Monday, October 31, 2011

From a newspaper article to a monthly newsletter and, now, a bimonthly magazine devoted to books and reading

Two years ago, Rohita Rambabu (Class of 2011), who was then the Books Editor of the Commits newspaper, had written an informative piece on the Just Books library chain. I had become a member of Just Books earlier that year and I was keen on encouraging young people, who formed the bulk of the readership of Your Opinion, to read books by joining the fast-expanding library. (I thought of this article as "reader service".)

Not long afterwards, the founder of Just Books, R. Sundar Rajan, read Rohita's feature and he asked her to help publish a regular newsletter (see inaugural issue pictured above) for the library. Rohita and her classmate Swaha Sircar collaborated on the project initially, but then Swaha began working full-time so Rohita handled the production tasks independently, under the supervision of Sapana Rawat of Just Books.

"I have grown so much with Just Books," Rohita wrote in an e-mail recently. "It is amazing how an article you suggested that I do turned into such a big opportunity.

"With my Just Books salary, I was able to pay off the loan I had taken from my parents for the Master's course at Commits.

"I have now been with Just Books for almost two years, and they treat me on par with a professional (though I know I am at a very junior level with lots to learn before I am good)."

Some four months ago, another Commitscion had occasion to write about Just Books.

Nilofer D'Souza (Class of 2009), who is a Bangalore-based features writer with Forbes India, contributed a well-written and comprehensive article to the magazine on the technology used successfully by Just Books to "bring libraries back to the people".


And now, soon to hit the stands, comes a full-fledged magazine for book-lovers, backed by the company that launched Just Books, with Sapana Rawat as the editor-in-chief, and Commitscion Padmini Nandy Mazumder (Class of 2011) as the editor.

Padmini, who was a co-editor of the college newspaper (like Nilofer before her) and who gave up her job with CNN-IBN in New Delhi and came back to Bangalore when she was offered this assignment, is a voracious reader and passionate book-lover. She writes in her "letter from the editor" in the prototype issue of the magazine that reading defines who we are. She continues:

Reading can give a fresh perspective to a situation. Books transport us to another world. Books let you leave your humdrum existence behind. Stalk a devious murderer with Hercule Poirot, walk the corridors of Hogwarts, romp in the mud with Scout Finch, fall in love with Mr. Darcy, conspire with dependable Jeeves to get poor Bertie Wooster out of a sticky situation... Love, laughter, tears, horror, fantasy, mystery: you can experience it all in one afternoon with a good book.

I could not have put it better myself, Padmini!


Here Padmini explains why she loves what she does:

Imagine getting paid for doing something you love. Most are not so lucky. I happen to be one of the fortunate few.

After dabbling in a number of career choices (marketing, corporate communications, journalism) and a lot of soul-searching, the opportunity of my dreams knocked on my door right at the moment when I seemed to be losing myself all over again. An opportunity to head a literary magazine.

I love books. Let me reiterate: I LOVE BOOKS. Lock me up in a room full of books and throw away the key and I will bless you for it. So, you can imagine my glee when Sapana Rawat (my boss) called to tell me that she and R. Sundar Rajan (CEO of Strata) had chosen me as the new editor of a brand new literary magazine.

I would be making all major editorial decisions with Sapana and I would have a free reign on the topics we chose to cover.

I was beside myself!

It was a dream job for the likes of me. I'd be talking about books, meeting authors, attending literary fests, telling people about books, and, consequently, create more bibliophiles.

These three months at Strata have been all that I hoped for and more. I have met industry stalwarts, authors, publishers, attended a publishing conference, rubbed shoulders with the who's who of publishing, found out more about the books and authors that I love so much, and brought out a magazine which is exactly what I think is the need of the hour. In the process, I discovered that I am darn good at it too!

The opportunity to do what you love and what you are good at comes across rarely. When it does, grab it with both hands and don't let go!

The magazine should be available to the general public soon. Having had a chance to go through the prototype, I can tell you that Ink is going to be the answer to many a book-lover's prayers. (Ace Commits photographer Pratidhani Tamang from the Class of 2012 has contributed many pictures, including the cover image above.)

Incidentally, another Commitscion, also a co-editor of the college newspaper, Varun Chhabria (Class of 2012), will be helping to produce the Just Books newsletter from January. All the best, Varun!
  • UPDATE (June 19, 2012): Books&More, which is the current avatar of Ink, is now on the web, thanks to the efforts of Varun Chhabria, the associate editor of the magazine. Check out the latest issue here.  

An interesting journalistic question posed by Commitscion David Tusing

  • Commits alumnus David Tusing (Class of 2005), who is based in Dubai, is the deputy editor of the Gulf News Tabloid. He had posted this question on Facebook yesterday.
Join the debate. What do you think?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What it means to be a radio professional

Commits alumna SHILPA DASGUPTA (Class of 2011), a producer with BIG FM in Kolkata, gives radio aspirants a peek into her world:

Radio has been defined as “one of the most difficult mediums of communication discovered till date, but also the easiest”. Difficult because radio lacks visual support and one has to depend completely on audio to build a picture in the minds of listeners.

For the same reason, though, it is considered the easiest medium. Because radio does not have any visual support, one can explain a lot through words, music, and sound effects.

Since many youngsters are interested in radio-jockeying, here’s a perspective on radio from someone who is an RJ.

First, RJ-ing does not mean only doing shows on air. If you want to be a good RJ, you need to understand all the functions of radio, because it is this knowledge that will help you, the RJ, to communicate fluently and efficiently with your TG, or target group. How? Well, you will get the hang of it as you go through this piece.


A private radio station mainly comprises three main departments:
  • Programming
  • Sales
  • Marketing
Programming: The most important part of radio, because all content development from promo planning to on-air sound designing and ideation, etc. is done by this department

Sales: All the commercials you hear on the radio are brought in by the sales team, which is responsible for bringing in the revenue. If there was no sales team, all of us would have to work for free!

Marketing: This department works for the promotion and visibility of the station. The marketing people plan different promotional activities such as organising listener involvement games in housing societies; giving out branded merchandise (umbrellas, T-shirts, etc.) to listeners; promotional activities in shopping malls; putting up hoardings in prominent parts of the city; tie-ups with news channels and newspapers to cover important station spikes. (Spikes stand for important events, such as award ceremonies and the like. For example, every year BIG FM, Kolkata, organises the Big Bangla Music Awards, Television Awards, etc.) It is the marketing team that is responsible for creating top-of-the-mind recall for a radio station in any given city.


A good RJ needs to understand and take interest in all these aspects in order to frame the show well.

In addition, there are certain creative and practical aspects which RJs must keep in mind while framing their shows:

MOOD STATE Different radio shows are conducted during different time bands, i.e., early morning, morning, mid-morning, afternoon, evening, night, and late night. And, accordingly, different time bands mean different mood states of listeners. In the mornings, for example, people are mostly in a hurry to get to work; they are usually pressed for time. So if a radio station plays games like antakshari in the morning time band, it’ll never work.

During afternoons, the highest radio listenership is from homemakers because this is the time when they relax. So their mood state is laid-back. At this time, this mood state demands light discussions on topics such as home utility tips, film gossip, etc. (the format can be compared to that of a women’s magazine), and in terms of music it should be light-romantic. Retro works magically in this time band.

NEED STATE With changing time bands, the needs of a listener also change. In the mornings, as we have seen, people are in a rush to get to work. And, as you must have noticed, during this time, most people listen to the radio in their cars or while travelling to their offices. So they will want traffic alerts, stock updates, news headlines, etc.

Again, the night band will have to cater to a sea change in the need state of listeners. Nights are considered a time for oneself, a time when people want to get nostalgic, think deep, so during this time, most night shows talk about personal problems or relationship-based issues. Late night shows are mostly framed in such a way that the RJ is like that invisible friend to whom one can open up completely.

TARGET GROUP This is the biggest deciding factor for any show. All show content and, also, the presentation of a show, including the “lingo” used by the RJ, listener gratification devices, contest types, and overall content depend on the show’s TG. If the TG for a particular time band is SEC B, C, and D, then, of course, the content of the show needs to be gossip-oriented and entertainment-based; even the contests and games should be very light and entertaining.

But keep in mind that a station’s positioning also matters a lot when it comes to determining its TG. Radio Mirchi, for example, always classifies itself as an entertainment station. Even their tag line “It’s Hot” very clearly identifies the station as one that gives you “spicy stuff”. Here in Kolkata, there is a station called Friends’ FM. It is owned by the Ananda Bazar Patrika group, which also publishes the No. 1 Bengali newspaper. Their positioning as a station evidently signifies that they are meant only for a niche TG, deeply inclined towards literature. So the station content, RJ talk, the lingo used everything highlights this fact.

MUSIC Music is the “king” of radio. No one is really interested in listening to “jock talk”. People tune in to a particular station primarily for the kind of music it plays. Each station has a particular music policy. We at BIG FM, Kolkata, believe in the melody factor and hence play only melodious songs. On the contrary, Mirchi plays a mixed stack and have a lot of up-tempo numbers in their playlist through the day.

So these are some of the most important factors RJs should think about when framing their shows. Without taking these factors into consideration, a show can never be successful.

Please remember, though, that the RJ is not the only person involved with the show. Each show has got a producer who helps the RJ with scripting, research, promo planning, getting celebrity bites, and in many other ways. So it’s a combination of producer and RJ that makes a show successful.

Having given you all this gyan, let me also tell you that it’s super fun to work in radio if you’re prepared to work 12-14 hours a day, even on weekends. But, ultimately, on Fridays, when the RAM (Radio Audience Measurement) report gives you the news that your show has become No.1, trust me, nothing else matters at that time.

Best of luck… loads of best wishes to all of you. I am really looking forward to seeing some of you working in my audio world.

PS: Those who want to learn more about radio can read the books written by Dan O’Day. He is considered the father of radio and has written books on almost all aspects of radio. Download these two e-books from his site:

A regular radio day in my life

I reach the station between 10 and 10:30 a.m. though, officially, my work day begins only at 2 p.m. Since BIG is Asia’s largest radio network with 45 stations across the country, we are accountable for all programming to our parent station, i.e. Mumbai. So the first task after getting to work is to prepare a show plan and send it to Mumbai. (Once in a month, our programming team also sits together to prepare the upcoming month’s show plan.)

If we have some special spike coming up, for example, we had the BIG Women’s Achievement Awards at the end of October, we need to plan how we can drive this special content on-air and on-ground. So the day begins with planning and brain-storming. This takes us a lot of time.

The next job on my list is to start preparing for my evening show. Being a drive-time show, this show needs a lot of elements to be incorporated. And being the producer of the show, I need to take care of all these aspects. So I create a regular CLB of the show (CLB stands for Content, Link, and Break). The CLB sheet, which is given to the RJ before the show, contains the details of each RJ link; it also shows how the content flow will be driven throughout the show.

I also use this time to take celebrity bites or fix up appointments with celebrities for interviews or invite them to our studio. Sometimes a lot of show elements are sent to us by the Mumbai station and I edit these elements according to the show.

After I am done with my evening show, preparations start for the night show, in the same way. The only difference is that it’s a late night show so not many elements need to be incorporated. The late night show is all about listener interaction, so we do it live. And I have to be in the studio till midnight to co-ordinate and to filter callers, which is very important.

In addition, I have to prepare the winners’ lists for both my shows and send them across for prize distribution; co-ordinate with the marketing team for OOH (out of home) promotion of my shows; co-ordinate with other stations for some important elements for the show; and, on special days, even do live on-ground shows.

Wednesdays can be difficult because that’s when the weekly meetings with the Mumbai station are scheduled. Which means I have to get to the station even earlier in order to wrap up all my work, besides attending the meeting.

So, all in all, my day starts around 10:30 in the morning and ends around 12:30-1:00 the next morning. Fun, isn’t it? I certainly think so.
  • EXTERNAL READING: If you’ve ever dreamt about being a radio star, then why not make it happen? Learn how here: Start your own radio station.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What creative advertising really means-2

Commits alumnus ARPAN BHATTACHARYYA (Class of 2010), a copywriter with Contract Advertising in Bangalore, explains exactly how copywriters and the art guys work their magic:


When Ramesh Sir asked me to write an article about what copywriters and art guys do, I must admit that I was stumped.

What do we do?

I know exactly what I do. I even know a little bit about what the art guys do (they tend to disagree with me on that, though). But how on earth was I supposed to explain all this in an article? It’s a little like asking a teacher what he does he teaches, what else!

Then I remembered a piece of advice that my first creative director had given me. He said, “Advertising is simple it’s all about communicating a message.” So that’s what we do. We communicate messages, from a brand or a product to the public at large and to consumers in particular. That’s it. We communicate.

Every product, every service, every brand out there, wants to communicate its advantages and its benefits. Everybody wants to tell the consumer: “Hey, buy me! Use me! I’m the best.” And they all want advertising to make their brands the most used and the most loved. But as advertising legend William Bernbach said: “Advertising doesn't create a product advantage. It can only convey it.” That is where the creative team, comprising the copywriters and the art people, comes in. We convey and communicate the messages on behalf of the products.

A picture says a thousand words:

However, as Alex Bogusky, an advertising legend, said: “… so far as I know, they’ve yet to come up with a powerful form of communication that does not at least begin life as words.” And that’s exactly what copywriters do we provide the words (sounds very very, very important, doesn’t it?). Our job begins when the creative team is sitting down to come up with an idea. And it ends only when that idea has been executed, in print, on television, or on the air waves. Because it’s our job to find the best way to communicate a good (or bad) idea.

Now, it’s a common misconception (only among those who aren’t copywriters!) that all we do is write smart headlines, wacky radio spots, and cool television scripts. Well, on the rare occasion (which presents itself roughly once in a lifetime) that’s all we do.

But there’s so much more.

Just pick up any form of advertising communication around you: a pamphlet at the mall, the product brochures that you leave at the bottom of the box, the e-mailers you keep deleting, the little tags on the clothes that you buy, the labels on the bottles you drink from, the directions on the back of the product boxes, the menu cards at the restaurants everything is written by a copywriter.


Everywhere you see words (one word or a thousand); if you look deeper, you will see a copywriter hunched over his computer, trying to figure out how best to use them. Sometimes we try to be smart and funny (like the menus and tray mats you see in KFC) and sometimes we need to be as plain as possible (like the shirt tag that says “This product has been handcrafted and tailored to your requirements.” But wherever words are needed, we are too.

Coming to the advertisements you see on television, the ones you hear on the radio, and the ones you see in the magazines and newspapers, everything is written by the copywriters from the dialogues that the actors deliver and the scripts for the radio voiceovers, to the headlines, the body copy (the other ‘words’ in the print ad) and even the information at the bottom of print ads with the addresses and phone numbers of the company.

In short (it’s already too late for that, isn’t it?), copywriting is all about finding and using the correct words to present an idea, with or without an image. No matter in what form of media new media, print, television, or radio every piece of advertising communication needs something to be said, in words. That something is usually said by the copywriter. And as if to make my point, here are some more words to live by, from Alex Bogusky: “Failure in advertising most often comes from the lack of this basic skill of finding the right words.”

Words are all I have, to take your breath away:

Sounds fine in a cheesy pop song but it’s far from true, isn’t it? Because if you want to buy the latest iPad 2 you’ll want to see it before you sell your right hand and bring home the contraption. And sometimes, you will want to see more than just a picture of the product. You might want to see how it’ll help you; you might want to see how it’ll make your life better. And no amount of words will be able to replace a visual representation of all this.

That is where the art guys come in.


They show you visually what the copywriter has said (or not) in words. Sometimes they use simple pictures that you get immediately. Sometimes, to be different from competing products, they’ll use images that have nothing to do with the product.

For instance, an ad for a telephone service provider might show you a shot of a guy relaxing on a beach somewhere close to where paradise is located. What does that tell you? Probably, that you will be able to stay connected to the world no matter where you are. So here, the picture communicates at once what the words may take a long time to say. ‘You can stay connected even when you’re sitting on a beach far far away from the world.’

Or, a picture of a man on a deserted beach, with the headline ‘Stay connected.’ Which one is better?

As one of the greatest writers in the world, Luke Sullivan, said: “Show, don’t tell. Telling readers why your product has merit is never as powerful as showing them.”

Art often goes beyond just conveying a message. It can make an ordinary advertisement look ‘out-of-this-world’. There are times when an ad doesn’t really say much (could be because the copywriter is a lazy bum or the product is a boring piece of rubbish). That’s when a great art guy can make the ad do so much more than just show you a product shot with a headline that says ‘The Best’.

The art guys also do more than just find the right pictures for ads. They are involved in setting up how a brand or an ad will look what the logo should be, what colours should the brand associate itself with, what font should be used for the headline; everything that is visually appealing (or not!) is the work of an art guy.

They’ll also design brochures and e-mailers, they’ll lay out the entire print ad along with images, the headline, and all the copy; probably one of the coolest things they do is play a big part in directing the television commercials. That’s where they’ll give their inputs to the production team, they’ll decide, along with the writer, on location, the way the actors are dressed, the way the set looks; basically what you see on TV is the work of the art guy, what you hear is what the writer has written.

And that last point is actually the perfect way to sum up what the creative team does. They work together, writers and art guys, to bring you the ads that you see all around you. The best art guys can think like writers and the best writers can think like art guys. But what is essential for both groups is that they HAVE to think creatively.

And what is even more important is that they need to work together, always. They succeed and fail as a team and the best teams around are those where there is mutual respect between the art guys and the copywriters.

Speaking of which, my art guy has been calling me to fix up a few party plans, so now it’s time for me to go and ‘work’ with my team mate!

  • Further reading: "The power of creativity" (scroll down to the piece) by Commitscion AJAY KURPAD (Class of 2011), also a copywriter with Saatchi&Saatchi in Bangalore.

TV news is young, full of vim, and unafraid...

...says Outlook in its 16th anniversary issue, and I believe it.

Headlined "The under-30 gospel", the article, written by Anuradha Raman, brings us up to date on the current scenario:

News on TV, if you haven’t noticed, is young and restless. Its young reporters are everywhere, demanding answers for everything, 24x7. It’s a world of hysterical PTCS (piece-to-cameras), of soundbite warriors, of cacophonous debate. It takes high energy levels and single-minded professionalism to cope with the rigours of TV reporting. It can be taxing on the not-so-young.


There are interesting quotes about the young ones from some of the big guns of television news, including Arnab Goswami and Rajdeep Sardesai. Arnab is quoted as saying that most crucial editorial positions at his channel are manned by the young and he’s amazed at the passion and enthusiasm they display for news, while Rajdeep "sees enormous energy in young members of his team, combined with the willingness to stalk a story for hours without end".

Read the article in its entirety here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Is this criticism of Gen Next fair?

I am an old fogey. That perhaps explains why I have certain concerns about the younger generation. Concerns that may be expressed by way of the following questions:
  • Why do many young people seem to lack initiative?
  • Why are they unable to think for themselves?
  • Why do they seem so uninterested in the world around them?
  • Why don't they read?
  • Why do they find it difficult to write in English?
  • Why are they not focused on what it is they want in life?
As a teacher it is my privilege to meet and interact almost daily with students in their twenties, students to whom I pose these questions on a regular basis. I have realised over the years that, to a large extent, the System is to blame. Youngsters today just don't get the right encouragement in our schools and undergrad colleges. They are not taught the benefits of taking the road less travelled. They are not told that, provided work and assignments are not affected, it is okay to be rebellious and individualistic; in fact, the rebels are forced to "fit in".

Give these same young people the productive environment that should be theirs by right, I say, and they are bound to thrive.

I speak from experience here. Here's an excerpt from an e-mail I received not too long ago from a Commits alumna:

Most of us have come from colleges where the teachers themselves have no expertise or there is a complete lowered standard of expectations. My teachers in college barely knew I existed or cared or if I even turned in neat, well-written assignments. Three years went by in a blur and I had a total aggregate attendance of 38% in the first two years. I have always done extremely well in school and college and breezed through to the top of the class every time.

Work, however, was a nightmare; I didn't know how to write or format e-mails, submit detailed and well-written reports. Since I didn't even know what good standards were I would always fall short and I was labelled as 'disrespectful' and 'she has an attitude problem' even though I would spend hours working and put in a lot of effort. I spent two years at work crying every day and have even had a boss throw a report in the dustbin. I would 'hear' what they were saying but never get why.

And that's why I decided to get my Masters, although Commits happened by fluke on the day before the second entrance exam.

At Commits, life changed.

This e-mail reinforces my belief that if we don't overhaul the school and undergrad system, we surely cannot expect to see a change in the mindset of Gen Next.

These thoughts about the younger generation and the System came to the fore when I was reading poet and activist Meena Kandasamy's harsh criticism of Youngistan in the latest (16th anniversary) issue of Outlook.

Kandasamy's article, titled "All aboard the slave ship" and written in the form of an open letter, takes Gen Next to task for a multitude of deficiencies. Every paragraph shimmers with resentment, it seems. Here are a few excerpts:

You are a student. You seek to be highly educated, but you turn a blind eye to the academic terrorism that routinely cripples and kills poor students in universities. You never acknowledge the privilege of exclusivity. You strut about with the confidence that you will never slip below the poverty line. You never know the pain of exclusion. You would have never lost your home in a slum demolition drive.

You also think that India’s biggest problem is a boatload of terrorists from Pakistan. You have not heard of Khairlanji or Gadchiroli or Koodankulam; they are multi-syllable names of places that have never managed to sneak into your sublime conversations. Ultra-ambitious, you only enter lands that require your passport, your visa and your commercialised skill-sets. You are India’s shining, swaggering export. You have sold your soul for a song. You have sold your song for a sophisticated accent. You have sold your sophisticated accent for a sanitised silence.

You cannot make up your mind, NDTV and CNN-IBN do that for you. Therefore, you bleed before every heart-breaking, hair-splitting reality show and news bulletin. You cheer for Anna Hazare and glorify every Gandhian impostor. You are a self-anointed crusader against corruption. Your militant attire is Fabindia chic. Your deadliest weapon is candle-light. Your agenda is available online. You want to bring back the black money your politicians made, but you lack the guts to permanently put them out of business.

To her credit, Kandasamy understands that we are all in this together. Towards the end, she writes:

I writhe in guilt as I write to you. My searing anger at you is merely an exercise in self-flagellation; I lay no claim to a moral high ground. Sometimes, I am afraid that I am you. My dreams explode but my callousness kills me. I see in you every weakness that shows up in me. I write to you because I believe that you could be the stronger one.

Kandasamy's open letter prompted young journalist Rito Paul to publish a stinging rejoinder in DNA yesterday. "Spare me your sanctimony, your misplaced righteousness, and most of all the spasms that are making you writhe in guilt," Paul writes in his open letter to Kandasamy. He continues:

Yes, a certain section of the youth is certainly apathetic, as you write. And they shouldn't be. They should be more aware, and be more empathetic. I agree with that too. But what I disagree with is this: "Perhaps you will heed the call to arms, some day you will don combat gear. Some day you will step out of your selfish skin and speak up for the people. Some day you will wage war against every injustice and uproot every oppression. Some day your sacrifice will set us free."

How would you feel if someone wrote a piece addressing the men of this world saying, "Someday your sacrifices will set women free?" Would you not think it is sexist?

Paul then offers his defence of Youngistan's stance:

You know who'll help the oppressed? Well, they will, themselves. Just like they did in Kudankulam by going on a hunger-strike and forcing the government to reconsider its nuclear plans. And just like they did by protesting against the Khairlanji massacre in Azad Maidan and making sure the ones responsible were sent to jail.

This is a debate worth taking part in. Read Paul's open letter here (go to Page 8) and decide for yourself which side of the fence you want to stake out.
  • Illustration courtesy: Outlook

Curiously, the image and main headline on the magazine's cover appear to praise the achievements of Gen Next. So is Meera Kandasamy's open letter an attempt to redress the balance, so to speak? Or is it meant to provoke and get a buzz going?