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About Amit Varma

Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. His current project is a non-fiction book about the lack of personal and economic freedoms in post-Independence India.




Bastiat Prize 2007 Winner

Recent entries

A Wrestler Sweats in the Summer

Starting today, two of my limericks will appear every Sunday on the edit page of the Sunday Times of India.…

Troller Man

The song below is to be sung to the tune of Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’. (Original lyrics here.) I started…

What We Talk About When We Talk About Politics

This is the 27th installment of Lighthouse, my monthly column for BLink, a supplement of the Hindu Business Line. One…

Goodwill Machine

Once there was a star of the screen, Sent to Rio as a goodwill machine. ‘With my foot on the…

The Truth Behind The Hrithik-Kangana Spat

I don’t follow celebrity gossip, but the ongoing spat between Hrithik Roshan and Kangana Ranaut intrigued me, partly because it…

12 April, 2007

Compassion doesn’t scale

That’s the conclusion of a new study that explains just why the story of one dying child may move us to tears, but the news of a genocide where a million people died hardly affects us. Paul Slovic, a researcher, is quoted as saying:

We go all out to save a single identified victim, be it a person or an animal, but as the numbers increase, we level off. We don’t feel any different to say 88 people dying than we do to 87. This is a disturbing model, because it means that lives are not equal, and that as problems become bigger we become insensitive to the prospect of additional deaths.

There is a lesson in this for journalists. When we cover events that have caused many deaths, the most effective way to convey the effect of the carnage is to focus on stories about individuals. When I was travelling through Tamil Nadu after the tsunami, for example, I ignored the bigger numbers and just tried to blog about the small stories, hoping that they would be more evocative. (Examples: 1, 2.) A better example: The Gujarat riots of 2002, which can either be represented by a list of casualties, which would mean nothing to most people, or a single photograph like the one below, of Qutubuddin Ansari by Arko Datta.

image

If there were five such people in that picture, our attention would be diffused and the impact, I suspect, would be far less.

(Link via email from Sanjeev Naik.)

Posted by Amit Varma in Journalism

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