My Days in the Underworld by Agni Sreedhar: A Review

I shouldn’t probably call this a review. Because it reeks of fan-boyishness. I’m between two other books right now: Arguably by Cristopher Hitchens and Business Maharajas by Gita Piramal.  And the third book, which is My Days in the Underworld by Agni Sreedhar*, is what I have difficulty putting down.

This is one of the best narrative I’ve read about a city. Sreedhar chronicles Bangalore’s underworld (in the 70s & 80s) with an uncanny ability which only comes from someone who has been on the inside.

My Days in the Underworld by Agni Shreedhar

My Days in the Underworld by Agni Sreedhar

Agni Sreedhar was an underworld don, who became a journalist and a writer.  The book starts with his days as a student in Bangalore. From silly brawls in the campus to bigger things, it leads him on to a life of crime. Soon he finds himself in the middle of a raging feud between two of Bangalore’s biggest dons– Kothwal Ramachandra and M P Jayaraj. Ramachandra is finally killed by his arch rival Jayaraj with the help of Shreedhar.

The books makes no bones about the politicians who shielded underworld dons, the degeneracy of it all and ultimately Sreedhar’s own disgust with the life of crime.

Sreedhar’s style is crisp and simple. And the narrative is gripping. If you are a Bangalore fan like me, you should pick up the book. There’s a movie based on the book, called Aa Dinagalu. It was critically acclaimed but to be honest, I don’t think it did justice to the book.

*This post contains affiliate links.

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7 Ideas from Isaac Asimov That Will Change How Newsrooms Think

These days I’ve become increasingly obsessed with productivity. I’ve come a long way from where I was.  But there’s still a lot more to do. So I’m constantly chasing reading pieces like The Daily Habits of Highly Creative People and trying to apply some of it in my daily routine.

The most recent discovery in my quest for greater productivity, was Isaac Asimov’s essay on creativity which was published for the first time earlier this week.  The question he tries to answer is: How do people get new ideas?

It got me thinking if there are some takeaways that can be applied to the newsroom? In fact, all of it is very relevant in the context of a newsroom which is a great deal about  bringing people and ideas together.

Newsrooms are practically idea factories. Here are some parts that I find particularly relevant and some thoughts of my own.

#1 The history of human thought would make it seem that there is difficulty in thinking of an idea even when all the facts are on the table. Making the cross-connection requires a certain daring. It must, for any cross-connection that does not require daring is performed at once by many and develops not as a “new idea,” but as a mere “corollary of an old idea.”

Perhaps this is why it is important for reporters like me to read across beats from monetary policy to the newest dating app.

#2 My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it.

The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.

So think of ideas and explore threads of conversations that you’ve had, scribble it down for news meetings. Now comes the part about news meetings.

#3 If a single individual present has a much greater reputation than the others, or is more articulate, or has a distinctly more commanding personality, he may well take over the conference and reduce the rest to little more than passive obedience. The individual may himself be extremely useful, but he might as well be put to work solo, for he is neutralizing the rest.

To be honest, I’ve been guilty of being the guy (maybe not by reputation) capable of neutralizing the rest.

#4 The optimum number of the group would probably not be very high. I should guess that no more than five would be wanted. A larger group might have a larger total supply of information, but there would be the tension of waiting to speak, which can be very frustrating. It would probably be better to have a number of sessions at which the people attending would vary, rather than one session including them all.

Our team meetings tend to be smaller and mostly fun. We try doing it over chai and as informally as possible.

#5 For best purposes, there should be a feeling of informality. Joviality, the use of first names, joking, relaxed kidding are, I think, of the essence—not in themselves, but because they encourage a willingness to be involved in the folly of creativeness.

Some of the best editors and team leaders I’ve worked with have been this way.

#6 Probably more inhibiting than anything else is a feeling of responsibility. The great ideas of the ages have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas, but were paid to be teachers or patent clerks or petty officials, or were not paid at all. The great ideas came as side issues.

I’m a great believer in this. Most of my decent stories have come up while I’ve been working on something else. But it is important to set out with a hypothesis and also create that serendipity. And here comes a note to editors and team leaders:

#7 I do not think that cerebration sessions can be left unguided. There must be someone in charge who plays a role equivalent to that of a psychoanalyst. A psychoanalyst, as I understand it, by asking the right questions (and except for that interfering as little as possible), gets the patient himself to discuss his past life in such a way as to elicit new understanding of it in his own eyes.

In the same way, a session-arbiter will have to sit there, stirring up the animals, asking the shrewd question, making the necessary comment, bringing them gently back to the point. Since the arbiter will not know which question is shrewd, which comment necessary, and what the point is, his will not be an easy job.

Thoughts?

PS: Since we are talking Asimov, also see: The Jobless Future: Humans Need Not Apply

No Slack in the Newsroom

Slack

adjective

Having or showing laziness or negligence.
“slack accounting procedures”
Synonyms: lax, negligent, neglectful, remiss, careless, slapdash, slipshod, lackadaisical, lazy, inefficient, incompetent, inattentive, offhand, casual, disorderly, disorganized.

It is unacceptable in newsrooms. But that’s not the Slack I’m talking about.

Slack is the shiny new collaboration tool for teams. It works beautifully for new newsrooms.  And Slack is changing newsrooms.

At the technology team in ET, we’ve started using the real time messaging tool for a little over 2 months now. When I was at NextBigWhat, we used it for a very long time.

The beauty of Slack is that it puts everything in one place. That is, you can have all your team members in a chatroom. You could have different channels to discuss different things. For instance, you could separate out editorial discussions from say design discussions or marketing discussions using channels.

Search: The whole thing is searchable, so you can retrieve information quickly. It integrates with a variety of useful apps like Twitter, Google Drive and Asana.

Mobile: Slack also has great mobile apps. However, they seem to be slower to load. That makes it a second choice to Whatsapp groups.  It doesn’t have a Windows or a Blackberry app.

Pricing: For smaller teams, the free version works great. The Standard, Plus and Enterprise tiers cost $6.67, $12.50 and $ 49-99 per user per month.

From what I’ve observed, it works better for online distributed teams. Offline teams might have to get used to it a little more until it becomes a habit.

Some newsroom users have expressed worries about discussing highly sensitive matters on the service because many people can see it and it also leaves a trail. But then we all know that email and instant messaging aren’t any better on that front. If its really sensitive, its best to talk face to face.

Also read: Now You Can IM Securely With Sources, Even If You Are A Tech Challenged Journo

Bangalore Based Citizen Matters is Hiring Journalists

Bangalore based Citizen Matters is looking for journalists. Here’s what they are looking for (from their website)

A smart, intelligent journalist to report for Citizen Matters, plus write news features and analysis on national topics for India Together (depending on the candidate)

Role

* Full time reporting
* City-focussed news, analysis, interviews features
* Investigative pieces
* Hyperlocal news
* Data journalism

Expectation

* Excellent command over English
* Should have read Citizen Matters and familiar with the type of content we publish
* Should care about Bangalore, related news and happenings
* Should love to read
* Kannada speaking a must, exemptions will be made in exceptional cases.
* Should be a self-learner, highly productive, efficient, capable of multi-tasking
* Skilled in communication and social media

Experience: 2-4 years, with exposure to news reporting in a magazine or newspaper. The ideal candidate has the stomach for hard reporting on tough issues, while being able to mix up his or her workload with feature writing from time to time.

For details, go here.

There’s So Much You Can do With Data! [Notes From Data Journalism Workshop]

Happy to report that the data journalism workshop we held with the good folks from Datameet went well last month. The biggest learning for me was that there is so much more I can do with data.

Nisha from Datameet has made some notes on the Datameet blog. It has some notes from the workshop and links to some of the resources we discussed.

Thejesh & Nisha at the Workshop

Thejesh & Nisha at the Workshop

The agenda with notes are here and the resources have been shared on the data journalism resource wiki page. Datameet has also been putting together a data catalog that you might want to check out.

Josephine & Chris From Citizen Matters

Josephine & Chris From Citizen Matters

Knolby Media hosted us & Nisha is a fellow at School of Data.  Vikas Mishra volunteered to take notes, pictures, and video. Thanks to all.

The Mint Digital Lab is Hiring

The Mint Digital Lab is hiring.

1. Front End Developer (Delhi): Send resume, cover letter and work samples to karuna.k@livemint.com.
2. Video News Producer (Delhi or Mumbai) – Business & Financial News
3. Video Editor (Delhi)
4. Camera Person/Videographer (Delhi)

For details, go here.

Now You Can Create Amazing Data Stories, Even If You Suck at Coding

I don’t have to tell you that data journalism is important. It has become a part of mainstream journalism now. Indian publications like The Economic Times (where I work) and of course foreign publications have been making extensive use of new data tools to produce great stories.

This New York Times feature on Reshaping New York, is a great example. Of course that’s a complex project and tough to pull off.

The Economic Times has a brilliant data blog run by Avinash. The Hindu also has one going. Papers like The Indian Express have done a few data projects as well.

TLDR: Data is becoming really important. And data skills are going to be necessary.

One Day Workshop for Data Journalism

With the good folks at Datameet, we are conducting  a day long workshop for journalists, designers or anyone who is interested in learning how to use data to tell great stories. The idea is to find a data project, deconstruct it, learn how it is done and attempt to do one ourselves. It will cost about Rs 700 (including lunch & chai).

Only 15 spots are available. So hurry up & book your spot Now! 

Venue: Near M G Road, Bangalore (To be shared). 

Dates: 31 Aug 2014.

Click Here to Buy a Ticket.

Changing Media Landscape, The Golden Age of Journalism & Us

People around the world have started talking about the Golden Age of Journalism. Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape an insightful piece on how the journalism is changing.

On Monday Note, Frederic Filloux points out a few flaws in Andreessen’s reasoning. Both are great reads on the media industry and the state of flux it is in.

It isn’t so bad for print media in India yet. But most newsrooms realize that things are going to change very fast and are making investments for the future. Few weeks ago, I gave a talk at The St Joseph’s College in Bangalore on the changing media landscape. Here’s the presentation.

The Readers Expect The Best, Even If You Are a Small Newsroom

With the Internet and mobile, the  reader expects more out of newsrooms. If you are in a large newsroom like that of The New York Times with separate teams to produce web stores consider yourself lucky. But increasingly, newsrooms are becoming smaller.

What it means is that you need to do more things than one. That is, if it was write a story and then Tweet about it, it is now write a story, Tweet about it, share it with your friends, add images to go with it, shoot a picture if possible. Oh you’ve got a video? That’s fantastic. Lets use that too.

Individuals with multiple complementary skills will be in great demand in the future. Like a coder who gets design. A designer who gets stories. A photographer who can write well. A blogger who can take pictures or shoot a video and so on.

It’s very easy to pick up a few skills. I try and do that whenever I can. That brings me to the whole point behind this post– to show off my latest creation. A video!

I recently picked up a Sony Alpha 58 camera. It’s a powerful camera which shoots very fast and gives you great quality. Priced at about Rs 35,000 it doesn’t set you back too much. I used the free Movie Maker that comes with Windows to create the video and the music is also free from the web. Shooting the video took about 30 minutes and editing & uploading took about 2 hours in all. Take a look.

I’ve spent most of my time writing stories for publishers like The Economic Times & NextBigWhat. It’s the first time I’m making a video on my own so it’s not all that great. But the point I want to make is that it’s all very simple.