Monday, June 27, 2011

A Commits alumna's long-drawn affair with illustrations

STEPPING STONES TO SUCCESS: Rachna Prabhu is a sought-after illustrator now.

A good illustration is sometimes more effective than a photograph. That is why when Rachna Prabhu (Class of 2008) was a student at Commits, the college newspaper featured her work regularly.

Rachna also provided caricatures (see below) of the speakers to accompany our students' audiovisual speaker introductions at the Hard Sell seminar organised by Commits in Bangalore in January 2007. It became a tradition afterwards to have students include sketches of the speakers at every Commits seminar.

Rachna, who says she has been "doodling in schoolbooks, paper napkins, other people's important files, on walls, and on unsuspecting people's faces pretty much since I was a five-year-old", is now a full-time children's book illustrator. Recently, after she illustrated a book on entrepreneurship, Entrepedia, written by Prof. Nandini Vaidyanathan, I conducted an email interview with her to learn more about her work:

  • How did you get the Entrepedia assignment?
Medini [Prof. Vaidyanathan's daughter and Rachna's Commits classmate] got in touch with me and asked me if I'd like to illustrate Nandini Ma'am's book on entrepreneurship. I was ecstatic because this was the first book I'd be illustrating that wasn't a children's book. I had to follow the normal procedure of sending across a sample illustration that was then first approved by Nandini Ma'am and then the publisher, Embassy Books. Once I had discussed the project details and commercial aspects with the publisher, I got to work on my first gray-scale, non-kiddy book which turned out to be my favourite project thus far. Here's why...

With children's book publishers, they send you a tabulated list of illustrations needed for the story, including the character's expression, clothes, background description, and sometimes even their body structure! This limits your freedom as an illustrator.

With Entrepedia, Nandini Ma'am and the publisher gave me the complete freedom to illustrate the book any way I wanted to. I was just provided with all the chapters and from thereon it was just about me sending across the final illustrations as and when they were ready. The conceptualisation process for Entrepedia was my favourite part of the project.
  • What inspired your illustrations?

Nandini Ma'am and Medini told me that they wanted illustrations that looked cartoony yet grown-up. The first illustration for the book took me longer than I thought because I was venturing into new territory with these illustrations but after the first one, the others came easy. I wanted to stick to my drawing style, even if it was for a business book, and so I added the round eyes and big noses.

The ideas behind each illustration was different from the other. For instance, in the chapter about 'Where to look for ideas', I drew three men of various age groups looking in all directions through binoculars and a magnifying glass with the light bulbs floating right near them, just waiting to be spotted. In other words, there are ideas everywhere, you just need to find them.

Similarly, in another chapter that was about Business Incubators, I illustrated with an entrepreneur emerging out of an egg (egg=incubator). All in all, it was good fun deciding what to draw for each chapter, especially when there were no limitations.
  • Which software did you use?
I am very comfortable with Photoshop and I used it to do all my illustrations. I plan to learn Adobe Illustrator soon.
  • How long did you take to complete the job?
I could complete just one illustration a day as I'd allocated only three hours a day for each illustration. I completed the project within a month.
  • You can take a look at Rachna's Entrepedia illustrations and her other sketches on her blog, Doodle Doo.
UPDATE (December 9, 2011): Rachna has just begun drawing cartoon strips as a contributor to the Coolest Job campaign page. "The comic strip looks at the light side of life in the corporate world. Here's the first (see below) of many more to come... :)," she wrote on Facebook today.

Rachna is now, as she describes herself, the owner, designer, and "do-it-aller" of Doodle Doo, an online store for illustrated goodies. Check out the store here.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Uncalled-for criticism of the PR community — and my rejoinder

The recent comments of a Mid Day columnist have riled public relations professionals, and justifiably so.

Writing in the Mumbai edition of the newspaper earlier this week, Sheetal Sukhija first refers to the "innovative ways" PR execs use "to feed their version of 'finger-licking-news' to reporters". She then goes on to lambast the PR community for "hoodwinking reporters".

Agreed, it is rare for journalists and PR professionals to be the best of friends, but these verbal volleys in a leading publication appear to be cheap shots aimed at addressing personal issues. That is why I have posted my response on the Mid Day website, calling this article an unwanted, unwarranted, and unprofessional attack on the PR community.

Here is my rejoinder in full:

This is an unwanted, unwarranted, and unprofessional attack on the PR community. Sure, I have met a few unprofessional PR execs in my time as a journalist (almost 25 years with newspapers and media groups in Mumbai, Dubai, and Bangalore). I was never rude to them but I let them know in subtle ways that I wouldn't give them the time of day.

I have also met some PR professionals who are nice people, but, sadly, they didn't seem to understand that journalists and newspapers are not to be used to promote their clients' agenda.

Why would I be interested in giving publicity to something that has no news value? When I was working as a journalist
I am now the professor of journalism at a media college in Bangalore what I wanted from a PR professional was news. And I am glad to say I have been fortunate to interact with quite a few no-nonsense PR execs who were brilliant at their work. Give me the news point, I would say to them, and leave it to me to do the story. They understood. I reciprocated.

I believe it is important for PR people to remember that journalists are in the best position to decide what is relevant to the story. I also believe that every industry has its share of rogues and incompetents, so we have bad journalists, sloppy journalists, freeloading journalists but they are a minority.

Journalists and publicists need each other. So they need to work together. That is why this eternal tussle and, sometimes, nasty feuding between the two communities is sad. And unnecessary. And unproductive.

Coming to your column, if you had a professional issue with a particular PR exec, it would have been better to take it up with the person concerned. There was no need to (mis)use your newspaper column to vent your grievance and tarnish the reputation of the entire PR community.

  • Incidentally, I began my career as a journalist with Mid Day in Mumbai in 1981, becoming the News Editor two years later. The super-boss then was Khalid Ansari, the founder of the newspaper. (Ansari later became the managing editor of Dubai's Khaleej Times, and he offered me the position of features editor at the paper. I joined Khaleej Times in October 1988.) As News Editor of Mid Day, I would have spiked Sheetal Sukhija's diatribe against PR professionals. We had different (higher?) standards then.
  • "I've been where you are": Read Nimish Dubey's post, which is in the form of an open letter to PR professionals.
  • UPDATE (October 26, 2011):  Senior journalist Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, writing in Business Standard, says that, in the middle of two stereotypes, thousands of journalists and PR people quietly do their jobs in getting information and analyses out to readers. Read the sober and sensible opinion piece here: "About PR and journalism".

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The problem with quotation marks... that many people still don't know how to use them in a running quote (one that runs into two or more paragraphs).

Take this example from the July 1 issue of Forbes India:

Says Badri, “In the first year, in order to choose my humanity subject, I had to take an English test. All those who got good marks were allowed to choose German or other easy subjects and all those who ‘failed’ that test were forced to take English. Needless to say, I failed. I was saddled with English for two semesters. But the sad thing was I couldn’t do well in those classes either.

Here was an English teacher who knew pretty well that she had to deal with the ‘dregs’ of the society, and she hated it and made it clear in the class what she thought of us. 

I can remember only two friends for much of the first semester in Mechanical Engineering out of a class of 65 or so, because those two were the only ones who would speak to me in Tamil. Then it widened to about five friends. Normally, most freshers get a room only on the ground floor (considered to be low class!). By the end of first year, all those in the ground floor move to first or second. I was so friendless that I simply decided to stay for the second year at a stretch in the ground floor. Only in my third year did I move to the first floor.”

From that first floor at IIT Madras to Cornell in Ithaca, USA, wasn’t that difficult a transition. At Cornell, he successfully completed his doctoral work. But towards the end, he got disenchanted with the cliques and politics of the academic world and this is when a chance encounter with a researcher in England and a cricket enthusiast in Australia led to

The first three paragraphs in this excerpt from Subroto Bagchi's Zen Garden column in the magazine are made up of a long quotation from the interviewee, Badri Seshadri of New Horizon Media, a Bangalore-based company. Now, since the quote continues in the second and third paragraphs, there should be open quotation marks at the beginning of each of those paragraphs. So where are they?

I have learned, from past experience as a teacher, that there are a lot of people out there who do not know how to use quotation marks in a running quote. IT guru Subroto Bagchi may be one of them. But the journalists at the Forbes India desk should have caught this slip.

Here's the rule you should know: "When quotes run into two or more paragraphs, each new paragraph takes opening quote marks, but only the final paragraph takes closing quote marks."

Corporate role models: Mother Teresa and Lady Gaga

Who would have thought that Mother Teresa could have anything in common with Lady Gaga? Well, apparently both have become the latest icons of the leadership industry.


Writing in The Economist of June 4, "Schumpeter" (that's a pseudonym, by the way; the magazine is famous for, among other things, not carrying bylines) says there may be obvious differences between the singer and the founder of the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata but these differences may matter less than their similarities:

Mother Teresa built her Missionaries of Charity from nothing into a global operation with fingers in over 100 countries. Lady Gaga is forecast to earn over $100m in 2011 and may soon outstrip supergroups like U2. Both women are also role models for corporate leaders [according to two recent publications, Mother Teresa, CEO, a book, and Lady Gaga: Born This Way?, a case study].

It is not just that, early in their careers, they traded in long, barely-pronounceable names for catchy short ones: Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu became Mother Teresa, Stefani Germanotta became Lady Gaga. As the two publications argue, both women succeeded by developing simple, clear brands, which coincidentally both identified with outsiders. Mother Teresa ministered to the poor and the sick: people “shunned by everyone”. Lady Gaga describes herself as “a freak, a maverick, a lost soul looking for peers”. She assures her fans that it is OK to be odd. This is a comforting message not only for gays but also for most teenagers.

While it is not too much of a stretch to picture Mother Teresa being venerated as a leader, it will surely come as a surprise to learn that the young woman who gave raw meat a new life as a fashion statement has what the authors of the case study call "leadership projection" ("charisma" to you and me).

Lady Gaga has the “ability to build emotional commitment” in those she leads, says [one of the authors]. This ability is increasingly valuable in today’s business world, he believes. In The Fine Art of Success, a book he and his co-authors released last year, they examine it at length. They are now working with Egon Zehnder, an executive-recruitment firm, to figure out how to identify whether candidates for top corporate jobs have the ability to “project leadership” the way Lady Gaga does.

Those who appreciate good writing will love the way "Schumpeter" elaborates on the subject of charisma towards the end of this article. The columnist writes:

Management tracts with famous names in the titles are mostly guff. There is only so much a manager can learn from Genghis Khan — it is no longer practical to impale competitors on spikes.

And then we learn that some may doubt that "the secrets of Lady Gaga’s success, or Mother Teresa’s, can usefully be applied to, say, a company that makes ball-bearings".

Finally, we get examples of well-known names from the business world in connection with "charisma":

Yet charisma matters in business, and celebrities do tell us something about how it can be wielded. It is no longer enough for a corporate boss to be clever and good at giving orders. Modern knowledge workers may not put up with a hard, old-fashioned boss like Jack Welch, who used to run General Electric. Many respond better to one who communicates warmly: Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo sometimes writes to the parents of her managers to thank them for bringing up such fine children. Employees crave a sense of purpose, and the boss who can supply it will get the best out of them. Personal stories help: Steve Jobs and Richard Branson, whose business empires depend on their charisma, both play up their pasts as educational dropouts. Charisma is tough to learn, but it is not gaga to seek guidance in the stars.

This is clearly the work of someone who is intelligent, well-read, and who knows how to write. Someone who has read both publications referred to in the article and realised the significance of writing about it for a serious magazine, someone who knows the backgrounds of the world's top business leaders, who has analysed the qualities of these leaders and understood what works best for them and for their employees, someone who has then been able to put it all down in words in a style that is so interesting for readers.

Media students can learn a lot from reading the column in its entirety here: "The angel and the monster".
  • The Economist was first published in September 1843 to take part in "a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress". More than 150 years later, the weekly magazine continues to engage, entertain, and enlighten readers like no other publication today. Pick up a copy today. Or read it online.
UPDATE (May 3, 2013): Dave Kerpen, an American CEO who is also a New York Times best-selling author and keynote speaker, and whose posts I have featured on the Reading Room, has just put up something interesting concerning five marketing lessons you can learn from Lady Gaga. Read Kerpen's post here.

A tribute to the god of advertising

Today is the 100th birth anniversary of David Ogilvy.

Writing in Mint, Abhilasha Ojha and Anushree Chandran say the man who changed the advertising landscape around the world continues to inspire many in the industry.
Ogilvy, who famously declared that “every word in the copy must count,” died in 1999 at age 88 after a prolonged illness. O&M, the company he founded in 1948, is running a global campaign on Twitter inviting people to answer the question: What inspires you?

And that’s just a prelude to the red carpet roll-out at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, an annual event for the advertising fraternity held in France.

The longest red carpet will go along the entire length of the Croisette (one of the main roads in Cannes) today, leading to a giant billboard outside the event’s main venue that will state: “On this day, 100 years ago, David was born to inspire.”

Read the article in its entirety and take a look at some of Ogilvy's legendary ad campaigns here: "Making every word count".

The 10 commandments of social networking etiquette

Everyone is on Facebook. And Twitter. And LinkedIn. But, sadly, not everyone is aware of online protocol.

Here's a checklist of things you should not be indulging in on social networking sites:
  • Playing games on other people’s Walls
  • Saying no to your mother
  • Using all caps
  • Tagging your friends to your advertisement
  • Making your virtual world more real than your real one
  • Sending a friend request more than once
  • Sending auto messages
  • Lying about yourself online
  • Smelly status updates
  • Peeking in
This list was put together by Shweta Taneja and published in Mint yesterday. She writes: "We know you have the right to go to the bathroom as many times as you like and the power to post inane recordings of your mundane life on Facebook or Twitter, but if you are looking for some respect online, refrain from giving minute descriptions of your boring life."

For details, go to "While online, thou shalt not...".

Also read:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

For the entrepreneur in you

Most people are happy to work for someone else.

Why should it be that way? Does it have to continue to be that way?

Not if Nandini Vaidyanathan has something to do with it.

Professor Vaidyanathan, who not only teaches entrepreneurship but who has also mentored more than 600 entrepreneurs, has now published what she calls a step-by-step guide to becoming an entrepreneur in India. In Entrepedia, Prof. Vaidyanathan addresses and offers expert advice on the issues that can bewilder those who are contemplating a dip into entrepreneurial waters for the first time:
  • Why should I be an entrepreneur?
  • Where will I get my business ideas from?
  • Why do I need a mentor and where will I find one?
  • How will I hire good teams when I don't have the money to pay them market rates?
  • What is a business plan, why should I write it, how should I write it?
  • What are the different ways in which I raise money for my business?
Shorn of jargon and written in easy-to-understand language, Entrepedia is designed to be your pocket mentor, writes Prof. Vaidyanathan. "What I would love to see," she says, "is that it is on the bedside of every aspiring and practising entrepreneur, in every nook and cranny of India, dog-eared, heavily annotated, and looking like every inch like it belongs in your life."

I have never given serious thought to setting up a business of my own. But after delving into Entrepedia I can't help but wonder. If this book had existed when I was younger (much younger, mind you), would I be a media baron today? The mind boggles at the thought.

It may be too late for me, but it's not late at all for those bitten by the entrepreneurial book to take a leaf out of Nandini Vaidyanathan's timely book.
  • AN INTERESTING ASIDE: The illustrations in Entrepedia are the work of Commitscion Rachna Prabhu (Class of 2008), who is a professional book illustrator. Read up on Rachna's long-drawn affair with illustrations here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

First-time writer? It's okay to make mistakes. Here's why

Many young people I know have a problem with writing. They worry they are not good enough. They feel they have nothing to say. They think they wouldn't know how to begin. And they spend hours staring at a blank screen when it comes time to start work on a writing assignment.

Often the thing many novice writers are afraid of most is making mistakes. And that seems to lead to some kind of brain-freeze. But it is by making mistakes that you learn (especially if you want to be a journalist), so it's no biggie, really. Which is what I have been saying repeatedly to my students. Now I have come across a fascinating collection of "writerly wisdom of the ages" which features a post that should be very helpful for first-time writers because it explains succinctly why you should make mistakes, lots of them. The author of this particular post, John Reed, a communication expert who believes that the best way to write is with enthusiastic, mistake-laden abandon, offers some sensible advice:

Save the editing for after the writing. If you edit your thoughts before you get them down on paper or onto your computer you’ll squeeze the life out of your message. You may even choke it off completely. Don’t just sit there, staring at your blank page, struggling to come up with the perfect opening. If you do, nothing will seem good enough. Instead, start writing. Write anything. Write something that you don’t even like that much. Write something full of half-baked ideas, awkward wording, and other mistakes.

Reed says that you should write the way you clean out a closet and then he explains what to do with your mistakes after you've made them. Read the post in its entirety here. And, afterwards, never again fear a writing assignment.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dealing with a boss from hell can be, well, a hellish experience

I have been lucky at all the organisations I have worked with. I have only had nominal bosses because once they figured out I function best independently and that I produce results I was pretty much left to my own devices.

Though, when I look back, I think at least one of my direct reports must have labelled me a boss from hell because even though I played a big part in hiring her our relationship began going downhill not long after she joined the team in my view she did not take kindly to being taught the ropes even though she was a novice at journalism, and since she could not be taught (she had been a schoolteacher before she switched professions) she could not perform and there were ugly arguments almost every day until she was transferred to another department. I am sure I, too, had a role to play in these developments and I was reminded of those days when I came across two instructive and enlightening features in last Monday's Mint.

In the first piece, Sulekha Nair lists five important no-nos for bosses:

1 Undermining employee confidence
2 Being biased
3 Humiliating team members in public
4 Making provocative personal remarks
5 Behaving unscrupulously

I think I may have been at fault concerning that first point, though I can probably justify my behaviour. Be that as it may, if you're in a position of leadership, and you want a productive and happy team, you should read "5 prejudices a boss should guard against" and take corrective steps if necessary.

On the other hand, younger employees, especially those in their first jobs, will have had to learn to deal with all kinds of bosses. And some of these experiences may have been nightmarish, to put it mildly.  What do you do if you're being hounded by a boss from hell? Writing in Mint, career coach Sonal Agrawal offers some helpful advice by giving the example of one of her clients, a banker whose boss was "the most overbearing, obstructive, conniving, insecure man in the banking industry (and this was the polite version)". Here's an excerpt:

Try to remember that the boss is a person and not a one-dimensional caricature of Dilbert’s pointy haired boss. So what was really the issue? Was it a one-off altercation? Or was the boss always abrasive? Did he flare up during stressful events? Was he under pressure professionally or personally? To analyse and understand his motivations and likely behaviour patterns was essential before taking any decisions.

If you are dealing with a boss who is making your life at work miserable, you may benefit from some of the insights presented in this article: "Are you being hounded by a boss from hell?"
  • ON A RELATED NOTE, if you are a woman who is intent on getting ahead in the industry, you should read this book by internationally recognised executive coach Lois P. Frankel, Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make that Sabotage Their Careers. (By the way, according to the New York Times, this book offers pointers that work equally well for men and women.) Here's a relevant excerpt from the introductory chapter:
This book is a composite of nearly twenty-five years' experience as a coach, trainer, human resource professional, and psychotherapist. It's about the unique mistakes I see women make at work, the coaching suggestions I provide to help them take charge of their careers, and the ways in which women hold themselves back from achieving their full potential.

The mistakes described in each chapter are real, as are the accompanying examples.... The coaching tips at the end of each section are identical to the ones I provide to women around the world. Many of these women later report that the suggestions helped them get promoted, hired, a raise, more respect from their management and peers, or the confidence needed to start their own businesses.
  • Afterwards, visit Lois P. Frankel's website to access, for free, some very useful career resources.

Are you guilty of using these Indianisms?

1. 'Passing out'
2. 'Kindly revert'
3. 'Years back'
4. 'Doing the needful'
5. 'Discuss about'
6. 'Order for'
7. 'Do one thing'
8. 'Out of station'
9. 'Sleep is coming'
10. 'Prepone'

Okay, not all 10 are a problem 'prepone' was included in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary last year, for instance. But the other nine phrases are used often in our everyday conversation (if not in our writing) without our realising that they sound bizarre to native speakers of English.

And what's so wrong about using these Indianisms? Daniel D'Mello explains in an entertaining post on the CNN-Go website: '10 classic Indianisms'.

After you're done reading and discussing about the post, you'll know when to do the needful. So kindly revert at the earliest. Unless, of course, you're out of station. In which case, it just may be a case of "sleep is coming". In other words, you have probably passed out. Capiche?

Also read:
My thanks to Pallabi Mitra (Class of 2012) and Sanchari Sinha (Class of 2011) for alerting me to Daniel D'Mello's post. 

  • Commits alumnus SHIVRAM SUJIR (Class of 2011) came up with a clever riposte in his comment on Facebook about this post: 
Two years back when we joined we had no idea we would pass out so soon. Though some of us had to go out of station immediately after exams, we ordered for a pizza and then discussed about how fast the year went. The juniors' exams were preponed but they did the needful by giving us a farewell treat. Could you do one thing for me sir? Please revert if there are any Indianisms in my English. ;)

Also read: "10 English phrases that make perfect sense to Indians" (including "only", "but", and "felicitate")

      Friday, June 10, 2011

      What we can learn about editing from the Reader's Digest

      Last month I discovered a gem of a book in the Commits library: The Condensed World of the Reader's Digest, by Samuel A. Schreiner, Jr.

      Not only does this book give us a fascinating insight into the world of the best-selling magazine and its creators DeWitt and Lila Wallace but it also helps us to understand the crucial role the fine art of editing played in the Digest's astonishing success of the last century.

      Schreiner is able to give us an insider's viewpoint because he worked as an editor of the magazine for many years. This is not a muck-raking book, though far from it. Instead Schreiner takes as objective a look at the Digest as is possible given his insider status. And he is at pains to explain his motives for writing this book, which was first published in 1977:

      The fact that I was an insider does... raise some questions about the ethics of this enterprise. The first, of course, is whether I have a right to make public what I can about an organization which I served willingly, knowing its preference for secrecy.

      It isn't an easy question to answer.

      Before I undertook this project, the publisher made clear to me his intention of having a book about the Reader's Digest written by somebody. I agreed with him. While, in fact, the Reader's Digest is a private company, there is no company more actively seeking public approval. The magazine reaches into every fourth American home; a hundred million people around the world read it. My own feeling is that they have a right to know as much as possible about how the words they are asked to accept, and pay for, are brought into being.

      Beyond that, the Digest has made itself into such a wonder of the world, like the Pyramids or the Great Wall of China, that it cannot forever escape paying the price of curiosity that such wonders provoke. As to my own authorship, I accepted the job on the grounds that being now a writer, I had a right if not a duty to tackle a subject for which I was peculiarly equipped.

      In later chapters, all written in an engaging style and packed with interesting anecdotes, Schreiner elaborates on the techniques used by DeWitt Wallace and the Digest staff to ensure that the Reader's Digest was "without peer". Till as recently as the eighties at least, it stood "astride the world of publishing like Gulliver in Lilliput, and the sensation of riding the back of a gentle giant" eventually got to most people who worked there, writes Schreiner.

      HOUSEHOLD NAMES: DeWitt and Lila Wallace.

      The chapter that journalists and media students will find highly instructive — I know I did is titled "Along Murderer's Row" (from a writer's perspective, perhaps, a very apt title; more on this below). Schreiner begins the chapter with a quote from Norman Cousins, editor of Saturday Review and "an astute observer of the American magazine scene":

      The secret of the Reader's Digest is editing. I tell my audiences ... that the Reader's Digest is the best edited magazine in America. Wally [DeWitt Wallace] himself is the best pencil man, and the result of his technique is clarity — the words lift right off the page into your mind.

      Then Schreiner gets down to brass tacks. Some excerpts:

      [Each] Digest article receives the benefit of a total of twenty to thirty man hours of attention, divided among some five different editors; by contrast, I had cut a whole book for [my previous magazine] Parade on [a] fifty-five-minute train ride. When I took my guilt feelings over being allowed, even pressed, to use so much time on a single job to my straw boss at the Digest, he soothed me with these words: "Here we take time to polish the diamond.


      An article scheduled for publication in the Digest, whether it is an original or a reprint from another publication, rises from the hands of a first cutter to a more experienced or skilled check cutter to an issue editor to a managing editor for the issue to the editor-in-chief and/or DeWitt Wallace. Each of these editors is charged with putting the article into what he personally feels is the best length and shape for final publication in the Digest. In the process, anything from whole pages to phrases to single words are taken out or restored, according to the preference of the last — and highest — editor working on the piece.

      While, in general, the top two or three editors limit their blue pencilling to fairly subtle refinements, I once saw an article, whittled down by half a dozen editors from eight or ten large-sized magazine pages to four Digest pages, come back from the desk of DeWitt Wallace cut once more in half; he had simply dropped off the first two pages in which the author was indulging in some dazzling "writing" and started with the point the piece was trying to make. Since the offices in which these operations go forward tend to be lined up along one corridor for the sake of convenience, that part ... is understandably referred to, mostly by bleeding authors, as murderer's row.

      Rather than a slaughter house the area seems more like a distillery to me, an operation in which the verbal water is boiled off over a series of editorial flames until there's nothing left but stuff of the highest proof.

      What a lyrical description that last paragraph is of the editing process! In this age of shorter time-spans and a multitude of distractions, I can think of a few magazines (and many writers) that will benefit from a rigorous application of the Digest's editing and trimming-down techniques. (At the same time, I have to say there's something to be said for dazzling writing, the kind that is referred to as "long-form journalism", which we find in Indian magazines like The Caravan and in American publications like The New Yorker. Read an earlier post: Long-form journalism in The Caravan.)

      Coming back to The Condensed World of the Reader's Digest, Schreiner admits it is difficult to describe just how to turn the rough stone of an original article or a reprint into a Digest gem. There are no manuals on the art of digesting, he writes. "Newcomers to the Digest staff are not even given verbal instructions or told, for example, what to take out of an article or how to reorder its sequence to make it move more swiftly and logically or what other things might be done to improve it. You learn by observing what seasoned editors do, by your own trial and error."

      So true. Unless you're supremely talented (and very few of us are), you can only become a good journalist by learning on the job and making (but not repeating) your own mistakes, presuming you have first been taught the fundamentals at a good J-School.

      Samuel Schreiner's book should be on the bookshelf of every aspiring journalist not simply because it is about a best-selling magazine but because the writing is top-notch and it offers so many insights into the practice of print journalism.