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I often say that we make sense of the world by joining dots and the more dots we have, the clearer picture of the world. So how do we gather these stocks? The immediate experiences of our own lives will never do enough. And we need to have the humility to recognize this. We need to make an effort to learn about the world, who see the world through the eyes of others, many others, so that we can enrich our own understanding.


For me, the best way to gather these thoughts is by reading books. If you read a lot and reading is both broad and deep, your vision is that much more likely to be sharper and clearer. And this is also true if you have an appreciation of data, what is data but a gathering of thoughts, facts about the world that we can bring together to paint a picture. In high definition, our brains have evolved to play four stories over numbers, especially large numbers and complex statistics, which is why so many of the best storytellers are those who have a sense of the bigger picture and more importantly, who actively look at the data to seek out the bigger picture.


Welcome to the Scene and The Unseen, our weekly podcast on economics, politics and behavioral science. Please welcome your host of It's Borderline. Welcome back to CNN. My guest is Rukmini S., a pioneering data journalist who learned the chops of the Times of India and was the first data editor at The Hindu. She has written for a series of major publications across the world. And I'm a bit uncertain about the term data journalist as I consider Rukmani an outstanding journalist who also happens to understand and use data very well, as indeed every journalist should.


A few months ago, as the spending got underway, Rukmani started up a groundbreaking podcast called The Moving Curve, in which she explored her own intellectual curiosity about the pandemic. Every day she would ask a question about the unfolding crisis and try to answer it by examining the research out there, looking at the data. And so every episode was five to 10 minutes long. And she recently hit 100 episodes of the movie Curve. I've been planning to ask her on the show for a long time now and was delighted when we could finally make it happen.


Before we begin with, a sort of let's take a quick commercial break.


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Welcome to the scene of The Unseen, thank you. It's so exciting to be here. I feel a bit like a 20 year old who's walked into it this month, except that you actually can get the data in the numbers. So that's not a good analogy either. Know, it's not a bad analogy because there are 20 players who walked into a Test match and completely owned that field. David Warner, for example, the first time he played for the daily franchise back in the day is Steve McQueen there.


So I told him that, you know, you have a game for Test cricket. And that sounded very counterintuitive because it was a bit of a pressure that he's one of the great players. Steve Smith, just so I just have to say that I am just an unabashed admirer of your podcasts, moving over the things that you've done with it. You know, I don't think I would be able to do something like that with that kind of regularity, asking important questions and all of that.


But before we kind of embarrass each other with too much space, let's let's move on. I'm very curious to know about your background, because, you know, in our minds, there's often, you know, when you hear the words, you switch for some reason is how people kind of effort you do. I think that's not I mean, you obviously just a very good generalist period. And, you know, but and one of the things that obviously strikes me about your background is that you were sort of a hard reporter, Reportero, regular journalist who was reporting stories and doing all of that.


But I think even before that, take me to your childhood. What kind of person were you what kind of career did you look at? How did you get attracted to journalism and why they.


So I do think that anyone who knew me growing up would be quite surprised by this feeling because I never really demonstrated any particular affinity for I did in school. So I grew up in Virginia and my parents that I very much connected in most ways. I left home after I did do a B.A. in psychology, at least in college, for reasons that I could not tell anymore. You know, one of those things that you do when you enjoyed it, I do feel like it exposed me to statistics and experiment at times for the first time.


So that was interesting. But somewhere at the back of my mind, I always knew that what I was going to get into with some form of writing. I don't think I knew anything about how journalism worked, but that seemed like the sort of thing that people who like to write did. So I went to a company, the Asian College of Journalism, and it was very, very expensive at the time. The more well known and familiar option was the Citya Polytechnic in London.


So what I did is I did a post graduate diploma in social communications media. That's the multiple that the course is called, and I love it. It's women's only college, 30 students living in a hostel for the first time, very political place and specific political ideas. And, you know, I'm sure we'll talk about that later, because one of the things that that I spend a lot of time thinking about and thinking about how journalism can get better about is about how to be less polarized.


And I wouldn't say that that that wasn't polarizes to it was sort of like being, I suppose, in a new sort of equivalent then. But again, none of this is a criticism which I absolutely loved. And that was one of the fetuses, someone I hugely admire and love very much is really for me a bit now. So that was the first time I did non-fiction. That is the first time I read newspapers regularly. That was the first time I felt engaged with any sort of political thinking at all.


I was very much one of those persons who floated through undergraduate college, building wonderful personal relationships, falling in love, doing it all fun and having the rest of the world entirely pass me by. So. So that was when I woke up. And I'm not one of those people who's everything politically awakening, learning everything happened on the job since I sort of sleepwalk through college in that respect. I loved it. I think I did well. And immediately after it was the one who goes.


Immediately after that, there was some campus placement and I started an internship at the Times of India in Bombay, and I ended up working there for four years. And and that was, as you mentioned, very much regular journalism. So the first few months was very much you were the person who was even inspired by you. You were sent to run for everything, any facilities, any of and you never knew what your day was like, anything that was in the furthest possible suburb you were likely to be sent the.


An experience that nothing else will give you, just knowing the local system in and out, knowing every suburb, and then so I did that. Then I covered the education beat for a little while. And the last bit that I covered in my was state government in the course of news reporting ended up being a bit of crime reporting and got very interested in legal reporting because of some trials that I ended up covering quite regularly, although I was quoted.


And then after that and after that, before I went to the School of Oriental and African Studies in London to do a Masters in Development Studies so that, again, in that district was a sort of standard lefty program. I enjoyed it, but I was also very sure that I immediately wanted to get back to Indian journalism, that I really felt that the that that was the most productive use of my time. I was really hungry to come back and look around that time or a little before that.


The Times of India had set up in Delhi a group called The Things Inside Group, which is a small team of reporters focused on determinism. So, you know, I think this most people don't associate the times of never ism, but that really is the first place that set up a systematic team to do this. So they both the editors then and now who had hired me in Bombay when I came back, I talked to them about things that I could do.


And he mentioned this because one of the things that had happened is of doing the master's. I felt I was reading World Bank report for the first time. You know, it's not that they hadn't existed on the Internet access not knowing anything about it. And I felt that there was so much research that I was reading that I should have been incorporating into new studies. So it wasn't the sense that it was more the feeling that there is vigorous research and academic work that it should be incorporating into news reporting.


And then it was really two years of learning on the job. I joined that themen William privity. I got to do a whole lot of that sort of that which is and says I put out a report today, a report about the World Bank has put out a report. And I'm really glad I got to do that. And really on the day I was starting from learning how to do addition and subtraction in an Excel sheet, I hadn't done anything of that sort.


And that group is headed still by some girl. Gruman, who's a financial journalist, very well known among the scholarly journal, is a great boss and someone who really shines on election and budget days in particular. And again, this is not something people give the Times of India credit for, but it really does shine on election days especially. And the other great thing I got to do then was there was there was nothing that no one said no to me for any idea I had, you know, around then in 2009 and then food prices started escalating the pace of dialogue that escalating so I could write about it and look at the numbers and do all of that.


But then also they couldn't report on it. And these were just things off the top of my head. I wanted to do that. They had elections because it seemed like development indicators that really improved in the first film. I got to go and cover the elections. I wanted to tighten the budget system because I could see that there was incremental change going on in political representation that so I got to cover it. I just wanted the elections, the political representation.


I go to the motherland lender. There has never been a woman in me and I go to jail. Two women candidates has given Gap so that that I really remember feeling then that I was getting paid to understand the country and nothing I could have asked for better than that. I did feel like I was maybe getting a bit slow and maybe a bit lazy, spending too much time unproductively sitting at the screens of the office. So I'm glad then that so that's what that agenda is.


It then touches me because I do think I was stagnating a bit. Then he hired me to The Hindu in 2013 and I was that the two years and the office that has left in Malani. But is that the Tokugawa? She made me the data editor then, which was the first Indian obligation to have a data position. So both of them did have that vision for that vision that focused that emphasis on detail with it. So that was the last sort of mainstream media full time job I had.


In 2016, I would they do I look for the Huff Post for a little while doing similar work and since 2000 18 I've been doing this independently and I move potentially into 2016.


So the lesson for this whole people listening, by the way, is that a good Indian podcast has come out of Ferguson College because I also graduated from there. So, yeah, I, I passed out the night before, so I think that might have been a little before your time. Yeah. So what did you do in a rock band.


I sang well, amazing other videos on YouTube that we can embarrass you with some company, things that the forbidden skin and that as well.


Instantly thousands of listeners immediately tried to Google and figure that out. What I find very interesting about this whole narrative, and this is something that I've been thinking about for a while now, is the distinction between the abstract and the concrete in people's experiences. Like it strikes me that when you go to college or when you go to whatever academic thing you do, you're being taught abstract ideals, you've been taught abstractions about the world. And then at some point, of course, if you remain in academics, you can just remain in that abstract game forever.


But if you go out in the real world and you actually engage with it, then you get exposed to concrete realities. And it seems to me that this distinction between abstraction and reality is something that can possibly apply to journalists like you in many ways like us to do the journalistic training and all of that. And then you're out in the real world, you're reporting from the weeds. And that's one sort of element of it. Another element of it is just how you engage with data like, you know, many people vote and we'll, of course, exploit this later in the episode in more detail.


But people will often bring their own biases to data and try to make it conform to their narratives. But to do that, you really have to understand the data intuitively and all that. And like you said, it strikes me that it might actually have been a feature, not a bug, that you had to learn all that from scratch, how to add and subtract and excel, for example, which I still don't know, and which would have also given you a concrete sense of data and its limitations and what it can be used for.


Is there something kind of cool that like as you engage more and more concretely with the all your old frame sort of collapsing and new frames taking their place, is it a journey like that that you sort of consciously thought about? Yeah, that's really the nail on the head, because that is what has been my process for the last five years. So I would say that I still have to the left of center politics and ideas. But one of the big things which has really come through both the points that you mentioned simultaneously, which is one part of it, is through reporting directly and part of it is pulling the data.


You know, it didn't even come as a moment of reckoning that I felt that I was confronting all that I believe the do it and that it was all witheringly, I suppose it had been happening continuously and didn't really come as a surprise to me, these realizations. But yes, except that a lot of what the left in India in particular holds true and biases on through universities or even through leftist academics and the journals who faithfully report everything that they say is deceptive, it's problematic.


It's not doing anyone much good. So, you know, all of the sounds of between all the Zubayda stuff is now very clean that we were having all these intense discussions about things like the public distribution system. But that's what we were discussing back then. So I think, you know, things like accepting that, holding the public distribution system as a model for something that must be upheld at every cost and anything that's seen as an alternative like Cashel, a universal basic income must be sort of reflexively attacked is something that I had to unlearn.


And I'm happy to have been able to do that. And I consistently find that the data on this that continues to back these things up. The other thing also to mass publicly provided goods that I remain a firm supporter of in the middle of a pandemic, the importance of affordable, accessible public health is there for everyone to see. But to go on talking about these things as we must and in public schools, but we must. And the public health system, without accepting how discriminatory and demeaning it can be to have to be entangled with it, is a privilege, is ultimately privilege.


So The Economist, this is someone whose work I admire very much, and I like engaging that because it makes me think things that I might have gone in thinking opposite. And I think his work on health care has been one of the things that I really feel I wish a lot of journalism students would look at indeed, because things like accepting that and MBBS in a public hospital necessarily. Cares more and provides better care, gives better prescriptions even than quack in a private clinic is something we would all assume and something we would all put behind.


But he's consistently shown that not to be the case. Good, solid research in both urban and rural settings in Metaphysician Building, I feel in 2012 and 2013. These are things that I was confronting and at that time it felt like a debate with both sides. But now I see that in a number of people who sort of exist in the middle and don't see these as choices. But because let's all start with the belief that head of education should be something that is available to everybody but at their own, with their own agency that their own self respect alive.


So, yeah, I think both reporting and dealing with the data has made me rethink many of those things. And when you talk about the value, if any, in having to do everything long in the hard way, it really is true. It sounds like some, you know, some fuddy duddy thing that your dad is right, which is that you'll only know it when you write it out by hand, but you will only figure it out when you've done some stuff manually is something that I've just had to accept.


There's a lot of talk about this in a bit, but I spend a shocking amount of my time doing work manually. And this isn't a humble brag. If I had better skills, I wouldn't be doing this. But it's a colossal waste of time. And anyone who's building the skills that I should build skills so that they're not doing what I'm doing. This is not smart. But the thing that I was just thinking when I go in on this book, because maybe I should put out an appeal to people, to anyone who wants to do this work for me, you know that I need developers now that I don't work in a newsroom anymore.


I can hire a developer and I don't earn enough to hire a full time developer for my sake. You know, the sort of people listen to the show. But it's not just not letting go of control, which is a problem, but it also is that leading so much of the stuff manually gives me insights that I wouldn't miss otherwise. So just to give you an example, I've really enjoyed engaging with legal data. And while this sounds like something that I'm doing that's complicated or with great skills, but a lot of it is reading court judgment.


Again, if they a good machine learning tool. I'm sure people could reduce the sort of donkey will be put in. Good. But a lot of what I do is just reading a lot of quotations. So there was a point at which I was having to manually read Metropolitan Magistrate Court rulings in May because I was looking at sexual assault cases or something specific I was working on. But while I was looking for this, I ended up noticing that on the daily docket of most judges, there was a large number of cases of some particular section, and I couldn't really understand why it was coming up that often.


Then when I looked at the section, it was caught using a poisonous substance and I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out why I was seeing so many every day. Most Metropolitan Magistrates was seeing many of these cases. And then I started noticing that they were all acquitted, all acquitted. So I just couldn't figure out what was going on. So what I ended up getting to the bottom of and then I ended up investigating and writing about that separately, was that at that time the drug mephedrone, which was called me on the street, was not in the NDP as the Indian Narcotics Act.


It wasn't in the schedule that gives cops the votes to go after it in those ways. So the only exception that they felt they could use to catch this Fiedler's was this one. But it's completely the wrong section because it requires you to not just prove possession at that moment, but also intent to cause hood, which doesn't have. So it was one of the most common cases that metropolitan magistrates were looking at and one hundred percent acquittal. So, yeah, it's the same as the old saying that I was just thinking about that, that this this this is what I saw and this is the entire world of things behind it.


I ended up going to the footage and speaking to the indigenous person and a couple of weeks as well. And they were like, yes, we know that. Wasn't that I don't to sorry, but there's nothing we could do about it. And the judges were so sick of these cases coming to them because in each one they had to say, you haven't shown intent to hurt the good, the bad. And the cops are also using it to do a bit of baby score settling.


And there were people who'd been in jail without bail for a year. I found a disproportionately high number of Muslim. So there was all of that going on. Well, it's so fascinating. I mean, it's almost like you're a forensic detective and you're going through the detail to figure all this out. No, I didn't. One of your interviews about how you mentioned that possibly during this case that you had like these hundreds of tabs open and your manually going through one judgment at a time.


And that's just incredible. So I actually second feeling is that our listeners of the show, who can create the solutions for this, whether it's scale or whether at an individual level, please do get in touch with another part of your sort of personal journey, which you also, I think, refer to in one of your interviews as being interesting and affecting your perspective was moving away from really shifting to Channel nine, having kids, choosing to kind of be located.


The did that also. Let's just go frame of reference and make you take you out of that daily journalism bubble. So to see and make you look at things differently. It did.


But the more I think about it, the more I want to make sure that I don't start looking back at that experience as something frothy and silly and full of narcissistic people who only talk about each other. Well, there is that, too. But that's not all of the journalism. And to everyone who wants to continue in public policy journalism, I would highly recommend working in the eye, feel journalism will be able to do now and in all sorts of ways, even personally is because I was in the city for those key years in between moving away from the Lias, it's made me more conscious of how it's impossible to understand some of the things that matter so deeply to people from a particular part of the country, not just from the city, but from any of it is.


So being in general, I feel like I could see the media trying to make sense and grapple with this delicate issue. And it happened a few years ago. I still sense it when they try to write about neep the medical examiner and others feelings. And I just realize how lost in translation this stuff is. Things like self respect are impossible to impossible to communicate through journalism sometimes. And it underpins so much of what goes on in Tamil Nadu in particular.


So, you know, I think while a lot of people move away from the even people who have says deprecatingly about being in the lead, diminish it a fair bit, I do think that it's possible to move away and that I considered stuff only after you've actually been there for some. I'm very happy. I love that. I love living there. I loved working in journalism there. And, you know, the conversations I had and the arguments over public policy, over politics, over dinner and people's houses on Denis's level, very formative.


And they are the sort of contours of the debates and discussions I'm still having, in a sense, having kids. Yeah. That now that's a big change in multiple ways. I mean, if it is just the time. But so it just means that there's that is a significant shift in the type of journalism I do because of hours in the day I have. It's also definitely changed my consumption, diet of journalism, Miles. I mean, some of it is just it sounds so silly and childish to say, but I know that a lot of parents feel this is that I can't consume violence much at all.


I'm someone who's always pushed back against things like to go on things. And I still would a bit in journalism. I mean, I'm certainly not an entertainment show, but even in journalism, I have no I cannot go to violence anymore. And also I going really came to me in the pandemic that I no longer can keep up with things on a certain minute basis anymore, which then means that my need to distill information both for myself and then for people who read me or listen to me has now become a part of my journalism, because it really is that the only time that I really can think at length about the world is is sort of at the end of the day.


And I'm glad that I'm not reacting to events immediately and that I have had. A few hours of considered time to think about it, so it's a luxury, but I'm glad that I'm able to do that sort of thing. Literalism is across the board and definitely I see this about it as a liaison teams and newsrooms is that you're sort of expected to do a bit of everything is you have to put out the daily and put out this report sort of thing, too, as well as the will consider longer things.


And that that just leaves very little space to to think, yeah, no. I mean, it was surprising to me. It made me very happy. And it was surprising to me that especially during the pandemic when people were home and so much more housework, so much more childcare, other people were suddenly consuming news in a similar sort of way. And then that feeling of especially in the beginning of the pandemic, I mean, it's hard to remember it now, but people starting from figuring out, is this a virus or a bacteria?


How do these things work as a coffee? So it's suddenly said that, wow, it's nine o'clock and I just take the news. And now we know for the first time that it isn't mutating or, you know, something huge and significant had happened. So I think other people do have a feeling that that's me, that I don't I can't follow ball by ball commentary of this. I need to know by the end of the day what happens.


So, you know, a couple of financial questions, which I hadn't planned to ask, but they came up from, you know, what you were just saying. And question number one is, you know, writers often talk about how when they become writers, the quality of the reading changes, they start reading differently earlier. They're sort of reading whatever books they are, just, you know, they're just going with the story or whatever. But when they become writers themselves, they start noticing nuanced aspects of the craft and all of that.


You spoke a little earlier about the consumption diet changing as you had your kids and you had responsibilities at home and all of that, the way you consume to change from a real time thing that, you know, people might be checking everything on Twitter all the time and all of that. But when you look at journalism today, has that also changed over the years that you're also looking at the craft and practice of journalism with that critical eye of someone who does it yourself?


And also as a sort of an adjunct question to that, does your sort of understanding of data then sort of also affect how you look at the work of others? And does it then seem that much more inadequate and misinformed that it's one of the most fascinating things to me that continues to see?


The thing is, I'm very much a mainstream media person, and even though I'm not in the NEWSROOM now, I sort of think and even can imagine very much around a newsroom. So it's incredibly fascinating to me to see that all the newsroom integration is something that has existed on a Microsoft on a people's lives for the last ten years and every presentation made to anyone in the media. It's not happening in any meaningful way. And I see this particularly for data stuff.


So, you know, a couple of things have changed in how I consume the news. One, this time, one is reading much more on my phone and then reading physical newspapers and in the sort of stuff that I want to read, considering as you think, considering what I want to write is what I always find it amusing and sort of expressed fears about books, because so much of the time journalists actually write things like books. So one of the things about overcoverage that I've noticed is that I regularly open something that I feel was written by a book because it will see so many cases today.


And this region, one that visionless and it's painful to think that it wasn't written by a board. This shouldn't be what? And this is not one news article of the same such words. In Google News, you'll find over 50 Indian publications alone will have written exactly the same thing. So I'm very much a fan of lots of little regular news. I enjoy my kind of bits of everything in the city news. I think I think it works very well for a city newspaper.


I don't think that that's a bad way of going about it. But if you look at it as a consumer, not as a captive consumer of one newspaper, it's it's incredible how little value add most news articles are doing and what a waste of time it is for the this was looking really hard to put that out. Yes, the working on data has made it impossible for me now to see a good news report that lacks that. So, for example, it ruined political reporting for me because I just cannot wrap my head around the I landed in this constituency, Lungi, for saying this one, because mine is.


This one is and I cannot wrap my head around that kind of journalism anymore because I don't know what to do with it, and most large Indian states are pretty well covered by opinion polls. Now, there's differences in the quality of the polling. But to read one of these battles that even if not better suited, even by people who deeply understand the region, I just find it impossible to read it anymore. I should say these are, you know, hardworking and those who are going out then and I said, getting you the voices from the ground, but I don't know what to do with it anyway.


I don't know what part of my brain that's thinking about an election to put it into any more. It's it's like watching a fun show. No, it's not something that I can slot into any possible thing. And I think a lot of political reporters feel the other way. They feel very frustrated by opinion polling, heavy reporting, which they feel is missing on the nuances on the ground. But and opinion polls get it so wrong to do it.


So they do feel that how can you hold this as some sort of gospel when they get it wrong? We get video feed on the ground, but that's what it's done for me. And another thing is when there are elements that can be answered to numbers, then it doesn't happen. Then it leaves me very deeply dissatisfied. So more than even looking at the craft of writing differently, you have been doing a bit in the last few months, is looking at vodka's differently, is listen to them a bit.


But I think I listen to journalism. But there's a little more now in general, I feel like I hear too much from journalists and I try not to listen to them, especially American lives. But there were a couple of thoughts that I wanted to listen to, and one that I was listening to over the last few days was called Comédie by The Washington Post and by the journalist Amy Brittain. The entire investigation into it starts into a sexual assault trial.


Now, this is something I feel very strongly about, and that strongly is something I engaged deeply in. And I'm not sure yet what to feel about the reporting of sexual assault. It's beyond any and nobody still needs to discuss the fact that that the women complainants are written about is a problem that goes through the judicial system, the questions that are still allowed, the the police, because all of that is a problem. But I still have a problem with overinvolved journalism around sexual assault, starting from the point of using things like victim and perpetrator instead of complainant and accused all of that stuff.


So this broadcast and those stats around sexual assault trial in which the man admits to the crime, but it seems as if the judge has given him a lower sentence. And then what we end up finding out is that after she writes about immediate insights about this trial, because the complainant didn't take it lying down and she started posting flyers around the city saying that this person has been convicted. He's admitted to it. He did. He was a serial offender, but he doesn't know he was back at his job.


And Petitcodiac, emotional stuff like that. It was all factual what he was putting out. And after she wrote any of it and wrote about that, she was contacted by a woman who ended up telling her the story of how she was herself systematically sexually harassed and molested by the judge in the case many years before. So that part is really a model of journalism. It's corroboration, contemporaneous accounts, letters, all of that, none of that you see in sexual assault.


This isn't sexual assault. This is a complaint of a sexual assault, not a trial. You never see that in the coverage. And it's great to see that. But I can see her sort of moving this towards. So did this his own experience affect his sentencing and the way he was as a judge because of what he had done in his own life and what happened? She puts her detailed list onto it. The Washington Post visited, and ultimately they come up short because they just can't sort out the data.


And part of me was feeling, well, you know, open a hundred thousand to them one by one. But also there was some information they just could not get. So she doesn't answer that. But so she says, I don't have an answer on that. And to me, that said, I felt like I was being led down a path and then just completely disappointed on that because I did want that data back. And that's still the address.


This was a very well told story about how one judge 30 years ago had sexually harassed and molested someone. And that's that's not the story that I felt I was being told had done. So, yeah, it really does take away from my enjoyment of of a lot of the reporting now and of course, in cases where I can. We see that the data exists and should have been used and maybe in some cases would have even not answered exactly that, as I said, particularly for political reporting, it's absolutely ruined election coverage for me.


You know, I'm struck a couple of the things you said. One, of course, like I mean, it made me almost Elul when you said that so many people write like boats and you can't make up the difference, because I think, you know, we as journalists and writers, we can fall into such reflexive habits of both thinking and writing that for all practical purposes, we might as well be able to accept that we are incompetent boards because we don't have that kind of computing power.


Like I often say that Trump would feel the Turing test, and I think that might well be true of many other humans as well. The second part that you said that really struck me, and I'm obviously going to search out Canadien binge on it now is a bit with analyst at the end, is that I don't really have an answer, which is sort of phishing, because there are you know, it's in India, for example, it's almost like you have a compulsion to give an answer.


And this percolates down for some strange reason to everyday life that if you ask anyone on the street, the directions to somebody, even if they don't know, they will feel compelled to tell you that. Bahadur, you want to say never had said Binay and so on and so forth. My my other sort of question, which came out of what you were saying earlier, was when, you know, when you were talking about how moving to the south, you realize that there are areas which are, for example, not covered by daily questions that they are not asking and so on.


And I was being interviewed for another podcast today, but I was chatting about Tick, where, you know, I thought, of course, and tick tock in Indian society and I'm white. I love to talk. And one of the things that to me, tick tock did was that before it came along, popular culture had arbiter's in the sense that, you know, you had Bollywood. And it is as one example, you have other film industries also.


But for example, you have Bollywood there based in Bombay. There are elites who run them. Some of them are, you know, these old school elites who have these regressive attitudes from the past, been in Bombay all their lives. Are those have you know, all your foreign educated young elites have come in with their attitudes and they don't get the real India at all. And what kind of dude was that? It empowered millions of people, not just in terms of letting them express themselves, but of giving them a platform where other people like them were expressing themselves.


And suddenly that became the popular culture in a bottoms up kind of big. And it was not just, you know, what these arbiters of things put out. And it struck me while you were speaking, and I know this is a bit of attention, but it struck me when you were speaking that, you know, is it a case to be made that that is what the situation is in Indian journalism as well, that you have these Albatros, you have these, you know, big media houses, even where you have independent outfits that do such amazing work, like swollen wire and so on.


They are still run by conventional journalists who have the conventional points of view, you know, and maybe they're all really missing things, not out of any blindness or incapacity, but it's just the way that it is. And you know that there are gaps there that could be filled.


Yeah, I do think that we have not allowed ourselves to go crazy a little bit, trying to think what about form and content. So I do you know, even when I was writing the stories and that sometimes the feedback I might still get, which is that I don't dehumanize it a little, and then the sort of temptation to have the first bite of being a sort of archetype of the type of person that the story describes. And then in paragraph two, you come to the development that sort of contextualizes.


I see there's a fair amount of data and I feel like what that does is allow the reporter to if if it is a choice to pick the books that I spoke to, real people. This wasn't just journalism. I included human aspects in it. I brought in an element of creativity into what's otherwise quite cool. So, you know, it's so hard to think of a piece of journalism that truly surprises you. And it doesn't have to be that way.


And I feel that I don't understand why new places have not allowed themselves to experiment with that to the point that they really read like the Indian Express, if they one sort of journalism. So there was and I was going to look this up before this, but I didn't get the name time. You might remember this at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a guy who wrote a piece for The Atlantic. I want to say it sort of describe what happens to your body when the virus hits you.


But through a hypothetical story of a man who's going to meet a friend for lunch without realizing it. But the science and it was how good it got right into all of the cells and all of that. So I felt like I did learn about how the virus does the human body and what it does if that was supposed to be understood, what the cytokine storm even means, though, it was told in a sort of semi fictionalized. And, you know, I just remember that this just feels right, because these kinds of stories that truly surprise you.


I feel like I can really count them because there are so few when when the family really takes you, takes you by surprise. I think people are doing much more inventive stuff in a video. So that that's that's there. You occasionally see people breaking out of that very old school and the TV documentary kind of format of reporting, reporting on everything. And another thing that struck me when you were giving a textbook example and then I was thinking about the South, is that.


To me, you know, we the gym time, no, we flew in, I knew no dominant kitchen and it's just great that it was like that. It was like, you know what, maybe learning about Dictaphones, like you seeing this entire universe of people who autofill doesn't bubblers have not brought to you maybe or to any Tokuzo and things like that to me. And I've got nowhere near, you know, even reading. So it's not like it's this popular culture that in some ways able to consume right now.


Everyone likes to say this about their own language, to feel that the Tameem industry is just just off the hook. They are so funny, so quick, so savage. And these are some of the creative, you know, I'm trying to think of, because, again, when I see the pop culture that goes up and makes it to the rest for the country, it's the most boring, sanitized sort of yuppie stuff that that gets back into the guys on the comedy circuit.


But the stuff that's actually getting shit or whatever, that's fairly unpopular among fans. My husband and his friends on the Hill is is so much more subversive. So it's it is something like that would be something that opens these worlds to later in life. I think I have no grievances left for anymore new social media. I have given up on that now, but I hope that that can be that for me a little bit. This opening up of people of a culture that I had not my own of, it does have not allowed to get to me.


So that's why I was just trying to look for the, you know, the story in the Atlantic, which you were mentioning. We'll take a quick commercial break and come back to that. I suspect it might be by either Agong or Yasha Mongkut. Those were not one of them. OK, so so let's take a quick commercial break. And then during that commercial break, we can look up the story and tell our listeners who it is. So we'll be back in a minute.


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Welcome back to the scene in The Unseen, I'm chatting with the Rukmani about data journalism covid, and we both have sort of a sheepish smile on our faces right now because before the break, we promised you will find you a link to the stories you mentioned. And we have failed despite our substantial Googling skills. So but it will be in the show notes because that gives us a few days to find it. Recording this on Monday, October 19th, comes out the sun without finding it is going to come to you eventually.


And even though I haven't read the story, I suspect I can't sleep. What has discovered it? Let's get back to your fascinating journey. Discovering it. I mean I mean, one thing that often strikes me is that I just find it tome. It's data journalism. Kind of odd because it's almost like seeing who that person is, a good journalist or that person's the part of journalism he does is writing or reporting or whatever. And to me, all of those are kind of a package which come together.


If you're a reporter or a journalist, you are supposed to examine the facts. And data, after all, is a collection of facts. So, you know, is it a point at which the journalist becomes a different sort of beast? Like when did you start thinking of data is something special that kind of detail, consideration of data sets you apart from not from others, maybe, but maybe from the person you were previously. What was the first moment that you got from data?


So I think what happens and what sets things apart then and then what does create a unique category is when you are able to independently come up with insights from numbers by yourself. And this is important for a number of reasons. But, you know, across journalism, the point is to be able to move past the hand out the facilities and be able to say something so that that means that you develop a mastery of some sort. Either you're able to understand what this means.


You get to the spot and find what really happened, or you're able to get to multiple sources will tell you what really happened. Well, you're able to look at numbers and see something entirely new that hasn't been told to you and that hasn't been put out like that. So I think that came much later. There was months and months, maybe even years, but months and months of faithfully reporting what the NSA was wanted to see before getting to the phone, starting from the point that I was able to say new things, to move it to the point that I was able to say things that the press handled was very purposefully not saying.


So I think one of the moments that it really struck home was, I want to say in 2015, the highly delayed, sensitive intelligence data was finally put out by the new government. It was leaked. It had been expected before the elections. But I suspect the government is, you know. Just out of nervousness, sat on it for no particular reason, maybe they just felt that this was a conversation they did not want. Coming up at all because of the sort of criticism that came.


And so the this organization in India comes under the home ministry. And for a lot of important census releases, the home minister has nothing at the time or any minister in the past as well, would have a press conference and the census commissioner would be there. The woman is to they would put it all out. The census data operation is truly, uniquely opaque, inadvertently. So a lot of the archival census data that I have is on CDs, which I got from the census when I used to report initially.


It's not available on the website and it's not easily available, even in book form. So what happened is that at 7:00 p.m. on a weeknight, the person who covers the ministry told me that they've put out a press release in the vicinity, says that now the proportion of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, except in India is dispenza this month and those are grown at this rate. Muslims have grown at that rate. And clearly, the the growth rate of the population of Muslims is much higher than that of Hindus.


And that stood out in the second putting up the numbers. There was no context, no background, no bias, no nothing given. And that said that, the seven o'clock and obviously everybody had to run with the story. So I think what happened that day is because I had been by then at The Hindu for a couple of years as a journalist whose job was to look at numbers and data specifically. It was part of my job. You know, I took it very seriously as my job to create these kinds of data for myself.


So I had extensive bus data, even though it wasn't available from the Census's website and to create as photojournalism a phone book of people who I would call upon to interpret data at any hour. So what we were able to do is that we were able to look at the proportion of people by a religious group from three independents, time unlooked. And what that showed and what was confirmed by the demographers I spoke to was that the Muslim population growth rate was expected to slow as Muslim women got better educated and better access to health.


And as incomes rose, what had happened actually between 2001 and 11 is that the Muslim growth rate had slowed quicker than the Hindu growth rate even and quicker than expected. None of this meant that, you know, the Muslim population was at Shenango and it was in one sort of change. But to me, the reason that this was the news was not just out of some sort of a liberal belief. It's also that the fact that Muslims are growing faster than Hindus has been unchanged since the 1930s.


So I don't understand how that could be a point in 2015 if there's a change in the speed of growth. That's what demographic transitions are all about. And that that's what the story needed to be. So every single newspaper the next day reported that India is now below eight percent. I mean, as of 80 percent is some kind of big number. It was quite a material isn't easy number to pick up from the first few lines of the fifties.


And at the end of the day, you said Muslim population growth slows. And it sounded like totally the opposite of what everybody else was saying. It created a big issue on social media. It was actually stopped. And even the Hindus always and asked by people in each other and financed by us are people saying the opposite of what we have in the newspapers that they were reading or any of that, the more Southern focused newspapers that they were reading the thing I think that was one of the moments that I felt that there was value in this as a specialisation.


And it's not being left to the poor, overburdened and underdeveloped home ministry reporter to have to come up with the best possible news report around it that she could at 7:00 p.m. and then be criticized the next day for feeding into propaganda narrative that she had just not been given the tools that she would need to be able to say something more. So I'm not sure. And so do this. You did do you do it? I mean, it's it's such a fantastic example of using data to go past the intuitive conclusion that one might draw and go a little deeper and find that the truth is exactly the opposite.


And obviously, you're Hindu headline wasn't in any way contradictory or. Those are saying it's just it is going deeper and kind of giving more perspective. A couple of questions kind of arise from this, like as this very example shows, in fact, that you can always present the data or interpret the data to fit your own biases. Now, we live in times where it seems that narratives are more important than facts or the truth. You know, that possibly enabled by social media and the way what's happening has been weaponized.


People choose narratives that use whatever facts fit those narratives, and that's basically it. And, you know, whatever BS data is presented in goes through that narrative and they ignore everything else. So a couple of questions here. One is that even at a personal level, every time you choose a story to do and in the case of a data journalist, every time you choose what analysis to write on a particular piece of data or what further inquiries to make your own biases do come into play because we're all biased as individuals.


And good journalists obviously are aware of those biases and they just try to do the most fair job that they can in terms of negotiating with facts. So part one, welcome to Part two little bit. Part one of my question would be that then to you, is that something that you've had to watch out for, where you sometimes have to take a step back from yourself and see that this might be the way I am approaching it? But let me just take a step out of that.


Or do you feel that completely taking a step out of that is kind of impossible?


This this is something I spend so much time thinking about. And when I was listening to someone on your part, because you were talking about the subjectivity and bias and I think someone said that, you know, what's important is being fair, going in with fairness and objectivity, bias. All of these are things that exist in all humans. And I sort of get that part of my head to then I try to answer these questions for myself. Well, but what am I aiming for or what do I think I'm going in with?


What am I, as a human able to do and what should I aspire to? So I would agree that fairness is one of the things that I aspire to. There is no doubt that particularly now that I'm in a position to choose the stories, I do much more than assign stories, much less. That is absolutely a few things that I go into the detail looking for and specifically to put on. So I am going to move data sets looking for gender and cost advantage because these are things of interest to me and what I'm most keen on reporting on.


Again, this sort of harks back to the queen bee. It's hard to believe then that one of the biggest cleavages then was between the center left and the left of the left. It's so hard to imagine that that was the key cleavage then. But I remember you know, I don't want to data too specifically because I don't want to talk about who this was, but someone who now you used to assign me stories at one point when I was reporting on the census and this was information on asset ownership by a household.


And he very clearly told me, I said, you know, I was it was very early, so I was just not sure what to look at. And he said to me, the things that have got better. And that was one of the defining features of how we all of how do you feel was covered, which is that these, you know, new liberal following market forces, sort of things turning their backs on the PBS. And, you know, everybody's going to say television has been great.


But look, after 10 years of yuppy still and, you know, asset ownership, only so many people have a cellphone and have a toilet and that. And of course, one of the things to but you to think about is the enormous damage that this sort of discussion created even for the overall political space to the to possibly even to electoral outcomes. I mean, that's obviously not what that election was fought on on. But it's really something to think about how dangerous and damaging that was, particularly because it was not in any way borne out by the data.


2005 to 2015 was the period of the fastest reduction in poverty in history. And it's some of it we didn't know then, but some of it should have been obvious and was absolutely not the story of that election. So we were talking earlier as well about what I studied and then the questions that I had to ask myself, having studied and sort of come up in a vaguely leftish atmosphere. One of the things that I. I'd have to sort of think hard and confront and worry about whether I was trying to sort of torture the data and to constantly confessing that some of these leftist groups to which is that legalization was bad, which is that migration is happening at a mass and dangerously terrifying scale showing mass impoverishment of the poorest of the poor in the villages.


All of these things that are not borne out by the data, that was a particularly damaging time for that sort of journalism. Those are the kind of falsehoods that are happening now. And, you know, we all know about them and focus on them and criticize them. But it's important to think of how damaging these this sort of now what looks like a micro polarization. But that was a polarization that existed in that ideological divide that existed then. The shoddy and sometimes downright dishonest idealism that happened around that then is also is also pretty shameful.


And it's pretty telling to me, like you pointed out, when you sort of found that sort of nuance in that headline that you write in The Hindu. And you said that you were actually accosted in the corridor by people wanting to know and all of that. That also tells you a little bit about their desire to believe certain narratives and the pressure to conform to them and all of that. And my sort of follow up question from there is that, you know, does I mean, it's a two part question, part one, and I don't want to be too cynical about it, but does journalism of this sort rigorous database journalism that is going that one or two steps deeper, does it really make a difference?


Is there an appetite and a longing for it? And part two of that would be that assuming that the answer is no or that it is not enough to validate what we do on a daily basis, is it still almost a moral imperative for us to continue doing this kind of work so that there is a record for the future? Like in a sense, in a sense, like you pointed out earlier, that in a sense you're probably one of the pioneers of data journalism in India.


Right. So you had to do all the manual work of going through hundreds of court judgments and all that. But now everybody who works in data works in data. Journalism is, in a sense, creating a repository for their future selves and future data journalists. So is that something that you take seriously and are you more hopeful about, you know, your journalism having an impact in these current times? And I seem to be from my question. Yeah.


So this is something that I've usually been on the more cynical side of, which is that I feel like that just as it is very difficult for news to penetrate bubbles, I feel I don't think that data ism is in any way an exception to that. And now there's quite a range of ideologically painted data, Leninism, quote unquote, available as well. If you want to shade it on whatever, you can find something that argues that the GDP is in great health, you'll find something somewhere about it.


So I've usually been to. Do not feel that changing minds, that that's that's not what's happening. I feel like I'm being, you know, maybe uncovering political people who want to read it, but not necessarily changing minds. But the more I think about it, the space, the position and the context of people matters a lot when it comes to maintaining. So I don't think that we change people's minds. And in terms of electoral outcomes, for example, you know, a lot of energy was invested and I don't think it was wrong because it was something that the numbers showed about the business model in 2004.


It doesn't work then. They didn't conclusively showed the problems of the model them that did absolutely nothing. So, you know, I think it's crazy to think any journalism has little impact, and that includes determinism as well. Similarly, I feel like people don't like being called out and confronted on social media, and especially if they can find a large and noisy support group, they'll shout even louder to not hear what you're saying. But the quieter and more intimate spaces are the ones in which I do feel that some of this percolates at some level.


So maybe it doesn't for that matter. Maybe it doesn't for politics, for example. But I do think that things like that, for example, demonetization, which in a way after the election was one, people didn't have to worry anymore that accepting that decision was a problem would derail the biggest chances. Now they will not vote in the election has been less visible. Example, so quiet one on one more intimate context. I do feel that then people might consider the value of being shown untold numbers that don't necessarily that uncovered a true truth for them as well.


I'm not a confrontational person in a similarly field about the tone and the way in which these conversations need to happen as well. So if we're only going to think of this in terms of changing people's minds, in terms of party politics, then then we're not just going to get cynical. It's just it's a lost cause. And if that is going to be the sort of igniting force for journalism, then that's that's just a hopeless enterprise. But if it is to try and think at the human human interaction level of this truly is what the numbers that I, in all fairness, have found, I don't mean to beat you over the head about them.


I don't need to show you that you were wrong to believe them. But here they are. And I don't feel like one needs to be the reason that the sort of kindness needs to be extended to people who us to go, you know, and it doesn't apply to all context. But when you are trying to change people's minds about saying poverty numbers or health numbers, that sort of stuff, I would like to think that it gets somewhere to think that it's going to make big societies changes.


I don't see evidence of that happening. And I don't I don't know if that is journalism's project. That's actually but, you know, fascinating to continue on. But I mean, my insight there is that I think that writers and public intellectuals and journalists might sometimes overestimate their impact in the short run, but underestimated in the long run. And I think, therefore, what we have to keep doing is just keep banging on and just leave that historical record and just kind of make the task of those who come after us a little easier.


You know, the last few words when you were speaking with Journalism Project, what is journalism project? Because on the one hand, there is an idealistic view of that and a view which is dear to me in certain ways that we must sort of comfort the afflicted and the comfortable, as the cliche goes. And journalists have a duty to keep questioning whoever is in power and all of that and all that is fine. At the same time, there is another, more pragmatic view that, look, at the end of the day, you have to think of the market and every company has to make a profit and blah, blah, blah.


And those are a different set of imperatives, which in some sense are amoral and more and more. What we find in the present time is that, one, there is a lot of journalism which is going in one direction, which is saying that we will not question those in public because that could that could affect our bottom line in many different ways. And two, on the other hand, we have people who should just be reporters, just focus on facts, just maintain the sort of balance between news and opinion, which once used to be sacrosanct, almost running into sort of journalistic.


In a sense, and, of course, the finest journalists that I've. Do not do this at all, you know, the reporter speaks for themselves, people like you and mine and so many fine people, one could go on and on. But at the same time, there is in other places, you see these little streams of sort of you can make out which side the journalist is on. So to say what the journalism project, according to you?


I do.


I do spend a lot of time thinking about what you call activist. I also don't think of it in terms of very sort of very sort of engaged and involved kind of journalism, you know, and I try to think about why I have such discomfort with it and whether if I was entrapped and all the privilege that I am, I maybe I too would be would feel the need to be much more involved and angry about the things that I was about.


I don't think journalism project is unchanged. And I don't you know, neither the neither the political environment nor the financial environment for me changes that project of of beginning by questioning, holding those in power accountable, speaking truth to power, bringing forth the things that those in power seek to hide, you know, adding weight and courage to the people who are trying to talk about things that are being hidden, but also in bringing out just the you know, how in news stories people never sound like actual humans.


They sound like either archetypes or they sound like some sort of. Quote, But nobody sounds like an actual human in the news story. So a of journalism project should also be. The feeling of encountering people and that happens not at all, because the most engaged and involved people aren't conflicted by this. They, too, are reporting in a way, talking to people in a way to push to make their own point. Admirable, though it may be forcefully, but without allowing people to be anything more than what that court needs to be.


So I suppose I mean, I wish the project was a little more of all of that as well. You know, the joy that should be coming from it doesn't mean to come from writing about it. Joyful things, but that element of getting. A window into. It some some like a moment of humanity that that doesn't necessarily need to be. Either bringing you to tears or producing great or I haven't done in the book, but extremely boring Middle of the Road, most most favorite book is in a very, very I won war around that very endemism.


Not really because, you know, of all the itemise and that it exposed, but also because nobody can tell you the plot of the very day. It is it's a long, meandering journey of all sorts of human experience. And obviously that cannot be what every news story does. But I wish there was more of that. Linzey a bit of people allowed to be a little more then than what journalism's project requires them to be, because there's no way to feel empathy or to feel to see people as anything beyond the categories that journalists have decided they fit in.


If we if we don't report it with anything beyond, you know, all of the while, all of my time in newsrooms, I never have more than three hundred and fifty words of fees. And what that meant is that I had to learn to switch off people so fast I didn't want to know much more about them because it was nothing I could do with it. And one of the things that I would really want, even if you aren't in an organization and in an organization that requires them to also take videos out, I wish people would take people offline and not just keep it, you know, make something out of it, even if it's just for your family to listen to.


But like a long podcast of your conversation with someone who just made it to one single quote in your new story, which will lead you to even if you're not able to write it at the very end, doing news reporting, at least as a writer. But in your mind, you know, your experience is at least adding up to that.


You know, and I've just discovered that besides focus and in Ferguson, we have a third thing in common, which is I love the body, which is, like you said, you can't describe it. It's just such an incredible, capacious book. It contains so much as beautiful. And you're speaking to the Longport. You know, that's one of my personal frustrations that I read a great piece of journalism and I'll see these quotes in it and I'll be like, shit that, you know, I wish I could listen to the whole thing like I think someone did during the conversation.


I don't know if it was on record or, you know, when the tapes were rolling, as it were mentioned, how many hours of sort of interviews he has. And I'm like, I would like to listen to all of them. And similarly, while reading, you know, my last episode was with the artist and historian on children on her, you know, the oral histories of partition, deeply moving book, and was reading that book again.


I wish that, my God, that imagined being able to listen to these conversations. My next question sort of is about, you know, that sort of what can often be a dichotomy but should not be. And and the best writers combine it very well like you do, which is of the two conflicting impulses that one, you want the data to tell you the bigger story, to give you the big picture. But at the same time, you want to make it relatable and you want to make it real and human, as it were, by actually sort of telling a story about it.


And, you know, and they can often sort of exist. That sort of conflict with someone who doesn't look at the bigger picture at all might be simplifying or might be, you know, not getting anywhere close to the truth. Well, someone who is only focused on the big picture might be able to communicate in abstract terms with the big picture is but not make it so real and concrete that the reader can empathize with it. And, you know, in a lot of your writing, you kind of marry these two.


Like, for example, I want to quote from the speech that you wrote in March. I think what's really taught in Aljazeera about migrant workers, where you wrote when you began the piece by saying, quote, on Saturday, The 50 odd days since India's first coronavirus case was confirmed by a mother and daughter, he called his family in Nepal to reassure them that he would be coming home. They were not all going to die without seeing each other, he told them stoppered, which is such a lovely human beginning and immediately makes the reader interested.


And then you there's a lot of data in the piece, but very relatable. And then towards the end, we have the line where, you know, you quote his roommate by saying, quote, Now there is no going back. Whatever it is, we have to face it to stop God. And this is from an aspect that you discussed in Episode five of the moving of your amazing podcast, which we go on to discuss. But here again, it seems that you've managed beautifully to marry the person with the overarching what's happening in general.


So is this something that you've thought about a lot? But, you know, how do we marry these two aspects? Does it sometimes become conflicting in some ways?


So it's actually one of the things that I don't feel that I do very well. It's partly on account of circumstance and partly on account of having just not figured out. Not sure yet what and what I read and what I what where I want, what I think the sweet spot is. So, you know, when I think about what the ideal journalism or what what should be the ideal journalism that I am doing, I would usually want to say to myself, I should be doing whatever, I should be going out and meeting more people.


That is, you know, on account of the circumstances of my life. Like, no, that's not that's not something I do much now, much less than I did before I used to. I got the opportunity to really see a lot of the country in that way. So I don't think I do that. And I don't know how much more of it I want in both what I read and what I. So the example I'll give you an idea which connectivities that.


It's a staggering piece of journalism, it's the model for looking into corroboration of accusations. So I suppose if the reporter should feel the journalist should feel very proud of. Of all of that, the humanizing, the larger story, the narrative, all of this, but then, as I told you, I fell deeply short on the data part of it, that was a necessary link, I think, to make the point that it so to be making.


So, you know, I should have felt that that that story was a triumph, but I didn't ultimately feel that. And then what I have been happy with, not the seven part forecast, but of one 2001 Washington Post piece that did actually manage to get to the heart of the judge's record and then mention the allegations as well. Perhaps that's what I'm looking for, for the is that I find it very hard to think of examples of news reports that I felt that the narrative and the elements of storytelling that it brought to it brought in something to the news story, to the story that to me would have otherwise I would have otherwise felt that it didn't give me what I want from it.


I'm well aware that I have a much more involved way of looking at the stories. And it's probably one of the things I wanted to mention earlier to which I forgot, which is that the way my has gotten this country is such a disgrace on the whole, mainly because it makes people feel that they can do it very unfair and often discriminatory reasons. And I feel very bad that occasionally it doesn't deserve to see very bright people completely freeze, know very simple numbers, 20 year olds who get absolutely frightened by the simple percentage of subtraction.


And I imagine that people who have been thought might similarly feel the same when they see a disability. So that's the sort of thing that I would be that I want readers to feel. So maybe, maybe more of this is important to not me. I don't want readers to ever have to feel that someone saying something very smart and because I am I don't understand. No, I'm not smart enough. And that's why I haven't understood what they're saying.


So maybe sacrificing some of the tax in the numbers to be able to tell the story that would would not alienate people who have not been not just not had the opportunity to study math or logic and in a way that would hurt them. Because having not been trained in statistics myself, the the level of statistical analysis I do is extremely basic and in a way that goes back from being able to do this stuff. But I would hope that it makes it more accessible to readers who are more likely to be at my level.


And I can do a pretty decent analysis level. So I got a bit lost over there.


I know all of it made sense and all of it sort of spoke to my question about, you know, the tradeoff between narrative and data, the big picture and the concrete. Yeah.


So occasionally I see people who do it wonderfully. I was reading recently of ProPublica the investigation into Chicago's first hundred pulpits. And here there was original determinism because there had been no analysis yet by either the local administration or the government. So this is something that journalism needed to do because I think they found something like 70 to 100 that's African-American. So that was an important thing to get to quickly, because that was still at the stage at which, you know, the medical fraternity could rejig and rethink.


And it begins with a very moving story as well. And what I like is what it's centered on, the point that African-Americans are much more likely to have what are known as comorbidities for covid, but that doesn't make these deaths inevitable. And sometimes you read a line and in this case, why was I thinking this is what I was thinking? Someone is calling me out. You know, making mobility sound like inevitability is something I was doing. And I read that one line and it just made me feel like, OK, this is something I should keep in mind when I'm reporting about Indian covid numbers as well.


So that was a to me, one of those examples of really being drawn in by the by the narrative and then being kept there by the original truly original data will go with it. But yeah, I suppose this is where knowing your audience becomes important then. I don't know my audience. And also knowing how much more storytelling my audience would like is a vague sort of guess that I make like a Hindu, for example. There were a lot of.


Young students who read the news, and I know that they were really hungry for information, so I did want to speak to them. I'd love that audience and I think they were OK with not having the storytelling elements. They really wanted to get to the meat of it. So I don't know, maybe I hope at some point they can figure it out. Now, I didn't want to. There's something you said earlier, which I think is profoundly important and I feel strongly about it.


So I'll kind of underscore that, which is, you know, when you pointed out that people who may not have studied math very well and they might come across a story they don't really understand and they feel that, oh, am I the stupid one here? And, you know, I sort of teach this online writing course where I constantly tell them that, look, if your reader doesn't understand something, that's not their fault, it's your fault.


And I think that's true of journalists as well that do not condescend to your readers. And if any reader doesn't understand something you have messed up, that person is not stupid. And I think that, you know, that basic level of respect for the reader is not something that writers are mindful of and think you get into these reflexive habits of using jargon and opaque prose and all of that. And we're not really thinking about sort of the reader's experience.


So, you know, and I guess for that, there must also be that tussle. Right, because in the sense that you don't want to dumb anything down, you want to see what you have to say. But at the same time, you have a lot of complex things you want to say, you want it to be understood. Is that sort of a tussle that you faced internally?


So I think what is very useful for me here is not having statistical skills. And I says so and that isn't very far that that I can go with myself. So I do think that that helps keep all of that at a level that's going to be manageable for the reader and probably too little for so many readers who would be able to understand much more complex statistical concepts that I'm not actually familiar with. I think a lot of data and as I was trying to figure out where to stand on this, then you you realize immediately when someone is being is showboating, it's profoundly annoying to see in the business of it's not necessary in the least.


And I suppose part of growing up is realizing how annoying 538 and Neetzan is and thinking, oh, this is what it's supposed to be like, oh my God, I can't believe I discovered Excel yesterday and after a few months of it is a second. I'm so pleased I can't do anything beyond. And if it ends up that's inundated, because if I'm going to start sounding like this, I mean, it has its own readership, it would be ridiculous for me to have that as something that is.


So that's so then and so successful. But I can't stand to read it. I can't stand the door and I can't find the place at which it sits. And in journalism, occasionally there's some of that very rarely that. The thing that tends to happen now is that there's a great confusion between data visualization and data journalism. So what you'll occasionally see a Beaujon and extremely expensive data visualization efforts that involve very little journalism, actually. So. That's another that's another sort of, you know, someone of mine skills who has been given a long rule by an editor.


You can see that happening and you can see you can see a big thing being done sometimes. So pretty for a pretty modest outcome.


And I guess that's a natural journey for, you know, young people to make when they come into the profession. Like I remember when I was a young writer. I also like to showboat in my writing. Right. So has a fancy phrase and all that. And it's as you go along that journey that you realize as the saying goes right. You have to kill your darlings and you have to put the reader up front. It's not about showing how smart you are.


And I guess state just make the same question. My next question sort of harks back to something we were discussing earlier about how, you know, that as you kind of started discovering the uses of data and what it can be for, your fame also subtly shifts in the way you kind of look at things shift. I would imagine that. I mean, one, would you agree that at some level every journalist needs to be a data journalist? Not in the sense of knowing all the tech and doing all the Excel and all of that.


But just in terms of understanding the bigger picture through numbers and all of that. So that's part one of the question. And and part two then, is that, you know, in all your years of experience where you've both reported and looked at data and all of that, you know, can you I mean, simply put, what about India? Do journalists not understand that they would if they had an adequate understanding of data?


OK, let me go to the first one and then let me let the second one marinate in my brain and see that a lot of what I did for the first few years of what I looked at as a data journalism specific job is actually what all journalists should be doing. It was not specialized at all. And anyone, you know, for Saturday's training should be able to do that stuff. And absolutely all journalists should be able to incorporate a certain amount of data into all the news reporting disciplines deeply to political journalism as it applies.


You know, very deeply to a crime reporter about and I have some very strong feelings about crime reporting in this country, which I think is an absolute it's truly dangerous and destructive, not just about the people who are reported on. It says that so much of the understanding of the country about crime, about relationships, about so much of everything is colored by the fact that a large part of crime reporting in this country is a crime reporter unpolitically. Reproducing and if I had as fuck, and then if that is not and if that is one person's attempt at storytelling mediated by a deeply involved and deeply problematic police system, and that's the basis on which we form so much of our understanding of this country.


It really worries me. And there's not been any reckoning around crime reporting at all in this country, despite so much momentous stuff, that crime having happened in the last seven, eight years. So I really don't know why why we don't do this. It's really it's relatively cheap. It's easy to do now if everyone has to do business on the rules anyway to just give the porters the training themselves. Again, a lot of news reporters would be afraid of no.


So maybe it's it's harder to get through on that. Even working in teams is is so read between the and another. So, yes, absolutely. I mean, hopefully we reach a point where disc's stock reports and news reports that don't have any sort of responses to data or research to substantiate at least the key point that the article is making, or at least the fact, just as you need to be able to tell editorially on those sources most of the time why you've not quoted them, you should be able to at least assure you that the arguments that your anecdotes are making also supported by what the research says.


And that should be a sort of line that you need to benchmark, that you need to achieve for a story to go forward. So, yeah, I think it's really inexpensive and I hope more energy is put into that. And the other thing is, you know, most journalists, especially on the telephone and especially in non glamorous beats, are so undertrained and very so focused on it. They deserve it. They deserve being given these skills and.


Frequently I get at the people getting in touch with me and from non English media, and really I feel like the hunger and the desire to have the stories and the people is so enormous and such an unmet need that nobody is able to still fill this gap at all. So I wrote for the line for I mean, I say I wrote, but I don't Fort Benning. That's good. And I just said, just write in English and then translate it and get it, because, you know, just be just be mindful of roughly what audiences don't get completely lost.


But yeah, I mean, the problem is that most non English media can be videoed. So that's immediately a problem. But yes, I wish all journalists get some of this, these resources and all non English weed in particular could be given to all of these businesses. Is the second thing you will be my second.


I mean, before we get to that first, I guess you know the work. So the way the Estacada in Bulgaria was reported would be fine examples of, you know, how horrendous the crime reporting in other countries is, partly because, I mean, do we take shortcuts because we are also understaffed in the sense that, you know, people except in places like Galavan and so on, people don't really get 10 days to work on one story and they get mad and they talk to 15 sources instead.


Everything is like, OK, here's your story for the day. And and therefore you take these shortcuts. And that's just how the system works. Yeah, that is that.


But I mean, that's a feature of it. And that's not an entirely all encompassing explanation as that. So in my for example, it just doesn't leave. The reporting is an extremely competitive people with the crime reporter would easily have five, six stories available to file every day. So they're not short on the stories find they don't necessarily need to find all of them. They have enough stuff for these. No, it's just that we've made this and editors know this very well because, you know, most editors are very friendly with female producers.


Well, we've just made this an acceptable form of journalism. Most beginning crime reporters. Your job is to go hang around the police station and then faithfully report whatever the key fires of the day. We haven't gone into it. You know, asking someone to take the news, corroborate Reminderville is another thing. They haven't even said, get everybody on the Fed, speak to the complainant. We haven't even started from there. Let the accused person get their side of it.


We've made it an acceptable practice for this if I had to become a statement of fact. So, yeah, the high profile ones, we saw that. But when I was in the Times of London May, there was a shift thing that used to come to us every few weeks, which is that you would have to be the day shift, the night shift, no matter what your regular beat was, you'd have to do it in rotation every few weeks.


This is your job would be to basically leave the building fell down. You would have to go and cover it because, you know, that happens all the time. So you to us and you can't have a building pulling down reporting. You need to assign someone who is free to do the running around for the day. A new job was to call police stations every few hours and take what's happening. The fire department in no way have been made.


It is nice to see those bodies that would come in from the Gulf Coast. This is stuff that was clearly an issue. Or you could see that it was this, because this is one of the things I find a lot and even in reporting on catastrophes, is that cops in India follow a script so regularly about a particular section. So, for example, on suicides in Mumbai, I remember on this press notes, they would regularly say, Azad, when I look and it is a diet of his illness, and you'd immediately think, well, you know, I'm sure there's more to it.


Maybe the person couldn't pay for it or, you know, gunned down means almost like a board of something. And so what was it? Was it was it what if this was this was it by people still having to kill themselves as people still being driven to suicide by BP? Was it what illnesses are bankrupting it so much more that needed to come out of that? But that that's how it was reported by the cops and then duly and faithfully reported by crime reporters as well, even though the sexual assault investigation that ended up going into this article came out of the regular reading in the.


Newspapers in the days after the 2012 deleted regularly beating a girl was kidnapped in a busy market and given a sedative released holding, and I started seeing the so often pulled into a moving car. I started seeing the selloff and I really started wondering about this, said Italy. Is it an issue? Should we now be careful that, you know, there's some sort of adulteration and Golding's going on and moving the business that I live with flatmates in daily?


It is terrified my mother to think that there are these moving guys just constantly pulling people and goods into cars. So that's what I mean, looking into it came as a result of me and myself making my own assessments about Delhi and my own safety from newspaper articles that were essentially faithfully reproducing. And that, it turned out, had much more to do with fear and the criminalization of the consentual, often antireligious in the past relationships than anything is. And it was such a fundamental disservice to everything, to the city itself that that this kind of reporting was forming the basis of our judgments about everything.


I mean, I felt that maybe I shouldn't be going out that much, maybe I shouldn't be living in Delhi anymore. That that's what started me looking at it and reporting on it. It does sort of a moving cars.


So this was basically parents are pissed off that their daughter was going in for an antireligious or whatever, and then they filed a case and then they fired as well because.


Well, that's incredible, because when the sedative laced clothing was usually the hot chocolate, because you needed to see how this boy was able to kidnap her from a crowded market. Those are sedatives. So that that's that's it. And there was I looked at six hundred and fifty cases another and I can't remember how many had said it, least according to the Mini, no cop was able to produce a single cold drink bottle in coke and even one it was just complete fabrication from beginning to end that.


But the holding back was a complete hundred percent fabrication. And all of this it I mean, the level the level of it was just appalling. I mean, it's pretty mind blowing. I mean, I imagine the first person to put that in then if I had, you know, at least there you go to give them some credit for imagination and, you know, becomes a meme. And so perhaps must have been some two gentlemen who made it to me.


And, you know, as you point out, the talent for that. So the larger question, which actually I want to make even larger and I want to kind of take data out of it because, you know, you've been a journalist for so long and I've seen the whole industry so intimately. And my question simply is this what about India to journalists not understand.


So my favorite way to think about this is through elections. I love elections. I love opinion polling around it. I love the news reporting, even though it drives me crazy. And at least when I think about elections, the thing that journalists do not get is that the motivations that people believe drives them are often not the motivations that truly drive them. They are not trying to lie or obfuscate at all. It's just that. Most people, especially uppercuts people, do not get into self-respect is to Indians.


I think this is the norm to me more and more in government. But what's coming to me is not. How much value says this book, which they do, and it has a rich political history, which is also brought home to me the fact that so much of what I was seeing in the country was an expression of self-respect. Chancre, my boss at the Times of India, always told me that he felt that every election was an every campaign.


Every political party was about ideas. No matter how these narratives get set about this is an election of this. This is an election rejection of that. They are very much about ideas. And now there's strong evidence for this elementally to have a so-called Bookham ideology in Indian politics. And it's exactly in a sense what John Howard says about elections, which is that Indians are deeply ideological, most of them, and these are ideologically coherent positions. They change very little over time and these positions are getting stronger.


So I don't think people realize how much ideas and ideology matter to people. And this is not just in elections. Now, I want to see. They supply this, I feel this even when people talk about about finance and about, well, household finance and poverty, it is failing to understand the motivations for why people spend money on the things they do is also a big issue with how people fail to understand. So much of the economy, you know, feeling that when people talk about spending on marriages as a social evil and then so all of this comes down to pride, self-respect and the power of ideas.


And it doesn't take than 10 minutes of involved talking to anybody to be to anybody, to any individual step by step, by how deeply the whole idea is. And it's that this is you and I, you know, anyone who is involved, we will feel our passion for our ideas quickly. It just takes that extra it takes that belief that people are more than what you've decided that they're. And so in some ways, I'm glad the election is largely through because there is no way I would be able to translate into words how much of electoral motivation comes from, you know, the desire to be seen as a worthy human.


And this does explain a lot of why people vote along coastlines. And it's not for the reasons that that usually get reported as well. It explains party commitments. So, yeah, you always find this right. And if you decide to engage in a conversation with anyone, it's always exciting to discover someone's passion that you don't expect them, that the that Davis is very passionate about this fight over a single sometimes. And I've been in cabs and since then I've been so amused by young boys who are huge fans of some particular Hindi movie.


And, you know, because they know that I'm not I'm not speaking of that. He was speaking and I want to know about that movie or that particular thing. It's usually something that's been released in the last few years. I know nothing about it, but I love discovering people's passions in that way. And and this is what most endlessness that that most Indians are people of ideas. And it's very interesting. This reminded me of something called spirit.


In fact, Masumoto has started this recent thing that if a delivery boy is coming to a thing, then say, oh, you know, a mother's fond of conversation or whatever, then throw in a little telling detail and I'm immediately getting my mind set up ready and saying should I engage in a recorded conversation with them? But, you know, and this also goes back to what Stephen Covey once famously said about how we listen to respond and not to understand.


And you would think that this would be such a simple thing that, you know, that we listen more. But listening is something that we just so horrendously bad at. And I don't know if it's something to do with a certain kind of insecurity that is also greater than perhaps Indians and in other places, that we are always sort of in need of that validation and showing that we are smarter than the other person and we know more that we simply don't listen enough.


And that's also something that, you know, I kind of find quite evocative. Let's let's take another commercial break then. And after that, when we come back, we should finally, finally be able to finally get started talking about your wonderful podcast, Moving Koven.


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Welcome back to the scene in The Unseen. I think this woman has remarkable, remarkable journalist period, and also the broadcaster of the movie. Give me a little bit about what was the impetus behind starting the specific broadcast? Like, one of the things that I was struck by is that, you know, people often talk about journalism as the first draft of history and know the moving of seemed to do to me since it was a daily podcast. And, you know, it's not twice a week is sort of actually almost a document that in real time.


And it was so fascinating to kind of binge through it and listen to the episodes, because one can see your sort of understanding also evolve and the kind of questions that you ask and what would you think of starting it.


So I've always loved Audu as a medium without ever having done anything in it at all. There was one point at which I sort of I don't know something about doing a podcast. And then I realized I had such clear ideas of what I wanted it to be and sound like. And I didn't really I don't think I was very receptive to suggestions. And then it just fell by the wayside. I listened to I mean, I don't listen to a ton of podcasts, but I do.


I know I love it. I love it. As in the early days of the lockdown was so and today we were all in such all of a suspended and such strange positions, you know, frozen and all all sorts of unusual outposts that I don't know if in normal times I would have I would have done it. And, you know, it sort of felt like we were all on a little boat out into the sea and it was okay to send out these Morse code messages to each other.


And, you know, someone would listen to it and would feel. Nice hearing another sound. I would have thought much more self-conscious if I really felt like this was, you know, if I thought of it as everybody in the house as they were listening to it. So what was happening in the ladies is that we really were finding out everything about the virus so fast did and there was not just news to catch up on. There was also research that shows that I needed to read academic research and understand it.


And I felt like every day at the end of the day, there was something that I was taking a from it and that I like the feeling of maybe just seeing it out to myself, that this is what I felt that I had learned through the day. And just on a whim, I you know, let me just use this as an opportunity to get this started. And again, because I didn't think of it too much, I actually put it out because I was not so scared of making any sort of commitment, because my time is so scattered right now that if someone had approached me and said, would you like to do a hundred episode focusing on the pandemic, I would have you know, I would have cried with a fight and said no before I could even finish that question.


I really like the fact that I did this entirely on my own terms, and that's the only way I would have done it at all. It really would have felt too scared to do it. And I don't feel I should feel embarrassed by the fact that some of it was so raw and figuring so many things out that I really don't know. But I don't I don't really. And it is from the sort of impulse that you are describing as, you know, first off, the festivities, I feel like this is that hopefully that was an example of fairness, that all I felt that I was going in was with the questioning and seeing what my questions were producing and then fairly reproducing that without without making up my mind to strongly, more strongly than what the evidence was showing it, because I hadn't given thought at the time that I was going to have guests on it, because a lot of that would have felt like such a grandiose and pompous thing to to do, which is something that I was trying out for a few people who want to listen to.


My goodness. But immediately, I mean, just a few days. And I realized that I had questions that actually someone needed to answer, that the information wasn't really available. And this is the part that's been really amazing to me. So people already know I'm, of course, thankful that they come on these people in government or people similarly sort of experts who I haven't spoken to before because I don't cover science or even has that much them agreeing to speak to me.


And on this is the truly unusual partners. Was that so? It demonstrates to commitment to the science that if somebody wants to know the science with it, you're committed enough to go and talk to them about it. And the thing that always felt intimidating to me is because I'm truly very ill, totally the opposite of being tech savvy. I wouldn't have known how to do any of it, you know, but this is where friends just have done things for me, and that's been great.


So unintelligible do does the sounds that it is it is a very well-known, well regarded in audio. And it's you know, I'm just he's a thing. And I'm usually thankful that he's just doing this for me because he too late for us and is interested in this and of course is doing it to help me. So because of him, I even I even knew that I did not have a song. So then I have to put it out somewhere that another friend did.


That is his feet. But I do know nothing about even now. He hated it. And I defended the that because at some point that someone said, put it on Apple, but I do that. And then after I said original, I spoke and then me like a complete with instead of just throwing together something can like, oh, that means someone is stuck in a lot of intellectual ideas because I think that is a wonderful illustrator. And he very kindly came up with actual voters in a lot of things excessive of this space.


But it's I enjoy it very much. And it's an indulgence. It's a very fun thing. It has very few very small numbers, very few listeners. So I know I'm doing this for myself and because I enjoy it, but. Yeah. I kept thinking, was there going to be a time when I would have to start winding down, that every 200 episodes, should I just sort of. But it's I still enjoy very much good to continue doing it.


No, no, it's lovely in the whole story of this forecast, just so incredibly inspiring and a shout out to discussion with the old friend of mine and someone like you rightly said, he's a he's a big name in these soldiers. And so for him to do a podcast is just shows, you know, his passion and his kindness as well. A remarkable job. And I love the artwork, by the way. And you know why I find it inspiring.


And, you know, I'm not being overly Kinta is that you know, when I spoke to you, when we were sort of laying out the logistics for this particular recording, and I was so surprised to hear that you don't have a mic and all of that, did you do it on your phone and the load that I don't know if you've been doing it. And people keep asking me about advice on how to start podcast. And there are two or three that has kind of helped to bring into being.


And I'm in fact going with the idea of teaching a course on starting a podcast on what I would say to everyone who is listening instead that, listen, you do not need anything, do not overthink or just jump into it. You know, it something that you think you'll enjoy doing just kind of, you know, jump into it. Don't overthink. What is it like I need and how will I get it? And, you know, and should it be ten minutes or 12 minutes and all of that.


And I think people just need to kind of jump into stuff and let it find its own momentum. And congratulations on a hundred episodes and the endless adventures. It's all, you know, so incredibly inspiring. Let's now talk a little bit about sort of the subject matter. Like you said when you started and we were really in what one could call the fog of pandemic that, you know, everybody's trying to figure it out. And you are sort of, in a sense, documenting your own intellectual journey through your podcast or figuring out of what's going on.


So, you know, where did that go is to begin like did you look at the way it was being reported and said, OK, these are the lacunae and these are the areas where I wish somebody was, you know, looking at X, Y, Z, and, hey, I'm going to do that. What's the available data at that time? How do you begin to make sense of it? There are so many models and predictions also of, you know, going around.


Where does one begin? What was your thinking in those early days when you kind of got into it? So I think there were two phases to this. The first was the absolute, you know, of early days when I felt that there was very little sort of big picture reporting happening from India. I was seeing a lot of this in the US, in the UK, but I didn't feel like there was much reporting happening there yet about the nature of the virus, how it spreads and what we know about aerosols.


Any of that they did because it was more about what the government's going to have a lot done, that sort of stuff in the early days. So I felt like I was able to at least maybe not see things I knew, but synthesize things. And there was. That sort of new endeavor to do that, but then the other thing that ended up happening very quickly, and I know this is a theme that I've talked about before, is is that I struggle a lot and think a lot about polarization.


And it became very evident to me very quickly that that there were two that had once again become a left thing. And and it really bothered me deeply because it became very clear that for people on the left, it was now becoming necessary to say that the Modi government was mishandling everything, that its distinct strategy was not just conservative, but was also conservative to try to show low numbers that those sort of things running amok, that that there was going to be millions of that stuff was happening.


And then on the other side. Immediately that the lockdown was an enormous success, the lockdown was going to make sure that we were not going to have any more cases. That is the very memorable graph. But we keep on the government's covert task force, which would think this was in early April, and it should go out of cases arising and then inexplicably on May 16 zero. I mean, it doesn't nosedived into an axis, you know, that you literally see any graph anyway doing so.


There was that sort of optimistic graph storytelling, is it? And it was incredibly frustrating to me that this was, again, becoming a little thing. And I wanted to I wanted to talk about I'm not a science. And listen, I knew that there was very little of the science that I was going to say anything meaningful about. I was listening and reading about the dispute, even though I'm not a good science communicator. But I knew I wanted to talk about the policy part of it and in a way that could get through the sort of frustrating liftgate situation that was already debating it on mortality, for example, at the point at which numbers became large enough to stop sort of competing with the rest of the world, it became clear that there was a larger story to tell about mortality, which included.


The fact that he and report deaths from those diseases while simultaneously reconciling with the fact that they did appear to be a local government entity in India than in some Western countries, for reasons that needed to be understood and analyzed. So I do remember feeling at that point that I absolutely had not seen. And this is we talk about the lack of imagination and how to deal with this. Right. You know, no one is going to pitch or get approval for an outfit that says, I'm going to I'm it.


I don't know if they're considering all the aspects of the mortality issue. A news reporters never go in for the 360 thing anyway, either. So. So this became a sort of way to be able to talk about all of the different things that were happening on mortality. So, yes, there were a couple of. Very specific things that I said that well, that I was not hearing, at least that I wanted to synthesize and see and, you know, the polarization of politics is something that you mentioned and, you know, a bunch of episodes of episode twenty two or ninety three or about sort of the Left-Right boundaries.


You know, you in episode sixty five, you handled, you know, another political issue, the discussion around Hydroxycut Queen. You spoke about the missing that's in episode 80 and whether, you know, the understating of it could have sort of a political impetus. And is it then from readers say, I mean, I know like Tanksley, you mentioned that you're not on social media all the time and all of that. But is it also then a sense of frustration among some people that you're not certain that you're going into a level of nuance that doesn't really fit any of the easy narratives you are, you know, kind of carving your own path to it?


Was it that sense also kind of happening?


So I get that from my regular journalism a lot. They get that sort of response of very often. So, for example, I got pushback. I still in the very early days of Donna's comment about the statistics in general in India so that, you know, the feeling of let's go into this pandemic with an understanding of how that gets reported in India and where things might fall short. And it was immediately, I mean, uniform on this. But there was some criticism of that already building a narrative that we undercounting that.


So I get that from my regular news reporting quite a bit. You know, as I said, I don't have big numbers at all on the third person. So what I see in the podcast audience is in some ways a new sort of pandemic. Community has built a little bit on social media as well. And many of them, I find this one not epidemiologist, but who are sort of more amateur enthusiasts. And that that's the sweet spot for me, because I'm not going to make points of great interest to experts.


I don't need anything. But people will one slightly research fact and considered arguments that look at a number of points of view. This is of interest to them. So what I figured is I get, you know, appreciation for the nuance on the podcast, because that is a community that is very different from my news reading community. Yeah.


And that's in fact, you know, even though your 20s and I do test matches, I can say that I've kind of noticed the same difference with my podcast listeners, that I never get to those kind of harsh, shrill, personal, almost toxic responses that one otherwise might get in social media, where people are just reading the headline of your piece and responding to that at the level of engagement and respect is much deeper. And in your case, obviously, on one of the things that sort of interested me is that, you know, while charting the journey of your photos, one of the beautiful things that you did was you decided that you'd ask one question in every episode.


So Episode seven, why aren't we all wearing masks? Episode eight That is how our hospital is treating the virus when we don't even know the code. What will life after the lockdown look like? Should we trust the models and so on and so forth? And it was interesting for me to see those questions evolve from sort of specific questions, like around masks, around lockdowns, and go to those deeper, broader questions as the city's progressed. For example, in episode twenty and twenty one, you worried about how to the school with crisis rates and our businesses and all of all of those are sort of being eroded and the danger of greater authoritarianism in the part of the state expanding.


Tell me a little bit about sort of your thinking on that and do you feel that those worries are kind of borne out? What do we need to watch out for? What are the concrete signs that of citizens are being even more disempowered than they already feel? So the question part of it, I thought I was going, you know, I did feel like I was going into it with a questioning mind and I did feel like I was going in trying to answer the question.


Each time, as it went on, I started worrying about whether this was going to become like an artifact that I was hanging on to. But it has. And I do I do feel that I do have these questions and that I am in pursuit of some sort of answer to that. Many of these I think, you know, there was a phase in the pandemic when we all wondered how different things were going to be after this was all over.


And, you know, I think we all went through a phase of great hope, of feeling that there was going to be a sort of fine human solidarity. Then, you know, there were times when that evaporated and we worried that we were going to get into huge surveillance when I guess it started. That was that was a real concern then. So all of those great hopes for great change, I think, have gone through their own lives and dissipated a little.


And I think what we've increasingly left with is that we wouldn't we live with a world not dissimilar from what was there before, with some things having been made worse for the most vulnerable people. So what we're seeing is, for example, jobs beginning to return. But everywhere people are seeing that working seniors deeply struggling, even with very little elbow room, is struggling deeply. So I don't think the sort of dystopian vision that we were also ones having was that, you know, all of the worst in people was coming out, the sort of awful stigma that began at one point.


And, you know, it seemed like they were going to build the ghettos of nightmares are now going to start coming up. I think that's also giving way to pragmatism. And that's not how things are going to be like as well. But but I don't know. I'm sure that there are going to be traumas from this period that are not going to go easily. So, for example, you know, I know it's extremely obvious, but having recently spoken to someone about it, that there have been one million deaths worldwide.


So that is one million families for the most part across the world who are not able to get a final goodbye. And that is an enormous sort of shared trauma that a truly large number of people have had to go through the sort of terrifying feelings of the loved one, which are now, you know, now that a bit of a distant memory, I don't go out that much as well. But sometimes it's really something to remember, you know, that it was not allowed you were not allowed to leave home.


And what that meant, like for people or anyone for whom who was not happy. And I know someone who lived an absolute nightmare through those days. And that, again, is a huge cohort of people for whom that trauma of living in imprisonment for those days is not going away. I don't think that, you know, either. The worst fears are our best hopes about the post-Cold War world are going to come true. But but there are going to be scars and cleavages and maybe even the sort of seedlings of better things that that will slowly make themselves a better not in any of the terribly obvious ways that we had once wondered about.


But it's going to be that that that's going to be interesting to see how that changes. You know, for example, one of the things that happened was a big change in the number of hours of unpaid housework that men began to do, and that that gap has narrowed significantly now. But if that gap is still that space that it means, then that is still a fundamental shift in society and what that means for the next 30 years. Because if that slight improvement, if we don't go back to that little bit of the old normal, that's still that's still something.


So it's I do not think that there's going to be dramatic changes from what happened, but with a series of small and maybe even unknowable as of now changes.


I mean, just thinking about it strikes me that what happened to all of us very suddenly when all of this happened was that we were sort of, you know, living with complacency and the inertia of the cocoon of that normality which we had built around ourselves. And and that taking us out of that, we were all force. Examine the patrols of different kinds. Maybe it could be that you can understand the person you're living with, maybe it could be that you discover new things about them and to go do it again or whatever in various different ways, we kind of broke out of, you know, the different cocoons we might have created, which were perhaps in our everyday routines and all of that.


The other thing I want to ask you about, and I guess you'd I think you'd have insight on that in a different context also and discovered is when you were talking about, you know, features of the surveillance of the state and all of that. And it struck me that the one thing that saves us from even greater oppression by the state is the incompetence of the state, because a state typically just does it doesn't have state capacity. That isn't much of the nuance to what they do, the tools with which they operate such blunt tools and many of these high tech tools of surveillance video and using it to win meaningfully oppressiveness is possibly beyond the state now in a larger context.


Is that true? Because, of course, you have to you know, I'm sure you've thought deeply about your relationship with the state because in a lot of cases, you're depending on data from the state. And sometimes you've pointed out before you realize that it's not that the bad data is necessarily malign, it's just incompetent. And what about your sort of thoughts on this?


Yeah, I find myself saying there's a lot to people, a lot. But is that so much of what is imagined in my life is actually incompetence. And I know this is a recurring theme through reporting and through reporting as well. And assuming my life is something that bothers me when people are talking about people that are ideologically opposed to, again, this is something that if that mob some of the criticism of the government's handling of covid, which is frequently assuming Milovan intentions, then I don't think it goes for that.


You know, assuming suppression of numbers, when the sheer capacity to count properly did not exist, assuming that the government was doing was reducing this so that it wouldn't discover more cases when they just did not have the capacity to conduct more distant. And similarly about that is when you see that this is something that they feel like with all diseases, it isn't a new decision to start feeling at it when it comes to coolsaet. So this is true. But I should also note, sometimes I make this such I make such a point of this that I don't want to sort of fall in love with my own point and get carried away with it as well.


I do think I do this about the government and incompetence. And occasionally journalists prove malice and it's great when they do that because it reminds me then that I shouldn't I shouldn't assume that the bumbling Latvala is the Indian state. It's not true all there's a sort of lovable awfulness to that, but that's not true. So one of the most excellent list of the last few years has been solely to help business done. Who has accommodated determinism in a way that I I don't think I have been able to do for the most part, and that that is a very valuable new direction to be going, which is to get into the making of the sources and the corruption of the sausage makers.


To the extent of this Tufa, he is the journalist who discovered that the government was sitting on both employment and household consumption information data, which had been cleared by committees and was statistically sound, but showed uncomfortable truths as clear as inventions, intentions as that showed the government in a poor light. And then the government was shameless enough to deny his news reporting of surrogates, criticise it, then him, and then release exactly those numbers the day they came back to power.


I mean, that wasn't the most brazen and shocking things to have happen when it comes to data. I, too, was willing to accept the fact that there were some reasons that there was some fine tuning. But this sort of brazen release of it on the day they came back to power was truly shocking, even to me. So I think this has done a good job of showing how much malice exists as well. And much as have criticised crime reporting so far, I think sometimes what good crime reporters do is to show.


The most venal part of the Indian state, did the venality of cops can be is sort of the distilled form of the banality of the Indian state. So I like making that rather very ironic, bumbling incompetence point. But I think people exhumation, a lot of crime reporters are able to show that that we wish it was as cute as that. Yeah. And I guess one thinking aloud, one could even say that, you know, even if the means are incompetent, the end is, for all practical purposes, malicious.


I mean, what difference does it then make what the intent is, if that's kind of where this ended up? This kind of talk about it and your sort of understanding of it to do so? You know, when it all broke and when you began the moving go, what kind of data were you looking at specifically to make sense of all of it? And then how did that sense of what you should you look at evolve with time? How did the same shift?


So there's a lot of what I was looking at was scientific research rather than data. And then I think that continued for for the most part. So, again, when it comes to Colbert and I think this was one moment when I had to reexamine one of my favorite beliefs about the Indian state, because I often get a bit annoyed by people being about how little data the government puts out, how little data that exists, what difficult format it is in, because I don't think that there's very little I think there's quite a bit I think it lacks in some key areas and might be frustrating to not have that.


There is a periodicity issue for sure, because it just takes so long to put things together and it's annoying, but that big solutions for that. But when this came along, I had to accept that. That the amount of data that the government was and is then putting out was a real shame and a real travesty, and I think it's appalling that government systems will be able to capture that data or it's appalling that they think and have successfully and now got away with giving us that.


So I look not only at Western countries, but as I look at quite a few Latin American countries data as well. And I look at I've looked at South Africa. And for all of this, I go to the government website and use Google Translate, Chile, Peru. Everybody is able to put out this down to this. One is municipality historical data for confirmed cases that in some cases hospitalizations. Some countries put out asymptomatic symptomatic, some of them put out probable cases.


All of this in downloadable form. I have not come across a single country that officially puts out as it does the Indian government does. And it's it's just shameful that we've allowed them to get away with this to the point that every international media organization and researcher uses a crowdsourced website. All of us use covid-19 in words. This is an amazing resource put together by people taking no credit and money who collect official data from government funded. And all of us are just using it and considering it acceptable to be using it from the data.


As you say, then this is this is absolutely the core job of a government. And I have not seen any country that does such a poor job. I have not seen a single Latin American country or any of the few African countries that I've seen do such a poor job of putting out data in the pandemic. So reporting on data was limited in the early days. Now we have we have over 90 to get into the sort of research efforts based in India, as well as more data to write about.


But even now, the most interesting insights for me continue to come from scientific research, understanding just how the divide is spread among whom and why it remains the the key thing to try and understand for people trying to live their lives going forward. And I hope what we're going to have, not only that one, good people coming out of India, I hope would be going to have more of now is good Indian scientific and good. I mean, not published in.


I see him as an in-house journalist, but in terms of peer review, deputed journals that explain transmission patterns in India. And from what you know, would it be correct also to say that Indians fundamentally have a shallow understanding of what it means to be a democracy, that we often think of democracy as that elections and we wrote one of the competing mafiosa into power. But actually, democracy should also include the state being accountable to the citizens and empowering them with information, which is why data becomes so important.


It's not an asset that other states do this particular thing well and we don't they should actually be essential to what the state does. And, you know, in a sense, part of the justification for its existence. Would you agree with that?


Yeah, I do agree with that, though. I don't fully agree with the democracy part of it. I mean, it is it's sort of like I that's shallow and deep enough. Does this fact it's certainly shallow in the expectation that government should give you this information. And you see it from just the you know, the attitude that anyone is using a government office while demanding information that the office requires in law to give you. But it's still the sort of police going to have this posture that everybody is sort of obliged to take up.


And, yes, I've had this in a couple of interactions with government officials myself. At one point some weeks ago, I had the appointment and then I was having a pretty bad then with the numbers, son. Beto, ask me anything sort of thing on Twitter. So I asked why that internal bulletin had so much less information than other states did, which was an issue and still is. I need a place saying, no, it's all in there.


And it was. And then I said, you know, the reason I'm asking you is because it's not recorded. And he didn't get back to me then. One of the reasons that's been doing a relatively good job with data is mobile, and it is very impressive. I was reading the data side of things. Is that. So recently I pointed out that while they had this dashboard that was doing a very good job, like most government websites, it was updated afresh every day with no archive, like, you know, one of those sort of Cinderella things where everything disappears at midnight every day, which is so deeply frustrating to me to not be able to say for myself looking at things over time.


And she said, well, we don't want to overburden people with information. Anyone who wants more can always get in touch with us. And it is better than how good it is to just have a drop down where you give the option of having historical data. But that was this is a really great job and has done a lot. There was that attitude of, you know, don't ask us for excessive amounts of information. So this was something that every municipality in Colombia, for example, is putting out.


There's another official in Bangalore as well who's really very good on data and very good hatcheting as well. But one of the things that India has been doing that many Indian states are doing, which is quite unusual, is doing much more rapid and in this than the sort of gold standard. And yet this, as we used to argue it, either way, it's a discussion to be had. And one of the things that would be very valuable to have is the relative positivity and disclose his activities.


And no one's faith is putting out that information when he puts it out in a graph. And when I ask for it in Excel form, I was told, you know, that's an excessive amount of information to. And similarly, the one person was not happy to be asked about it, said Delhi doesn't put it out. How many columns can be put in every piece? So, yeah, that is that information, that attitude, even among the relatively the ones who are putting on much more data than you used to getting from and are much more responsive than you used to government offices of, you know, don't they don't push this so often.


Don't ask for like Excel sheet. You know, it's pretty good how they get things. So definitely that attitude of anything more than sort of the headline numbers of people we're doing for you.


Yeah, well, you know, one of the things I sort of noticed through the cities is that it is, of course, not just about covid. It is about a lot else. And a lot of that comes from your work. You must have done, for example, in episode three, you know, there is sort of what was certainly a new insight from the U.S. could pull people report more illness, but less hospitalization. The stock quote.


And again, that's something that, you know, was an important insight. And I had to kind of sit down and process it and all of that. And equally, you've touched on many sort of larger issues, like what would it mean for India's women in episode forty seven dollars an episode. Forty six children in episode 17, you had multiple episodes where you've looked at the impact of parents and children. Now, you know, one thing that is often said, you know, already spoken about the link between writing and thinking and one sided is often given.


Is that just forcing yourself to write clearly forces you to think more clearly. And one of the things that sort of struck me was that by the end of the cities and of course, it hasn't ended, but, you know, at ninety nine, maybe odd and just touching hundreds. What struck me was that you've gone in there asking questions as a generalist, which all journalists are in a sense you're a generalist, but have you then by asking questions repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly, looking at the data, looking at the research in a manner of speaking, transformed yourself into an expert of sorts, also just has a process of reporting on something for so long, which is such that enhanced your understanding of the subject kind of massively what it is and if you feel it has done, is expose me to a much wider range of perspectives than would have come to me normally.


Yes, I do think that some of the that the complete cluelessness of the early days has been replaced with some baseline understanding. But this is the thing. It's every day continues to bring in very fundamental, not esoteric aspects of it. The key fundamental facts that I have no not the slightest answer to, because I've learnt that when I begin by asking the question, it's really not being cute. I actually don't know. So, for example, right now, if I would like to fashion myself as some sort of expert now, I should be able to say in at least one line, why have the cases started reducing from mid-September?


And because I haven't worked on a sudden episode, I have no clue. I wouldn't be able to answer it. The single word I have, not one word of explanation for why this is so. No, I would only feel that I'm able to say much more about the things that I have looked at, but I don't feel any closer to feeling that I understand. I don't understand why it spread more widely in some places than others. I haven't seen convincing explanations for the most basic things.


And this is one more thing that I would come back to journalism, a regular sort of mainstream journalism, which is how how is it that I haven't in any news publication yet seem to get an answer, at least an attempted answering. Why do they have so many cases? I mean, the Vatican in four and a half thousand cases per datapoint by necessity, have over two thousand cases for so many days. There's no good, good, good explanation.


I can't see anything that got anywhere near answering that. Then why did Punjab have such incredibly high mortality for the period? And, you know, the numbers in Punjab as to not numbers are properly understood. And then again, the news reporting says things like rumours spread on WhatsApp about the treatment of something a little less bet on what's happening in the country. There's no way to understand why. In particular in Punjab, this is what happened via because numbers so low.


I mean, it has to go beyond just a low population density because so no one has this is I just don't know if people are going in with clearly questioning minds, because if you can start with a position of humility, of accepting that, that is a big central question that you have no idea what the answer to it is. Maybe that could help you frame the questions that people actually want the answers to and then we get any closer to to answering them rather than regurgitating what some expert panel is saying.


So that is some government expert panel that's saying in the September is a peak and things will taper off by but no convincing explanation of why this has happened now. So I don't I don't feel at all able to answer those things then. I don't see the attempt to answering it. I tend to get into those questions lately as well.


I mean, one of the sort of things that struck me and impressed me while going through the falsities was not necessarily even if you don't listen to the episodes, even if you just go to the medium page and you look at the question has been asked for every episode, I think so much of our quest for the truth really comes from asking good questions, which we don't see enough of. And, you know, you've asked you know, almost every episode has interesting questions like episode seventy one.


What does a lockdown's a disruption in health services mean for the health of Indians now in general? Seventy two. What is it like to deal with covid-19 in rural India? Forty four where the school would fit into Indio's disease landscape on Labor Day in episode twenty eight, you asked what is the future for work and workers? You know, what would life after the lockdown look like? And it seems to me to just the act of being able to frame these questions comes from a sort of a position of insight.


You know, I've taken enough of your time and I don't want you to actually answer any of these questions here, because I would rather the listeners go and listen to all those episodes, sort of like Rapini said at the start, it's like the twenty matches, a five minute episode, six minute episodes. And I don't say that disparagingly. I'm just I'm just full of enormous envy that, you know, to get back in so much insight into that kind of space.


So I'll probably end with a couple of questions. And, you know, my penultimate question really comes from, I guess, my self interest in the self interest of all of the listeners who are still sort of struggling to cope with covid in this difficult year. And that comes from a question that you, in fact, asked in Episode sixty six where you asked, how do we measure the risk to ourselves? And this strikes me as an important question to us, because what we often see is a kind of pandemic fatigue has set in a lot lockdown for where people are like, just screw it, you know, it's fine and you know all of that and maybe people doing things they shouldn't do.


But at the same time, you know, one can't blame them. It's it's just horrible to live with this discipline environment all the time and all of that. What is your sense? How how would you advise people on how to sort of navigate the road ahead in the months to come?


And so I wouldn't like to think of this as advice, but what I feel I've heard that makes more sense and is most convincing for being so intimate, close, mixed is even. Seemed like a bit of an idea. We noticed that this across the world and in India as well. Long shared transport is also a bad idea, though, with the level of masking compliance that flights require. That might need to be recalibrated for that. But the thing is, what this means is because there are so many unknowables, it's hard to understand what it is exactly that shake some of these broad things.


So what suddenly causes deaths among younger people without comorbidities is impossible to see. Those repeated of them with young children are experiencing an inflammatory condition associated with Sillitoe, even though it wasn't directly that. So it's hard to see. What those characteristics of those kids who are facing what I've taken broadly for myself is as much as possible. Well, whatever my privilege allows me to continue avoiding, I am continuing avoiding. So, for example, I know everyone with little kids or even older kids who aren't going to school is being driven off the wall now, having done this at home, but whoever's privilege allows them to continue keeping children at home, it seems to me like a good idea to do that.


No decent research is is showing just how much feeding happens among children and among the generational cohorts that include children is that it's something they need to take more seriously, and especially anyone who can continue working from home. All of those seem like things to continue to try to do. But I want to be very mindful not just of work and money related privileges, but also mental health. I mean, it's hard to advise these things to people struggling without other people to talk to, without a doubt, maybe even safety.


So I think everyone is trying to build matrixes of what? Of what they can avoid and what they must do, and these are going to be deeply personal things for most people, but the broad things of closed indoor events, any sort of large mass gatherings, of course, masking, do I have to see? What frustrates me is that I still not seem properly set about cutting musks, the sort that we're all using. I know that there was civilization which was, you know, the sort of when the advice was put out.


But I'm an absolutely passionate and mental attitude and use them as well. So I don't mean that I haven't seen anything to convince me. I'm completely convinced this thing that I would love to see a great people that I know that these are the decisions I'm taking to just continue. My life is not going to change that much, even since I still don't go out that much because as much as I can, a lot of reporting on all of this is not just feeling that terrible for the people who weren't able to continue staying in and realizing what an enormous privilege in that.


And to be ready to be to remain in the face of this fight is to not feel that that there are ways to be, you know, to not feel that you or any of these sort of guarantees against that. I remain extremely humble in the face of the very wise words. And my final question, which is, you know, almost a bit of a cliche to my listeners, I think. But I have to ask it, and especially in your instance, you know, your amazing journalism has given you such oddities, just caused you to think so deeply about our democracy and our society.


If I ask you to look ahead to 20, 30 years of age from this goes to 2020 and look ahead to 2030, what gives you hope and what gives you despair about what our country or society or democracy could is going through and could go through in this time?


I see it as I hope it remains true. So what gives me hope is that I see enormous transformational power among people who fall in love. It amazes me the I mean, first of all, the amount of love I see around and I mean this in a sort of romantic love among young people. That's what it's incredible. I mean, people on the phone with each other all the time and finding places and the power to take radical decisions around being in love is really quite something.


I see I see it quite a bit. I hope it continues to grow I a distance and that is something is so it's it's one of the few things that gives me it gives me hope that people think that young people will think otherwise. Enormous leaps that they might not have planned to just out of being in love. So that's that's my extreme. This that's something that gives me hope. I see I see it a lot around me. And when people tell me I don't know what people want to lose, then they know that you to love matters of people want to tell you this, too, this video and the things that tell you about leaving home and just getting on the bus with no money.


And it's just it's amazing. It's so brave and it's very it's something is so that gives me and the immense self-respect and pride that young people have much more than every generation increasingly so gives me. What fills me with this fear is I think conservatism among young people, again, is what bothers me with this conservatism among older people. Less so. But, um. But yeah, to heal, to heal, I can't currently see enough outlets and push back against the sort of toxic Muslim hatred that is being pushed in most of the country.


I can see these out of it right now. I don't see I don't see like a big movement of young anyone of people strongly saying that this is a totally unacceptable thing and we want to put the. The Muslim hatred in this country is what gives me faith is this indeed and, you know, we'll take back with the hope so we can end on a note of hope. You are literally the first guest. You will, you know, one hundred and ninety six episodes, those who spoke of romantic love is something that, you know, gives them hope.


And it's such a delightful ensemble and sort of, you know, advice. All my young listeners now that do not be conservative fall in love, but at the same time, don't get into a bus with nobody. That's not such a good idea, really.


So do it. But Moscow. So definitely don't get in without a mask. Thank you so much for being so patient with your time and so generous with your insights. It was so amazing having a broadcaster like yourself. Having a 20 star is a test matches today.


Thank you so much. A huge pleasure. And thank you to your listeners.


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