Six Journalism School students hope a new website they started this week will revolutionize the coverage of politics in India, three months ahead of the country's general elections.
Early Monday morning, Devjyot Ghoshal, Anand Katakam, Iva Dixit, Indrani Basu, Rishi Iyengar, and Aparna Alluri, all Journalism '14, launched thefivefortyfive.com, which is named for the number of seats in the lower house of India's parliament.
“The Indian news environment is very different from here,” Ghoshal said. “It's all newspapers—very traditional. Nobody's really creating anything for the web, so part of ideation process from beginning when we sat down to think of stories was to ask ourselves, What is a story I would share on my Facebook wall or post on Twitter?'”
“We saw a gap between what was being reported in the papers and what could really engage audiences, especially younger audiences who are relying more and more on technology,” Basu said.
“We knew from the start that we were building this for social media,” Katakam said. “We looked at the online space for Indian politics and there was nothing there so we attacked that.”
On its website, thefivefortyfive.com describes itself as “a combination of BuzzFeed and Quartz—300- to 400-word pieces with charts.”
“No high-brow, jargon-led, politically driven journalism,” the site's description says. “There are enough newspapers doing that already.”
Five of the six founders had worked in some capacity as full-time journalists in India before coming to Columbia.
“If we were back in India right now, we would probably be doing our own election coverage,” Basu said. “Once you've covered something like that even once, you start to crave it, you miss it. We're not there, we can't be actively reporting but now we're still involved.”
Basu said the upcoming elections between the incumbent Indian National Congress party and the Bharatiya Janata Party will be largely characterized by young voters. Thirty-one percent of the Indian electorate is between 18 and 35 years old.
“In the past few years, there's been a wave of youth involvement in the democratic process, and they're using social media to facilitate this,” Basu said.
“So part of the idea when we were building the site was to target people like us, which is a pretty large bracket,” Ghoshal said.
Ghoashal, Basu, and Katakam said they originally targeted the site toward Indian readers, but have noticed a surprisingly strong response from young Indians living or studying in the United States.
Priyanka Jhaveri, BC '17 and Mumbai citizen, said that as a first-time voter, websites like thefivefortyfive.com are helpful in informing her decision.
“I don't really read the papers back in Bombay because it's the same thing over and over with each paper more exaggerated than the one before,” she said, referring to an older name for Mumbai. “To see something so clear and concise and to-the-point it really goes a long way.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed a number of quotes to Aparna Alluri and misidentified the woman in the center of the photo as Alluri. The quotes were actually spoken by Indrani Basu, who was also the woman in the center of the photo. Spectator regrets the errors.
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