Technology Helps Speed Mumbai Web Call-In Show

Journalist Sreenath Sreenivasan was in New York when he learned about the attacks on Mumbai. Within an hour, he was hosting a Web radio call-in show with other Indian journalists relaying what they knew. Sreenivasan is dean of student affairs at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. He explains to Steve Inskeep how they were able to get the Web call-in show up and running so quickly.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Within an hour of the attacks on Mumbai, a journalist had found a creative way to cover the story from thousands of miles away. In that hour, he started a call-in show on Internet radio. Other Indian journalists relayed what they knew. The journalist is Sreenath Sreenivasan; he was in New York City, where he works at Columbia University's School of Journalism, and his experience may tell us something about how media are evolving. Welcome to the program.

Mr. SREENATH SREENIVASAN (Journalist, Columbia University's School of Journalism): Thank you. Nice to be here despite the circumstances

INSKEEP: Yes. How did you do it in one hour?

Mr. SREENIVASAN: Well, it's not me, it's two things. It's the community of journalists and friends that want to share information. And technology allowing us to do things we could never have done even a year ago.

INSKEEP: And did you feel that you were getting up-to-the-minute information in this improvised radio network that was basically just available on the web?

Mr. SREENIVASAN: Yes, because people who were online, on the spot, in India were able to call in and provide information. So, we were using technology called blogtalkradio.com, and people can go to sajaforum.org to see what we're doing. But in effect, what this was, is - I like to call it NPR light, or very, very light in my case.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: I suppose that's flattering?

Mr. SREENIVASAN: Yes - yes, because it's - or I've also called it poor man's NPR. But in effect, what we're doing is, anyone can have a radio station, and can have a radio show, and people can call in and share information, and be - and take questions, and participate. And there's even a switchboard - you know, you have engineers who, you know, who help produce the show, and producers. We do this all just on the screen off of this platform.

INSKEEP: Now you used an acronym there, you said SAJA. So, I should say that's the South Asian Journalists Association, correct?

Mr. SREENIVASAN: That's correct. This is an organization based in Columbia, and we are a network of about a thousand South Asian journalists across the U.S. and Canada.

INSKEEP: And I know that you also had a Twitter site that was using that technology to get very short messages passed back and forth between many people, which raises another question for me. When you think about a situation like this, where millions of people probably are text messaging, and passing information back and forth, and you want to be part of that, you want to channel it, and use that information. Are you concerned about the quality of the information that you get?

Mr. SREENIVASAN: Very, very concerned, you have to be so careful in this kind of situation, and so what you have to - what you have to do is take the information and then kind of curate it, so that you're sharing on your site only the best and most accurate as of that moment. That doesn't mean that things won't get through that may be incorrect, but you're seeing that also on mainstream, big television, big networks also, that some mistakes will come through.

INSKEEP: Apparently, the Indian authorities shut down the cable networks in part of Mumbai, because they felt like the mainstream TV people were spreading incorrect information.

Mr. SREENIVASAN: Well, that wouldn't be surprising because there is just so much confusion. And in India at the moment, there are so many people using cell phones. It's hard for us in America to imagine how cell phones are used, because we are - we do text message here, but nowhere near the level that they do in other countries. In places like India, that's the main method of communication.

INSKEEP: It's the heart of life, they've gone right around land lines, which many people never had.

Mr. SREENIVASAN: That's correct.

INSKEEP: Mr. Sreenivasan, thanks very much.

Mr. SREENIVASAN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Sreenath Sreenivasan is dean of student affairs at Columbia University's graduate school of journalism. He's also with the South Asian Journalists Association, which within an hour of the crisis in Mumbai, set up an Internet radio talk show to share information about the attacks. You're listening to NPR News.

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