine
dissecting the reasons behind the calm that has settled over the terrorism-ridden Kashmir Valley;
and “a scholarly but highly readable look” by Economic & Political Weekly at the legacy of the
1971 war for independence. The Bollywood edition of Newswallah is written by Indian film
critic Anupama Chopra and includes original writing. Its content varies from opinion to
interviews of Bollywood actors, filmmakers etc. The Bharat (India) edition summarizes one
interesting article of the week from an Indian state. Occasionally, this section carries straight
news reports with original reporting. For instance, on September 14, 2011, the site carried a story
about a terrorist chief being killed by the police in Kashmir (Kumar Sept. 14, 2011). The day a
fire broke out in a Kolkata hospital killing dozens, India Ink did a summary of the event, with an
embedded link to an Associated Press story, and then followed up with an interview of the chief
fire officer in Delhi, written by the India Ink producer (Raina 2011).
By providing summaries, this section helps readers get quick access to some of the most
pertinent news items of the week without investing time in in-depth reading or searching on the
web for region-specific news. By providing embedded links to the original articles, this section
makes great use of digital media to counter the concern of some theorists about dominant media
(in this case Western or English) speaking on behalf of the “natives.” Readers who wish to read
more about a particular issue, or get the Indian media’s interpretation of events can do so by
clicking on the links embedded in the article. In addition to giving a voice to Indian media on a
global platform, this practice reduces the possibility of misrepresentation or misinterpretation of
a subject with which the foreign media might be unfamiliar. By keeping an eye on the latest
events, the blog keeps itself relevant to readers in India and abroad, and by doing follow-up
stories on breaking news events, the blog performs an important function of journalism—that of
acting as a watchdog—and draws attention to important issues that might easily get lost in fickle
public memories. Features and Special series in India Ink:
In his book, My Trade: A short history of British journalism (2004), journalist Andrew
Marr says technological development goes two ways for journalists. On the one hand it brings
speed and vividness, and on the other it reduces the time a reporter has to watch, think, listen and
compose. By investing in commentary and analysis instead of breaking news, I think India Ink
largely sidesteps the issues that arise out of technology disempowering the reporter. The blog’s
salient content is in-depth features, and by giving a story the long-form treatment, the blog
allows more room for reporters to explicate complex issues. For instance, in a series titled “The
Long View: Current events from the view of history,” author Samanth Subramanian traces
historical precedents of events currently in the news (Subramanian 2011). The first article in this
series was about Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi’s hush-hush trip to the Memorial Sloan-
Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Instead of reporting on rumors that Gandhi was in the
U.S. to undergo treatment for cancer (which most media outlets did) Subramanian’s article
traced the established tradition of Indian political leaders guarding news of their health as if it
were a state secret. “Not for them the publicly fought battles of Rudy Giuliani against his
prostate cancer, of Dick Cheney against his troublesome heart, or of Hugo Chavez against his
recent pelvic abscess,” he wrote.
Another example is a multi-authored in-depth series titled “India’s Way: The messy and
maddening road to progress in India,” which appears as a permanent feature on the home page of
the blog. The idea is to feature examples of the juxtaposition of the traditional with the modern in
India. Articles in this section offer comprehensive coverage of complex issues, and are often
published in the New York edition of the newspaper, as well as in the for-subscription-only
section of the main NY Times website. From time to time, the blog launches in-depth coverage
on particular events. In the sample I analyzed, I saw an example of this in the coverage of the
anti-corruption movement led by social activist Anna Hazare. Between October and December
2011, the blog carried 16 articles on the movement. These articles covered the issue from a
variety of perspectives: some provided just the facts and tracked the progress of the movement,
some critiqued the methods used by Hazare and his followers, and others analyzed the nature of
the demands set by the group. Some of these articles were cross-posted on the global section of
the main New York Times website. It was interesting to note that while most Indian media outlets
were reluctant to criticize Hazare’s protest tactics, and often drew comparisons between him and
Mahatma Gandhi’s protests, the reports in India Ink were more critical. For instance, Manu
Joseph, an Indian journalist, talked about self-interest and corruption in the key leaders of the
movement, (Joseph 2011) while New York Times’ economic correspondent, Hari Kumar talked
about the hypocrisy among Indian politicians who say they want an effective and strong anticorruption
squad, while in reality they want the exact opposite.
The best of both worlds: Collaborative articles in India Ink:
Collaborative efforts between reporters in local and national media are nothing new, but
it’s increasingly becoming a common feature of foreign correspondence. As Sambrook (2010)
said, “In increasingly multicultural societies, national identity is more complex, and a white
middle-class male reporter may not be an adequate cultural bridge between the country he is
reporting and the audience at home.” In a digital environment, this dilemma is magnified as
“digital media ensures that foreign journalists can no longer ‘get away’ with more because their
subjects would never read, see or hear what had been said.”
Several of India Ink’s in-depth feature stories are written through collaborations between
NYT reporters in America and India or two NYT reporters in India. Collaborative works benefit
from the richness of ideas that two or more minds working together can produce; they are also a depiction of the tactics used by changing foreign news bureaus to balance tight budgets with
quality news coverage. Hamilton (2009) mentions new kinds of journalists that have emerged in
foreign bureaus as a result of the changing media landscape. “The American foreign
correspondent for the New York Times or CBS News—the familiar Traditional Foreign
Correspondent—continues, but not alone. Three other types of correspondents have become
integral to traditional mass media news-gathering abroad” (p. 465). These types are: the foreign
foreign correspondent, local foreign correspondents, and citizen journalists.
Hamilton (2009) defines foreign foreign correspondents as “non-American reporters,
often citizens of the countries they cover.” He cites a survey conducted 2000 that found that 69
percent of foreign correspondents for American news organizations were not Americans. At
India Ink, 17 out of 22 correspondents are Indians based in India. The 2000 study also found that
nearly one out of every foreign foreign correspondent earned his or her highest degree in the
United States. This appears to be true to a large extent for India Ink reporters, and 10 of its
Indian reporters have advanced degrees from abroad (U.S., Canada or England). Hamilton
(2009) noted that though American and foreign foreign reporters “had remarkably similar news
priorities for politics, economics, culture, social programs, sports, religion, environment/energy,
and human rights” (p.466), these reporters are not the identical twins of American reporters. He
noticed a number of trade-offs arising out of collaborations between different kinds of reporters
working together. While foreign foreign correspondents may have a lesser understanding of the
needs of American news consumers, they are, at the same time, better equipped to understand
and interpret events abroad. Another paradox is that these correspondents may have more
appreciation of local circumstances, and have a greater propensity toward bias. In short,
“Foreigners have an intimate feel for local customs and politics, possess local language ability,
and are convenient to hire (and if things did not work out, easy to let go)” (Hamilton, 2009, p.
The second type of correspondent Hamilton (2009) mentions is local foreign
correspondents, i.e. correspondents who cover the world from within the United States. There is
a handful of this type at India Ink. For instance, The Times’ technology reporter, who is listed as
an India Ink correspondent, is based in San Francisco. Similarly, contributor Shivani Vora,
whose reports examine the diasporic Indian community, is based in New York. As Hamilton (2009) explains, “Sometimes these reporters are dedicated full-time to stories involving local ties
to foreign events and trends. Sometimes they cover foreign news as part of their work on another
beat; for instance, a business reporter may look at the impact of foreign competition on a local
manufacturing concern” (p.466). In short, local foreign correspondents are an expression of
growing global interdependence, in which foreign affairs shape Americans’ lives every day in
In the sample examined for this study, India Ink did not have any examples of the third
kind of correspondent—the citizen foreign correspondent—described by Hamilton (2009).
According to him, these correspondents are “individuals without journalistic training or
affiliation who become de facto journalists when they report on foreign events and issues, often
by posting the information directly on the Internet.” Since they are unsupervised, self-appointed
and work for free, they are not answerable to an editor for fairness or accuracy. They are highly
partisan and unreliable in terms of delivery. Yet they provide valuable information often
available nowhere else, as seen in late 2008 when terrorists attacked Mumbai, and victims and
onlookers became citizen journalists by providing information through tweets. By soliciting tips,
stories, and reactions from readers, however, India Ink is encouraging a particular form of this
kind of correspondence. For now, these correspondents are represented on the blog through the
blogroll, which links to some of the most popular citizen journalism blogs written by Indians in
India. It might be a matter of time before articles in India Ink link directly to news or
commentary from these blogs, or mention them as sources.
In addition to these three types of correspondents, India Ink has three traditional foreign
correspondents—“Americans who are sent abroad by an established news organization to
maintain a permanent bureau or who work abroad for years as freelance correspondents for such
media” (Hamilton, 2009). New York Times’ South Asia bureau chief, Jim Yardley is an example
of this kind of correspondent. Two other India Ink reporters, Heather Timmons, who has been in
India for four years, and Lydia Polgreen, The Times’ Africa and South Asia correspondent, are
The Personal Touch
In keeping with the nature of a blog, India Ink sometimes publishes articles carrying
deeply personal opinions, usually stemming from the author’s own life experiences.
Interestingly, these articles are not separated visually from the regular news and feature articles.
In two such instances, readers flooded the comments section with their responses. The first
instance was an article titled (Mungee 2011) “Why I Left India (Again),” about the author’s
inability to adjust to life in India, after having spent 11 years in the U.S. “India’s wealth and
lifestyle disparity is still impossibly great; I probably spent more on pizza than on my maid,” he
wrote. Readers responded with 450 comments—mostly vitriolic. They accused him of being
unpatriotic and hypocritical. The attacks continued on the author’s personal blog, and he
reported, “A nice gentleman on Twitter said he’d hunt (him) down in the U.S.” The response
was so overwhelming that a week later, the site’s editor Heather Timmons put together an article
based solely on readers’ responses. She posted links to some of the reactions of readers from
around the world, and then summed up the main themes that emerged from the tweets and
comments. In another case, when New-York based author Shivani Vora wrote about her
motherhood experience (Vora 2011), and the post-delivery care offered by her mother, readers
accused her of propagating stereotypes about Indian parents. Most people took offence at her
generalized observations about middle-class Indian parents’ aspirations for their daughters. “My
parents pushed me to study, rather than learn how to make traditional Indian food. Instead of
focusing on finding me a suitable husband, they wanted me to find a career which would make
me independent,” wrote Vora, who moved to the U.S. when she was seven, pointing out how her
parents were different from “traditional” Indians. Readers called her out on her generalization of
gender bias. “My wife, an Indian, born and raised in India never had to choose kitchen over
education,” commented a reader. “I have nine female first cousins—some of them came of age in
the 1940s and others in the 1980s. The older cousins are now retired and some retired as
Professors, others as principals of high schools or professional colleges,” wrote another.
In my opinion, these are examples of the way in which India Ink uses the form and
structure of a blog platform to add an informal and personal touch to articles. While opinion
columns in newspapers might generate similar discussion among readers, the blog’s comments
section works differently. One, it is public—which means readers can read and respond to each
other’s comments, which in both the examples above they did. Second, the digital platform
allows a certain swiftness in response, both from readers and the author, allowing for better
chances of a meaningful discussion. And lastly, the ease of distribution of a blog’s content—
readers shared the story on social networking sites and emailed the link to their friends, which helped the article attract readership and attention, and generate more readership for the site. The
blog went one step ahead by acknowledging its readers opinions and ascribing value to them,
when it published a follow-up article based purely on the reactions the article generated from all
over the world.
Depicting the subaltern
As discussed in the sections above, technology and the blog format have helped free
foreign correspondence of several binds imposed on it by traditional methods of news reporting
and traditional mainstream media. How applicable is this freedom to the depiction of women?
Does technology allow for a “true” depiction of India, without the tinge of “othering” that a
Western lens could produce? As Geertsema (2009) points out in her feminist critique of foreign
correspondence, there are many examples of the lack of representation of women and of negative
or stereotypical representations, whether on the national, international, or global level. The news
media commit both sins of omission and sins of commission (Made, Lowe-Morna & Kwaramba
2003). The Global Media Monitoring Project (WACC 2005, p. 17) found that women are more
than twice as likely as men to be portrayed as victims, and that they primarily appear in the news
as celebrities, royalty or “ordinary people.” Women are also frequently represented within their
domestic roles and sexual appeal to men (Ceulemans & Fauconnier 1979), or as wives and
mothers, sex objects and glamour girls, virgins or whores, or passive, dependent and indecisive
(Gallagher 1981). According to Valdivia (1995), postcolonial women are forced to remain silent
partly because of “the Western press’s inability to envision such women as speaking subjects on
public issues” (p. 15). Luthra (1995) argues that the mass media embody modernity whereas
women embody tradition. The intersection of race and gender contributes to the “othering” of
women, as news reports about the Third World often create an us/them dichotomy, with the
“other” represented as unstable and violent, while “us” are being shown as industrialized,
ordered and stable (Dahlgren 1982). Hosken (1996) points out that the focus in international
news is typically on political problems, disasters, conflicts, and war, and very little is reported on
the lives of women in the limited space dedicated to international affairs.
India Ink’s unique mix of reporters from varied backgrounds combined with its use of
technology, which allows for diverse voices to get heard, and promote interactivity, helps it
avoid most of the pitfalls of biased reporting. It’s true, however, that the blog lacks adequate and sustained coverage on women. Its regular series on women, “Ms India,” only had one feature
over the four-month period of sample collection for this study. The article was about women
running a printing press in South India (Roy 2011). Contrary to Valdivia’s (1995) assertions, the
coverage was far from stereotypical. It portrayed women from a lower socio-economic strata in
an empowered role and allowed them to represent themselves. Another series, “The Other India,”
by author Sonia Faleiro, carried stories from India’s small towns and villages: stories of farmers,
weavers, teachers, dancing troupes, small-time politicians, pickle-makers, housewives, and
circus artists, who are usually depicted as disempowered and victims in traditional media. The
topics for this series could be considered stereotypical by some scholars in that they portray the
exotic, the poverty and the grime in India. The stories, however, are very sensitively written, and
are accompanied by photographs of specific characters in the story, thus avoiding generalizations
about social situations. The text is written in a way that allows agency to the main characters,
and is devoid of the author’s judgments. Thus, I would conclude that in its limited space and
capacity, India Ink makes an effort to focus on issues related to the marginalized population in a
respectable way. But considering the vast digital divide in a country of 1.2 billion between those
with computer access and those without, it is debatable whether and to what extent the subjects
of these stories have the opportunity to engage with the reporter and provide their feedback.
Use of Multimedia in India Ink:
Though India Ink’s scope and volume of multimedia components do not match with that
of the main New York Times website, the blog makes a decent attempt to parse out stories
through different media. Some of the most memorable instances of video use include a story
about the endangered profession of traditional Indian music bands that play at wedding
processions (Teng 2011). Shot by a freelance videographer, the story has a short write up and
uses mostly on-camera interviews to tell the story. Another example is a photo slideshow, with
video and text on Calcutta, by father-son photographer duo Alex and Sidin Vadukul (Vadukul
2011).Through images, words and sound the two provide their personal take on the city of their
origin. Though seen from a Western lens, there is no attempt to exoticize Calcutta. The article
was cross-posted from The Times’ magazine section.
Interaction with readers
One of the components of the multimedia elements used by India Ink is audience
interaction methods. Almost every article is accompanied by a question asking readers for their
reactions and recommendations in the comments section, or encouraging some other kind of
participation. In cases where the comments become particularly lively or interesting, the reporter
might join the debate and make a new point, clarify a misunderstood aspect of the story or
answer a question. Apart from engaging readers in the comments section, India Ink uses
crowdsourcing techniques to generate ideas for stories. This is a particularly savvy way of
keeping the website relevant for readers. For instance, at the height of the anti-corruption
movement by social activist Anna Hazare, India Ink started a special feature called “I Did Not
Pay a Bribe.” The site identified this as “a collaborative project with readers, devoted to showing
how some people manage to get things done in India, without paying extra (bribes).” This is the
appeal it sent to readers:
“Did you get a driver’s license, a government job, a home, an electricity connection or
your daughter admitted to school without paying a bribe, when others around you did?
Write us at IndiaInk@nytimes.com and tell us in detail about your experience. Your tale
may help your neighbor or someone across the country.”
The first issue of this feature reported on a dental assistant and her family who stood in line for
six hours, rather than pay seven times the actual fee for her family’s vaccinations.
In another instance of soliciting reader involvement, the blog asked readers to send
stories of “Indians far from home, working unlikely jobs, keeping traditions in unusual ways.”
This question was attached to an article giving a roundup of Indian immigrants around the world
and their stories of resilience (Bajaj 2011).
In my opinion, India Ink does a commendable job of negotiating tricky ethical situations
by using digital tools. For instance, in an article about the 7 billionth baby of the world being
born in India (Gottipati 2011), the reporter visited a “half dozen maternity wards in Delhi.” The
article appeared on the blog with a series of photographs depicting conditions inside the
maternity ward. The report painted a grim picture of these wards:
Dozens of pregnant women lay splayed, groaning on rusty beds with creaky wheels.
Some clutched their heads and watched the filthy fans whirring above them. Blood and
body fluids were everywhere. In dingy rooms with peeling walls and grimy peach tiles,
these women knew little about the world’s 7 billionth person, nor really seemed to care.
At first glance, the article may appear biased—a reader commenting on the article questioned
why the reporter was looking at a developing country’s underfunded healthcare system through a
First-World, Western lens. She also commented on the photographer violating the patients’ rights
to privacy. Merely reading the text of the article might give this impression. But when one clicks
to the photo slideshow, a wholly different context emerges. The slideshow is accompanied by
several paragraphs of text by the photographer, which gives a very detailed background of how
the story came to be. In her explanation, the photographer (herself seven months pregnant)
mentions her long career of photographing women in maternity wards all around the world—
from Haiti to Africa, Sierra Leone, Congo, Afghanistan and Pakistan. She describes in detail the
reason behind choosing that particular hospital (it was one of the largest maternity hospitals in
Delhi, and possibly Asia) and the process of gaining access and permission to shoot pictures.
“It’s important to be respectful to the people that you’re photographing. In a maternity
ward/health story, it’s hard because things are very graphic and women are very exposed,” she
explained, referring to the process of making the patients comfortable and informing them about
the project, before photographing them.
In a print publication, providing this kind of transparency would have been impossible
due to limitations of space. Readers might have been left with resentful questions about what
went on behind the scenes, especially for a complex story such as this. But with the use of digital
tools, the blog was able to avoid an ethical dilemma.
On November 30, last year, Athar tweeted: “About to answer questions with
@KateBussmann for her book #twinterview2011.” Athar’s act of citizen journalism—live
tweeting Osama’s death—had turned him into an example of the forms journalism could take in
the future. As Hamilton (2010) notes, in the future we will see “endless mixing of old and new
I think India Ink is an important step in exploring a model for expanding the possibilities
of foreign correspondence in the digital era. In its two and a half years of existence, the blog’s
well-thought out and credible coverage has provided readers a useful tool to experience India.
The articles on the blog provide in-depth coverage and context, which can be hard to find in
today’s media-saturated times of excessive information. Regardless of news budgets, the
importance of foreign correspondents and of having a team on the ground will never cease, and
India Ink, is a good example of the way forward.
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