Foreign Correspondents Club: The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Beckett
Paul Beckett became The Wall Street Journal’s South Asia bureau chief in 2007. Before that, Beckett, who was born in Scotland, was the paper’s London bureau chief. In addition to overseeing The Wall Street Journal’s print coverage of the country, the New Delhi-based Beckett, who is also known to write the occasional humourous piece, manages the paper’s India website and its blog India Real Time. He spoke to us about his thoughts on India, what brings out his inner satirist and his ideal newspaper:
You came here as bureau chief in 2007. Five years on, how would you describe your current mindset?
Still fascinated. Occasionally incensed. Sometimes bemused. Overall, very happy.
The one India subject that was toughest to crack?
The Baby Falak serialisation that ran on India Real Time, the WSJ’s India blog. My colleague Krishna Pokharel and I were determined to write something in a novel way—novel, as in new, and novel as in novelistic. India is a place for sweeping sagas unlike, say, Belgium. In the end, we spent about four months researching it (in addition to our day jobs) and traveled extensively to reach and persuade people who had not talked to the press before about their part in this extraordinary tale. Then, by running our story out chapter by chapter, I think we grabbed readers’ attention early and held it for a full week on what was, in effect, a short book, which is very unusual in daily journalism.
The one industrialist/company you’re still waiting to satirise…
What is there to satirise about industrialists?
What’s the one stereotype about India that has turned out to be untrue?
That everyone eats chicken vindaloo.
What’s the one stereotype that has turned out to be true?
The WSJ has a robust India website. Do you have plans to launch a print edition here?
We print the Wall Street Journal Asia here daily but the government’s restrictions on foreign media ownership make it tough to launch a truly local edition. Somehow I don’t imagine this is high on the government’s list of liberalisation priorities. So we are focusing our journalistic efforts for now on having the most interesting news website in India (please note shameless plug).
You said in an interview with Newslaundry.com that you’d love for there to be a newspaper that views the world the way you view the world. Could you tell us what that view is?
It is less of a “World View” in some geopolitical sense, more a desire to sit down with a newspaper, or a good news website, and feel smarter for having read it. It should be the paradigm we all aim for: stories so convincing and well-told that they stand the test of time. On a wide range of topics, both Indian and global. Instead, I would defy you to cite two stories that ran in your morning print read last Thursday.
The one story you’ve seen covered in the Indian media that blew you away…
The reporting on shenanigans involved in the organisation of the Commonwealth Games was strong, in part because of what it could have been: a massive cheerleading effort. Instead, the media was very aggressive about unearthing shoddy practices and it did a good job taking those responsible to task.
Lastly, you write satirical pieces for the WSJ online. Was it something about India that brought out the satirist in you?
No, it was something about Macallan 12-year-old that brought out the satirist in me.