Global Journalism in the Year of the Protester: A Master’s Tea with Ishaan Tharoor

By Amelia Cai:

It’s widely accepted that social media has revolutionized communication, but the real question is—how, exactly? We know that we talk with our friends and read our daily news in a new way, but the ways in which these changes manifest themselves on a global scale is difficult to grasp. Parsing through the multitude of newly-available international voices is harder still.

This is the job of journalist Ishaan Tharoor (ES ’06), who edits Global Spin, TIME’s international affairs blog. Tharoor previously served as TIME’s Hong-Kong based Asia correspondent, writing extensively on conflict and activism in South and Southeast Asia. An alumnus, Tharoor returned to Yale this past Tuesday to share his experience and insight on how global journalism has evolved with social media. Understandably, the Davenport College master’s house was filled to capacity with students, nonwriters, and aspiring journalists.

Global Spin, the TIME blog in which Ishaan Tharoor often posts. Tharoor spoke at Tuesday's Davenport Master's Tea. (Global Spin, 1/25/12).

Tharoor warned the last group to not only strive to become journalists, but to focus on their writing skill. His storytelling prowess was evident from his introduction onward. He began by reminiscing upon January 25th, 2011, when Tharoor and his colleagues watched the revolutions begin in Egypt from TIME’s offices in New York City. The whole city was flummoxed by what was happening, and suddenly the fear and skepticism in American media towards the Middle East became more evident than it had for many years.

As Tharoor detailed, “Scales were falling off the eyes of those in media”. Editors weren’t able to imagine Arabs wanting the same freedoms and harboring the same ideals prized in liberal democracies. Moreover, it was particularly difficult for those in the West to see how complicit Western governments and agencies such as the CIA had been in the survival of corrupt regimes.

Finally, though, social media slowly began to fill these gaps in Westerners’ understanding of the region as the revolution went on. According to Tharoor, Twitter and other social media outlets allowed the protests to be mapped geographically – the location of mass dissent and fallen towns could be broadcast in a matter of seconds. Tweets and Facebook statuses gave voice to protesters, whose words journalists then transmitted through their stories, enabling the Western world to empathize with rebel fighters and free thinkers alike.

For Tharoor, this new process of writing and reading the news has spawned a new freelance culture in global media. He argues that the world now vitally needs reporters with strong beliefs and ethics to make sense of the muddle, make associations between disparate events and information, and use those associations to trace meaningful narratives. Tharoor himself serves as the perfect example of this journalistic philosophy. In an article written in 2005 for the Yale Daily News, Tharoor surveys a tsunami-stricken zone in Southeast Asia, and writes: “What could I individually change in the wake of such mind-boggling destruction?”

I asked if he had ever made peace with this difficult question. “I am not any closer to answering this question,” Tharoor replies. “But empathy is important.”

Amelia Cai is a sophomore in Morse College. Contact her at