Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What it means to be a newspaper sub-1

Commits alumnus DEBMALYA DUTTA (Class of 2011), who is a sub-editor with The Statesman in Kolkata, offers personal insights into the duties and responsibilities of a newspaper sub: 

R: You [expletive deleted], what did you do to my baby yesterday? Do you know how much I had to work to bring it to shape? And you just deformed it at will!
S: But it just couldn't be helped. Do understand. There really wasn’t enough room to fit it all in.

R: I don’t give a damn about your room. I’m going to speak to the boss; I’ll make sure you lose this room of yours!
S: But… Well, wish you all the best.

S: Sir, the whole body won’t fit in the box!
E: Hack off the parts that are not useful, my son. Do I now have to teach you how to do the job? Give me a break….
S: Okay, I’ll make sure the task is carried out without a hue and cry.
E: That’s my boy! But do take care not to kill it.
S: Aye aye, Captain.
E: By the way, great job on R’s baby yesterday. Cheers!

No, this isn’t the script for another gore flick. Neither is the setting some gothic dungeon, and nor are these men spellers of doom (although they are quite capable of spelling doom. But that’s another story). The conversations were taking place in the editorial department of a newspaper. And the men? The Holy Trinity comprising the pugnacious reporter R, the dynamic editor E, and the durable sub S. Welcome to the life of a newspaper sub!

No doubt basics are boring, in which case subs must first change their middle name to “boring” (just kidding). Clearly, the basics spellings and grammar have to be spot-on. One doesn’t have to be a Formula 1 ace in the language, but one must make sure there aren’t too many pit-stops (as in mistakes). Over-confidence, trust me, is the bane of a deskman or -woman, and one must learn to fully use the three boons one always finds at one’s disposal: the good old dictionary, the new age internet, and the reassuring newsroom senior. No one is infallible but it’s heart-wrenching to see the newspaper apologising to the public because you made a mistake. All ye aspiring sub-editors, believe me, a rejoinder is the last thing you’d want to place on your page!

Although we can always consult Mr. Page and Mr. Brin, deadline pressures often do not allow us that luxury. Knowing your synonyms (some basic ones, at least) is a big help, especially when writing headlines and captions, because we subs are always battling against time and for space (thanks, respectively,  to the circulation and advertisement departments about whom we crib often, though we all know that without these worthies there would be no newspaper in the first place. After all, it is the ad revenue that brings in the money and it is the circulation people who send out the paper to readers).

Aspiring subs will want to know: Is there a sure-to-work mantra that will help you achieve the unachievable? Yes, there is… reading! Reading not only newspapers, but also books. My vote goes to non-fiction, though I must say I admire the immense talent involved in referring to a vampire or a werewolf by an unthinkable number of synonyms. Indeed, the dawn of literature is breaking, it seems. Anyway, even if you know a limited number of words, try to know their correct usage and never ever, I repeat, never ever use fancy figures of speech (you don’t want to end up looking like a moron because of a misused oxymoron).

Remember, the scythe is for communists. For us journalists, the weapon of choice (not of mass destruction) is always the scalpel. Or chisel, because I like to compare my job to that of a sculptor.

The reporters present you with just the frame (no offence intended, friends). It’s up to the sub to mould it into a desirable piece of sculpture by, where necessary, chiselling away the unwanted parts. The frame-maker might not be happy with the end result, but it is understood that the sub is the last watchdog; as such, it is the sub’s prerogative to tweak a story keeping many factors in mind: the readers, the newspaper’s image, the page deadlines.

Having said that, subs must curb the tendency to rewrite everything that comes their way. Sure, it may feel good to leave your signature on the copy, but, first, time is not on our side, and, second, a good sub’s work is, by definition, supposed to be invisible. So whenever you feel that urge to make things exceptionally better, just remember the words of wisdom offered to John Lennon by Mother Mary.

There might be times, though, when you are forced to resort to a lawnmower because even a scythe won’t help when you have to fit a 700-word story into a modified single column. On such occasions, quickly identify the news point. What will be relevant for your readers? Keep those portions intact. And the rest? Hail to thee, O Delete Button!

You have to know QuarkXpress inside out. Not only should you know the shortcuts, which will be of immense help, but you also have to be up-to-date on the different tricks and cheats of this ubiquitous software. Most of the work a sub does involves the computer; no matter where you stand on the issue of “this wretched life dominated by machines”, you have to absolutely dote on your computer.

Learning the correct and intelligent use of the internet is a must (keep in mind, though, that websites that come with the prefix “wiki” are not completely reliable). The internet can be a saviour at times, but it can also trap you in a web of no-return.

In addition to knowing Quark inside out, a sound knowledge of Photoshop will also come in handy. The designers will work on the layout but it is the sub who approves the final page design. Believe me, a sub who has drunk the cocktail of news sense, alertness, precision, and aesthetics is a rare expert of the highest quality. Newspaper editors are perennially on the lookout for such subs.

  • The much-famed Carl Bernstein once said, “The pressure to compete, the fear somebody else will make the splash first, creates a frenzied environment in which a blizzard of information is presented and serious questions may not be raised.” If you read between the lines, it becomes clear that the ability to work fast and with the utmost possible precision is much-sought-after. This ability comes with confidence, and confidence comes with practice.
  • In any creative field, hierarchies are more or less flat. There’s no wondering, “Am I the right person to say this?” If you spot a mistake on your senior’s part, you should point it out. If there’s scope for improvement, do make the suggestion. If you think a news item is worthy of mention, do recommend it.
  • Your primary responsibilities may be editing and rewriting, but make time for writing, too. In addition to earning you a byline, it’ll also help you improve your editing skills. Start a blog and write comment pieces on any topic under the sun. If you have a story idea, approach the news editor or the features editor for a discussion and if the articles you submit are good, they’ll be published. A sub who can write is like a pilot who can also work as a makeshift steward.
  • In the office, try to be cordial with everyone. Right from the boss to the attendant. Not for the pleasure of being altruistic, but for those extra cups of coffee, those instant inset stories that you so-desperately need to fill up some awkward space on your page, or for that helping hand on those dark days when your work is too much to handle alone. Diplomacy is the key in this business and there’s hardly any lock this key doesn’t open. Even the door of the grumpy deputy editor!
  • A questioning nature is very important if you want to be a good sub. Good subs know there is no such thing as a stupid question. They question everything. Subs know that if they have doubts, so will the reader.
  • “Attitude” be it deserved or undeserved is totally undesirable. You might have to hear words that aren’t enlisted in any dictionary and face situations which you never dreamt you’d be in. You might have to face a severe tongue-lashing for a not-so-severe mistake. But that’s the nature of this business and those are the professional hazards. To borrow a certain man’s words, you must “suck it up”!

I don’t know if I have been able to market the job of a sub well, but I have tried to ensure that my friends don’t remain ignorant of the role of the unavoidable alter-ego of the “world’s best profession”.

All said and done, to enjoy the work of a sub-editor one must possess one of the deadly sins in abundance: Pride. The pride that comes from making things better, being relied upon, and feeling at home in a madhouse.

I must also mention the huge advantage of possessing a Press card: a single flash of this card can help you in unthinkable ways. So, for all those who are romantic enough to have allowed the bug of journalism to lay eggs inside their cerebrum but are too realistic to find solace in pursuing Advani’s chariot or keeping a check on whom Kalmadi is drinking tea with, the news desk beckons.

To once again borrow the words of that certain man, a good sub is worth his or her weight in gold. And, to add my own, good subs are as endangered as the wild ass of Kutch (hope you understand why I chose this particular animal for the comparison). Nevertheless, supply of fresh blood is a necessity and all donors will be duly rewarded. Certainly in kind, if not in cash!

Also read:
  • Cartoons courtesy: CartoonBank, CartoonStock, and Hearst Newspapers

Thursday, November 24, 2011

How to avoid "speed bumps" when including designations in your stories

Here is a quote from the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek:

“Right-of-way policies are just convoluted,” says Kunal Bajaj, director for India at Analysys Mason, the London consulting and market research firm. “You have to speak to between 10 and 20 different agencies for every route.”

In many Indian publications, that quote would be written in this fashion:

“Right-of-way policies are just convoluted,” says Kunal Bajaj, director, India, Analysys Mason, London. “You have to speak to between 10 and 20 different agencies for every route.”

Notice the difference? Aren't the "speed bumps" in Kunal Bajaj's designation in the second instance enough to give readers a headache? Will they then continue to read the story?

Something to think about, I hope.


Here are more "designations" from the Economist:

David Johns, chief information officer at Owens Corning, a building-materials maker, is full of praise for TCS....

Jagdish Rao, a technology chief at Citigroup, says most of the consulting work TCS has done so far has been on systems TCS had built or implemented itself. Tom Rodenhauser of Kennedy Information, which studies the consulting industry, agrees that it has yet to make a breakthrough in high-end work.

Amar Naga, the boss of the Milford facility, admits that consulting proper is so far just 2.6% of TCS’s revenue.

Read the Economist story on TCS in its entirety here: From Mumbai to Midwest.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Want to perfect your LinkedIn profile?

Writing in today's Mint, Gopal Sathe says the number of people using LinkedIn effectively in India remains small, and most simply use it to put up their CV, and then don’t return. Sathe asserts that it is easy to stand out and get results and then offers nine tips, which, he says, will help if you're looking for a new job:

1. Write a personal tag line
2. Ask and answer questions
3. Become a follower
4. Get the right recommendations
5. Keep a professional profile
6. Keep your updates focused
7. Let trusted contacts know you're looking
8. Log in regularly
9. Don't broadcast that you're looking

Sathe elaborates on each tip here (this is the link to the e-paper; go to Pages 12-13 of the issue of November 23).

Monday, November 21, 2011

What creative advertising really means-3

In What creative advertising really means-2, Commits alumnus ARPAN BHATTACHARYYA (Class of 2010), a copywriter with Contract Advertising in Bangalore, explained exactly how copywriters and the art guys work their magic. Here, to help us understand the process better, he gives us examples from an ongoing campaign for Louis Philippe, a client of Contract Advertising:


There is more to advertising than just print ads, television commercials, and radio jingles. A brand communicates in a variety of ways. And every day, newer and more innovative ways to communicate the brand’s message are being discovered.

Given below are three examples of brand communication: a print ad, a few posters, and a brand catalogue. And, as is always desired, all communication from the brand is completely in sync: all these examples stay true to the brand image across media and execution in terms of the way the messages are conveyed.

LP Louis Philippe is one of the three sub-brands under the House of Louis Philippe mother brand.  The other two brands are Louis Philippe and Luxure. Louis Philippe is an extremely aristocratic brand, entrenched in formal wear. Luxure is an uber-luxurious brand that’s aimed at the crème de la crème of society. And LP is more of a youth brand aimed at a younger crowd, as is evident in the kind of clothes that the brand offers.


Here are a few examples of how these three sub-brands communicate differently. I don’t have any Luxure communication with me now but here’s a double-page ad for both Louis Philippe and LP.

The one on the left is the Louis Philippe ad. It’s for Louis Philippe shoes but if you read the copy you’ll see the tone that is set: very elitist, fancy language, big words. They have established themselves as a brand that only the best of the best possess, hence the tagline ‘The upper crest’.  On the other hand, LP is a lot more casual and sporty, since it’s aimed at a younger crowd.  The LP tagline is ‘Sport Luxury’ and the brand portrays itself as one that allows the young adults to wear their passions on their sleeve and do so with panache.

However, and this is critical in all communication for anything that comes from the Louis Philippe stable,  the communication has to have an element of consistency across all three brands. In simple words, even when we talk to the younger crowd, a certain sense of refinement is essential. (This is evident in the catalogue, which you can check out later in this post.)

Ideation of shoe ad
Louis Philippe Shoes: We got the brief about the product from the client. This included all the details about the product benefits and how it was different from others in the same category. In this case, we already had the product shot and because the client was keen on showing the image of the shoes, we decided that the copy would have to do the job of communicating the message. We also needed to communicate the product benefits so the body copy does just that, and in a tone that is in tune with the Louis Philippe style. The headline idea came from the fact that this was a shoe that had been painstakingly created by master craftsmen and was meant to adorn the feet of only those who would understand the value of such a creation.  

LP Shoes:
Since the campaign thought (Play Up Your Passion) was already established in earlier communication and the client didn’t want any details about the product, we pretty much left it at that.

Another example of the different communication styles of Louis Philippe and LP is the difference in the kind of language and imagery that is used in their in-store posters. Given below is a poster for a collection from Louis Philippe. The collection is called the Marrakech Collection. The name of the collection suggests the inspiration for the collection and the poster communicates that in the signature Louis Philippe style.

Ideation of Marrakech poster
The client told us about the inspiration (Marrakech) and we already had pictures from a photo shoot that we had done for the campaign. The task was to communicate the inspiration with the help of the image and copy and to also connect this inspiration to the brand’s image of aristocratic menswear.   The idea for the headline came from the meaning of the name ‘Marrakech’. The body copy talks about how the beauty of the place inspired the clothes in the collection. 

Below are two posters for LP. The collection is called Big Apple, inspired by New York City. This year, the campaign thought for LP was ‘Play Up Your Passion’.

What the brand wanted to communicate was that the clothes allowed people to literally wear their passions on their sleeves. Again, this is communicated in the copy and the imagery. And the language and style are different from that used for Louis Philippe.

Another example of communication along these lines is provided in the LP catalogue, shown a little later on.

Ideation of LP posters
The images show men in different settings in New York. Here, we decided to let the image simply show a New York setting and let the copy explain it.

For one of the posters we concentrated on fashion and the different kind of clothes that people in New York wear on a regular basis.

For the other poster, we decided to focus on life in New York and examples of how a person’s daily routine might be.

Both connected back to the fact that people in New York were passionate about life itself.

Next up is the brand catalogue for LP. As mentioned earlier, this year the campaign thought was Play Up Your Passion. This line was used in the print ads and the same thought has been carried forward in the catalogue. 

There are four apparel collections in LP this year. I’ve explained the inspiration behind each collection and the creatives are based on these inspirations. By creatives here, I mean the artwork, photography, and the copy. 

Cover and Inside cover
After the cover page and the inside cover (above), the first page has a write-up about ‘passion’ (see below). As I said earlier, the campaign thought this year was ‘Play Up Your Passion.’

Collection 1
The first collection (see below) is called ‘Rider’. This collection is inspired by the passion for riding (bikes) in particular and motoring in general.

Collection 2
The second collection (see below) is called ‘Big Apple’. As the name suggests, this collection is inspired by the passion for life in New York City.

Collection 3
The third collection (see below) is called ‘Oliver’s Love’.  This collection is inspired by Erich Segal’s classic novel, Love Story. But there is a small modification here. The creative team interpreted the inspiration as the passion in the hearts of young students at university, because the two main characters in Love Story meet and fall in love at university.

Collection 4
The fourth collection (see below) is called ‘Indianapolis’. This collection is inspired by the passion for vintage motor racing.

Ideation of catalogue
We wanted to do something a little different from what other brands were doing with their catalogues. So we decided to let the copy focus on the inspiration behind the collections and let the images do the job of supporting the copy while at the same time showcasing a few of the clothes that each collection offered.

Since the principal inspiration was passion, the catalogue starts out with a short write-up about what passion really is. Moving forward, the challenge was to explain what each of the inspirations was and how they were connected with the central theme of passion. If you read the copy, you’ll see how we tried to do that.

  • 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.
UPDATE (June 27, 2012): I have just discovered — and guffawed over — a Tumblr post about life in the ad industry. Check it out here: This advertising life ("The emotions of a working life in advertising as told through GIFs").

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Times Now libel case: Editors' Guild expresses concern

In 2008, a photograph of Justice P.B. Sawant, the former chairman of the Press Council of India, was shown in a 6.30 p.m. Times Now news report on a provident fund scam, instead of that of Justice P.K. Samanta, then of the Calcutta high court. A court in Pune directed Times Now to pay Rs.100 crore in damages, against which the channel appealed before the Bombay High Court.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court of India declined to intervene in the Bombay HC case against Times Now, directing the channel to deposit Rs.20 crore with the court registry along with a bank guarantee of Rs.80 crore.

The Editors' Guild of India has issued the following statement:

The Editors' Guild of India expresses its concern at the implications of today’s ruling of the Supreme Court, rejecting a Special Leave Petition seeking a stay against a High Court decree for damages worth Rs.100 crore against the Times Global Broadcasting Company Limited.

While recognising that the law of defamation is an important qualification of the fundamental right to freedom of expression, the Guild believes that the law of defamation has to be construed in such a manner that it does not constrain the normal functioning of the media.

An unintentional error because of a technical mix-up is in a different category from malicious or intentional libel. If inadvertent errors were to be met with punitive fines, it would make it difficult and indeed hazardous for journalists and media organisations to carry out their professional duties.

The Guild notes that in the present case the photograph of Justice P.B. Sawant was shown mistakenly as being involved in the Ghaziabad District Court Provident Fund Scam because of the similarity of names with another judge. There was no malice. The error was corrected within 15 seconds, and for five days the channel issued a public apology to the wronged judge.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Yes, recruiters are using Facebook and Twitter to screen candidates

I have been telling my students for years now to be careful about what they post on Facebook and Twitter.

When you apply for a job, I tell them, you may be judged on the basis of your virtual life. So, mind your language.

Think of interesting and intelligent status messages and tweets.

And when you post pictures, think about how these pictures may influence a potential employer. Sure, you may argue that your privacy settings will protect you, but what's to stop a "friend" from copying and forwarding content from your page?

Here's evidence, albeit from a foreign source, that recruiters use social networks to screen candidates.

Want more information? Want to study the infographics closely? Go to Mashable.

And believe me when I tell you that recruiters are dong this in India, too. Why wouldn't they? They get to see the "real" you on Facebook and Twitter, don't they?
  • Thank you, Apar Dham (Class of 2011) for the tip-off.
"The interviewer asked me for my Twitter ID and immediately scanned all my tweets" 
  • From an earlier post Satish Perumal (Class of 2011) writes: We think of Twitter and Facebook as networking tools which we use to keep in touch with friends and relatives. I, too, thought these networking sites were good only for having a... er, good time, an escape tunnel from the real world to the virtual one.

    But I did a rethink recently after a job interview with a social marketing company, Uncut Donut. The interviewer asked me for my Twitter ID and immediately scanned all my tweets, looked at my profile, and tried to get a fix on what kind of topics interest me. I was taken aback a bit by this turn of events and did not know how to react.

    Moral of the story: These networking sites might be fun, but these days they are a launch pad for the careers of many ambitious youngsters. And HR departments use them as recruitment tools too. So go ahead and get cracking with your networking! 
Yes, your Facebook profile and holiday pictures
can convey the wrong impression to recruiters

UPDATE (November 30, 2011): DNA's "After Hrs." section today features a story by Sneha Mahadevan on the monitoring of social networking sites by companies when hiring candidates. There are two examples in the story that illustrate the risks of posting "inappropriate" material on these sites:

Diya Malhotra, 25-year-old marketing professional with an MBA, was being considered for a job at a leading multinational company. After clearing the first round of interviews she was asked to come for the final round of personal interviews, scheduled a week later. When she did come, she was shocked to hear the kind of questions the professionals conducting the interview asked her. "I went in expecting to be asked about my work, but instead they asked me how often I'd go on vacations and how often I party. They even said I wasn't allowed to have an office romance. Initially, it came as a shock to me, but I realised later on that they would have snooped around on my profile on Facebook and seen my holiday pictures. Since then I have changed my privacy settings on social networking sites," she says.

While some have been rejected after being considered potentially reliable candidates, some have fallen into trouble after posting remarks about a co-worker in jest. Surekha Mahadik went through a situation that taught her to never discuss work on a social networking site. "A colleague and I were just routinely catching up on Facebook and happened to say something about another colleague in our team in good jest. She read it, all hell broke loose and the next thing we knew, we were summoned by the HR managers for a lecture on office etiquette," she recalls.

Also read: Facebook: Boon or bane?
  • UPDATE (June 29, 2013): From an article published in Bloomberg Businessweek two days ago: "Think before you post, especially if you’re looking for a job. Seems like common sense, doesn’t it? Yet despite all the advice and warnings to be cautious with social media, job applicants continue to get burned by their online profiles." Read the piece in its entirety here: Hey Job Applicants, Time to Stop the Social-Media Sabotage. 

Can writers be... sexy?

Well, they should, says author Karan Mahajan. Writing in a recent issue of Tehelka, he recounts how he almost posed naked "against the current plague of modesty". His "sexy" photographs appear in Canteen, the magazine behind the project to present writers as sex symbols.

Mahajan informs us that Canteen explained its goals to a newspaper as follows:

“Writers have lost their place as cultural heroes. But why can’t they at least try to compete with pop-culture stars on the same terms? Let’s promote novelists as sexy and fabulous! Insist that the PEN Award require a turn on the catwalk! Hold the National Book Awards on a sliver of sand populated by buxom models in horn-rimmed shades; let the champagne pop for the cameras, as Oxford tweed gets wet on Temptation Island!”

Does it make a difference what writers look like? Will you read a serious piece arguing for the eradication of dowry more intently if you know it has been written by a "hot author"?

Here is Annie Zaidi's anti-dowry piece in Open magazine:

And here is Annie Zaidi, writer, columnist, author, as photographed by M.S. Gopal for Tehelka (to accompany Karan Mahajan's piece):

Tell me, are you going to be giving Zaidi's writing a closer look now?
  • And if you're dying to see how Karan Mahajan has been captured in Canteen, visit the magazine's "Hot Authors" project.

Why you should be careful about attributing quotes

Much has been made of how CNN-IBN passed off a recorded interaction as a live one, and the channel and anchor in question have done the right thing by apologizing — and with no yes-but qualifications that journalists are wont to use when they mess up, which is very creditable — but the larger issue is that most journalists and editors in this country are pretty careless about the correct attribution of quotes.

Mint editor R. Sukumar explains the purpose of proper attribution: "Quote... unquote". A must-read for media students... and for journalists.

I'm halfway through "Lucknow Boy", and I find it fascinating

If you want to understand journalism as it is practised in India today, its joys and its pitfalls, I can recommend no better book than this one:

  • Read exclusive extracts from Lucknow Boy in the latest issue of Outlook: "Close encounters".
  • I bought Lucknow Boy for my students last week; I'll place the copy in the Commits library after I finish reading it.
  • If you want to read a review of Lucknow Boy, here's the best one: "Vinod Mehta, Unedited" (The Hindu, December 4). 
UPDATE (March 11, 2013): A book Vinod Mehta had written in 1978, The Sanjay Story, has just been reissued by HarperCollins India. Mehta was interviewed by Mint last week in connection with the book. Read the one-on-one here: "Politicians and journalists should never be friends".

Monday, November 14, 2011

What it means to be a TV news reporter-2

Commits alumna SUSHMITA CHATTERJEE (Class of 2008), who was the Aaj Tak/Headlines Today correspondent in Bangalore, discusses some crucial aspects of television news reporting: 

Well, my junior Neha Mehta has already given you all a good idea of what it means to be a TV news reporter. While she has covered most of the tougher aspects of television reporting, I thought of sharing some personal tips that I learnt as a reporter with Aaj Tak/Headlines Today.

Yes, TV reporting is tough, but I sincerely believe if you’re passionate about it, you will love it. I most certainly did!

Okay, so you are passionate and you would love to do stories that can change someone’s life. What next? You have to keep some crucial aspects in mind if you are planning to become a TV news reporter. Here are a few pointers.

“Wow! I have the power to do things that my other friends can’t!” “I have access to places where no one else can think of entering!”

When you are new to TV news reporting, these are some of the thoughts that can cross your mind. But remember, however clichéd it might sound, with power comes great responsibility. Also remember that what you say on screen as a reporter does hold great importance. Your story might change the lives of many, but if it is portrayed wrongly it can not only ruin your channel’s reputation, it can also put your career in jeopardy.

So, treat your story as your own baby. Research your idea thoroughly. Find out all possible angles for your story, figure out whom it can impact, and, if possible, speak to all of them. After you have collated all your information, fight for your story to go on air. Do not let anyone scrap it from the channel’s run-down if you know you have the content to back your story.

When planning your story, think of yourself as a viewer. Would the topic interest you? If it doesn’t then most likely it will not impact your viewers either. Remember that your story should appeal to you first! Read through newspapers, journals, magazines, watch other television news channels, look through public data and crime reports to find a peg that grabs your attention. And then weave your story around it.


When I say this, I don’t mean it in a negative way. During my career as a TV reporter, I realised being nosy was one of the most important qualities you need to acquire. To give you an example: I got a half-hour special story ‘Boy Chained by Family’ by talking to a friend who went shopping and saw this boy in one of the shops. Remember, you can get your story from the most unexpected person just by talking with them.

Poking into other people’s lives comes in handy for TV news reporters at times :-). Ask questions! Sometimes you might get bad-mouthed for asking questions people term as ‘stupid’. But as Ramesh Sir says, No question is stupid. As a TV news reporter, you always need to keep these golden words in mind. That’s what I mean when I say be thick-skinned, do things that will impact the end-result: YOUR STORY!

It is difficult, but you have to learn to do it. A lot of times you will meet people who can go on talking, though it might not add any value to your story. You, as the reporter, should know when to stop them after you have got your desired sound bite without making it evident. The best way is to tell interviewees in the beginning about the story line and discuss the contents of the sound bite with them.

But there could be cases where some people reveal a lot of details while they are talking. If you expect such a thing, do not stop them. The best way is to reduce the duration of each sound bite by asking questions in between. This would make the task of selecting crucial sound bites easier for you.


Regional channel reporters can be a great source of information. I say this out of experience. If you are working for a national news network, always remember that a regional news reporter would have much more access to different areas as compared with you, often because of the sheer fact that they are more in number. Regional channels have specific reporters for each beat, but since you are a national news reporter you focus on three to four different stories in a day. Hence, maintaining cordial relations with regional news reporters will help you get to know some stories which might make it to the national network, too.

This is what most people forget to do. When you do a story and see it on air, don’t just forget about it right after. Every story you do can give you a new perspective a few months down the line. It can throw up another new angle. Hence, following up on stories is very important to keep your story ideas flowing.

You might not get this tip from any book on journalism. But this is very important! Yes, as a reporter you might never get a chance to eat on time because of the numerous assignments you will be working on! But try carrying your food along, or at least something to munch on, be it biscuits or bananas. Only if you are healthy will you have the strength to run behind your stories!

These were just a few of the things that might make your dream of becoming a TV news reporter easier. I enjoyed my stint with television for two years. And I hope a few of these tips will help you carve a better future too. It’s absolutely true that the feeling of seeing your story on air after a hard day’s work is worth all your effort. All the best!
  • Sushmita Chatterjee now works as an Instructional Design Analyst for Accenture's Content Development Centre in Bangalore.
  • Want to know how to have a successful internship at a TV news channel? Read this post.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A tribute to an amazing photo editor

The editor of National Geographic has written an appreciation of the magazine's former photo editor about whom he says, "I would not be Editor in Chief of this magazine if I had not worked with him."

Writing in a recent issue, Chris Johns pays handsome tribute to David Arnold who died a few months ago:

Photo editors are the behind-the-scenes heroes of a photographer’s work. The editor sees every single frame and picks up on every mistake and missed opportunity. Then he or she uses everything at hand to correct, coach, and inspire.

David L. Arnold was the best of the best. He was not easy to please, but I trusted his judgment, even when his criticism was tough to hear. When he told me I’d made a memorable photograph, I trusted that too.

Arnold had retired from the magazine in 1994 after 27 years of inspiring photographers. But his spirit, writes Johns, can still be seen and felt:

He was a role model for Kathy Moran, who photo edited this month’s story on the Great Barrier Reef. “I learned from David to be honest with photographers at all cost,” she says. “I learned that to edit a story you need to know the subject thoroughly. David always did his homework. He had a Ph.D. in every story he worked on.”

Read the tribute in its entirety here.
  • Photo courtesy: National Geographic.

In the same issue of the magazine (May 2011), there are some incredible pictures (and a fascinating story) of a new generation of superclimbers. Look at this cover shot:

How did photographer Jimmy Chin manage to capture this extraordinary scene and many more? The biggest challenge of this assignment, writes Chin in the magazine, was in the planning. From figuring out how to get to a spot in the middle of Half Dome and what equipment was needed to get there, to carrying multiple loads of gear to the top of El Capitan, the preparation for one picture often took several days and many hands.

Go behind the scenes with Chin in this video and see what it truly takes to make photographs of people constantly living on the edge.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A splendid profile of the first woman to be named the editor of the New York Times

Once, it was preposterous to think that a woman could become the editor of the Times. When Eileen Shanahan, who went on to become a well-respected economics reporter, arrived for an interview with Clifton Daniel, the assistant managing editor, in 1962, she hid her desire to become an editor. “All I ever want is to be a reporter on the best newspaper in the world,” she told him.

“That’s good,” Daniel responded, as Shanahan told the story, “because I can assure you no woman will ever be an editor at the New York Times.”

This is one of the many gems in a New Yorker profile of the new executive editor of the New York Times, Jill Abramson, by the respected journalist and author Ken Auletta.

There is more in the same vein:
Susan Chira, an assistant managing editor, says that she kept thinking that when she joined the Times, in 1981, many Times women were “sad, bitter, angry people who were talented but who had been thwarted.” Editors openly propositioned young women.

After giving us this little bit of history, Auletta plunges wholeheartedly into the business of helping us to understand what makes Jill Abramson tick. It is a splendid profile, worth reading not only for its insights into the decision-making process at one of the world's great newspapers but also for the quality of the writing itself. How much time and effort must have gone into putting together the thousands of words that make up this article!

Read the profile in its entirety here: Changing Times.

PS: Here's Ken Auletta on how Abramson first made it to the Times:

When the [Clarence Thomas confirmation] hearings ended, Abramson wrote [to] Maureen Dowd, who covered them for the Times, a mash note. Dowd, who later became a columnist, sent back a mash note of her own. Some years later, Dowd told Abramson that she was looking for more women to join the Times. “You know any sensational women out there?” Dowd asked.

“Yeah, me!” Abramson shot back.

Dowd reported this to the Washington bureau chief, Michael Oreskes, who invited Abramson to lunch. She joined the Times in September, 1997, and in December, 2000, she was named Washington bureau chief.
  • In Talk to the Newsroom, a Q&A with Times editors, reporters, columnists, and executives, Jill Abramson offers some illuminating answers to questions posed by readers. Read especially her thoughts on whether young people will read newspapers and on how news affects real people.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A foreigner's experience of playing an "extra" on a Hindi film set

What does it mean to be a foreign "extra" in a Bollywood movie?

Writing in Open, a 20-year-old German student says that, for the first time in India, "we as whites are not at the centre of attention but mere background decoration".

In the piece, published under the "True Life" rubric in the magazine, Marian Brehmer gives us intimate details of the whole experience of being a "prop" in a Karan Johar film he does not reveal the name of the movie, but tells us that Kareena Kapoor and Imran Khan are the stars, so it must be the upcoming Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu.

Here is Brehmer's desciption of the moment when Kareena arrives on the set:

Suddenly, she is there, among us. Like a fata morgana, the diva has emerged out of nothing. As soon as she sits down, Kareena Kapoor transforms the place. She is constantly cared for by a personal stylist who buzzes around her like a multi-armed Hindu deity: waving a comb, hairslides and a mirror at the same time. Kareena is in her own world and totally absorbed in the role. She constantly reads and rehearses the lines. “She didn’t practise her role?” a fellow extra asks me. None of us has great appreciation for actors we have hardly ever heard of — Kareena Kapoor, and then Imran Khan, who joins her later. Kareena seems utterly unreal and unapproachable to me. She is treated not as a star, but like a living goddess. Even the staring men are spellbound by Kareena’s invisible halo and keep their heads down.

The shoot, which was supposed to last only a few hours, goes on through the night, taking its toll on Brehmer and his fellow extras:

It is past 3 am and many of us don’t feel like moving at all. Nevertheless, I want to be productive and create my own show as a random shopper. In this scene I unfold and test the softness of a brown towel, smell soaps of different quality and compare the prices of milk chocolate. This continues for at least two hours. I take it in good humour, but I can sense the tension rising around me. The blonde lady starts swearing in Polish. It sounds ugly.

Finally, the two British girls burst out in anger: “We were to be dropped back in Colaba at 7 am! We need to catch a plane at noon!” Nobody takes notice of them.

It is 7.15 a.m. when the crew declares the shoot over. At the end of it, each foreigner is paid Rs.500. But this was not about the money, writes Brehmer, it's the experience.

Now each extra has a story to tell for a long time.

Read the article in its entirety here: One night in Bollywood.

What it means to be a TV news reporter-1

Commits alumna NEHA MEHTA (Class of 2009), who was the Times Now correspondent in Bangalore, gives television news aspirants an insight into the challenges of reporting: 

What is it like to be a television reporter? (Hmm… welcome to hell, people! Oh, I'm kidding! Or am I?)

Reporting is one of the best and, at the same time, one of the most challenging jobs in television journalism. TV news reporting has various aspects to it; the actual reporting is only one of many.

It may all look easy on the small screen, but in reality, it can be totally frenetic. To get your face on TV for those 60-odd seconds in a day you have to work like a maniac for the rest of the 23 hours and 59 minutes. But once your story is on air, the feeling you experience is something out of this world, especially when you know your story can change the lives of many.

There are at least three things to keep in mind if you want to be a successful TV reporter.

It's extremely important for you to be aware of your surroundings people, places, and, of course, information. Keep an eye on everything possible; sometimes the least interesting people can give you the most important story of your life. Also, please read newspapers EVERY DAY and, most important, watch other news channels, even regional news channels. This will help you to gather a lot of information that you can use when the need arises.

Your best source of information might not be someone at the head honcho level; often, to your surprise, it can be the ubiquitous chaiwala who sits around the corner. I was primarily a political reporter and I would get much of my information from the chief minister's driver, gunman, watchman… never from his PA. So make as many friends as possible because 'har ek friend zaroori hota hai'.


SCRIPTS AND PTCs: Your script should have an interactive feel to it and you should always “write to the visuals”, this will help to explain your story better. Don't try to tell your audience too much, nor give them too little; at the same time, don't ever consider your viewers to be simpletons don’t try to give them information which, more often than not, they would already know. Don't keep asking them questions in your story, probably once is more than enough. Your story always has to be future-looking; otherwise why will your viewer come back to your channel?

Coming to PTCs or the Piece to Camera (also referred to as the P2C), please remember this is your only claim to fame on a news channel. So be presentable, well-groomed, and confident. Your looks can sometimes add credibility to a story.

ON THE "PERSONAL" FRONT: All this was very technical. Now for some “personal” advice. It is very important that you be yourself. It takes a lot of hard work to be a part of a news channel. You will have to work insane hours and days without leave and, of course, appreciation comes once in a light year.

When you have a story in mind go and find out everything about it. Think of ways you can shoot and script it. Think about how this story can be beneficial to people around you; after all, the press is the fourth estate and we journalists carry the baton of responsibility for society. You can get vulnerable in such surroundings but it depends on you how you hold on to your ethics and values. It's very easy to sensationalise news and sometimes your news channel might ask you to do so, but I think it's you who needs to decide where you want to draw the line.

THE TIMES NOW EXPERIENCE: As for my experience with Times Now, it was the best reality roller-coaster ride of my life. Sure, I had my ups and downs but who doesn't?

I enjoyed my stint as a TV reporter because after working hard on my stories I would see them on air and that would give me the best feeling ever, something I don't think anything else can give me in my life.

Not a single day in my life was identical once I joined Times Now. Every day was a different challenge; there is so much pressure when it comes to deadlines that I was constantly hounded for stories and ideas and for months I wouldn't get a day off. Come rain, come shine we had to work and deliver. That’s when I would think back to my days at Commits, the days when Ranita Ma'am would tell us students to pop a pill and get to work. There is no escaping, folks. :). Or, as Ramesh Sir would say, c'est la vie.
  • Neha Mehta, who moved to Kolkata after marriage, is now the executive creative director of D'Oh-Boy!, the city's first doughnut cafe. 
  • Want to know how to have a successful internship at a TV news channel? Read this post.

Why you may want to re-think your profile on Twitter

How much can you say in a few hundred characters? Perhaps that is the reason why, as Businessworld columnist Mala Bhargava discovered recently, people are not only uncomfortable with how to tweet, but also with the very creation of their profiles.

She writes in the latest issue of the magazine:

Recently, I was teaching a class of students doing a course on digital communication, and during our exploration of Twitter, I found that people were not only uncomfortable with how to tweet, but also with the very creation of their profiles. As always, when you teach, you learn, and interacting with the students made me realise a few things about Twitter profiles that I don’t see in the usual fare of ‘Ten Tips’ articles plaguing the Web. I promptly re-did my own bio.

So the issue is not really how much you can say in 140 characters, but what you should say in 140 characters.

Bhargava explains why:

Letting your personality show through in those few words is important because everyone wants to feel they are interacting with a real person. But too often, the description overdoes the attitude or shows the difficulty with being specific about the user’s strengths.

The number of profiles I’m seeing referring to “blokes about town”, “lover of life”, “explorer of dreams”, “clueless about everything”, “spellbound by the universe at large”, etc., is staggering. As long as these tasty morsels of self-revelation are balanced with specific information, they are really fun. In the absence of solidity though, they do nothing to get the user very much.

Read Mala Bhargava's column in its entirety here and figure out what you want to say in your Twitter bio.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Justin Bieber in the making?

She is supposed to be THE YouTube sensation of India. Shraddha Sharma is her name and, according to a story in Mint Lounge on September 17, her YouTube channel had more subscribers than John Abraham's.


In the profile, written by Anindita Ghose, we learn that Shraddha, "savvy songstress, YouTube phenomenon and Facebook celebrity", is a 15-year-old schoolgirl who lives in Dehradun and has never travelled beyond New Delhi.

How did Shraddha get her start?

A little before midnight on 30 April, Shraddha Sharma uploaded a YouTube video of her singing, with a guitar accompaniment, a teary song of separation dedicated to “a special friend who was leaving her forever”. It was recorded on her parents’ living room sofa. She sang Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s Mein Tenu Samjhawan from the Punjabi movie Virsa.

Five videos and 16 weeks later, in the third week of August, Shraddha’s YouTube channel, Shraddharockin, became the highest subscribed channel in India.

Shades of Justin Bieber! Back in May last year, The Reading Room had published a post based on Time magazine's article on how the internet had turned a 16-year-old into a pop phenom. And now here's an Indian teen rocking the internet charts.

Read the Shraddha Sharma profile here and the Justin Bieber post here.
  • Photo courtesy: Mint Lounge

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What is the link between India fast bowler Praveen Kumar and Indians' love of gold?

What a shining example of a good intro!

Writing in the Outlook issue of November 7, Arti Sharma begins her story on Indians' current craze for gold with this little incident that occurred during a one-day cricket match between India and England:

It happened once upon a time in Mumbai, last Sunday (October 23). Having strangled England with his banana swingers all season, Praveen Kumar rolled in to bowl yet another over in the revenge series, at the Wankhede. A boundary was followed by a wide down the leg side. Next ball, horror — another wide, this time even wider than the previous one. Skipper Dhoni lay behind the stumps, mystified at the Miser from Meerut uncharacteristically squandering away sundries.

After pondering for a while at the wicket, hands on knees, Kumar proceeded to return to his bowling mark. And, as he passed the non-striker’s end, the bowler suddenly seemed to realise the cause of his temporary strife. Nonchalantly, he put his hand inside his shirt, pulled out a gold chain thick enough to strangulate a 400-pound bear, handed it to the umpire at the bowler’s end, and returned to discover his line and length.

So what? Maybe your bowling hero is Shantakumaran Sreesanth. But that action, in the full glare of cameras, captured India’s magnificent obsession with the yellow metal that now cheerfully afflicts everybody: from city-slickers to the small-towners; from women to men to medium-pacers. And, unlike in the past, when gold was what you stashed away secretly in safe deposit lockers, away from evil eyes, now you flaunt it, if you can afford it.

It would have been so easy — and so boring — to begin a story on gold consumption in India with the story of a young couple buying jewellery or the tale of a housewife stocking up on the yellow metal for the sake of her children.

But, like a good journalist, Arti Sharma looked for the unusual and found it in a game of cricket. Isn't that something?

What it means to work on the desk at a television news channel

Commits alumnus DIPANKAR PAUL (Class of 2009), who worked on the Times Now news desk in Mumbai, gives television news aspirants an insight into the responsibilities of the subs: 

The sub has mainly one broad role in a TV news channel: Writing news so that the anchor can read and the viewer can understand.

That said, there are numerous other responsibilities that lead up to the anchor reading the news out aloud on air.


During a 'newsbreak', a sub is usually required to operate the ticker. The ticker is a place where the viewer sees the latest news in real time.

More often than not, in such a breaking news situation, information comes in via text messages, or off the screen of another channel. And both are prime sources for mistakes. The text message may have a typo (for example, while a reporter may have intended to say "1 killed", he may inadvertently type 11, or 12), so it's a great idea to call the reporter and verify. And taking news off another channel is OK only if you can verify with either your reporter, or if at least another channel puts out the same news.

However, that said, in the (highly competitive) world of TV news, where time is of the essence, mistakes do get made. The only thing to do then is to put your hand up, make the correction, and move on. Just ensure it never happens again.

A substantial part of a sub's day goes in listening to press conferences, and other bites (collected by reporters on the field). Most bites are lengthy and rambling; some are full of propaganda, especially if there's a political party involved.

The trick is to listen to the entire bite, and then select which part you think is most effective in adding value to the news at hand. At the beginning of a career, the sub is not expected to make calls on selecting sound bites. The senior editors will usually decide which parts of a press conference or a bite will go on air. However, as experience grows, that responsibility falls entirely on the sub. In fact, the sub is the unseen face of a TV news channel. (More on this later.)


Today, all TV news screens are an explosion of graphics. There are 'top bands', 'story slugs', 'infosupers', full-frame graphics, 'stamps', and a plethora of other variations of text on screen, all of which serve one purpose: Informing the viewer.

A lot of importance is laid on graphics because the general assumption is that people watch news with their TV on 'mute'. So, all information that would otherwise be in the script is pasted on the screen.


I call this the most important, and the most neglected, duty of the sub. A sub spends so much time on selecting the perfect bite, getting it cut and published, and on creating graphics that there is little time (or so the perception is) to think through a script and write.

But at the end of the day, all frills aside, the job is all about processing the news and presenting it to the viewer. Language must be crisp, precise, devoid of ALL subjectivity. A sub must remember that there aren't a lot of words to play with (a story is usually not longer than three minutes; the bites, PTCs, and graphics will take up close to two minutes, leaving 60 seconds or 200 words to actually write).


It is important to know that a TV news script is not the same as a newspaper article. There is absolutely no scope for 'flowery' language. Viewers don't sit with a dictionary when watching the news. The prose must be conversational; it must never be preachy, and never look to incite the viewer: Present the facts as they are; let the bites do the talking.

Most TV channels, though, are likely to have a defined stance (pro-government, or whatever), and this can seep through into the scripts being aired; the subs' challenge, therefore, is to keep their integrity intact.

  • Want to know how to have a successful internship at a TV news channel? Read this post

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Is this an example of carrying political correctness too far?

I just happened to be reading the October 2 issue of the Hindu's Literary Review yesterday. The cover story is dedicated to the newspaper's literary prize for the best fiction of the year and, in addition to the shortlist of seven novels, the front page provides a summary of the methodology of selection and the judges' opinions of the submissions for the prize.

Here is the sentence that had me gagging:

Each judge also had his or her own criteria of selection — wit and wisdom of craftspersonship, spontaneity, novelty, irony, poignancy, elegance, relevance etc — so that the final shortlist contains a variety of highly accomplished but dissimilar books.

For one thing, "etc." should be treated like a non-essential clause and so there should be a comma after "relevance". Second, when a writer (this short piece does not have a byline) uses "etc." in this fashion, it points to a lack of imagination.

But that is not what had me gagging.

It was the use of the word "craftspersonship".

Craftspersonship? Since when has "craftsmanship" been deemed derogatory to women? Aren't we carrying political correctness too far?