Thursday, April 26, 2012

How to persuade people to participate in your survey: An e-mail from Poynter's News University

A Little Help, Please: What's the Future for Journalism Education?

Poynter's News University

Training Tuesday from Poynter's NewsU
Dear Ramesh,

There's lots of talk swirling around the topic of the value

of a journalism degree.

Roger Ailes, the Fox News chairman and CEO, in a speech

at the University of North Carolina recently, told journalism students
they should change their major. "If you're going into journalism
if you care, then you're going into the wrong profession …
I usually ask (journalists) if they want to change the world
in the way it wants to be changed,” Ailes said.

Tom Huang, Poynter adjunct faculty member, has a slightly different

take: "Actually, you should go into journalism if you want to save
the world. My point is that you don't get to choose the time
that you're called upon to be brave and do your best work.
Don't forget: A time of crisis and change is a time of incredible
opportunity,” he wrote for

What's your take on this? Whether you are a student, educator

or professional, we would like to know what you think about the
value of a journalism degree. Poynter's Howard Finberg, who has
been thinking about the future of journalism and journalism education
for years, will be giving a talk at the European Journalism Centre on
the future of journalism education, and he hopes you'll fill out a very short
[four to five questions only] survey. He'll share what he learns at AEJMC
this summer as well.

Here's the link to the survey:

As Poynter NewsU's gift to you for taking the time to share your

thoughts, we'll give you a 35 percent discount code to any of
our Webinars or Webinar Replays. You'll get the code when you
complete the survey.

In advance, thanks for your help.

The NewsU Crew

Poynter's News University is one of the world's most innovative online
journalism training programs ever created. From multimedia techniques
to writing and reporting, we've got more than 250 courses to help manage
your career. As the e-learning home of The Poynter Institute, NewsU
extends Poynter's mission as a school for journalists, future journalists
and teachers of journalism. For more information, please visit, For information about Poynter, go to

Follow us on
Follow us on Twitter

If you don't want to receive e-mail updates about training from Poynter's NewsU, we understand.
All you need to do is follow this link: Unsubscribe me from this newsletter \list. Please do not
reply to this e-mail. It was sent from a mailbox that cannot receive return mail.
If you reply to this e-mail address, it will not be read. If you need information or assistance, please e-mail us at

News University
c/o The Poynter Institute for Media Studies
801 Third St. S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mike Wallace: An interrogator of the famous and infamous

Before Karan Thapar, there was Mike Wallace.

Wallace, who died earlier this month aged 93, became one of America’s best-known broadcast journalists, according to a New York Times obituary, as an interrogator of the famous and infamous on the CBS news programme, 60 Minutes.


The New York Times obituary, written by Tim Weiner, gives us a glimpse into the man and his interviewing, or grilling, style:

A reporter with the presence of a performer, Mr. Wallace went head to head with chiefs of state, celebrities and con artists for more than 50 years, living for when “you forget the lights, the cameras, everything else, and you’re really talking to each other,” he said in an interview with the New York Times videotaped in July 2006 and released on his death as part of the online feature “Last Word.”

Mr. Wallace created enough such moments to become a paragon of television journalism in the heyday of network news. As he grilled his subjects, he said, he walked “a fine line between sadism and intellectual curiosity.”

His success often lay in the questions he hurled, not the answers he received.

The obit continues:

For a 1976 report on Medicaid fraud, the show’s producers set up a simulated health clinic in Chicago. Was the use of deceit to expose deceit justified? Hidden cameras and ambush interviews were all part of the game, Mr. Wallace said, though he abandoned those techniques in later years, when they became clich├ęs and no longer good television.

Some subjects were unfazed by Mr. Wallace’s unblinking stare. When he sat down with the Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian leader, in 1979, he said that President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt “calls you, Imam — forgive me, his words, not mine — a lunatic.” The translator blanched, but the Ayatollah responded, calmly calling Sadat a heretic.

“Forgive me” was a favourite Wallace phrase, the caress before the garrote. “As soon as you hear that,” he told the Times, “you realise the nasty question’s about to come.”

Journalists, especially those working in television, would surely be interested in learning more about Wallace and his reporting techniques. How about the rest of us? Are there any lessons we can draw from Wallace's life? Yes, says Eric Jackson, a Forbes contributor, and they apply whether you care about journalism or not:

1. If you don’t wake up in the morning excited to pick up where you left your work yesterday, you haven’t found your calling yet.

2. When a new medium comes along, embrace its possibilities.

3. If you aren’t breaking the rules a little in your profession, you aren’t going far enough.

4. How would your life be different if your epitaph read “Tough But Fair”?

5. Face your demons head on.

Jackson elaborates on each point on the Forbes website: "5 Lessons from Mike Wallace's Life for All of Us".

Jackson also provides links to highlights of three of Wallace's interviews. Watch the snippet from the 1976 interview with the Shah of Iran and also the nine-and-a-half-minute-long excerpt of Wallace's interview with Ayn Rand. You can watch the full Ayn Rand interview here. It was shot in 1959 in B&W and the production values may not be great. But it's riveting stuff nevertheless.
  • Thank you, Kokila Jacob, for the Eric Jackson tip-off.

How would you like to test your knowledge... and help end world hunger at the same time?

I flunked a simple "Level 5" grammar question on today but never mind. I get a chance to continue answering questions on a variety of subjects and at increasing levels of difficulty. For every answer I get right, FreeRice donates ten grains of rice to the needy.

So what is It is a website run by the United Nations World Food Programme. And it has two goals:

1. Provide education to everyone for free.

2. Help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.

This is made possible by the generosity of the sponsors who advertise on the site.

Whether you are CEO of a large corporation or a street child in a poor country, improving your education can improve your life. It is a great investment in yourself.

Perhaps even greater is the investment your donated rice makes in hungry human beings, enabling them to function and be productive. Somewhere in the world, a person is eating rice that you helped provide.

You can test your knowledge on many topics:

    Famous Paintings

    Flags of the world
    Identify Countries on the Map
    World Capitals
    World Landmarks

    English Vocabulary
    English Grammar

    Multiplication Table
    Basic Math (Pre-Algebra)

    Chemical Symbols (Full List)
    Chemical Symbols (Basic)



    Human Anatomy


The beauty of this programme is that you get to sharpen your mind even as you contribute to ending hunger in the world. As my students would say, how cool is that?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A sure cure for those who believe that good writing necessarily involves the use of bombastic phrases and big words

"From 2002 to 2012, it has been one long, heart wrenching and mind searing decade; an agonising 10 years that saw us corralled into a black hole of existential angst provoked by a fratricidal polemic catechism that cast serious doubt on our intrinsic identity as a civilised nation". What is the journalist trying to say here? Why can't journalists write in English in English dailies/sites?

This lament on Facebook by my friend Sudhir Prabhu gives me an opportunity to ride my favourite hobby-horse: Railing against the decline in standards of written English and correcting the alarming tendency to believe that "flowery" English is good English.

Sudhir was referring to a column he had read on, not in a newspaper. Written by someone called Vivek Gumaste, the article is a comment on the SIT report on Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. After reading that dense intro, my heart went out to Sudhir. Really, what does Gumaste's opening sentence mean? A quick search on the net revealed this little tidbit about the writer: "Vivek Gumaste is a US-based academic and political commentator." Ah! Mystery solved Gumaste, from what I can make out, is most emphatically NOT a journalist; he is an academic, and academic writers love clutter, which explains why his piece is littered with "academese".

I have to say here, though, that our English newspapers and magazines are also guilty, sometimes, of publishing news reports and features written in a language that, to put it mildly, is uninteresting.

Which brings me to a book that has just been delivered to me by Flipkart.

Essential English for Journalists, Editors and Writers is a sure cure for those who believe that good writing necessarily involves the use of bombastic phrases and big words. Written by Harold Evans, this book is primarily for journalists, but "its lessons are of immense value to all who face the problem of giving information, whether to the general public or within business, professional, or social organisations".

Evans has been hailed as a "great editor, great teacher of editors" by one of his successors at The Times (London). He has also been praised as a "master of how to use the English language". And Essential English comes highly recommended by The Society of Editors: "The book was required reading for all those who became journalists in the 1970s. This new edition must become required reading for all those who will become journalists in the new millennium."

Writing in the preface, Neil Fowler, president of the Society of Editors, explains why this book is essential reading:

It has become far too fashionable for the use of good English to be derided. Indeed our own profession has not always helped the matter. Newspapers, radio stations, and television broadcasters have all contributed to sloppy usage of the language. This is not to say that English should not be dynamic and move forward. Of course it should. But it must also be correct. There is a virtue in all language being correct and the journalist who believes otherwise is a poor journalist.

...information is of no use at all if it is obscured by poor, jargon-ridden, and dense English. Clear English should be a priority for all those who use the language. And news English at its best is the clearest English of all.
  • Essential English consists of nine chapters, each of which is an education in itself. Evans begins with "The Making of a Newspaper", before moving on to "Good English", "Words", "Watch this Language", "The Structure of a News Story Intros", The Structure of a News Story The News Lead", and "Background". He ends the book with "Headlines" and "Headline Vocabulary". Order your copy from Flipkart today.

* The book you must read to rid your English of Indlish. In other words, read this book to learn to write plain English

* In one place, everything you want to know about writing in English

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"The 25 Best Opening Lines in Western Literature"

I discovered Shmoop —  how exactly? I can't remember now. I do a lot of reading, as my students know, and somewhere I must have seen a reference to this website with an unusual name. I do remember trying out Shmoop and bookmarking it for future visits. And am I glad I did that!

In addition to providing help to students with a variety of academic subjects, Shmoop also gives popular culture a close look. You can read the guides to some brilliant books, including my recent favourite, The Hunger Games, (check out the "Why Should I Care?" portion for each book), and there is an excellent music section.

Today I was sucked in by "The 25 Best Opening Lines in Western Literature". From Gabriel Garcia Marquez to George Orwell and Toni Morrison to Douglas Adams, all the greats are represented. And we are also given Shmoop's speculative take on each author's creative thought process. Visit the site now. And also read the more than hundred responses to the list.

Which opening line is your favourite? I vote for J.D. Salinger's masterpiece in The Catcher in the Rye.

Shagorika Easwar, editor of Desi News and CanadaBound Immigrant: The 25 Best Opening Lines... is in itself a great opening line, guaranteed to draw me in!

Saw the list and have realised that though I thought I read quite a bit, I've read only nine of the books mentioned (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Moby Dick, Anna Karenina, Huck Finn, Pride and Prejudice, Catcher in the Rye, A Tale of Two Cities, The Hitchhiker's Guide, The Old Man and The Sea). Time to up the ante!

Ajay U. Pai, Christ Pre-University (P.U.) College student: I have a strong feeling I'm gonna start The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. His opening line is like "in-your-face" type. I'd love it...

And thank you so much for such a nice insight into so many different books with a nice opening. I plan to read most of them.

Pratibha Rao, freelance journalist and media consultant: As always, The Reading Room is insightful.

Stole a few moments to visit Shmoop "25 famous first lines". Have posted the following comments:

The list is interesting with a few of my favourites. But I found the creative thought process explanations a bit cheesy. Why trivialise something amazing by explaining it?

The list also scared me into realising how many books there are out there I have not read... yet to read... probably will never read!

Though not belonging to the genre of the classics, here are my two all-time favourites:

Opener: She only stopped screaming when she died. 
Book: Kane and Abel 
Author: Jeffrey Archer

Opener: Howard Roark laughed.
Book: The Fountainhead 
Author: Ayn Rand

When ToI got taken in by Google's April Fool's prank

  • Item in The Times of India on Tuesday, April 3, 2012:
Gmail reinvents Morse Code
    Gmail has brought a new app on smartphones, the Gmail Tap. The application seeks to replace the clunky qwerty keypad and often uncomfortable touch keypad on smartphones by using two keys representing dots and dashes in Morse Code. Users will simply have to keep pressing two buttons for getting the letters. The big downside, you have to learn Morse code for the app.
  • Item in The Times of India on Tuesday, April 9, 2012:
With reference to the Cyber Track item ‘Gmail reinvents Morse Code’ on April 3, it was an April Fools Day prank video by Google.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The April Fool's newspaper gag that has achieved immortality

DNA's idea of an April Fool's joke is a lead feature in today's "After Hrs." supplement on superstar Salman Khan's finally finding a bride. So tame. And so lame.

Compare it with Mumbai newspaper The Daily's hoax on April 1 sometime in the Eighties. The now-defunct tabloid published a broadsheet edition that day with a banner headline shouting out, "South breaks away". The whole front page, if I remember right, was devoted to the "news" of our four southern states coming together to form an independent republic.

Then there was the elaborate hoax in 1977 in The Guardian, which, like other British newspapers, has a long tradition of April Fool's pranks. That year, the newspaper published a seven-page supplement on the imaginary nation of San Serriffe, maps, pictures, factoids et al, taking in thousands of readers.

Journalists and media students especially will enjoy reading about this hoax: nearly all the names of places and people were taken from printing terms. Veteran Guardian journalist David McKie explained the origins of this gag in a column he wrote nearly 30 years later:

[the] April Fool hoax that the Guardian launched on the world in 1977 has achieved immortality. The notion came from a man called Philip Davies, who ran a department called Special Reports, which produced from time to time a page or pages where a theme, perhaps a country or region was chosen, advertisers responded, and unenthusiastic editorial writers were persuaded to produce the copy.... 

For April 1 1977, Davies suggested a set of pages commemorating a wholly imaginary island. Advertisers, he reckoned, would gladly join in the joke. And they did, in profusion. But the true architect of the project was a famously deft, adroit and inventive leader writer called Geoffrey Taylor, who thought up a group of islands called San Serriffe, the principal constituent parts being Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse, which together formed a shape like a semicolon. The capital was Bodoni: the president (ie dictator), a man called Pica, had been victorious in the latest in a string of three coups....

The impact of the seven-page survey was quite astonishing. The office all day was bedlam as people pestered the switchboard with requests for more information. Both travel agencies and airlines made official complaints to the editor about the disruption as customers simply refused to believe that the islands did not exist. Veterans of that time say there's never been a day like it in terms of reader response. Over the past 30 years, San Serriffe has entered the language as a kind of flawed utopia and one American writer has published a series of erudite books about its publishing industry.

Read McKie's column in its entirety to know more about the San Serriffe hoax and about other April Fool's pranks down the years: "Foolish things".

Also read:
UPDATE (April 9, 2012): In its issue of March 31, The Economist had a very interesting piece on how technology would soon allow us to design and build household pets to order. Turns out it was an April Fool's hoax. But it is written so well that it is easy to believe that we will actually be able to use 3D printing to create bespoke pets.

Only a careful re-reading of the article gives the game away. There is this line in the second paragraph: "GeneDupe, as the firm is known colloquially, has previously focused on the genetic engineering of animals." And then there are the concluding sentences: "If all goes well, these will be available by St Valentine’s day. If not, customers will probably have to wait until April 1st of next year." Read the piece in its entirety here Just press "print" and marvel at the Economist's ingenuity.