Breaking down News: The Medium is the Message

Documentary is to filmmaking, as poetry is to trade publishing. And they can only flourish online.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published:April 11, 2015 12:51 am

The BBC published a tumid typo in a caption this week, transposing two central letters of the “hadron” in Large Hadron Collider, whose return online it was celebrating. The colossal error was speedily corrected but very briefly, the Beeb must have shot up the charts in the adult search engines. No marks for originality, though — The Daily Telegraph blundered down the same path in its online edition last year and the trail was blazed by The New York Times, in print, in 2008.

Hadron misspelled inherits the mantle of “public” with a central consonant missing, which had a decades-long run in print and embarrassed all in headlines with phrases like “public interest” or “public affairs”. That particular printer’s devil seems to have vanished from newspaper pages for reasons unknown. Enjoy the large hadron jokes because soon, spelling engines will take care of it, too.

Rohit Sardana of Zee scooped up Gen VK Singh as he stepped out of the aircraft, fresh out of the heat and dust of Yemen, and interviewed him in his car as he drove into Delhi. He asked the difficult questions. The general offered the familiar answers: “The nation above all… don’t do anything to bring it into disrepute… Ten per cent of media are rotters.” And so on, but in an affable sort of way. He was just back from a rather well-managed relief operation and the air was markedly different from a memorable interview with Arnab Goswami, where he had spoken so darkly that even Arnab was spooked. Sardana asked if ministers should not exercise “self-regulation”. The general had wanted the press to do that two years ago, raising semantic speculation about who precisely this self was, this creature with its hand on the regulator.

YouTube has been palavering with video-makers and may launch a paywall. The word is that it will charge a flat $10 per month for access to ad free content which can be watched offline. Over 50 per cent of subscription fees go to filmmakers, making direct release to the internet a thinkable proposition. It’s a liberal rate, given that book publishers give away 60 per cent of their cover price just to be distributed, and making books is riskier than making documentaries.

Documentary is to filmmaking as poetry is to trade publishing — it is dead on arrival in the traditional venues of the cinema theatre and television, but flourishes on the internet. Even mainstream cinema could find a niche here. Sony released The Interview directly to YouTube after a massive hack, allegedly by North Korea. And Indian filmmakers beset by a subcontinent-load of hurt sentiments, like Kamal Haasan is this week, may want to release to the paid internet instead of fighting off the loony fringe which is now mainstream.

Shobhaa De has received Gandhigiri at the hands of the Shiv Sena, a party which used to be noted for violent attacks on the homes of those who publicly disagree with its views or fail to regard all things Marathi with suitable reverence and gravitas. The party’s workers used WhatsApp to gather at the gates of De’s home with a tray of dahi misal and vada pav, not exactly the weapons that the police at the barricades expected. Gandhigiri might backfire, though. People are considering phoning the Sena office and saying, “I hate vada pav,” to get their own share.

“Why don’t I see rural issues trend on Twitter? Is it because Twitter follows TV, or TV follows Twitter?” Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted on Monday. This is scientific evidence that you have to step out of the echo chamber to know that the echo chamber exists.

pratik.kanjilal@expressindia.com

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