In Conversation With Madhavan Narayanan #WATSummit

In an interview With Madhavan Narayanan at WATSummit 2012.


WAT Summit 2012 had some interesting panel discussions of which one was ‘Content is king but why is it free’ covered in our previous blog post here. ((For detail coverage on WATSummit check here)) I was also very excited to see quite a good mix of panelists. One of them was Madhavan Narayanan, Senior Editor at Hindustan Times (HT). In fact he got a roaring applause when he moved to the dais. Perhaps, I was very fortunate enough to talk with him before the panel discussion.

Madhavan Narayanan is a true gentleman, a great conversationalist, prolific blogger and Twitter person. We sat in the lobby of Hilton where I recorded his thoughts on his work, his enthusiasm for social media and the hue and cry about content regulation shared below.

1. Hi Madhavan, I won’t ask you the formal question, who you are as we all know that but how about sharing with us what is taking most of your time.

Well, actually to tell you the truth, my role in Hindustan Times is largely a staid one because I manage business news in the business production, which is called HT business. So much of my time goes in monitoring news and leading a team who produce business pages and business news covers everything such as the Ambani brothers fighting, the government deciding whether to have FDI in retail, etc. So lot of my passion is related to IT, social media, etc. also figures in my weekly column in HT, TechitEasy. I also write a blog, which I called India’s first media blog completely in verse. I also spend a huge amount of time while managing news as I also share and keep discussing about it on Twitter or Facebook.

[pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”center_lhi”]I use the synergy between news monitoring to experiment with social media, which I call it as the tutorial R&D.[/pullquote]

2. You are one of the panelists who would be sharing thoughts on premium content or free one. So which side of the debate are you?

I am completely for paid content, I have nothing against free content and my analogy is that you can have water anywhere but there is a business in mineral water. There will be also a co-existence of premium and free content but personally I belong from the premium content space as an individual. I have believed always that good content involves investment, hard work, domain knowledge, etc and this has to be monetized for the person who is creating value. Therefore when people talk about user-generated content, I raise two questions – One is when you expect user generated content, do you expect everything to be free in which case you never will get quality. Second do you also expect that people who are investing time and effort should get nothing in return for their efforts? So very clearly content should be taken to a position where investments get viable returns. Otherwise investments won’t be worth it!

3.  Your thoughts on print media jumping onto the bandwagon of social media and what has been HT’s perspective.

There is a separate online team who is doing some creative work for HT in social media. It is a bunch of youngsters with whom I end up learning something from while guiding in other aspects. The work that is happening is in smaller quantities but there are the right things happening which is reader engagement. For instance lets take the HT tweets it is an amazing example how you can keep the reader engaged. Most of the times in the morning we post a tweet saying what to expect from today. This is not content but setting the agenda for the day which is very clear case of reader engagement.

Sharing links on Facebook and getting two people liking it is not social media. Social media is about user interaction, the degree and the manner can be different but there has to be some meaningful interactivity.

[pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”center_lhi”]For me a flat fan page is a still black and white photo in the age of color video, so we need to get dynamic.[/pullquote]

4. You are a prolific blogger. So what drives you to blogging till day?

At this point of time I have four blogs out of which one is now dormant i.e. the media blog, second one is a creative blog where I write film reviews, poetry’s, etc. and the third is my official HT blog and the fourth blog which is not yet out but would be again on the creative side in terms of a more serious writing. So the point I want to make is that blogs gives you tremendous variety in terms of reach across to the people with incredibly easy to use tools, which sets you free. So for me blogs give you the freedom of expressing your personal feelings with social communications and with possibilities of becoming a business model. A blog is very malleable and you can put it to any use you want.

5. Your thought on talks of content being regulated on social media by Indian government.

See as some body who has been a journalist and enjoyed freedom of press to a reasonable degree in my career, it will be difficult for me to accept any regulation of content as a control entry point mechanism. Very obviously I am not in favor of any kind of control but having said that we have some ethical, social and moral responsibilities on content. I don’t feel comfortable with hate speeches, child pornography, character assassination, etc. on Internet. So we need some kind of policing. In an ideal world, we will have community policing where the community wakes up and says shut up. However the ease of Internet gives the bad guys generally an upper hand so you need some kind of regulation, I don’t want to call it a control. However we need to see also that the regulation should not be used as a pretext to cracking down upon political opponents, critics or freedom of speech. In my latest column, I have called for a Geneva Convention on content as we had during wars on how to treat prisoners of war etc. So I see that could be some kind of inspiration to set some kind of guideline and it has to be done globally and it should involve civil society groups and activists too.

[pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”center_pull”]There has to be consensus and it cannot be at the cost of the biggest beneficiary of social media - i.e. your average citizen who for the first time in human history is finding a global medium of expression at zero cost.[/pullquote]

Thanks Madhavan! I enjoyed talking to you and good to see people of your caliber vouching for quality engagement, which is the essence of social media.