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Monday, December 10, 2012

Another work of art from the pioneer of comics journalism

Earlier this year, in February, I had published a post on the pioneer of comics journalism, Joe Sacco, the man who has proved — literally — that journalism is an art form. Subsequently, I purchased, for the Commits library, two of his books: Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza.

Let me reiterate here what I have written in my post: There's no journalist I know or have heard of like Joe Sacco and there's no reportage I have seen or read that is like Sacco's astounding graphic representation of the human condition.

After reading both Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza, I became impatient to lay my hands on his magnum opus, Journalism, which was to be published later in the year. As soon as the book became available on Flipkart, which was last month, I bought a copy, which I am reading avidly now and which I'll place later in the college library. (Indian readers will not want to miss the section on the untouchable community of Musahars in eastern Uttar Pradesh.)


Coincidentally, DNA, whose magazine section yesterday was devoted to books, had a major piece on Journalism. "In an era of screaming reportage whose shelf life is less than 24 hours," Amruta Patil wrote in her review, "Sacco is dogged in his commitment to 'slow journalism', that rare art of allowing insight to percolate over time through carefully observed stories."

Read the DNA feature here: "Reporting for Duty".

And buy your own copy of Journalism on Flipkart here for only Rs.380 (24% off). Believe me, it's a steal at that price.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The way you arrange your books says something about you, doesn't it?

Of all our newspapers, only Mint Lounge has the gumption, as far as I know, to devote a whole issue to reading. And only Aakar Patel, one of our finest journalists and my favourite Mint Lounge columnist, has the cerebral wherewithal to write a delightful column on the topic of how to shelve your books.

"Classifying one’s books," Patel writes, "is not done to arrange them in some cosy intellectual order. The point is to be able to find a volume when it is required, and to know what books you have on a particular subject."

He continues:


I feel about this because I have spent considerable time developing a system which achieves these two ends.

And then Patel, who owns 5,000 books, proceeds to elaborate on his classification system:

By colour
By series
By publisher
By alphabet
By series
By language
By theme
By subject
By genre
By interest
By geography
By quirk

Read the column in its entirety here: "Bibliophilia needs smart shelving".

MY BELOVED BOOKS AND BOOKSHELVES STARRED IN A MAGAZINE ARTICLE IN 2011.

Bibliophiles will especially love, and identify with, what Patel writes in the penultimate paragraph:

Few things are as pleasurable to me as opening a package of new books in the mail. Living amid them is very heaven. Perhaps expensive paintings are also like that, but I doubt it. All of your other possessions, your cars and watches and homes, are about how the world sees you. Your books influence how you see the world.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Lusting after books? Let this librarian help

When I visited Ooty recently, I picked up two utterly captivating books at a "book fair" (a permanent used-books store, really), which is located a short walk away from Commercial Road in the heart of town. The View from the Ground, by veteran novelist and journalist Martha Gellhorn, cost me Rs.250 (Flipkart is selling it for Rs.550). I bought the second book, which sort of jumped out at me from the shelves, for only Rs.150 (it costs Rs.777 on Flipkart). More Book Lust, for that is the name of this frisky critter, is the creation of the seemingly indefatigable Nancy Pearl.

Pearl, a Seattle-based librarian, is clearly in lust with books. Her first compilation, Book Lust, was such a hit that it flew off the shelves (much like its sequel did that day in Ooty) and made her America's most famous bibliothecary. In fact, as the New York Times reported afterwards, Pearl even became the model for a librarian action figure (''With amazing push-button shushing action!'') created by a novelty company.

Both Book Lust and More Book Lust, with recommendations for all tastes and in all genres, help book-lovers arrive at the answer to that perpetually nagging question: What do I read next? Pearl's website is a big help, too — it offers updated recommendations on books that came out after the publication of her two best-sellers and on books that do not feature in either Book Lust or More Book Lust.

I have already made a list of books I want to check out for myself now. And, thanks to More Book Lust, I have also discovered Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels. Not unlike Pearl, who writes that Child wasn't a favourite of hers to begin with, I didn't think the Reacher books were for me. Over time, I have grown to love non-fiction and serious fiction; I am less keen on popular fiction. But after reading what Pearl had to say in the section "Lee Child: Too Good to Miss", I fired up my Kindle and found to my joy that I have the e-book versions of all the eight titles she recommends. I have since finished reading The Enemy. Next up: Killing Floor.
  • Book Lust, published in 2003, recommends 1,800 titles, while More Book Lust, released in 2005, discusses another 1,200 titles.

NANCY PEARL'S INGENIOUS RULE OF FIFTY
Here's some sound advice from Nancy Pearl concerning finishing a book you have picked up (from More Book Lust):

One of my strongest-held beliefs is that no one should ever finish a book that they're not enjoying, no matter how popular or well reviewed the book is. (Except, of course, if it's for a homework assignment or for a book group.) Believe me, nobody is going to get any points in heaven by miserably slogging their way through a book they aren't enjoying but think they ought to read.

I live by what I call the "rule of fifty", which is based on the reality of the shortness of time and the immensity of the world of books. If you're fifty years old or younger, give every book about fifty pages before you decide to commit yourself to reading it, or give it up. If you're over fifty, which is when time gets even shorter, subtract your age from 100 — the result is the number of pages you should read before deciding whether or not to quit. (If you're 100 or over, you get to judge the book by its cover, despite the dangers in doing so — see the section "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover".)

A WORD, OR TWO, FROM A.WORD.A.DAY FOUNDER
    ANU GARG IN CONVERSATION WITH NANCY PEARL.
  • One thing led to another, as it often does when surfing the web, and clicking on a link on NancyPearl.com led to my discovering a video of her interview with Anu Garg, the Seattle-based software engineer who founded A.Word.A.Day. If you use Dictionary.com regularly — and who doesn't? — you will have noticed the "Word of the Day" panel in the top left-hand corner. Yes, that Anu Garg. Watch the illuminating interview here.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Where will journalists be without patience and perseverance?

It took Fortune journalist John Huey 10 days of waiting in frustration in rainy weather to get a photograph of Sam Walton, the legendary but publicity-averse founder of Wal-Mart, back in 1988.

Huey, who subsequently wrote a best-selling biography of Walton and who is now editor in chief of Time Inc., recounts the episode in an interview in the latest issue of Fortune.

(I am taking the liberty of reproducing the relevant passage in full to impress upon readers, and aspiring media students, that journalists who do not possess patience and perseverance in large quantities will find it difficult to make rapid progress in their careers.)

I went to work for Fortune in November of 1988, and they decided they wanted to make Wal-Mart the "most admired company." Usually when you call up a company and say, "We're going to make your company the 'most admired company' on the cover of Fortune," they roll out everything. Wal-Mart said, "Not interested. We don't want anything to do with it."

And the editor said, "We have to have cooperation," because there's never been a posed photograph of Sam Walton. He's avoided the press. The editor said, "You're a Southerner — you go down to Arkansas and talk him into it."

I went down there. It was two weeks before Christmas. It was horrible weather. I went over to Wal-Mart, and I just basically knocked on the door. His assistant — her name was Becky — said, "He's hunting. He's not available."




This went on for days. Rain kept on going. I knew that he drove this old pickup truck. So I kept riding by there looking for the pickup truck.

Ten days into this I said to my photographer, "We're going to go back over there, and if we don't see that truck, we're getting out of here."

So we rode by, and there was the truck. Sam Walton was in the building. We went in, and I picked up the vendor phone and said, "May I speak to Becky?" Sam answered the phone. I said, "Is this Sam Walton?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Well, this is John Huey from Fortune magazine. I've been here 10 days. It's raining. My wife is going to leave me, and if I don't get this picture, they're going to fire me and I'm going to have a terrible Christmas, and all I need is 10 minutes."

You know, journalists have no pride.

He came out, and we took the picture. He complained the whole time. "You're wasting a lot of flashbulbs, you're wasting a lot of the film." And then he said, "Oh, and by the way, you can't put this picture on the cover."

We negotiated. We got the cover. I wrote a long story about Wal-Mart, and then over the next three years or so, I was flying in planes with him and driving around and basically hitchhiking across America.

(It should be understood that the phrase "journalists have no pride" is not to be taken at face value. The tone is self-mocking.)

This story is part of a fascinating conversation between Huey, Fortune editor Andy Serwer, and Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute, a former head of CNN and editor of Time, and the author, most recently, of Steve Jobs. The topic of the conversation: The legacies of two remarkable men — Sam Walton and Steve Jobs.

Read the feature in full here: "Steve Jobs vs. Sam Walton: The Tale of the Tape". 
  • Photo-illustration courtesy: Fortune.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Is the editor someone hired by the newspaper owner to make sure there are no mista

R. Sukumar, editor of Mint, says he has been asked one particular question many times in his career: What does an editor do?

So, in his column in the paper last week, he set out to provide an answer, along the way explaining in detail the four main demands an integrated newsroom makes of an editor:

1. The ability to understand what kind of story works online.

2. The sensory bandwidth to deal with and process everything that’s happening and which is being aired on 24x7 news channels, Twitter timelines, wire feeds, and internal memos from reporters.

3. Physical and mental stamina, given the first two requirements.

4. An understanding of the digital medium.

Sukumar elaborates on each of those points in his article here.

Friday, November 23, 2012

What it means to be an RJ

(From The Commits Chronicle, No. 58; January 30, 2011)

For three years, Commits alumna ARATHI KRISHNAN (Class of 2007) was an RJ with Fever FM in Bangalore. She started with the brunch show in a Hindi and English format, moved to the evening prime time show, and, finally, she was doing the morning prime time show, which was completely in Kannada. She also worked with building creative properties for marketing campaigns and shows on the station.

Then Arathi took a break from radio and joined Educomp Solutions where she heads the instructional design team that builds educational products for the US market. But she couldn't bear to be away from radio for too long. For nine months now, she has been RJ-ing the "Total Request Live with Arathi" show on Radio Indigo (Sundays, 11 am to 3 pm). And she has been doing a great job.

Last week, in an email Q&A with me, Arathi shared some of her insights on a radio career. Radio aspirants will learn much from her candid comments:

  • What prompted you to go back to radio after taking a break from Fever?
English music is my forte and love as I was brought up on everything from Mozart to Michael Jackson. I play the piano and sing, too. Coupled with my penchant for listening to people expressing their thoughts, desires and outlook, it makes radio a healthy addiction. My passion for radio is not circumscribed by money and media ratings, which often dilute content to mere superficial banter. This is why I opted for a non-prime time Sunday show, where I could just concentrate on people and the music, and not on clients who advertise with us.
  • How do you manage the demands of your regular job with what you have to do on Indigo?
For one, I have no children at the moment to run after! Ha ha ha! But, on a serious note, it is hard. After a whole week's work managing an educational content development team, getting up early and conducting a four-hour show on a Sunday can be exhausting. Fortunately, I am thoroughly driven by any creative process and it is this inner drive that keeps me going. The sacrifices are many. But I consciously set goals to use all my skills to their fullest. If one can keep this constantly in mind, the rest falls in place. One has to be extremely diligent and good with time management and I have learned that from this demanding year of my life.

Arathi Krishnan strikes a pose at her RJ console at Radio Indigo.
  • You play requests on your show — are your listeners aware of the latest hits on the international front? Are they hep? Are they clued in?
It's surprising how quickly they catch up with the newest hits on the horizon. Yes, they are aware and will request the latest. Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Bruno Mars seem to be the icons of 2010-11. Since Indigo caters to a premium crowd, you get listeners from urbane Bangalore. A lot of school kids too tune in on Sundays while they are doing assignments or studying for an exam — which is something I never comprehend... they are always studying!
  • What do you love most about your job?
Well, I love that I can share my thoughts with people from all corners of Bangalore. I love that they have opinions and are ready to express them. I love that I can be a liaison between things I like: music and people.
  • How tough is it to be an RJ? What advice would you give your juniors if they showed an interest in joining radio — should they join the marketing or programming departments, or should they try out radio jockeying?
There are two ways to approach radio:
1. Sales and marketing
2. Programming.

The first needs no elaboration. And you do not need to necessarily have radio-relevant experience to get in. I have met station heads who were with telecommunication companies before they moved in to run a station. So, for those concerned with money, marketing, and numbers, sales and marketing is the way to go. Media sales is one way to get into radio sales.

If you love creativity and wake up hungry for it every day, programming is the way to go. Programming includes deciding what music the station will play (it's very interesting and based on research) in which case, you will be the "Music Manager" for a station. You could even be a sound engineer who produces all the ads and jingles on the station. You could be the producer of shows and write scripts for new programmes or segments on the jocks' shows. Or you could be an RJ who doubles up as any of those mentioned above.

Being an RJ is all about what your real personality is. An RJ must NEVER put on an accent, NEVER try to sound cool, NEVER be fake where delivery is concerned. If you must be fake, make it look like it's the real you and always remember to TALK to people, NOT to ANNOUNCE. If you are vivacious, gregarious, witty, natural, and a good conversationalist, you have the potential to be an RJ.
  • What is the hardest part of being an RJ?
1. Commitment: No holidays because "No RJ, no show." So you better be present or out you go!

2.  Content treatment and conversation: How would you engage listeners and speak to them making them comfortable while you simultaneously entertain and move someone who is listening?

3. Receiving feedback: You can never reach a state of perfection. You must always seek honest opinions of the things you do on your show and thank your stars if you have a boss who has the guts to be brutally honest with you and give you constructive feedback. If you reach a stage where you have a bloated head and where you're deaf to criticism, you may most probably be on your way down the RJ graph and be oblivious to it. With big stations, it's a ratings game and can be very stressful. You must have the mental strength to take sharp criticism and yet be undeterred.

ALSO READ:
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.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mind your e-language: How you interact with people on any platform on the Web and what you say about issues is an indication of the kind of person you are

Sonal Agrawal, managing partner of an executive search firm, has made a strong case in Mint for minding your e-language. Writing in her "Career Coach" column, she says this is "not about censoring every online move but about exercising restraint".

Agrawal begins her column with the example of a candidate who messed up his chances of a job with a private equity client of her company's because he had not been "particularly circumspect about the language or tone he used".

Agrawal continues:

After some debate, the firm decided that the candidate’s online personal (but not private) interactions displayed an almost schizophrenic lack of maturity and judgment. While I certainly wouldn’t classify him as a “hater”, he certainly bordered on being an Internet troll. They didn’t hire him. Amazingly enough (or perhaps not), the candidate went on a rant about free speech and privacy — online, on a public profile.

Every year I have been telling my students to watch what they say on Facebook and other public platforms ("Yes, recruiters are using Facebook and Twitter to screen candidates") so I was glad to see Agrawal's piece. What she has to say on this subject should be taken seriously because a. she knows what she is talking about, and b. she knows what she is talking about because she is an expert in the recruitment business.

What she has to say here is particulary pertinent today:

With the costs and risks of making a bad hire increasing exponentially, employers are increasingly looking at researching potential candidates well beyond their professional profiles and traditional reference checks. Apart from seeking to reinforce positive traits — Are you well networked? Do you communicate well? Are you considered an expert in your field? — they are also consciously looking for tell-tale signs of undesirable traits that could disqualify you for the job. Do you have anger-management issues? How do you react to stress? Are you racist? Are you a team player? Apart from the traditional methods of interviewing, referencing and testing, increasingly they are going online to see what you are saying about yourself, not just to professional links, but also to your friends, followers and circles. 

Read her column in its entirety here: "Mind your e-language".
  • 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. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

How to achieve "Inbox Zero"

Back in February I had written about the hazards of inbox inefficiency and offered a simple 1-2-3 formula for dealing with e-mail ("Wha-aaat? You have FOUR HUNDRED AND NINETY-SEVEN unread E-MAILS in your INBOX!").

Now, thanks to Esther Dyson's recent column on the Project Syndicate website, I know there is a better way to achieve "Inbox Zero". Dyson, a former journalist and Wall Street technology analyst turned investor, has devoted her piece to the many advantages of Mailstrom, a little piece of software that helps you manage your e-mail:

Mailstrom does an excellent job not only of categorizing my mail, but also of helping me to get rid of it by applying my own intelligence and willpower. It helps me do things that I cannot do for myself when I’m trying to sift through my mail. It finds all the messages from a certain person, and then lets me handle them in a batch delete, move, or even answer....

Mailstrom does this in a sleek way, replete with numbers selecting, counting, and sorting messages by date, subject, sender, social network, size, and so forth, and showing charts of the statistics. Mailstrom shows you how many messages of each particular type you have; it ranks the frequency of subject lines; and it lets you see how many messages you have received and how many you have handled each day.


Read Esther Dyson's column in its entirety here to learn more about Mailstrom. And then visit the Mailstrom website to sign up for free: "Achieve Inbox Zero".
  • UPDATE (February 19, 2013): Mint has published a piece today on apps that help you to achieve Inbox Zero, whether you check your e-mails on your phone or on your PC. Check it out here.
  • UPDATE (June 5, 2013): Gopal Sathe has written a very useful article in Mint today about how to be the boss of your e-mail inbox. Read it here.

"Cloud Atlas" and the pleasures of re-reading

I can't remember the last time I enjoyed re-reading a book so much.

Actually I can't remember the last time I re-read a book. Because my greatest fear is that I am going to die before I can read all the books I want to read, I try to get through as many as I can at the same time 12 at the last count. This is crazy, I know. But I can't help it this is what bibliomaniacs do. Despite my best efforts, though, I still haven't managed to read even once all the books I own. So where is the time for re-reading?

I made an exception, however, for Cloud Atlas. I first chanced upon David Mitchell's dazzling novel in the Just Books library three years ago. I loved it so much I recommended it to my wife, Chandrika, who finished it in record time and pronounced it to be brilliant.

A couple of weeks ago we learnt that the movie based on the book would soon be released in India. And that became the motivation for us to pick up Cloud Atlas again. I began re-reading it immediately on my Kindle Fire (on which I have stored some thousand e-books). But my wife insisted we should have our own hard copy, so I purchased one for her last week on HomeShop18, paying Rs.267 for a book that would have cost me Rs.399 in a bookshop (it's now available on the website for Rs.235).

And two days ago, we went to watch the movie at Cinepolis. We knew the book's many-layered structure would be difficult to replicate on film and we were curious to see what Hollywood had come up with. Well, all credit to the three directors (yes, it took three experts in the movie business to realise Mitchell's wondrous vision on celluloid) — they have clearly made a superhuman effort, and an imaginative one at that. I have to say, though, if you haven't read the book, it is going to be difficult to enjoy and appreciate what you're seeing on the screen.

I also have to say the book is infinitely better than the movie. I am three-quarters of the way through the e-book now and how watching the movie has helped is that I can now visualise scenes and characters as I come upon them in my reading. For me, re-reading Cloud Atlas has become twice as pleasurable.

TOM HANKS AND HALLE BERRY PLAY MULTIPLE ROLES IN CLOUD ATLAS.
ADDITIONAL READING from The New York Times:
  • "Souls Tangled Up in Time", by film critic A.O. Scott: "This is by no means the best movie of the year, but it may be the most movie you can get for the price of a single ticket."
  • "Bending Time, Bending Minds", by Charles McGrath: "It might be possible to write a novel more unfilmable than David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, but you would have to work at it."

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Outlook editor makes a forceful case for reading magazines

Writing in the 17th anniversary issue of Outlook, editor Krishna Prasad gives us his view on why newsmagazines will survive "even if they will struggle to thrive":
  • Because the newsmagazine is the only pan-national print media vehicle in our country.
  • Because the newsmagazine has a long shelf-life.
  • Because the newsmagazine is classy a la carte; the newspaper is a rowdy buffet.
  • Because, newsweeklies break stories.
  • Because, newsmagazines provide a vivid, 360-degree view.
  • Because, it is our opinion that the best opinion is in newsmagazines.
  • Because, newsmagazines have a worldview. 
  • Because, a daily newspaper is a habit.... A newsmagazine is a style statement.
  • Because, none of our national newspapers will be able to do an issue like the one you are holding.
KP elaborates sagaciously on each point. Read his column in its entirety here: "Happy birthday to us".

ALSO READ: KP's recommendations on what to read if you want to become a media professional, more specifically a journalist: "What you read is really R-E-A-L-L-Y going to decide what you will write, and how you will write it."

ADDITIONAL READING: "Outlook's peerless issue on the Indian media crisis".

Monday, October 29, 2012

Gutsy Commits student's story in Bangalore Mirror — an inspiration to women everywhere


This article by Ankita Sengupta (Class of 2013) was first published in the college newspaper, The Chronicle (for more details, visit The Commits Chronicle blog).

Reactions poured in almost immediately:

Commitscion NEHA MEHTA KOTHARI (Class of 2010): Read Ankita's story and I must say hats off! Girls like her should be a big deterrent to those who misbehave with women. I'm so proud we have people like Ankita around. I hope all the Commitscions will take some inspiration from her and teach the "over-smart" guys a lesson.

VENKATESH BALIGA (Software professional): WOW! Very Happy to know that JHANSI KI RANI still exists.

SANJAY BHATT (Seattle Times journalist): Wow. She showed some guts to stand up to this and even more to share her story with the public. Thanks for sharing.

Commitscion MONIKA KHANGEMBAM (Class of 2012),  posted on Ankita Sengupta's Facebook wall: Sweetie, I just read your piece in The Chronicle and I must tell you I am so proud of you! What you did was exceptionally brave and trust me many of us cannot muster that courage. Be brave, strong and smart, as always. All the best. :)

SHAGORIKA EASWAR (Senior journalist and editor of two Toronto-based magazines): Oh, wow! Good for Ankita! There aren't too many young girls/women who would dare do what she did for the reaction she provoked is all too common. The victim is made to feel dirty. We have all heard/read of the revictimisation that goes on and the initial reaction of the bystanders and cops sent shivers down my spine. But the spunky kid stood up to them all alone at that. It's easier to feel brave with a back-up. Give her a big high five from me!

CHANDRAN IYER (Senior journalist, former editor of Mid Day, Pune): Wonderful. India needs more such women.

SPUNK AND BITE: ANKITA SENGUPTA
MARIANNE DE NAZARETH (Senior journalist and Commits guest faculty): Good for you, girl! More power to your pen and to your empowering of women who would normally have backed off and kept quiet.

ASHISH SEN (Communications professional, theatre personality, and Commits guest faculty): Congratulations, Ankita! This IS inspiring. 

VASANTHI HARIPRAKASH (Independent journalist, documentary filmmaker, and media trainer): Damn good one! Here is a promising journo.

AMIT NAIK (Pharma professional): Atta Girl!

JESSU JOHN (Communications executive): Yes, atta girl. Very proud of you.

VIDYA NAYAK (Homemaker): God bless you Ankita. You have made all women proud!

Commitscion ANKITA BHATTACHERJEE (Class of 2014): This is one awe-inspiring article!

Commitscion ARPAN BHATTACHARYYA (Class of 2010): Good on you, Ankita. And I'm glad you didn't leave all the reprimanding to the police. A nail is a small price to pay.

RAJEEV GUPTE (Merchant navy captain): A girl full of guts and grit.

MAIMUNA MOTAFRAM (Homemaker):  Am so proud of Ankita. May other girls learn to emulate her in similar circumstances and stand up to such reprehensible behaviour with the same courage and guts.
  • You can read letters from Bangalore Mirror readers here.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

How do newspapers attract and engage readers in this age of social media?

Here's one way:


This cover is the work of Commits alumnus DAVID TUSING (Class of 2005), deputy editor of tabloid!, the features section of the Dubai-based Gulf News. Tusing posted this image on Facebook earlier this week with his comments: "Everyone's talking about Skyfall. So we thought we'd do something slightly different with our cover today. Thoughts?"

David (pictured at left) wrote later in an e-mail that he takes full credit for this cover. "I love to experiment with our covers whenever I get the opportunity," he wrote. Because of the internet and Facebook and Twitter, he continued, "I think the print medium has had to constantly find new ways and means to engage readers, not just with our covers but with the way we cover stories.

"We often find ourselves having to come up with fresh ideas to say something they may already know but in an innovative and interesting way that's still relevant and that will make them pick up an issue from the stands.

"Needless to say, I love that challenge."

That's the spirit, David.

He wanted to know what I thought of this cover. So I wrote back, "Inventive, innovative, imaginative. And sure to draw in the inquisitive."

Friday, October 26, 2012

The world's worst typos – in pictures

From The Guardian: "A new book details the crime de la creme of typographical errors, from hotel brochures advertising a 'French widow in every bedroom' to political banners declaring President Obama's 'crisis of competnce'. Here are some of the finest."

Early in 2010, Gregorio Iniguez, managing director of the Chilean Mint, was sacked after he authorised the production of 1.5m 50-peso coins that spelled the country's name 'C-H-I-I-E'. By the time he was kicked out it was too late; the coins remain in circulation to this day.

You can take a look at some of the other typos described in the book here. (Thank you for the tip-off, Faye D'Souza.)

A five-star book, all the way


A worthy winner of the Man Booker Prize. A worthy sequel to a Booker winner (Wolf Hall, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading two years ago). And the reason I'm now reading The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory, on my Kindle Fire. And the reason I also want to read The Wives of Henry VIII, by Antonia Fraser.

A college newspaper professional journalists will be proud of

The second issue of The Chronicle, produced by the First Year students of Commits, arrived on the evening of October 16 and what a brilliant issue it is!

Congratulations are in order to all who made such a HUGE effort to ensure there's something for every reader on every page. This eight-page issue (with a two-page "Commits Chronicle" section) not only looks good but also "reads good".

The First Years have raised the bar again!

Three cheers and two thumbs up for the co-editors, writers, layout artists, photographers, illustrators, proofreaders... and everyone else who provided moral support and encouragement.

Hip-hip-hurray!

And now to take a closer look at the newspaper:

ON PAGE 1 (see below)
1. A must-read inspirational lead story by Second Year AVC student ANKITA SENGUPTA, an inspiration to women everywhere. I salute her courage in doing what she did and then agreeing to write about it. (I want to add here that her interview with Lesle Lewis in the previous issue of The Chronicle was something a professional journalist would have been proud of.)

2. A gutsy and thought-provoking piece by NATASHA REGO on "18 Again" and other so-called "woman empowerment" products.

3. SONAKSHI NANDY's personal take on sharing her Facebook password with her mother.




ON PAGE 2 (see below)
An unusual heart-felt feature by NINNITA SAHA on the advantages and disadvantages of being an only child. Plus, two stories continued from the front page.



ON PAGE 3 (see below)
Four intelligently written articles that combine wit, irony, and sarcasm. And the topic? Men and women and the gender wars. And the writers? ABHILASH PAUL, ANJALI SURESH, SONAKSHI NANDY, and RAJARSHI BHATTACHARJEE. And the accompanying illustration, which is the best I have had the privilege to publish in the college newspaper EVER, is by SNEHA SUKUMAR.



ON PAGES 4-5 (see below)
1. A report by ANKITA MITRA on the exciting quiz conducted at Commits by senior media professional and veteran quiz master Pratibha Umashankar.


2. The three co-editors MAITREYA J.A., NATASHA REGO, and SONAKSHI NANDY share their experience of working on their first issue of The Chronicle.

3. "Notable & Quotable" interesting highlights of events and happenings, at Commits and in the lives of Commitscions.


ON PAGE 6 (see below)
1. "Aftertaste convinces you that power can blind any human being. Even a mother." POORVI KOTHARI reviews Namita Devidayal's best-selling novel.


2. Manga fan(atic) SAUMYA IYER gives us the lowdown on the Japanese comics that have gained popularity the world over.

3. RAJARSHI BHATTACHARJEE reviews How Will You Measure Your Life?, a book that will help you to "understand what counts".

4. The editors pick the books they love and the books they don't. (They know how to stoke a controversy, don't they?)


ON PAGE 7 (see below)
1. Think seriously about playing Scrabble on Facebook and doing something useful on the social networking site
— for a change. That's good advice from MAITREYA J.A., who elaborates on this theme in the lead piece.

2. The always popular "Horror-scope", written in limerick form this time by LEANNE PAIS and SAUMYA IYER. Read the dire "predictions" to understand why this column is called "Horror-scope".

3. Check out the Clueword, put together by MAITREYA J.A. give your grey cells a light work-out.


ON PAGE 8 (see below)
1. Yes, girls love playing video games. And they love blowing up things, too, ANKITA BHATTACHARJEE and RISA MONICA KHARMUTEE tell us.


2. A first-hand report by SWATI GARG and LYNSIA PATRAO on why playing Laser Tag is "a lot of fun".

  • YOU CAN ALSO READ THE CHRONICLE ON THE COMMITS WEBSITE HERE.
Now, back to ANKITA SENGUPTA's incredible Page 1 story and the many encouraging comments that have been pouring in. Here are a few of them:

Commitscion NEHA MEHTA KOTHARI (Class of 2010): Read Ankita's story and I must say hats off! Girls like her should be a big deterrent to those who misbehave with women. I'm so proud we have people like Ankita around. I hope all the Commitscions will take some inspiration from her and teach the "over-smart" guys a lesson.

VENKATESH BALIGA (Software professional): WOW! Very Happy to know that JHANSI KI RANI still exists.

SANJAY BHATT (Seattle Times journalist): Wow. She showed some guts to stand up to this and even more to share her story with the public. Thanks for sharing.

Commitscion MONIKA KHANGEMBAM (Class of 2012),  posted on Ankita Sengupta's Facebook wall: Sweetie, I just read your piece in The Chronicle and I must tell you I am so proud of you! What you did was exceptionally brave and trust me many of us cannot muster that courage. Be brave, strong and smart, as always. All the best. :)

SHAGORIKA EASWAR (Senior journalist and editor of two Toronto-based magazines): Oh, wow! Good for Ankita! There aren't too many young girls/women who would dare do what she did for the reaction she provoked is all too common. The victim is made to feel dirty. We have all heard/read of the revictimisation that goes on and the initial reaction of the bystanders and cops sent shivers down my spine. But the spunky kid stood up to them all alone at that. It's easier to feel brave with a back-up. Give her a big high five from me!

CHANDRAN IYER (Senior journalist, former editor of Mid Day, Pune): Wonderful. India needs more such women.

SPUNK AND BITE: ANKITA SENGUPTA
MARIANNE DE NAZARETH (Senior journalist and Commits guest faculty): Good for you, girl! More power to your pen and to your empowering of women who would normally have backed off and kept quiet.

ASHISH SEN (Communications professional, theatre personality, and Commits guest faculty): Congratulations, Ankita! This IS inspiring. 

VASANTHI HARIPRAKASH (Independent journalist, documentary filmmaker, and media trainer): Damn good one! Here is a promising journo.

AMIT NAIK (Pharma professional): Atta Girl!

JESSU JOHN (Communications executive): Yes, atta girl. Very proud of you.

VIDYA NAYAK (Homemaker): God bless you Ankita. You have made all women proud!

Commitscion ANKITA BHATTACHERJEE (Class of 2014): This is one awe-inspiring article!

Commitscion ARPAN BHATTACHARYYA (Class of 2010): Good on you, Ankita. And I'm glad you didn't leave all the reprimanding to the police. A nail is a small price to pay.

RAJEEV GUPTE (Merchant navy captain): A girl full of guts and grit.

MAIMUNA MOTAFRAM (Homemaker):  Am so proud of Ankita. May other girls learn to emulate her in similar circumstances and stand up to such reprehensible behaviour with the same courage and guts.

  • Along with pursuing her Master's at Commits, Ankita Sengupta has been working as a freelance journalist with Deccan Herald. Like the good professional she is, Ankita knows she has to deliver the goods; if her commissioning editor wants her to write about fashion trends, then that is what she will write about. So last month, Ankita turned in a piece about shrugs. This month, Deccan Herald published her feature on jeans; and she has just submitted, at the commissioning editor's request, an in-depth piece on how women can get ready for work in a jiffy. At the same time, she is hoping to publish her story about dragging the molester to the police in Tehelka's "Personal Histories" section. We wish you all success, Ankita!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A birthday tribute to the best teacher of writing ever

Regular followers of The Reading Room will be familiar with Dr. Mardy Grothe. They will also know that I subscribe to the good doctor's "Quotes of the Week" e-newsletter.

Today's newsletter contained, among other things, this gem on William Zinsser, the legendary author of that legendary guide to writing nonfiction, On Writing Well:

THIS WEEK IN HISTORY

By Dr. Mardy Grothe

On October 7, 1922, William Zinsser was born in New York City (he celebrates his 90th birthday this week). After attending Princeton University, he served in the U. S. Army during WWII. After the war, he achieved a lifelong dream when he was hired by the New York Herald Tribune. For the next 13 years, he worked as a feature writer, drama editor, film critic, and editorial writer. He left the paper in 1959 to pursue a freelance writing career that ultimately produced books, magazine articles, and columns for Look, Life, and The New York Times.

In 1970, Zinsser joined the faculty at Yale University, and it didn't take long for his classes on nonfiction and humorous writing to become some of the English Department's most popular courses. In 1979, he left Yale to become executive editor of the Book-of-the-Month club, a position he held until 1987. For the past 25 years, he has been a freelance writer, an occasional jazz pianist at Manhattan jazz clubs, and a part-time instructor at The New School and Columbia University.


WILLIAM ZINSSER'S BEST-KNOWN BOOK HAS SOLD MORE THAN ONE MILLION COPIES.

Zinsser has authored 17 books on a variety of subjects, but he is best known for On Writing Well, a book that grew out of his writing classes at Yale. Originally published in 1976, the book has appeared in numerous editions, selling well over a million copies (it is my all-time favourite book on writing). If you're not familiar with the book, I highly recommend it. And if you ever become interested in writing about yourself and your life, you'll do yourself a big favour if you check out his 1987 book, Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir and his 2004 book, Writing About Your Life: A Journey Into the Past.

Zinsser's observations on writing are among my favourite quotations. Here's a baker's dozen of his best:


Writing is thinking on paper.

Thought is action in rehearsal.

Too short is always better than too long.

There's no sentence that's too short in the eyes of God.

Never forget that you are practising a craft with certain principles.

Never let anything go out into the world that you don't understand.

What I want to do is to make people laugh
so that they'll see things seriously. 

Hard writing makes easy reading. 
Easy writing makes hard reading.

There's not much to be said about the period
except that most writers don't reach it soon enough.

Don't ever become the prisoner of a preconceived plan.
Writing is no respecter of blueprints.

Ultimately the product that any writer has to sell is not
the subject being written about, but who he or she is.

Be yourself and your readers will follow you anywhere.
Try to commit an act of writing
and they will jump overboard to get away.

Conclude with a sentence that jolts....
The perfect ending should take your readers
slightly by surprise and yet seem exactly right.

In 2010, at age 88, Zinsser began writing a weekly blog ("Zinsser on Friday") for The American Scholar. After nearly two years and 82 posts, he recently brought his blogging career to an end. But his posts are all archived and available for your reading pleasure here: "The Complete Zinsser on Friday".


WILLIAM ZINSSER NOW HAS HIS OWN WEBSITE.
  • Additional reading: Michael Dirda, author of Classics for Pleasure, a book I prize, took over William Zinsser's column in The American Scholar. Read Dirda's tribute to Zinsser here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

In the New Yorker — "Citizens Jain: Why India's newspaper industry is thriving"


Call it coincidence. Call it irony. Just a day after I published a post about the late Arthur Ochs Sulzberger of The New York Times ("A newspaper publisher like no other"), I learn from Outlook editor Krishna Prasad's blog that another venerable American publication, The New Yorker, has devoted a nine-page article to The Times of India and its owners, Samir and Vineet Jain.

Read Krishna Prasad's post here: "Samir Jain, Vineet Jain and TOI in The New Yorker".

And you can read the New Yorker article here: "Citizens Jain".
  • EXTERNAL READING: On April 27, 2013, Mint, too, provided evidence of the appeal newspapers have for Indians:

 Take a look at Mint's photo essay here: "Newspaper Nation".
  • UPDATE (May 7, 2013): The New Yorker has just published a letter by the executive editor of The Times of India regarding the "Citizens Jain" article. Read the letter here.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A newspaper publisher like no other

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, publisher (owner) of The New York Times, died on Saturday at the age of 86.

Reading his obituary and the other articles remembering an extraordinary personality, I could not help but wonder if such a publisher exists in India.

Here is an excerpt from the tribute written by a former Times editor, Max Frankel:

[Punch, as everyone called him,] was a media mogul who never ordered an article to be printed or deleted from the news columns of his paper. In a quarter-century in which I reported directly to him, he never once summoned me to his office to complain about our journalistic decisions. As he always insisted, The Times sold not just news, but judgment about the importance and interest of news, and once invested in his choice of subordinates he wanted them to feel secure in their labors, comfortable with their judgments. He had our backs.

Read Max Frankel's appreciation here: Punch Sulzberger and His Times.

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger in 1992, the year he relinquished the position of publisher to his son, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.  The portrait in the background is of his grandfather, Adolph S. Ochs, who bought The New York Times in 1896.

Here is a telling passage from the column written by Arthur Gelb, who joined The Times in 1944 as a copy boy and retired in 1989 as managing editor:

Punch’s punctuality could feel like a reproach. In 1951, as part of Punch’s training, [managing editor Turner] Catledge had arranged for him to spend two weeks with me when I was a beat reporter at the Municipal Building. When I arrived there at 10, my regular time, Punch was waiting for me.

The next morning I arrived at 9:45. Punch was already there. The third day I arrived at 9 and there he was. Defeated, I went back to my normal arrival time.

Punch shared my love for the ambience of that old newsroom. When the newsroom’s brass spittoons were declared obsolete, he claimed one and later installed it in the den of his Fifth Avenue apartment. As publisher, he sometimes waited for the paper — still warm to the touch — to be brought up from the basement presses.

Read Arthur Gelb's column in its entirety here: "A Newsroom and a Beloved Publisher".

Nicholas D. Kristof, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Times columnist, also remembers Punch fondly and recalls his leadership style, which is something Indian newspaper proprietors (I can think of one in particular) would do well to emulate:

In a newsroom of titanic egos, often clashing, he was typically gentle and his concern was the paper rather than himself. I remember one occasion when the Times was publishing a brutal article about one of his close friends: he read the article in its entirety the day before publication, but never asked for a word to be changed. He picked the best editors, and then left the journalism to the journalists.

You can read Nicholas D. Kristof's remembrance here: "Punch Sulzberger, R.I.P.".

For the complete obituary, which also gives us an insight into the workings of a legendary institution, go to "Publisher Who Transformed The Times for New Era".
  • Photograph courtesy: The New York Times/Burk Uzzle

Saturday, September 29, 2012

"There are some stories TV can't do"

NDTV anchor Sunetra Choudhury's "After the Break" column in DNA on Saturdays usually provides food for thought. Today was no exception.

Headlined "Crimes 'unfit' for TV", Choudhury's column puts the spotlight on a major difference between television and print — there are some stories that TV can't do. In fact, the article begins with that admission before revealing the nature of the "crime":

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been pursuing this story that involves sexual harassment, courts and lawyers and at the end of this period, that’s the frustrating conclusion I am left with.


We then learn details of the many sordid cases that have led to women lawyers moving the Supreme Court to end harassment in our courts.

Conversations with women lawyers reveal how deep-rooted the problem is. Senior advocate Kamini Jaiswal told me several instances where no action was taken despite complaints. “The junior lawyer who comes to a senior’s chamber is very vulnerable,” said Jaiswal, “She is very young and it is difficult for her to even raise her voice. If she complains against a respected, senior lawyer, who will believe her? Her entire career is at stake.” Jaiswal, who was the only lawyer who didn’t mind being quoted, told me how judges were inaccessible for junior lawyers, especially because they were friendly with the senior ones. Do all women lawyers go through this, I asked. “Many of them do,” she said.

Choudhury, though, does not elaborate on why this case won't work as a news story on television. If you ask me, I would say there are at least two reasons for this:

1. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to get people to speak on camera.
2. TV news relies heavily on "dramatic" visuals, which are unobtainable here. "Re-enactment" is possible, but then the whole story would be one long episode featuring actors, and that won't do.

Perhaps journalists, especially those working with our news channels, would like to add their comments.

You can read Sunetra Choudhury's column in its entirety here: "Crimes 'unfit' for TV". And you can check out her previous columns here.
  • Illustration courtesy: Ravi Jadhav/DNA.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Is there a secret to writing effective e-mails, letters, reports, and proposals?

Yes, there is, says Richard Nordquist, an American professor emeritus of rhetoric and English and the author of two grammar and composition textbooks for college students. Writing on his blog on About.com, where he has served as the Guide to Grammar and Composition since 2006, Nordquist provides his top 10 editing tips for business writers:
  • Adopt the "you attitude".
  • Focus on the real subject.
  • Write actively, not passively.
  • Cut unnecessary words and phrases.
  • But don't leave out key words.
  • And don't forget your manners.
  • Avoid outdated expressions.
  • Put a cap on the buzzwords.
  • Unstack your modifiers.
  • And, of course, proofread.
Each tip comes with an example.

Here, for instance, is the example provided with the admonition to avoid outdated expressions.

Draft: Attached herein for your reference is a duplicated version of the aforementioned deed.
Revision: I have enclosed a copy of the deed.

As for putting a cap on buzzwords, you will understand immediately what does not work when you read Nordquist's example:

Draft: At the end of the day the bottom line is that we should facilitate opportunities for employees to provide input on best practices.
Revision: Let's encourage people to make suggestions.

Read the post in its entirety here: "Top Ten Editing Tips for Business Writers".

And while you're at it, study Nordquist's Top 10 Proofreading Tips, too.