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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

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03 September, 2009

If You Ask Around

The New York Times has a bizarre story up now titled ‘Facebook Exodus’. The story begins:

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Facebook, the online social grid, could not command loyalty forever. If you ask around, as I did, you’ll find quitters. One person shut down her account because she disliked how nosy it made her. Another thought the scene had turned desperate. A third feared stalkers. A fourth believed his privacy was compromised. A fifth disappeared without a word.

The exodus is not evident from the site’s overall numbers.

Well, if you ask around, you’ll find people who believe that Israel planned 9/11, or the earth is flat, or that Christianity began in India and was originally called Krishnaniti. Really, WTF is a phrase like “if you ask around” doing in serious journalism? At least the story is honest enough to tell us that “the exodus is not evident from the site’s overall numbers”—but if there’s no exodus, there should also be no story, no?

I suspect the story emerged out of this classic template of how many feature stories are born:

1] Editor asks in his weekly meeting for ideas for stories.

2] Enthu young journo offers an idea: Facebook exodus!

3] Editor is excited. He roars, Do it, do it, let’s burst the bubble of the biggest thing going on the net!

4] Journo gets to work, interviews her pals who have left Facebook, feels good about all this. She crafts a smartass opening line. Everything’s going well till she sees the numbers, which reveal that the premise behind the story is wrong. There’s no Facebook exodus.

5] But so what? She won’t let the facts come in the way of an otherwise perfectly good feature story. And the editor doesn’t care—he’s not going to rush around now looking for a replacement story for that slot.

6] So boom, the story comes out, rich in anecdotes, poor in data.

I’ve seen this play out so often in my career, it’s not funny. Most journalists approach their stories with a preconceived notion of how it will turn out, and after that it’s a matter of getting the facts to fit the narrative, and not the other way around. Such it goes.

(Link via email from Jitendra Vaidya.)

*

I certainly need to ditch Facebook, that’s for sure. Especially Scrabble. An extremely evil and immoral friend invited me to play a game a few days ago, and once hooked, I’ve played about 80 games since then with an 80% win record, and four Bingos in a row in the last game that I played. In all this time, work has suffered. I think I need to go cold turkey.

Or maybe I’ll just play one more before I stop…

*

Update: On another note, zzzzzzz.

When are India Today and Outlook going to do their next social networking cover stories, I wonder.

(Link via email from Sudarshan.)

Posted by Amit Varma in Journalism | Media | Personal | WTF

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