Covering Technology in the Morning, Teaching Journalism During the Day

BY ALEXANDRA SIMOU - Special to the Sun
January 31, 2005

Inside Sreenath Sreenivasan lurks a Luddite, just waiting to come out. Perhaps unexpected in someone who guides people through the perils of technology for a living, this small voice of skepticism is what gives Mr. Sreenivasan the edge in his mission of demystifying technology and the Internet. "I'm not a technical expert," he says, "I just play one on TV."

PHOTO: Jay Mandal / On Assignment

As WABC-TV's "Tech Guru," Mr. Sreenivasan appears on Channel 7 Eyewitness News This Morning at 6:45 a.m. on Thursdays and at 7:45 a.m. on Saturdays. His three-minute segments interpret technology to the layman, sift through Web sites for the useful and entertaining ones, and include tips ranging from how to participate in the South Asian tsunami relief effort to how best to go about online shopping.

Mr. Sreenivasan was born in Tokyo and went to kindergarten in Moscow, where he learned to speak fluent Russian and quote Lenin. His father's job as a diplomat for the Indian government took the family to New York when he was nine years old (and learned to quote John Lennon). He attended P.S. 6 on the East Side and, to his parents chagrin, announced that he planned to be a journalist. But his father was soon posted overseas again, and Mr. Sreenivasan went to high school in Burma and then Fiji. Trying to steer him toward useful employment, his mother arranged for a paid internship. Undeterred, Mr. Sreenivasan found an unpaid job at the Fiji Sun newspaper, and his parents only realized his ruse when he ran out of money. But he thought his unpaid toil well worth it when, at the age of 15, he got his first byline.

After Fiji, Mr. Sreenivasan was accepted to the University of Canberra, Australia. Seeking independence and distance from his family, he went to India instead, studied history in New Delhi, and worked as a proofreader and business reporter. He returned to New York for his master's degree at Columbia University, and was delighted when, in the economic downturn of the early nineties, he was offered a job as a business reporter at Forbes Magazine with a salary of $27,000. A teaching fellowship at Columbia paying $19,000 came up at the same time, and, predictably, he took the job at Columbia. He is now associate professor of professional practice at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, and has taught courses ranging from writing and reporting to television classes and Internet journalism. He's widely considered one of the university's most popular teachers.

Mr. Sreenivasan is at home in New York - and sees the city's rich diversity as a great asset. It happens regularly after his morning television broadcasts that the anchor "tosses" from the Tech Guru to Joya Dass, a financial reporter also of South Asian origin. "The fact that they have two South Asians says something about the station, says something about the network, about New York - it's a wonderful thing," says Mr. Sreenivasan. To help bring more minorities into the media, he has co-founded the South Asian Journalists Association.

Part of his mission is to help parents guide their children through the maze of the Internet even as they cope with the younger generation's superior computer skills. "We do a lot of segments on 'catching up with your kids'," he says, "the Internet is not passive and parents need to get involved." He'd like to see children learn that information is not free. "How do we get the next generation to pay for newspapers, pay for a website-newspapers are wrestling with this," he says. He encourages parents to help their children understand the value of technology by including expenses like mobile phones in the calculation of their allowance.

Mr. Sreenivasan has conducted technology workshops in seven countries. WABC-TV often sends him to local schools to teach about technology and the Internet. Recently, he held a class for 900 sixth, seventh and eighth graders in Roslyn, Long Island. "They should all have been my tech gurus," he says, "they all know more about technology than we do."

Before becoming a parent, Mr. Sreenivasan thought he wouldn't let his children play with computers until they were four years old. But his 20-month-old twins are already listening to iPods and playing computer games on the Internet, so he's revising his plan-although he rejects the idea of using technology as a baby sitter.

Inevitably, he watches a lot of television. "But I couldn't do without print journalism," he says, admitting that he is often awake at 3 a.m., holding the freshly delivered Wall Street Journal in one hand and cradling one of the twins in the other.

Mostly, he surfs. "My job is to surf the Internet, I have the world's greatest job," he says. He is on 24/7, always looking for the next technology breakthrough, the next best thing on the Web.