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Updated: November 27, 2009 20:07 IST

Net guru

Saraswathy Nagarajan
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Tech guru: Sreenath Sreenivasan. Photo:C.Ratheesh kumar
THE HINDU Tech guru: Sreenath Sreenivasan. Photo:C.Ratheesh kumar

Media professor Sreenath Sreenivasan's take on new media

Dean of student affairs and digital media professor at Columbia University, Sreenath Sreenivasan teaches, highlights and popularises how new media tools can enhance a mediaperson's ability to source, provide, collect and collate information. Co-founder and former president of the South Asian Journalists' Association, a group of South Asian journalists in the United States (U.S.) and Canada, Sreenath was chosen by Newsweek (in 2004) as one of the 20 most influential South Asians in the U.S.

Married to Rhodes Scholar and champion shooter Roopa Unnikrishnan, Sreenath is former diplomat T.P. Sreenivasan's son. He was in Thiruvananthapuram for a private function when MetroPlus caught up with him in the midst of his hectic schedule. Sreenath talks about new media, why and how mediapersons could and should befriend new media, corporatisation and the booming media in India.

Teaching social media skills

“Five months ago a new course was begun at Columbia J school that teaches social media skills. I tell my students that their parents would be surprised to know that it was fundamentally about teaching them to use Facebook, Twitter and so on,” jokes the professor. But what he does makes his students net-savvy and shows them how to use the same social sites intelligently and effectively to hone their professional skills. He points out that the Net has changed the way we communicate and he compares it to the media revolution ushered in by the radio in 1912 and by television in the Fifties.

“In the fifties, cable TV and the far-reaching influence of TV were yet to come. Similarly, it is interesting to see how Twitter, Facebook and so on are evolving,” says Sreeanth who is often called a ‘technology evangelist' for his missionary zeal while talking, writing and teaching about using new media tools.

His workshops on ‘Smarter surfing: better use of your web time,' ‘Figuring out blogs and whatever's next' and his SreeTips.com have a large following of mediapersons, students and professionals from other fields. “Social media can help journalists to get story ideas and better sources, find out trends, ideas and better ways to connect to their audience. You can improve your writings, presentation skills and get more eyeballs for your work. Eyeballs are the currency of journalism today,” he explains.

But the experienced teacher and journalist has a word of caution: “The Net has its pitfalls too. Not everything that appears in Wikipedia is true. Moreover, nothing can replace the traditional skills of a journalist. The ability to find a story and information and tell it in an interesting way remain.”

Touching upon his work as a media educator for 17 years, Sreenath says that for many years now, the largest pool of applicants is from the United Kingdom and India. “Columbia has always been a cosmopolitan place and now it has students from 40 countries. But what is interesting to see is how trends in media have influenced the characteristics of students applying to journalism schools. While many newspapers have folded down in the United States, the media business is booming in India and South Asia. So journalism is seen as having good prospects,” feels Sreenath.

Citizen journalists are important with the advent of social media, Sreenath says, but he emphasises that trained professionals would still have an edge for streamlining information, analyses and making sense of all the information one may get. “It is professionalism that separates the journalists from the janata though it would be interesting to watch how it is all going to evolve,” he says.

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