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'The News Industry is a Public Service'

Interviewee: Manjeet Kripalani, 2006-2007 Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow
October 20, 2009

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As part of the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellowship 60th Anniversary initiative current and former fellows discuss the stories that have had the most impact and present ideas for sustaining serious international journalism. Former fellow Manjeet Kripalani talks about spotting the early trends in globalization towards India and her coverage of that trend. She goes on to propose a shift in the news industry that would see news organizations from countries like India and Mexico take on the void left by western organizations that are increasingly deprived of funding. For more on the initiative, visit cfr.org/murrow.

What is one international story or topic (of your own reporting) that you believe had the greatest impact and why? Explain why you chose to report it.

Two related stories I reported on, which made the greatest impact during my career. The first was "The New Global Job Shift" (or "Is Your Job Next?"), Feb 3, 2003, and the follow up story was "The Rise of India," Dec 8, 2003.

The first reported on the phenomena of outsourcing as being the latest wave of globalization; the second focused on India as the epicentre of that wave.

It wasn't easy to convince my editors of the enormity of the outcome of outsourcing. I remember, when IT desks were outsourced to India, and then, the first call centres, I asked my editors if I should do a story on them. They were disbelieving, and decided against it. But the excitement of being able to do skilled technical work remotely had caught on in India, and everyone was talking about it. I persevered, and the first outsourcing story on India and Indian companies like Wipro and Infosys, appeared.

It led my colleagues to be more aware of the changes taking place within US companies, which were outsourcing their work. And when news came in of job losses from tech helpdesk to architects who found their work outsourced to cheaper professionals in India, the Philippines and Romania, it was clear that a trend had been established.

Ditto with the story on India, and its being the proponent of the newest globalization trend.

Americans were accustomed to hearing about China, and job losses in manufacturing to China; the idea of professional job losses to India, a poor country with no established power base or ambition, seemed outrageous.

But a careful collation of contracts from US companies to Indian outfits, created a body of evidence that India was indeed at the centre of the outsourcing trend led by multinationals looking to lower costs. A trip by a colleague to India, who saw the high tech work for himself, was the final clincher for the publication of the story.

Is there another story or topic, perhaps one that is not already widely cited, that comes to mind (yours or someone else) that you believe has had a significant impact. This can be a story reported by you or someone else. Tell us about it.

Yes. The New York Times' Somini Sengupta's reporting on Africa, for which she was awarded the Polk in 2003. Yes, she did write on the brutality inflicted on the Continent by its own people, but she also highlighted hope for the future. How life and trade carried on along the river banks in Africa despite wars, and how the attempt to build a trans-Saharan highway will transform Africa. Nations need to hear hopeful stories about themselves, and often, foreign correspondents with their ability to view the world in both a macro and micro perspective, can see hope where others see darkness. Somini's stories about that hope were powerful.

Similarly, a special report in 1999 by Celia Dugger, also of the New York Times, on Indian village women successfully leading and running village councils despite the entrenched opposition and repression of decades, was prescient. Today, village councils headed by women in India are so successful, that New Delhi is considering legislating that 50% of all village councils must be run by women. Celia's story was early, insightful and focused the world's attention on the Indian experiment.

Finally, there was Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl's dedicated stories following the terrorist money trail in Pakistan, which cost him his life. Any good business reporter would have followed the story the way Danny did. Danny was the finest, and he got very close to the answers.

Do you have any ideas--whether yours or someone else's--for how the news industry can sustain serious international reporting at a time of great upheaval in the media?

1. The news industry is not a business for Wall Street to make 30% returns on. The news industry is a public service; its rights are enshrined in the constitutions of nations. Today, the news industry can survive as a dot.org, rather than a dot com. Once converted to a dot org, it becomes a not-for-profit, and its owners can concentrate on producing the news without pressure from money-makers or money-influencers. Donors will support newspapers the way they support, say, Human Rights Watch. This way, the international and domestic news bureaus can survive and thrive.

2. As the great western publications feel themselves deprived of much-needed funding, it is a good time for the publications from other democracies around the world to step up to the plate. Countries like India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, have a vibrant news industry. They are still immature, but this is the moment to seize, to view themselves as responsible global publications, to set up news bureaus overseas, and pick up the baton from their Western brethren, and carry on the job of providing overseas coverage. They will also provide a different, more refreshing and perhaps contemporary view of world events.

 

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