Thursday, March 31, 2011

Turning dross (from a press release) into gold (news that readers will want to read)

What happens when a news report based on a press release and using sentences from the press release does not acknowledge the source? And, worse, the reporter actually takes a byline for it?

This was the subject of my Reading Room post yesterday: "Have you heard of 'churnalism'?"

That post was inspired by a press release (I have copied it below) that had a lot of useful information about IJNet, a website for journalists and would-be journalists but, as is the case with most press releases, it was not an interesting read. Nor was it an easy read.

How could I turn it into a news item? Or write about IJNet on The Reading Room? The thought process involved in the rewriting may give you an insight into how the dross from a press release can be turned into gold: news that readers will want to read.

Here is the press release:

International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), is a non-profit, professional organization headquartered in the U.S. ICFJ runs a website, the International Journalists’ Network -- which offers many resources of interest to young as well as mid-career journalists.

India is fortunate to have had good journalism institutes and outstanding journalists who have helped shape a media that’s largely independent of both government and business. Still, with new challenges like digital media, the definition and skills of journalism continue to evolve. This is where IJNet could help meet a need, helping young and mid-career journalists to continue their professional education by staying in touch with their peers worldwide and tracking new trends.

While you would want to explore this website yourself, we thought we should draw your attention to a few highlights announced on the site:
    *Innovative news projects in digital journalism funded by Google
    *Courses on mobile reporting from cellphones; also courses on development and diversity issues and journalism for social change.
    *Internship programs that enable journalists to work at US media organizations
    *Fellowships in investigative journalism at the University of California and Berkeley School of Journalism
    *Blogs and other competitions on global energy issues
    *Live chats with prize-winning journalists

More recently, the website offered a Census of India photography contest. Sometimes the site also offers travel grants to international seminars of special interest to journalists.

Other features of the website include:
    *Journalism resources and news: Where you can find information on everything from basic reporting to healthcare journalism to new media
    *Community content: Where you can easily upload your own valuable resources to share with the world
    *Specialized blogs written by IJNet editors
    *Discussion groups on hot topics: Where you can sound off on issues that matter to you!

Discussion posts cover topics like “Should news sites be held responsible for user comments?”, “Should journalists help investigate crimes?”, “To what degree should journalists protect privacy?” and the ethics and issues involving Wikileaks. These are issues being debated also in India and our journalists could share their own views and approaches with the rest of the world.

The site also has a bank of articles on multimedia and digital journalism and videos on disaster reporting, maintaining a healthy broadcast voice (for broadcast journalists), and using Google maps in online stories.

As I wrote above, there is a lot of useful information here but the sentence construction, the choice of words the very structure of the press release soon had my eyes glazing over. And I began feeling disconnected.

What to do?

I needed to study the website first in order to think of something interesting to replace that turgid intro, so I clicked on the link provided in the press release. Voila! I found my news peg right there on the website: a reference to "churnalism". And this is what I came up with for an opener in the post I published yesterday:

Sometimes newspapers base a news report on a press release. Nothing wrong with that when the newspaper makes the source clear to readers by including this line (or a variant) at the appropriate place in the report: "...according to a company press release."

But what happens when a news report based on a press release and using sentences from the press release does not acknowledge the source? And, worse, the reporter actually takes a byline for it? (This happened to me once
a press release I sent out to Bangalore newspapers on behalf of Commits was reproduced almost verbatim in The Hindu with the reporter attaching her name at the end.)

That is called "churnalism". Also known as "cut-and-paste journalism".

It's only in the fifth paragraph of my post that I introduced IJNet.

But I believe that Poynter is also an excellent website for journalism resources, so keeping my student audience in mind, I included this line at the end of that fifth paragraph:

Along with Poynter, IJNet is the go-to site for anyone serious about a career in journalism.

Then, having introduced "churnalism", I returned to it. I explained the term by quoting an example from IJNet and then concluded the post by expounding on the lessons to be learnt from this particular episode of "churnalism".

At the end, since I was writing a blog post and not a full-fledged news item, I attributed the "source" of this press release. (Let me make it clear here that Commitscion Shruti Upadhyay only forwarded it to me.)

I would like to believe that what I have written (read the post in its entirety here) is more interesting to read than the press release.

Also, if a PR professional had sent the press release to me with the intention of getting some publicity for IJNet, he or she would have no reason to quibble.

Now this is what I call a win-win situation. Do you agree?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Have you heard of "churnalism"?

Sometimes newspapers base a news report on a press release. Nothing wrong with that when the newspaper makes the source clear to readers by including this line (or a variant) at the appropriate place in the report: "...according to a company press release."

But what happens when a news report based on a press release and using sentences from the press release does not acknowledge the source? And, worse, the reporter actually takes a byline for it? (This happened to me once a press release I sent out to Bangalore newspapers on behalf of Commits was reproduced almost verbatim in The Hindu with the reporter attaching her name at the end.)

That is called "churnalism". Also known as "cut-and-paste journalism".

Or, if you prefer a more refined phrase, you engage in "churnalism" when you rework news articles from press releases.

I first came across this term on the International Journalists' Network, or IJNet. The website offers a slew of resources for journalists, both newcomers and veterans, including tips on reporting and editing, and news of scholarships and job opportunities. Along with Poynter, IJNet is the go-to site for anyone serious about a career in journalism.

Now, back to "churnalism". In a recent post on IJNet, Dana Liebelson has profiled the website that exposes cases of "churnalism". Liebelson followed up by contacting a reporter whose story in The Guardian on a supermarket chain "had 1,479 characters overlapping with the press release".

Liebelson writes:

The circumstances under which she says it was written will sound familiar to many staff reporters.

“It was a company announcement, it was new and unexpected so we wrote a straight news story like everyone else,” [Julia] Kollewe told IJNet via email. “Also bear in mind that it was a Sunday for Monday story so there were fewer opportunities for original reporting. There was one reporter (me) who wrote everything that day. You can rest assured that not all stories are like that.”

So what are the lessons to be learnt from this particular episode of "churnalism"? One, do not pass off a press release as your own work. Two, there will be work pressure tempting you to pass off a press release as your own work figure out how you are going to deal with it. It may not be easy but it's not that difficult, either.

Friday, March 25, 2011

This could be the most important writing tip of your life

Often teachers at the school and undergrad level tell their students that they write so well they should think about a career in the media. This is what happened to William Tapply, the prolific writer of mysteries.

Tapply writes:

In the beginning, writing came easy to me. My teachers always loved my stories. They came back with comments such as "Wonderful descriptions," or "Excellent use of vocabulary words."

But when Tapply showed the stories to his father, a professional magazine writer, he would only get laconic comments: "Another A. Congratulations."

Then a tough teacher came into Tapply's life. This time, to make sure he could create a good impression, Tapply first showed his assignment to his father and pointedly asked for his opinion.

Here's what happened next:

He read it with a red pen in his hand. Fifteen minutes later he handed it back to me. Every page had eight or ten words circled in red.

"Verbs," said Dad.


"You depend too much on the verb to be. Use active verbs. Put them to work. Find the right verb, and you can eliminate all these flabby adverbs and fancy adjectives." He pointed with the tip of his pen at those excellent vocabulary words I had strung together to make my wonderfully descriptive passages.

I nodded. "Okay," I said. "Verbs. Otherwise, how is it?"

"There are some other things," he said. "But first, the verbs."

This conversation will be familiar to Commits students who have heard me talk (ad nauseam?) about the importance of verbs. And the necessity of keeping adverbs and adjectives to a minimum.

Tapply's story does not end there. He shows his father the draft of his next story and gets another lesson from the veteran writer:

When he finished, he looked up at me. "You've certainly attended to your verbs," he said. He jabbed at the paper. "Where'd you get this one?"

"Nicitate? I learned that last year."

"Good word," said Dad. "What's it mean?"


"That's a better word," he said. "Who're you trying to impress?"

And then his father gives Tapply perhaps the most important tip of his writing life:

Dad handed my story to me. "Invisible writing," he said. "Understand?"


"Don't try to impress your reader with how cleverly you write. These fancy words, all these adjectives and adverbs and vocabulary words" he pronounced the word vocabulary as if it meant "disgusting human waste product" "all they do is call attention to you. You don't want your reader aware of your writing at all. If you do your job, you'll have them thinking about your ideas, your arguments, your characters, or whatever it is you're trying to communicate. If someone tells you, 'Wow, that's great writing,' you know you've failed."

"You mean all my other teachers over the years. . ."

He shrugged. "You've been getting bad advice."

If you're really serious about improving your writing skills, you will want to read the full story (excerpted from William Tapply's book, Sportsman's Legacy). Go here: "Invisible Writing".

"Want to develop story ideas? Try Facebook"

That's a very helpful tip by the guru of journalism teachers, Roy Peter Clark of Poynter. (One more tip: The most powerful tool for getting reader feedback and generating civil conversation, he says, is the open-ended question. More about that later.)

Clark writes in his column (published on the Poynter website last month) that he had taken part recently in a discussion on how social networks can help journalists. Afterwards, thinking back to a conversation at the discussion about the risks women take by wearing high heels, Clark thought of a story idea:

I decided to ask my Facebook friends about their experiences and opinions on high heels and women’s health. “Has the recent popularity of stiletto heels led to more accidents or foot problems for women?"

Then Clark posted more questions on Facebook about women’s experiences with heels. "Within a couple of hours," he writes, "I received 36 messages highlighting a number of possible story angles."

Clark then explains how — with the help of a good question — topics encountered on Facebook could grow into something more.

But how you frame that "good question" is going to be critical to the success of your plan. Concludes Clark:

To generate the most revealing and productive answers, the questions must avoid Yes/No choices. It is the open-ended question that most often provides what writers most need: details, anecdotes, stories, scenes, along with rich and interesting language.

Read the column in its entirety here: "The case of high heels: How open-ended questions on Facebook can spark story leads".

Thursday, March 24, 2011

If you want to be a versatile writer, here's some practical advice

Frank Bruni has been a reporter with the New York Times, one of the world's great newspapers, for many years now. Apparently, he does not have a set beat; instead he writes about a wide variety of topics. As his interviewer notes in this insightful Q&A with him on the Poynter website, Bruni has written about "food, politics, culture, and more".

What are the challenges he has faced in writing about so many topics? That is the question posed to Bruni by Mallary Jean Tenore.

Bruni's reply:

I wouldn’t say that writing about different topics is a challenge. More an opportunity — or a sign of a short and fickle attention span. I think journalists who write well and with great depth about one genre or topic face a greater challenge than those like me who wander and mix it up, because they’re expected to convey a higher degree of authority, and they have to keep breathing fresh life into a subject with certain parameters. The fact that my bosses have let me explore different areas is a privilege, not a challenge.

Bruni also expounds on how reporters can step outside their beat and become more versatile writers:

Journalistic training and preparedness are what they are, whether one is trying to be versatile or narrow. Read, read, read. Keep your eyes peeled for what’s interesting in the world. Pay close attention to the people you’re interviewing. Try to write up the results in a careful and lively fashion.

Aspiring journalists can pick up some handy tips by reading the full interview and going to the links provided on this page: "New York Times’ Frank Bruni shares his tools for versatile writing".

Sunday, March 13, 2011

How to have a successful MMC-related internship

Over the years our alumni have been there, done that. Now that they have become successful media professionals, what advice can they give their juniors?

  • ARPAN BHATTACHARYYA (Class of 2010), Grey Apple, Bangalore
1. Copywriters/art guys and girls/client servicing people: Whatever it is that you are doing, you have to be well-read about advertising. Now, no one will expect you to have read all the books and know everything there is to know (no one does and if someone tells you otherwise, don't believe it). However, there is at least one book that you should have leafed through if not read. That book is Ogilvy on AdvertisingDavid Ogilvy is considered the god of advertising and this book the Bible. Technically, during your internships, if you don't know about this book, it might not raise too many eyebrows. But if you do then it could raise those eyebrows in a rather appreciative way. Also, this book will really, really help you with some superb know-how on the profession you are entering. And it's available in the Commits library.


2. Look around you, keep going to YouTube, scan the newspapers and magazines to stay current on what's happening in the advertising world and otherwise. As far as advertising is concerned, again, you won't be expected to know much but just a basic idea of what's happening, what's working and what's not will be really helpful when you have to come up with ideas on your own.  And you can get some brilliant ideas by just observing what's happening in the world.

3. Be confident about your ideas; be protective and possessive about the stuff you write or design, but remember that you are going to be working with people who have been there for a bit longer than you. If something gets shot down don't get too upset. And DO NOT become arrogant and over-confident. Most of the time there will be a very valid reason as to why your idea might not be the best. You can always go up to the seniors later on and ask why they didn't think it was good enough. The answers might help you think of something that's absolutely fantastic. But don't sulk and mope about your idea not getting selected. I've seen it happen and it can really rub your seniors the wrong way. Also, unfortunately, there are times when a good idea will get shot down for no apparent reason. At times like that, remember that you are an intern and there is really nothing you can do about it. Don't start thinking about whether people are trying to put you down, etc., etc. Think of the next idea. They can only refuse a few good ones before they realise that you're the real deal.

4. I know this is a cliche and I know that a learned journalism professor has told you to avoid cliches like the plague! But advertising isn't all glitz and glamour; it isn't all about TV ads and front-page solus magic. As interns you'll have to do a lot of the donkey work. I work as a copywriter and if I went in to work tomorrow morning and found an intern in office, I would gleefully hand over all the boring jobs that I had: brochures, pamphlets, proofing assignments. Sorry, but that's just how it is: on my first day at work I had to proof a 50- page hearing aid brochure. It'll be tough; it can be boring. But it's all part of the learning process. And, as an incentive, just think of what you'd do to interns when you're a big shot.

5. Be, and appear, willing to learn. It'll go a long way in showing people that you're passionate about the profession. Don't suck up to people unless your wisdom tells you otherwise but asking for opinions about your work and just socialising in a general way will help you a lot.

Finally, just remember to enjoy yourself: It's a fun profession. Here's hoping to see a few more admen/women rolling out of Commits in a year's time! But just remember, if you ever come to work in my agency, you'll still be my junior. Which means, you'll still have to do the brochures and pamphlets! At least for some time! :P

All the best!

  • ANKANA SINHA (Class of 2009), Text100, Bangalore
Here goes my advice to all budding PR professionals:

First, set your expectations right. You will not be given client-facing work on Day One, or even on Day 15. PR is all about relationships and reputations. You need to be thoroughly inducted into the account before you do "path-breaking" work. The work might seem mundane but there is a lot to learn there as well.

Second, make an effort to familiarise yourself with the publications, the columns, and the supplements before you begin your internship. And I mean all the general and financial newspapers. This will help you map opportunities for your client and impress your boss.

Once you join the PR firm, please spend enough time understanding the client and the industry it operates in. Read up as much as possible.

Observe, learn the best practices. Take as much feedback as possible, and remember what you're told.

Ask questions, don't blindly agree to everything. Ask for the logic behind it. But at the same time appreciate that these people have been in the industry long enough to know better. Respect them for that.

Be creative. Throw up ideas. Don't worry about what people will think. You never know what might work.

And most important: Be happy and enjoy yourself.

  • KIRTHANA KARUMBAIAH (Class of 2010), Cover Story, Bangalore
Seems quite some time back when I was an apprehensive First Year Commitscion wondering which PR firm I would be interning at!

Be yourself is what I would advise first. It's a cliche, true, but the more you pretend and "fake" your interest in things at work, the more transparent you will appear.

The hunger and desire to know more about what you have to do might be mistaken for over-zealousness. So ask your questions courteously. And listen, always listen; the things you can pick up on and learn when your ears are open are countless.

Have a good time as well; work is not always mundane and boring. This is an internship, yes, but if you are not going to have a bit of fun at work, you will go crazy with boredom.

P.S. My internship personally was an eye-opener: I figured out that I DID not want to pursue PR, though I had a good stint as a PR intern. This internship helped me sift the grain from the chaff. :)

  • AMBIKA RAO (Class of 2007), Bangalore
Here are my tips for those going to ad agencies:

1. Read up on the structure of advertising agencies, the different departments, and their respective functions.

2. Choose one specific area that you want to work in and stick to it.

3. Speak to seniors at the agency or any contact there and find out which clients the agency handles.

4. Read up on the brands/clients and look at the advertising they are doing.

5. Figure out which brand and ads you like best.

6. Now, you have the department figured out and also the brand you like.

7. On your first day, tell your mentor or whoever you know, the brand and the department you want to work with.

8. Also, get to know everyone there, introduce yourself, ask questions. All in the first week.

9. Use the library, check awards books, and ask for the guard book (books that have all the ads released by the agency).

10. Ask for work. If you choose to be in the creative department ask for briefs, beg if you have to.

11. Understand the process, don't be scared to share ideas, have lots of fun.

12. Keep copies of all your work.

  • RAMANATHAN IYER (Class of 2006),Yahoo, Bangalore
Here is what I think that the juniors will need (and this is what is found lacking mostly in freshers when they apply for internships and jobs):

a. Ability to think at a macro level and understand the bigger picture.

b. Most of the times, freshers are just content with the day-to-day deliverables and are comfortable being oblivious to how the operations/or the bigger teams work and how the business pipeline works and how they fit in at an individual level and also as team players within the framework of a corporate setup. This needs to change. Interns should be more receptive and be able to connect the dots.

c. The ordinariness of work, the mundaneness of it, is something everyone complains about; but the thing is that in every industry (especially in the media business) interns will be given what might be perceived as low-ranking jobs. They should not get perturbed by this. This is part of the drill and this is a good thing because they will then get a holistic learning of the business end.

  • SHUBHA KHADDAR (Class of 2007), iPublish Central Inc., Bangalore
Here's what comes first to my mind:

1. Please go through the website of the firm you will be working with; understand who's who, their services/products, their verticals, clients (if they have a client list).

2. Read up on the industry they are a part of, check the trends, the financial performance of the industry, the usual terminology used so you are not completely lost on Day One.

3. If you know what is expected of you, then talk to people who have been doing that and understand the nuances of that role. If you don't, then let everyone at work know that you are willing to take up any responsibility and offer to rise to the occasion whenever necessary — an enthusiastic, willing intern charms one and all.

4. Do not treat the internship as a summer camp. For you it may be a six-week project, for the firm, it is serious business.

5. Do not give opinions without facts or logic.

6. Do not frown if you are expected to stay back late or are asked to come in early.

7. Many of you will be doing this internship in your hometowns — but that does not give you the excuse to bunk as and when you want. Remember, they could (and most possibly will) be your future employers.

8. Don't get too personal with the staff — no one needs to know how cool your boyfriend is or your home troubles in those six weeks.

9. Ensure that you follow email etiquette: do not sign off with your nickname or change the signature font the way you want it (unless the firm is OK with it). Ensure that you spell correctly the names of all the people you're working with — it's a huge NO-NO to use incorrect spellings of names.

10. Do not, ABSOLUTELY DO NOT, give away important information to your friends about the firm's plans, especially with ad/PR/event management firms — you cannot tell anyone the names of the clients your firm plans to pitch to, etc. If you are caught doing that, you will be in serious trouble.

11. Most agencies are cool with whatever you wear — but during your internship, please dress formally, or at least semi-formally.
12. If the firm is taking the team out for drinks or dinner or whatever — for heaven's sake, DO NOT overdo it, DO NOT get drunk and make a fool of yourself and the college you are representing. Remember, it's a small world and news spreads like jungle fire — do not get into a mess.

Hope my tips help you — here's wishing you all a great internship!

  • SATISH PERUMAL (Class of 2011), Percept, Bangalore
Here are some tips that might help my friends complete their internships successfully:

1. Don't wait for work, take the initiative and go get work for yourself. Make yourself useful as interns are generally given 'donkey' work. Make the most of every opportunity.

2. Talk to people, identify one person whom you can talk to and get a better understanding of the industry and how it functions.

3. This internship is your opportunity to get a job, so always let your work do the talking and DON'T take anything lightly.

4. Nothing can substitute hard work and dedication towards what you do. Think of this as a proper job and you guys will do well.

5. Last but not the least, break a leg. :)

  • DEBOLINA MAZUMDAR (Class of 201O), Vaishnavi Corporate Communications, Bangalore
I am new to the PR industry but one very important thing that I have learnt in the last few months is that in PR one must know and follow a few guidelines like one follows the holy books:

1. Know what's going on around you. Read, read, read all you can... newspapers, magazines... to the extent that you know each and every column and the journalist writing it.

2. Practice your writing skills BIG TIME. This is one of the basic necessities.

3. Meet deadlines with precision. Even though you are a fresher, a shoddy job is unacceptable.

4. Behave cordially with your colleagues.

5. Know what you are doing even in times of crisis.

I hope this helps you, juniors. All the best.

  • SUPRIYA SRIVASTAV (Class of 2011), Bangalore
I have just two tips for my juniors:
First, take the initiative. If you think you are are not being given any work, ask for it. Your colleagues are not there to train an intern, but, yes, if you show interest they will give you useful insights and you will leave a positive impact on the organisation.

Second, know what's happening around you. Seek possibilities where you can offer help. Do not hesitate to ask what's happening and how it's happening. They will appreciate it if you ask questions (even if you think these questions are stupid) at the right time, perhaps when they are free, maybe during lunch. After all, there is no such thing as a stupid question, as we have learnt at Commits. All the best!

  • AMRUTHA RAMAN (Class of 2011), IndianStage, Bangalore
My only advice would be, go with an open mind. Interns learn the best when they are thrown into the deep end.

Don't expect spoon-feeding. Jargon will be thrown at you and you might wonder what it all means. Figure it out, take help, and eventually you'll settle down. By the end of these six weeks, you'll will be a different person.

  • APAR DHAM (Class of 2011), Explocity, Bangalore
Ask, ask, and ask some more. There should be no limit to the number of questions you ask. The whole idea of an internship is to learn and it won't make any sense if you sit behind your computer screen and just keep doing what is asked of you.

Ask anything and ask whoever is in sight. Bug your colleagues to death. The company agreed to give you the internship so they are aware of your intentions to learn the tricks of the trade. Most of the time, your colleagues will be more than willing to help. If that is not the case, then take a different approach and send an email if they are too busy to answer your questions in person. Do not hesitate to introduce yourselves on the first day and familiarise with the people and the environment. It always helps.

And don't just limit your questions to the department you are working for or are interested in. Try to learn about other things as well in order to get a better understanding of the entire business.

I completed an internship in advertising (with the digital department of DraftFCB+Ulka in Mumbai) because I always wanted to see what the ad industry was all about. Many of my classmates wanted to pursue careers in advertising and I wanted to find out if I would like it or not. Many a time I was told that I would be good in it. So I took it up. And I'm thankful to everyone who pushed me for it.

But I'm not in advertising today. I learnt how advertising works and it didn't excite me as much as I thought it would. I learnt a thousand things about this industry and one of those things was that I'm not cut out for it. Now before anyone jumps to conclusions, this is my opinion. I'm not in any way saying that advertising is not an exciting field. To each his own. My classmate Catherine Dequadros was with me at DraftFCB+Ulka. Today she is a part of the same industry and working as a social media expert because she LOVED it there. So the internship helped us learn a lot about the kind of careers we would like to pursue. This is why an internship is so important. It helps you to make an informed decision about your career. Now this is a lesson in itself.

I'm very happy I did an internship with Draft FCB+Ulka. I had an amazing time. Mumbai was an interesting experience. Lovely city bustling with life 24/7.

My best wishes to those who are going to Mumbai to work under the tutelage of the legendary Mr.Vedant Varma. Say hello to him for me and enjoy Mumbai! (Commitscion Vedant Varma, Class of 2004, pictured left, is an account director with DraftFCB+Ulka in Mumbai.) Good luck. :-)

  • SAMARPITA SAMADDAR (Class of 2010), IFA, Bangalore
There’s a big difference between your first and second internships. Either you’re going to love your second internship and work in the same industry or you’re going to change your mind. But no matter what, make the best use of your internship. It might get you a job!

If you are doing an internship in PR here are a few things to keep in mind.

Let me be honest: not every agency will take you to client meetings. You might not even get an opportunity to attend big press conferences, depending on how the agency functions. However, don’t get upset and start thinking that they don’t have enough work for you. Show interest, do more than you’re asked to. You will be noticed and definitely you will get to do a lot.

Internships are indeed the best way to build contacts. You never know how, when, and where contacts help in the media industry. If you are sent on media rounds with your colleagues, absorb and learn how they interact with journalists. Media relations is a major part of PR. For example, a few journalists I met when I interned with brand-comm, a PR agency in Bangalore, still interact with me on stories about IFA events and activities. But don’t be pushy or too friendly. Journalists won’t remember you for that long! Sad but true.

Be enthusiastic about everything. Don’t slouch in a corner and be content with making PowerPoint slides or doing online research. Say that you want to know how to write press releases, you want to learn how to strategise PR plans or journalist pitches. Go up to your colleagues and discuss the different accounts with them during the lunch break. Ask about their experiences, take valuable tips from them.

You will be asked to make follow-up calls to journalists. Be prepared to face some …er… 'not-so-good' experiences. They might just hang up on you. That happens; don’t take it to heart. When you try talking to them on the phone, try not to mention you are an intern, especially if you have to talk to a senior journalist. It helps sometimes.

If you love what you do, work is damn good fun! At least for me, work is a superb high!

So, go out there, get a glimpse of the REAL world and have a blast!

  • RESHMA SHETTY (Class of 2004), Australia
a. Most important: 'If you don't ask, you don't get'. I think this applies to all areas of our lives.

b. All companies agree to take on interns with good intentions, but in the course of a busy working day, interns often get sidelined. Don't take this personally. Focus on what you want to get from your time there and keep you eyes and ears open to absorb as much as you can about the way things work.

c. Focus on the big picture: If in exchange for doing some menial task (say, photocopying a big bunch of stuff for someone), you are able to get that person to teach you something that you want to learn or get you involved in some key project, then the photocopying wasn't such a waste of time really, was it?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

How to have a successful AVC-related internship

Over the years our alumni have been there, done that. Now that they have become successful media professionals, what advice can they give their juniors?


TELLING IT LIKE IT IS: Faye D'Souza, assistant editor of personal finance at ET Now in Mumbai and also the anchor of the "Investors' Guide" show on the channel, offers expert advice (see below) as a Commitscion and as a successful media professional.

  • FAYE D'SOUZA (Class of 2004)ET Now, Mumbai
1. LISTEN: A lot of times you might be so excited about your idea or the environment you are in that you forget to listen to what is being said. Pay close attention to instructions given to you and to conversations around you. Pay attention to soft skills, work ethics, dealing with technical people, organisational structure. The relationship between sales and editorial. These things will come in handy no matter where you finally find a job.

2. WRITE IT DOWN: Everyone appreciates a colleague who values feedback and instructions enough to write it down. Carry a notebook to your internship and write down everything that is said to you and everything you learn. It will help you plan your day and organise your work, and it will also help when you sit down to write a report on your internship.

3. SAVE A COPY: Remember to save a copy of all your work. Get CDs burnt if you are in TV or radio and clippings if you are in print. Getting a byline as an intern is a rare and impressive thing. Don't take it lightly.

4. GIVE UP YOUR PERSONAL LIFE: You are here to learn. You don't need chai and smoke breaks, you don't need holidays, you don't need sleep or a shower. Be available all the time, come in on weekends and holidays, come in early and stay late. Remember it's when the real journalists are out sleeping, eating, and smoking that the intern gets a shot at the work. News doesn't follow work hours. It can happen at any time and you better be around when it does!

5. EARN A REPUTATION: Most offices will value smart, intelligent, well-dressed people, but everyone cherishes a HARD WORKER. And since you are going out in the media world you should get used to hearing foul language, so BE THE HARDEST WORKING MOTHER****ER THEY HAVE EVER SEEN. You will have a job offer at the end of your stint.

Good luck!
  • When Faye D'Souza sent us her write-up for publication here, she was working with ET Now. She has since moved on. Today, in May 2018, she is the Executive Editor of Mirror Now and a news anchor with a legion of fans and a huge bouquet of accolades. Most recently, Faye was honoured with the RedInk Journalist of the Year Award — see pictures below.
WELL-DESERVED HONOUR: Faye D'Souza and the legendary Mark Tully at the RedInk Awards ceremony in Mumbai on May 18, 2018.

  • AAISHA SABIR (Class of 2019), Mirror Now, Mumbai
To the future broadcast interns:
For a long time now, I have fancied working with an English news channel. Before joining Commits in July 2017, I had a short stint as a freelance writer with a newspaper in Bangalore. But it is the thought of being on TV, covering news live and living in the moment, and making split-second decisions that has always thrilled me. To explore my options, I chose a broadcast internship during my second semester at Commits. I was fortunate that the college gave me the opportunity to join Mirror Now in Mumbai as an intern.
During this two-month internship, I not only got an insight into what it means to be a television journalist, but I also observed closely what happens in a newsroom. I feel it is my responsibility to pass on these observations to my juniors, so here goes. 
By the time you go for your broadcast internship, RP Sir would have grilled you and drilled you thoroughly. You would also have worked on your group's TV news bulletin. But, as RP Sir has made clear to us, no college can replicate the newsroom environment  that is why an industry internship is so valuable. 
Take your second-semester news bulletin seriously. How you choose your story idea and execute it will itself teach you a lot. The pattern you will be taught at Commits is actually the one followed in a news channel. There are scripts, VOs, and PTCs. 
You need to understand the flow of the script. Nobody can teach you that; it all depends on the amount of time you spend practising writing scripts. You need short, simple, and precise sentences. Just like this one. This is the trick. It might sound easy but once you get down to it you will know how challenging it is.
Things you need to think about:
  • Manners
  • Punctuality
  • Being yourself 
  • Honesty

Things you need to work on:
  • Grammar
  • Daily newspaper habit

Things you should do as an intern:
Smile and talk to everyone. I mean, everyone. The gatekeeper, the canteen chap, your boss, your boss’s boss, and so on. 
You might get intimidated when you first enter the newsroom: so many people shouting, giving instructions, having frenzied conversations. This is what you will see every day. This is how a newsroom functions. So relax. Take a deep breath. And get right down to work.
ONE FOR THE ALBUM: Aaisha Sabir, right, with fellow Commits intern Ahana Bose and Faye D'Souza in the Mirror Now newsroom in Mumbai on May 11, 2018.

The rundown might look scary, your boss might give you the heebie-jeebies  but do not let that frighten you. There are scarier things on this planet. For example, your bank balance at the end of the month.  
Pitch your story ideas every day. Think of one story idea at least every day and pitch it to your boss. Be prepared for a no; let that not put you off. People might tell you this is not done, interns aren’t allowed to do this and that. Remember: People thought Galileo was crazy. Self-belief is the key. 
I do not like to typecast people, but my life experiences so far have taught me to be wary of foxes. Foxes are sly, clever people who appear to wish you well. They will tell you Option A is bad, do not go for it. But Option A turns out to be the right one and you will find them choosing it themselves. You might come across such people. I hope you don’t. If anyone tells you interns aren’t allowed to do this or that, smile, nod your head in agreement, and then go about pursuing your idea with another boss or relevant person. Do not give up.
Attempt every kind of task. Do not restrict yourself to only one job profile. Since you are there, why not learn whatever you can? I observed how the Graphics team works, how special lower bands are made. This might not be relevant when I become a reporter, but it is knowledge. 
Don’t act like you know it all. If you know it all, what are you doing there?
Go in on holidays, on your day off; stay back after work to learn more. It shows your boss you are keen on learning. You might say you are a keen learner but when you act like it…   
Remember, a thirsty person goes to the well for water. The well does not come to those who are thirsty. You need to learn, so you should be the one to approach people. Do not expect them to come and sit down and teach you. You need to seek them till the day you, in turn, are sought.
Be on your toes. Don’t be a slouch and don't be a whiner. There is no nanny in a newsroom to comfort you. 
Finally, when RP Sir says read, he means read. Read relevant books and magazines. Read newspapers. Read RP Sir's e-mails. Read his posts on Facebook, at least those that apply to media students.
Enjoy the roller-coaster ride at Commits. Thrive as an intern. Good luck!
  • PRIYANKA SALIGRAM (Class of 2009), Kuwait Times, Kuwait City
a. Keep your eyes and ears open. There's so much to learn every minute of the few hours that you spend at the place.

b. Be genuinely interested and ask a lot of questions. You'll end up annoying the slackers but the hard workers will be more than happy to answer your questions.

c. Live at the place for those six weeks and absorb every little thing about the kind of work being done. And don't stick to your mobile phone, messaging or talking, because it screams "I'M BORED AS HELL, SOMEONE GET ME OUTTA HERE!"

d. Don't dress like a smartass. No funky accessories, loud make-up, iPod dangling from your ears, beach footwear, clingy stuff that shows skin, or anything that will grab unnecessary attention. It's best to be dressed formally.

e. Please make sure you smell great; chew mint, drown yourself in perfume, and ensure that you don't smell human even after 12 hours of work.

f. Finally, the most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the whole experience. After all this, if the place turns out to be a dump, nobody will force you at gun-point to join. If the place feels like home, you don't have to force anyone at gun-point to offer you the job.

PAPER TIGER: Having a boss like Jamie Etheridge (seated centre) made all the difference to her internship at Kuwait Times, says Priyanka Saligram (standing right).

Of course, the main thing that worked for me was having an irreplaceable and wonderful boss, Jamie Etheridge, who gave me space to make mistakes and learn; she understood me better than I understood myself. If I had worked with someone else who was part-tyrant and full-anal retentive workaholic, forget being offered a job, my internship letter would have been printed on used toilet paper.

I wish the juniors a happy and productive internship and hope they get whatever they want from these two months.

  • NILOFER D'SOUZA (Class of 2009), Forbes India, Bangalore
a. Just because you got your internship easily, please don't take it lightly. (I've heard of interns who are least interested, throw attitude, and some who have been caught lying and bunking work.)

b. Be yourself. (If you're an introvert, don't think you need to be an extrovert to shine in the workplace. All you need to do is get work done.)

c. Be a sponge. Soak up everything you see, hear, and learn.

d. Be on time. Do not chill at work just because you see a few juniors or seniors taking it lightly.

  • DEBMALYA DUTTA (Class of 2011), The Statesman, Kolkata
If you're going for an internship with a newspaper, brush up your QuarkXPress and InDesign skills and virtually memorise RP Sir's editing slides. You might have to do editing besides reporting and writing.

And make a big effort to ignore those "you-look-like-an-intern" looks. :-)

  • SHIVRAM SUJIR (Class of 2011), Bangalore
The internship you have been waiting for is finally here. This is the career-defining internship as it will help you decide what you want to do and more importantly what you do not want to do.

Once your internship has been confirmed, it's time to befriend Google again. Try to find out more about the organisation you are going to work with and also the industry space it operates in. This will help you become familiar with some of the industry jargon.

Make sure of your job location and start making inquiries about the best route and mode of transport to get there. If your internship is in a city you are not familiar with, find someone who knows the city well and talk to them about details like buses, trains, auto fares, the attitude of the people, and also safety measures that you need to keep in mind.

Use Facebook to make contacts with friends of friends in the new city in advance.

Two things that you need to bear in mind are safety and health. Always keep the Justdial number of your respective city handy. Try to understand what kind of climate the city has and what health issues are likely to be faced by most newcomers. April-May is the time when the summer peaks, so be prepared.

Once you embark on your journey, here are some things you might want to consider:

a. First things first. Be mentally prepared to get the worst treatment from your employer. Interns form the lowest step in the corporate ladder (below the office boy) and some pretend interns don't exist at all. Some of the most boring and uninteresting work may trickle down to you. The good part is that most of you will be lucky enough to work in places that have a great work environment but please do not take it for granted. If your boss is a grouch, take things in your stride. Remember, it is you who is getting more out of this deal than they.

b. Second, please note that training and teaching you is nowhere on the priority list of the person you will report to. What you want to learn and understand is completely up to you. The first three days are very important to make that first impression on your colleagues. After the formal introduction to your colleagues make it a point to go and meet everyone over the next three days and politely inquire about their role in the organisation. It's okay to ask them their names again but this time try to remember them. This exercise will help you get a larger picture of the workings of the organisation. However, the golden rule is to observe people and approach them only when they seem to be free to talk.

c. Third, DO NOT complain or bitch about the work you have to do to anyone in the organisation or even on the phone when you are on the premises. Things have a way of reaching the higher management in ways, and for reasons, you do not yet understand. Many people will get overly friendly with you and might start sharing their grudges against the organisation. They have been through the grind but you are the newbie here. So take a neutral stance and play it safe. Office politics is something we all need to live with, but during your internship, you are better off as a spectator.

All these tips are not meant to scare you but to make your internship a pleasant experience. If I have to share my example, my first internship with the NGO has now given me the opportunity to shoot my first independent documentary film. This happened mainly because of two reasons. One, during my internship I managed to develop a great working relationship with my colleagues, and, two, I have always made it a point to keep in touch with them.

So make the most of this opportunity, my fellow Commitscions. Become GREAT.

  • KAUSTAV DATTA (Class of 2011), Shree Venkatesh Films, Kolkata
a. Say "yes" to everything.

b. Perform all tasks given by your immediate boss with a smile on your face.

c. At times when you get a tongue-lashing even if it's not your fault, don't get disheartened.

d. In a production house you will need to take on responsibilities (apply RP Sir's formula: take the initiative); no one will ask you to do this or that.

e. Your internship may be a "production" internship, but if you are asked to do data entry or photocopying tasks, don't get frustrated.

f. Those who are opting for production, the magic word you should always keep in mind is "coordination".  Those who are going to Mumbai must keep in mind that the first few days will be very tough, so you'll need to be mentally strong.

g. Knowledge of editing can give your internship extra mileage (that's what happened in my case).

h. Try to learn as much as possible.

i. At at the end of the internship, your boss should say to you, "Contact us when your course ends." That's how you will know you have had a successful internship.

  • AAKRITI KHANNA (Class of 2011), TBWA, Bangalore
First of all, never expect anything. You are there to learn, so grasp as much as possible without expecting anything in return (no rewards, no praises, no money).

This is the time for you to experiment and explore your area of interest. Concentrate on learning more about how the industry functions.

In the end, you might be pleased or disappointed with the whole experience.

However, no learning goes to waste; at least you will have a clear idea about what kind of work is involved in your area of interest and what is the potential for growth in that industry.

  • DOLY DYNA (Class of 2011), Bangalore
Here's one pithy piece of advice to those who have chosen to do an internship with a production house:

This industry — television, ad film, film production — is for you only if you love the work and enjoy every minute of it.

If you find yourselves cribbing through the internship then know that you will not survive in this industry.

And, really, there is no preparation to it. Just go with an open mind and be willing to do ANYTHING!

  • SWAGATA MAJUMDAR (Class of 2006), Red FM, Kolkata
During my second internship at Hindustan Times in Kolkata, I was often asked to get coffee for my seniors. I did it ... and those people in HT later gave me an opportunity to host their national annual event after I became an RJ. So basically PR helps.

Do whatever you are told; work on Sundays too. But do insist on being given substantial work. Be polite. "Attitude" does not work. And nobody cares even if you belong to the royal family of England. Remember, six weeks is all you have to create a big impression. And this impression will be the last impression.

Whenever you get shouted at, tell yourself, "I am here to learn... and it's okay... I am the BEST anyway."

I am sure you'll do a GREAT job, juniors. Best of luck!

  • SHRUTHI S. (Class of 2008), Bangalore
I think this internship is a great opportunity for you to explore career options that suit your interests. Always remember that it's a small world: you will probably meet the people you worked with again, and you might need their guidance and help in the future, so put your best foot forward, and take a big leap ahead.

This is my own personal campaign: Don't limit yourself to media, PR, and the corporate sector. Look beyond to where you can make a bigger impact, for example, the non-profit and the public sectors. Even if you want to earn big bucks in the corporate sector, make sure you don't forget your civic duties.

Enough with the preaching. Good luck and have loads of fun. And remember what Steve Jobs said: "Stay hungry, stay foolish."

  • SOUVIK CHAKRABORTY (Class of 2008), Visage/Getty Images, Bangalore
One of the most important points: Know your role during the internship.

You should not limit yourself in the kind of work you do; instead, you should be smart enough to complete every task with full responsibility because there will be people monitoring your work and giving feedback to superiors.

Also, many interns think that if they are going for an internship with a production house, then reading up books on creative writing or notes on marketing will not help. But the fact is that it all counts and you'll figure this out only after you begin your internship.

One more thing: This internship is important not only as a career landmark but also as a way to build contacts. I advise you to keep your ears and eyes open and grab any opportunity that comes along to get to know your colleagues better. These contacts will definitely be useful later.

  • NEHA MEHTA (Class of 2009), Kolkata
MAKING NEWS: Neha Mehta was till recently with Times Now in Bangalore.

This is a great platform from which to launch your career. In many ways, this will be a make-or-break opportunity for you.

First, read up and absorb all you can about the organisation, its work culture, and, of course, the "topic", your area of interest.

Once you begin the internship, work as hard as you can because the dedication you show now will reap huge benefits later.

All the best. Show the world you have arrived!

  • NANDINI HEGDE (Class of 2010), Freelance writer, Bangalore
Here are some qualities/skills you will need:

1. You must be on your toes.

2. You may be asked to make PowerPoint slides but this is something Commitscions can do well.

3. Have a lot of patience. If you don't get work be patient. Conversely, if you get a lot of work, deal with it... patiently.

4. Some people insist on perfection, some insist on the speed at which the work is done. Some insist on both. Figure out what it is that your organisation expects.

5. Most organisations ask interns to do research. (Stop yawning!) Just do it.

And here are some tips:

1. Chill and don't take things TOO seriously.
    I was very nervous when I went to Red Chillies in Mumbai. Eventually, I learnt to relax and not be too stressed.

2. Remember to have FUN!
    When I was at Red Chillies, I was too busy worrying about whether I was doing my work properly. Of course, I realised this after the internship was over. But I had fun when I worked at Fremantle. (Kinda!)

3. When in doubt, ask questions.

4. Don't hesitate to share your ideas or opinions.

5. AND DON'T FORGET TO EAT! (Yes, it can happen!)

  • KOYEL MITRA (Class of 2011), AETN-18 History Channel (Network 18 Group), New Delhi
I was an intern with CNN-IBN here in New Delhi last year so my advice is based on Ground Zero experience:

If you are really interested in television this is your chance, make the most of it. Take the initiative, talk to people around you, show them that you are eager to learn and work. This is your best opportunity to find out where your real interest lies.

Over here this is the funda: If you don't work no one will come and tell you anything and at the end of your internship, you will be given your certificate without any problem.

But if you really do put in an effort you are bound to get noticed. And then you just might get a call back from here!

So all the best, guys! I am always here to help you.