My media habits: Nitin Jain of Beach House Pictures – ‘I haven’t read a newspaper since the 1990s’

Neither a fan of print nor television, or algorithms, Beach House Pictures producer and director Nitin Jain has a unique approach to consuming content that is still based on recommendations from cultural gatekeepers – he tells Mumbrella's Dean Carroll

Jain refuses to follow the crowd

What are your must-read news sources you can’t live without on a daily basis, and why are those particular media titles so important to you?

“The first thing I do every morning is reach out for my phone by the bedside and open The Guardian News app. If my boss is reading this article, I would like to say his emails are the first thing I see in the morning, regularly, diligently.

“Why The Guardian? Because I feel it is the only media title that can be called ‘newspaper of the world’. Although British, it’s reporting has a very global outlook which speaks to people all over the world.

“The New York Times and Washington Post are great too, but at times their lens can be too American. For a deeper dive I prefer the Atlantic, Politico and Slate. The New Yorker is the only thing I actively detest.”

In terms of news consumption – do you prefer, print, television, radio, websites, newsletters, social networks, blogs, apps or something else entirely?

“I can’t remember the last time I held an actual newspaper or magazine in my hand. It must be the 1990s. All my information today comes from news apps on my phone or websites on the laptop. By the way, what is a radio?”

Do you prefer long-form or short-form content?

“Being in the business of documentary filmmaking I guess it’s imperative that I have a deeper understanding of issues, so long-form, in-depth content is an absolute must.

“I wish more people could find the time and patience to consume long-form content and resist the temptation of clickbait journalism.”

Can you name your favourite journalist and set out what makes them great?

“Have you seen Piers Morgan’s reporting on Meghan Markle’s baby shower? I mean this is groundbreaking, essential journalism guys. Ha ha.”

What piece of journalism has changed the game in recent times, in your view?

“See above, but also..

“I think Glenn Greenwald’s reporting for The Guardian on British and American surveillance programmes was the most era-defining piece of journalism in the last decade. Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s reporting for The New York Times that sparked the #MeToo movement for me counts as the one that had the greatest impact.

“I wish in the developing world too more journalists are able to courageously report on issues without fear or favour, but that is often not possible.

“There are still outliers like Maria Ressa, the fearless CEO of Rappler standing up to the autocratic rulers of the Philippines and Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone from Reuters who were jailed for reporting on the Rohingya crisis.”

Are there any titles you have paid subscriptions to?

“I have a moral issue about paying for news. Shouldn’t news be available to everyone regardless of their ability to pay? Do richer people have more right to quality journalism than poorer people?

“If you are poor do you not have the right to read reporting on corruption, ecological plunder, income inequality or human rights from the world’s best journalists? Today more than ever before, good quality journalism should be available to everyone – free of cost. Period.”

In terms of films and shows, is your preference for terrestrial television or streaming platforms like Netflix?

“Sorry, what is terrestrial television?”

Netflix dominates consumption

Are recommendation engines a good thing or do they cancel out the joy of serendipity in terms of discovering fresh content not aligned with your previous preferences?

“I feel a bit offended with a computer trying to tell me what I like so I actively try to confuse it by clicking on random things. I miss the days of scrolling through television channels and stumbling onto something I had no idea I wanted to watch.

“Having to make a choice on streaming platforms I feel reduces your options to the world you already know and you risk retreating further and further into this limited shell.”

What was the best film you saw of late – and can you describe why it made an impression on you?

“Debra Granik’s ‘Leave No Trace’ was I feel easily the most powerful film I have seen all year. The complete opposite of flashy franchises, this small film dares to be quiet, bare and minimal in tone and message.

“It is devastating and heartbreaking in equal measure without ever resorting to melodrama. Lee Chang-dong’s Korean film ‘Burning’ is another masterpiece that I felt was deeply intelligent, puzzling and mesmerising all at the same time.”

And what shows do you consider to be event TV, those programmes you just have to watch and can’t contemplate missing?

“‘Game of Thrones’, of course, is the big daddy of all event television. Although I consider it quite mediocre as a show, I enjoy the feeling of being part of a kind of global cultural event.

“Some friends and I have started getting together every weekend to watch old seasons over beer and pizza as a countdown to the release of the new season. We call it nerd prom.

Game of Thrones is a big beast for Jain

“I’m also quite excited about the new season of The Crown with Olivia Coleman playing the Queen.

“Do actual live events also count as event television? I’m a big sports fan so Grand Slam tennis, Formula One racing, cricket and football are all things I can’t think of missing.

“Watching sports in a bar packed with screaming fans I feel is one of the last few great experiences of watching TV, I guess a sort of last reminder of the time when TV watching used to be a much more communal experience with friends and family. I wish more people would do it.”

In terms of devices, how do you access content most often – on mobile, desktop, tablet, laptop or television?

“Does anybody actually watch anything on television these days? I mostly just use it as a screen I can hook up my laptop to while watching Netflix. But mostly it’s my laptop that’s my window to the world.”

How damaging is piracy and illegal downloads when it comes to the media and entertainment space?

“As a content creator, I should have more of an issue with piracy and illegal downloads than I do. I feel this is as much an economic issue as a moral one.

“Nobody likes to steal anything if they can get access to it at an affordable price. Content creators need to find some innovative solutions to cater to this untapped demand instead of simply blaming the user.”

And moving on, what’s been your favourite book in recent times? So Kindle or hard copy?

“I’ve been reading a collection of poems by the mystic poet Rumi for a while. Sounds pretentious? Good.

“Never used a Kindle and I don’t think I will. There’s enough technology in our lives as it is.”

And now to music. How do you buy and consume music? Which musical artists appeal to your tastes right now?

“Millennials might want to look away now. I still consume my music through YouTube and I don’t have a subscription to Spotify. There, I said it. Bite me.”

Social networks: Hero or villain when it comes to giving you access to content?

“It took me a while to understand this question perhaps because I don’t use social networks. No Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook. Bliss.”

And are social networks like Facebook and Twitter actually media companies these days in your view, even though that is something they deny – perhaps to avoid further regulation?

“Well, Facebook is already creating content through Facebook Watch so I suppose it’s a bit late to avoid being labelled a media company. I see them creating more and more content in future in the battle to control our finite time and sanity.”

In the digital world, algorithms rather than humans are the media gatekeepers. Do you miss the old days when the likes of journalists, critics and broadcasters played that qualitative role, or have we simply evolved to a better quantitative system?

“I personally don’t follow algorithmic recommendations. I still make my content choices based on reviews or articles in different media or because of word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and colleagues.

“I feel journalists, critics and broadcasters still play the role of gatekeepers although their power is diminished. They have been joined by ‘influencers’ now.

“The social media world has in my view democratised the role of gatekeeping, so you can follow the opinion of whoever you choose instead of an anointed few. The role of shaping tastes and preferences is now in the hands of a vast army rather than a few generals.”

Finally, what does the future hold for the media space in your view – will artificial intelligence and virtual personal assistants take over to the point where we just trust the machines to tell us what we want to consume, in terms of news and entertainment?

“Somewhere Charlie Brooker is already writing the next episode of ‘Black Mirror’ that deals with this question. Personally I’d love a virtual personal assistant, who can answer my boss’s emails every morning.”


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