STUDIO C at New Delhi Television (NDTV) is the network’s biggest recording room. Flagship primetime shows, including The Big Fight and We the People, are staged in this indoor amphitheatre, a familiar arena for politicians, bureaucrats, journalists, academics, businessmen and movie stars to spar with each other. In a format now intensely familiar to Indian television viewers, they argue over the day’s issues before a studio audience as the shows’ moderators, the news anchors Barkha Dutt and Vikram Chandra, try hard to not let the debate descend into chaos.
On the afternoon of 26 April 2013, Studio C was quieter than usual. A crowd of nearly 100 NDTV staffers had gathered together to learn about another kind of arena for debate. In front of them, instead of the familiar panel of argumentative Indians, was a lanky man in a casually elegant grey suit, standing before a screen that introduced the event: “NDTV Masterclass with Rishi Jaitly (India Head, Twitter).”
“Twitter is a town square,” Jaitly told the listening NDTV staff, speaking with a subtle American accent. “What happens in a town square is that you may see some friends,” he said. “But you also see celebrities, restaurants, comedians, brands … And the company is moving in the direction of making Twitter a town square for the world, a country or any city.” Since last November, when Jaitly arrived in Mumbai from the United States to take charge of Twitter’s India operations, he has been fulfilling the role of town crier, taking this message from podium to podium. The NDTV crowd was a relatively savvy one; unlike its much bigger predecessors Google and Facebook, Twitter has always found powerful allies in members of the press. (Dutt has had a Twitter handle, @bdutt, since early 2009, has more than 71,000 tweets and 1,090,000 followers; @vikramchandra, a more reluctant user, has more than 268,000 followers.) As in the United States, where Twitter began life as a microblogging service in the Bay Area in 2006, early adopters in India quickly won the short, furious debate about whether it was appropriate for reporters to break news via microblog. In fact, one of Twitter’s first major successes in establishing itself as a platform for both reporting and quickly broadcasting news happened in India, during the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008.