Monday, March 12, 2012

"Mr Editor, your slips are showing!"

How does a film reviewer and national cultural editor of a leading newspaper react when he is accused — by a blogger, no less of not knowing how to write in English?

If he is Mayank Shekhar of Hindustan Times, he waffles. Here's an excerpt from a Q&A with Shekhar on the Mumbai Boss website:

Have you have seen this (the critical blog post by Chetna Prakash)?
I’ve heard about it, not seen it. I’m flattered. This particular one I’ve glanced through because it was all over the place and guys in my team showed it to me, but it was a long time back. It comes with the job, especially because I’ve been a columnist and a critic so you have to take a stand, you can’t be sitting on the fence.

But her contention wasn’t that. It was that your English was incorrect.
Yeah, so when [my team] brought it to me, I explained to them what I meant and what this is and that’s very important because you don’t want your team thinking that you don’t know the language for god’s sake. There were a whole lot of things that were puns. Whole lot of stuff, which one could explain pretty easily.

So what did Chetna Prakash write actually? She took Shekhar to task for mangling the English language in his film reviews and she cited examples from his critiques of Peepli Live, We Are Family, and Kites. Study her blow-by-blow job here: The rise and rise of Mayank Shekhar: Or has Sarah Palin found her literary match?

Prakash also poses the question no journalist writing in English wants to be asked:

How can you be one of the most popular film reviewers of India, the national cultural editor of one of the country’s largest selling dailies, and a winner of the Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism — when you have no concept of the English language, your primary tool of trade?

Whoa! That must have hurt. But if you're a senior English-newspaper journalist with a national readership, your writing skills better be up to par. Otherwise, you are just asking for it. As Mayank Shekhar did.

To give credit to Shekhar, though, his responses to questions about the influence of PR professionals on editorial content and about the vexed issue of plagiarism would resonate strongly with any good media professional, especially a journalist.

Here are his views on how to deal with plagiarism:

Would you fire someone whom you knew plagiarised something?
Would I fire someone if it was absolutely proven? Yes.

Has that happened?

In my current job, not a single case of proven plagiarism has been brought to my notice, for which I may have had to fire someone. Which isn’t to suggest that it doesn’t happen, surely it does, and perhaps is even rampant across the board, especially on the Internet, where all information is shared, and is rarely considered sacrosanct enough to merit credit, unfortunately. In my past jobs, whether I have directly fired anyone or not, I have come across instances where an entire interview has been made up and published, without the reporter ever having met or spoken to the person concerned. In such a circumstance, quite obviously, the said reporter has been asked to leave.
  • The interview with Mayank Shekhar is part of a series on Mumbai Boss called "Editor's Notes". Read the Q&A with Open magazine's Manu Joseph here. Pay attention especially to Joseph's views on Open's code of ethics.

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