Silicon Valley & Parachute Journalism

A longtime ago, when the only grey in my life was the soot from traffic on my white shirt, I would often read stories in the western media about India, which had a weird sense of deja-vu about them. Take one part of these (all true) topics — exotica, color, poverty, income gap, gender discrimination, dowery and political skullduggery — add a western reporter, a nice fancy hotel room, shake hard. And voila, you would have your article (or series of articles) about India.

The New York Times was the most egregious of the western papers and if you check their archives, you will see what I mean because every new India correspondent pretty much wrote the same set of stories. I would often wonder — how is it that these smart people can’t find interesting stories in a country as messy and fantastical as India. There were more tragedies in that country and there were more uplifting tales — especially as a country tried to grapple its future and its past. (Criticism of their past practices aside, it is also fair to point out the Times has become infinitely better in its coverage of India, China and other places, often doing better work than the local publications as in case of Times’ China corruption coverage.)

In sharp contrast to the Times and others was an old India hand — Mark Tully, who worked for BBC. He was your typical Englishman and was mocked for having gone native. And yet, his stories and reporting had verve and depth, that only comes from knowing the beat. He found tales nobody else did — and if you can find his book No Full Stops in India and read it, then you will know what I mean. He knows modern Indian history better than anyone. William Dalrymple (of The Independent) was another fun foreign correspondent to read and he too had gone native. It was quite a delight to catch up with their work.

When working for Forbes, I pointed out the dichotomy to my then boss, David Churbuck and he quipped: “Classic Parachute Journalism.” According to Wikipedia, “Parachute journalism is the practice of thrusting journalists into an area to report on a story in which the reporter has little knowledge or experience.” This is a term that has typically been used in context of reporters sent to foreign lands to cover hot stories.

Lately, that foreign land seems to be Silicon Valley. 

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