If I had my say, I’d start every week with a session at the State Department’s IVLP, speaking with delegates from a country I know so little about. Today, I had the privilege of meeting with three journalists from India on their first visit to the U.S. As these visits often do, they began with a trip to Washington D.C., and then came to the IVLP for a few days of closely scheduled conferences. The IVLP contacts me to speak with these visiting delegates and attempt to answer their questions about blogging and publishing in the U.S.A.
On a previous visit to the IVLP last November, I was thrilled to spend two hours with six Chinese bloggers, journalists, social media CEOs and professors. The assistance of two translators made our time together nothing short of spectacular, at least by my standards. New relationships began as we discussed the plight of artists, my community building projects, and possible collaborations between China and the U.S. in the future.
Here’s a bit more about the organizations involved.
Through the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and administered by IIE, a growing number of current and emerging foreign leaders participate in carefully designed short-term visits to the United States. (Visits are typically about two weeks.)
The Institute of International Education is an independent not-for-profit founded in 1919. IIE is among the world’s largest and most experienced international education and training organizations.
The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) is the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) premier professional exchange program. Participants from around the world meet and confer with their professional counterparts, gaining a greater understanding of the cultural and political influences in U.S. society through carefully crafted programs that respond to the visitors’ professional interests. (Everyone I’ve met so far has been on their first visit to the U.S.A.)
Talking with India
Aarefa Johari, Senior Reporter for the Hindustan Times in Mumbai, was interested in how I go about creating a web portal for a community that can serve a variety of needs. I explained my very organic process of articulating the community I want to reveal, and using the tech to help the community see itself. Like the Chinese journalists and bloggers, this group was curious about how money flows through art and creative projects. Later, I asked her about publishing in India. She explained that there is a publishing explosion going on, with profound changes. Lest we get comfortable with the familiar sound of that, the reality of publishing in India is quite different from the U.S. Once-literary big publishers are now churning out paperbacks to meet the huge new demand for pulp fiction and romances, for example. Aarefa commented that she doesn’t think people are reading much “of importance.”
All three confirmed that e-readers have not taken hold. Bipin Newar, the founder and CEO of Taaza TV (East India’s leading Hindi news channel), said that the main source of entertainment and information is television, and by a long stretch. Newspapers are also doing well, with circulation growing, but Aarefa pointed out that journalists are very poorly paid.
Berly Thomas, a journalist for the Malayam-language newspaper Malayala Manorama (2.1 million circulation), is better known for his opinion blog, “Acts of Berly,” available only in Malayam but extremely popular for his wit and sarcasm. I guess I will have to learn to read Malayam now. He made it clear, with Bipin nodding, that monetizing blogs is not happening. Google analytics cannot be accessed because of the language issue. Berly painted a picture of readers in India becoming voracious readers and television watchers, but explained that while access to the Internet is cheap and common, public wifi is rarely available. He also said that of the people in India using social media, 80% of them are on Facebook. Twitter is much less common. Bipin thinks this is going to change with 700 million people now on mobile devices. He sees the potential for a mass migration to web-accessed news, to Twitter, and to blogging, as mobile devices become status quo. It seems to me that mobile is the jumpstarter for social media, but if the public wifi piece is missing, it will really slow the progress.
Didn’t we see something like that happen in this country?
We also talked about the fact that humans crave stories, and are consuming them through television shows, films, and ever-cheaper forms of books, like never before. Writers, take note.
What I always learn from these sessions is that those of us who have made social media a part of our daily (hourly?) lives are living in a world vastly different from many others who can access the web. I am grateful for the reminder, and for even more motivation to continue building community that connects on the ground.