Everyone’s been talking about it – the masked crusader surfing the Sri Lankan internet, sprinkling readers with a generous amount of laughter, satire and even some curry. This strange creature has brought in that Onion-esque bite to all things Sri Lankan that often border on ridiculous and puerile.
No one really knows who he/she is, but often, at the end of a dreary day subject to the bipolar tendencies of our little island’s on-goings, we tend to thank this phantom figure for laughter he/she provides through the satire news portal, newscurry.co. While satire as a medium of expression isn’t necessarily new – our newspapers have been doing this for decades – it’s still nice to see new faces on the internet ready to highlight the amusement found in, let’s say, the upcoming general elections.
The brains behind NewsCurry may be a complete mystery, but Roar did manage to sneak in an interview to satisfy that itch to know more.
We like to imagine this interview taking place in a room with a single white light and a table separating the interviewer and interviewee, 1984 style, to better explain the tonal variations in the article but the truth is always more disappointing (i.e. email interview).
Q: To start off – what’s the story behind the name?
A: My parents went through quite a few baby name books before coming up with NewsCurry. The actual story is far less interesting. Okay, it went something like this – NewsPoppadom? NewsOnion? NewsCurry? NewsCurry! Currynews? NewsCurry! URL Available – check.
Q: Is this a one man operation or a group collaboration? Additionally, is this a formal setup, with strict policies, rules and work hours, or an informal one?
A: Calling it an operation is overstating the setup, unless that’s what you call a slightly dysfunctional person with laptop minus two keys, stealing Wi-Fi from the neighbours, reading the news and a bit of hurried writing with the support of a couple of other friends/contributors. The setup is like that of any Sri Lankan Politician’s – the policies are flexible, rules can be bent and we don’t work hours, only minutes. But I don’t travel in a motorcade or have an office. I am open to discussing financial favours, though.
Q: Do you feel that what you do has any impact or is it just for laughs?
A: Laughs would be great – it means that I’m not always just laughing on my own at ideas swirling in my head. People lightening up and not taking themselves and events that don’t affect them seriously is also a good side effect. If the impact is that it makes people reach into their wallets and send us a drink, we would be much obliged!
Q: You seem to be quite particular about the need to remain anonymous. Why, though? Is it because you feel you would be targeted?
A: I guess being targeted is part of it, as I think that some people take the stories seriously so may want to make a point. But I hope they realise much like the real news, people stop talking about it within a few days unless someone wants to make a bigger deal out of it than it really is. Additionally, who writes this does not matter and could change in the future so it’s better to focus on the content.
Q: What about having to deal with the fame?
A: I couldn’t handle requests for a TV show, book deal, movie rights, the groupies – what a terrible life that would be.
Q: Did you think you would be able to garner a readership?
A: Not really – even now it’s still quite a niche, though. So far my family accounts for most of the traffic. My mum doesn’t know how to close a tab on Chrome so it has been stuck on the site for the past 3 weeks. Time spent on the site is probably the best for a Sri Lankan website. But it is comforting to know that there are people who really do get satire / spoof news and share the content and it is growing.
Q: What has the response been like so far?
A: Surprisingly, mainly positive. I haven’t yet received an invite for an appearance on the Daily Show, though. I am grateful for all the people who do take the time to read and interact with the site.
Q: Have you received any threats, anyone bombarding you with emails due to misunderstandings or has everyone got the message about satirical news?
A: No, I haven’t been directly threatened nor have I seen any white vans hovering around my neighbourhood – although I have noticed someone following me on Twitter. There is an occasional comment which people don’t get, but on the whole it’s been positive. Appealing to a larger mainstream audience may be harder though, as I don’t think satire is yet fully appreciated. But also the line between truth and spoof is small in Sri Lanka so a number of people actually believe the stories and then get all defensive about them. We are, however, on Twitter if would like to follow us in a non-threatening manner: @NewsCurrySL or try searching for #NewsCurry.
Q: What’s the creative process like? Do you plan ahead or depending on the news, spin something out of it?
A: Read the news, stare into space, stare into the screen, have a drink, stare into the bottom of the empty glass, check email and repeat until something seems like an idea. I consider it a small, part-time endeavour and need to be careful about how much I time I spend on it and it’s difficult to cover it all when you’ve got a few other real world jobs. But like most people’s hobbies, I do enjoy the process.
Q: Were you inspired by websites like the Onion or the general amusement found in everyday Sri Lankan politics?
A: A bit of both. Satire has been around for a very long time and sites like the Onion have taken the art form to a new level in the digital era. In addition, there is a lot of great comedy content being produced in Sri Lanka – from the theatre to cartoons; there are talented people who have also played a part in seeding ideas. I also have friends who share a sense of humour. It’s just funny to read the news, primarily relating to Sri Lanka politics, and think that these things happen.
Q: What about monetizing the site?
A: I have had a few inquiries from parties interested in advertising, but I don’t want to take on board any just yet as I feel it’s a small site. However, I am open to creative suggestions (e.g. product/brand placement within content/ spoof ads) although I don’t think brands are interested in that. They just seem to want to push their logo out there. We are currently looking into opening a Finance Division and launching a Savings Account like most companies do and also possibly floating on the stock exchange and getting involved in insider trading which is extremely lucrative according to our sources.
Q: Any future plans for the site?
A: We are considering contesting in the upcoming elections. We pledge to be the most transparent government – we will conduct backroom dealings in the front room, publish details of all bribes taken and only interview family members to lucrative government positions.
Well, there you have it. That’s the scoop on NewsCurry and a bit about the earthling behind it. As much as we’d like to go Sherlock and figure out the identity of our mystery person, anonymity suits him/her.
It must be said that satirical news is an interesting medium on several levels. Apart from highlighting the laughable state of affairs or the affairs of our state, it also subverts the concepts of “news” and “credibility.” What we read and absorb as “news”, which should essentially be true and unbiased, is depicted as being unreliable and trivial, questioning the concept of “true news.” It also questions the news angles we unquestioningly read in mainstream news stories, a careful examination of which highlights just how skewered and tilted the news is in support of one party or the other.
While all this may seem a bit too heavy – isn’t it just about making fun of things as they are? Well, nothing is ever that simple – it’s a great move for Sri Lanka because it shows bold new initiatives to question what we take for granted and gets us thinking a bit. The best part is that a lot of people are taking satire as a medium seriously – websites like Colombo Chronicle and Broken News too, add to the stream of laughs life and news have become.