Say you were a sportswriter who had issues with basketball. Say you wrote about most sports and called yourself a sports fan but were extremely queasy about the sport of basketball (for reasons related to your time as a high school athlete). Would you expect to be hired as the editor-in-chief of a basketball magazine targeted at basketballers and basketball fans everywhere?
Say you grew up in America and moved to Cuba as you were uncomfortable with America and what you experienced there. Would you expect to be hired as the editor-in-chief of a magazine about America for Americans that seeks to connect with those who will remain American wherever they are?
Apologies for the redundant questioning to start off the piece, but something similar to these ridiculous hypotheticals has happened at the New York Times this week.
21 months ago, the New York Times started India Ink (a blog that was also The New York Times’ first-ever country-specific site for news, information, culture and conversation. (their words, not mine)). Since then it has existed in a quiet corner of the internet universe failing to influence conversation the way the paper of record usually does. It has also failed to produce any serious, original reporting on the big issues of the day. The content it has churned out has been delayed, bland and uninfluential.
But all of that feedback is my opinion and is subjective. I can deal with that and I have been watching and hoping that the site becomes a go-to for the Indian diaspora struggling to find intelligent and timely content about the country and culture they love and care about. I was hoping it would only be a matter of time before the folks at India Ink figured out what worked and produced compelling content. After all, they belong to the New York Times.
Instead this week they hired this dude as the head of India Ink. Here’s why hiring this dude is a cruel, funny joke –
Basharat Peer does not even call himself Indian – The blog’s mission statement (You can check it out here or use Google cache search if they change it in the next few days:)) reads “India Ink will provide more in-depth, on-the-ground coverage of the world’s biggest democracy — and of a people who know that no matter how far they roam, their hearts will always be Indian.” (emphasis mine)
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal nearly 3 years ago Basharat Peer calls himself a Kashmiri and sounds queasy and constipated when asked to answer if he is an Indian! Do read the interview yourself! His frustration at being called Indian reeks thru the device you are reading the interview on. The money quote which is used as the headline on the piece reads “My Nationality: a Matter of Dispute.”
Here is another interview with Basharat where he all but says he is not an Indian and dislikes India. Here is a different interview where he expresses shock at Indians refusing to rent to Muslims in the immediate aftermath of 11/17/2008.
So the New York Times has hired someone who doesn’t call himself Indian to lead their blog and manage the content on the blog whose goal is to provide coverage for those whose hearts will always be Indian. I eagerly await the day the Newspaper of record hires a native Palestinian to run their Israel blog. Or vice versa.
The announcement of his hire on Twitter was greeted with rounds of cheers by people whose twitter bios said they were from Pakistan. Many of them have deleted their endorsements since but here’s one who still hasn’t –
— Muhammad Faysal (@_faysal) June 10, 2013
Twitter is imperfect and skepticism is the essence of journalism but really ,New York Times? You want to hire someone who is not comfortable calling himself Indian because of grudges he holds against the country and whose hire gets cheers from Pakistanis as the head for an India-centric blog?
Outside of this hire, India Ink has several other issues that make it the out-of-place blog on the institution of the New York Times. In spite of being associated with the New York Times, the blog is unprofessionally managed (try scrolling thru monthly archives), has outdated content and severely lacks balance in the writers and content it publishes. I am all for opinions from the entire rainbow of views that covering an issue related to India will bring but the blog like many Indian institutions fails to see the India that lies below Mumbai.
The original list of contributors to the blog (which has several writers whose work I love and respect) has about 8 times the representation of people from Mumbai and Delhi than it does people from Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Kerala. It reads much more like a list made out of Google searches for famous Indian writers than it does a professional talent gathering operation.
Scroll thru the monthly archives and you will find contributions mostly from people whose by lines and biographies are not available on the site. When issues of national relevance such as the Naxal-led attacks last month or the IPL fixing/betting bubbled up and kept the nation and diaspora engaged, India Ink put out delayed cookie-cutter pieces adding zero original reporting. The New York Times is expected to lead and drive conversation and expose the people in power. Instead the India Ink waddles along taking the country and people it purports to cover, less seriously than a neighborhood colony periodical takes its weekly newsletter.
A lot of what I have written here comes from frustration rather than anger. It frustrates me that there is such little intelligent and influential content on India Ink. It frustrates me that they take their jobs so callously and their audience for granted. I have always wanted to write for the New York Times and more recently for India Ink. I have believed that my perspective and content will resonate in that platform. I have even sent over some of my pieces and pitches only to be rejected at all times. That goes with the territory of writing though and makes me want to work harder at getting something thru. But for the same blog and organization to hire a person who is uncomfortable being called Indian to run their site frustrates me a million times more.
I hope the folks at India Ink read this and do some soul-searching. This is a very unique niche market they have access to. They really should be doing better and respecting their audience more. I am all for a bigger audience for Basharat Peer’s obviously troubled life story. If the goal was to advance the plight of the Kashmir Muslims, there are other ways to do it than escalate a voice and let him use the blog to spread his personal agenda. It is not skepticism of the status quo, curiosity for context or balance in coverage to do that. It is attempting to sneakily transmit a minority ideology and an enormous disrespect for India and Indians.
I have subscribed to the Sunday New York Times for the better part of the last six years. I unsubscribed yesterday.