Sunday, July 29, 2012

Is philanthro-journalism the way forward?

An excerpt from a well-researched, thought-provoking feature in a recent issue of The Economist:

Readers and advertisers have switched to the internet. Profit margins have shrunk or vanished. Papers are dying and journalists being sacked. Costly foreign and investigative reporting has been particularly squeezed, as has local news. One increasingly popular — if limited — response to these travails is the sort of “philanthro-journalism” long practised elsewhere...

Read the article in its entirety here: "Reporters without orders".

Also read, in the same issue, "Non-news is good news" (The threat of the internet has forced magazines to get smarter).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Are subs a disappearing breed? Is that why there are so many typos in our newspapers? Also: How do Times group journalists deal with Medianet?

Here's Meenal Baghel, the founder and editor in chief of the Mirror (Mumbai Mirror, Bangalore Mirror, etc.), responding to a question on why the Mirror has a number of typos:

I think there is a very real problem with journalism today, and it’s not only limited to Mirror. The problem is that the deskie is a disappearing breed. And it’s going to be a big challenge over the next few years. Also, there are very real problems we are facing, and these are going to change the profession drastically. It’s so rare to find people who want to come into journalism because they want to be journalists. For example, when you ask people, ‘Who edited this copy?’. Invariably the response will be: ‘I looked at it/I glanced at it/I skimmed through it.’

And here's the Q&A concerning Medianet:

Being a hard-edged journalist, how do you reconcile with something like Medianet?
That’s easy, because we don’t have Medianet in Mirror.

But it’s there in your group.
It doesn’t affect my life, so I don’t care about it.

You aren’t asked to carry plugs?
No. And it’s one of the things that has pleasantly surprised me. They have maintained the Chinese wall from the start.

They have left you alone?
Yes. And there’s another reason. Mirror is a small paper in the group, so it’s not necessarily the focus. We are a small cog in comparison.

Have you ever been asked to drop a story?
(Pauses) Not drop a story. I think what one learns over a period of time is that you have to pick your battles. I’ll give you an example: If there’s an entertainment story which is coming right ahead of the Filmfare awards, where somebody is going to be performing, and I have a damaging story on that person, would I delay it by a few days? Yes, I would.
  • Thank you for the alert, Nilofer D'Souza. 

Did you like the new "Batman" movie? I didn't. Here's why.

(A Facebook conversation)

 ·  · 

  • Apar Dham, Shobhit Siddharth and 2 others like this.

    • Apar Dham I've not seen Madagascar 1,2 and 3. Never been able to warm upto animated movies. But agree with the rest! :-)

    • Ramesh Prabhu Apar: Don't you want to know what I'm talking about? You're not going to like it, my friend.

    • Apar Dham Well, you just decided that I'm not going to like it! So what's the point now? :-s

    • Ramesh Prabhu Sorry. Well, I watched "The Dark Knight Rises" today. And that's what I'm talking about.
      18 hours ago ·  · Shyam Prabhu likes this

    • Apar Dham Aahh! Doh! Silly me! :-p Sir, please please please, share your views about The Dark Knight Rises! It has been a long time since I had a healthy debate with someone! Especially, you! :-p

    • Pooja Kamath Do watch 'Dark knight rises'. It's an amazing movie! :)

    • Ramanathan Iyer Did you like it? Ramesh sir, please amplify your answer a bit.

    • Ramesh Prabhu Where do I begin, Apar? First, there wasn't enough Batman in this Batman movie. Then, I also thought there wasn't enough Batman in Batman either. Next, there were lots of set pieces that seemed to be randomly put together -- there was no coherent narrative. I found the dialogues pretty hokey also. All those movies I talked about in my status update above? I would much rather watch them a second time (make that three times for "Inception" because I have watched it twice already) than be bored like I was today.

    • Ramesh Prabhu That is why I am wondering: Is it me?

    • Arpan Bhattacharyya Yes. It's you.
      17 hours ago ·  · You + 1 other

    • Ramesh Prabhu Luckily, our tickets only cost Rs.99 apiece at Meenakshi Mall, otherwise...

    • Arpan Bhattacharyya Rs. 99? For the big bad Bat? Nah, that explains it! You watched some other movie...
      17 hours ago ·  · Ramanathan Iyer likes this

    • Ramesh Prabhu Apparently, Arpan, and we learnt about this after we bought our tickets, ALL shows at Cinepolis on Wednesdays are Rs.99 each. :-)
      17 hours ago ·  · Nandini Hegde likes this

    • Ramesh Prabhu Anyway, I am just glad that someone else out there shares my views:

      17 hours ago ·  · 

    • Arpan Bhattacharyya Frankly speaking, I don't know what the reviewer is talking about here. 

      1.) What on earth does Mr. Charity mean by " others have noted, the movie's defense of the establishment in the form of philanthropic billionaires and an incorruptible police force gives it a conservative gloss..."? The only philanthropic billionaire is Bruce Wayne. 

      2.) Bane is more than just a "brawny sewer rat"; he's the first villain who can physically match up to (and beat the daylights out of) Batman while still managing to have an obscene thirst for large-scale destruction. 

      3.) "..stop yakking and pull the trigger..."? Hahaha! Most movies would end within the first 10 minutes if the villains started doing that! 

      4.) Obviously this gentleman doesn't have a knack for research, as is amply proven by his description of prison in Jodhpur as "hellhole... in Afghanistan". Is that because he was trying so hard to make his point about the terrorism link?

      5.) This movie isn't Nolan's best. It isn't even the best of the trilogy. There are a few flaws, some of them quite glaring (like how Batman survived a nuclear blast with a 6 mile radius). But it certainly isn't "disappointingly clunky and bombastic".

    • Ramesh Prabhu Well, I was disappointed for all the reasons I have mentioned above, and now that I think about it, I agree with Charity -- "The Dark Knight Rises" is indeed clunky and bombastic. :-)

      That reference to Afghanistan, Arpan, is not meant to be literal. The sentence reads: "... hellhole he comes from sure looks like it belongs in Afghanistan". See what I mean?

      And as for "Batman" surviving that nuclear blast, if you remember the scene that came afterwards, we learn that he had fixed the autopilot on his plane six months prior to all the events. So he bailed out, let the autopilot take over, and flew to Paris (or is it Rome) for his rendezvous with "Catwoman". :-)

    • Sanaa A'esha I agree with Ebert's review.
      ‎"The Dark Knight Rises" leaves the fanciful early days of the superhero genre f...See More

      17 hours ago ·  · 

    • Faye DSouza More than?

    • Ramesh Prabhu Sanaa: Here is what I like from Ebert's review:

      It isn't very much fun, and it doesn't have very much Batman.

      When it finally comes down to Bane and Batman going mano-a-mano during a street fight, it involves an anticlimactic fist-fight. He blows up the city's bridges and to top that lands a right hook on Batman's jaw?

      Bane is the least charismatic of the Batman villains, but comes close to matching Bruce Wayne and Batman in screen time.

      All of these characters and their activities produce stretches in the first half of the film during which, frankly, I was not entirely sure who was doing what and with which and to whom.

    • Ramesh Prabhu Faye: More than "The Dark Knight Rises".

    • Sanaa A'esha Yeah. Ebert's review captures everything I feel about the movie.

    • Arpan Bhattacharyya Yes. In hindsight (such a wonderful thing, isn't it?), that Afghanistan bit was a bit of a rant on my part - I do see your point. And yea, I know that he fixed the autopilot but how far could the plane have flown in the few minutes/seconds before the blast. But that's a debatable point. As for the review and your views, I still disagree. It is indeed an "honorable finale."

    • Ramesh Prabhu So here's an important question: Do old fogeys (like me) and adolescents no longer like the same movies?

    • Arpan Bhattacharyya Hehehehe! Only when it comes to Batman. :)

    • Nandini Hegde Sirji, I agree with everything except Dabangg. I think it was a pathetic film and because of that film directors made similar films. I still haven't watched TDKR. I really liked TDK but the main reason for that was Heath Ledger's performance.

    • Amrutha Raman Sir I see your point - But as a crazy comic fan, especially the Batman series one thing what I liked about 'The Dark Knight Rises' and Nolan's scripting is bringing in depth in the character Batman. Batman is not just a 'detective' with fancy gadgets, but has his own inner struggles to fight with. And agreed that Bane wasn't as cynical as the Joker ( If that is the standard that has to be met with) but Bane is the most intelligent villian in the entire series of Batman. This movie is an inspiration from the 1993 series Batman - The Vengeance Of Bane. Batman fears him the most out of all his villains. I think Nolan had the guts to show Batman more than just a super Hero.

    • Ramesh Prabhu Nandini: I hear you! But, for what it is worth, here's my post on "Dabangg" --
      This blog is for students of Commits, a media college in Bangalore, where I teac...See More

      46 minutes ago ·  · 

    • Ramesh Prabhu Amrutha: I hear you, too! But I think I have been reading comics and been a comics fan since before my students were born, so perhaps I see all this from a different perspective. :-)
      42 minutes ago ·  · Arpan Bhattacharyya likes this

    • Arpan Bhattacharyya Quite a few years before your students were born. :)
      40 minutes ago ·  · You + 1 other

    • Amrutha Raman Hehe.. Well I shall rest my case for now..

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Remembering Behram Contractor

Of all the editors and senior journalists I have worked with, Behram "Busybee" Contractor is the one I loved and respected the most.

I began my journalistic career as a trainee sub-editor with Mid Day in June 1981 when Behram was the chief reporter (that was his official designation but everyone knew he was the person whose opinions mattered the most at the paper). Four years later, a bunch of us left Mid Day with Behram to launch a rival evening newspaper, The Afternoon Despatch & Courier. And in October 1988, I left The Afternoon to become the features editor of the Dubai-based Khaleej Times.


I remained sporadically in touch with Behram and my former colleagues all through my stay abroad. Every time I visited Mumbai I made it a point to visit Afternoon House and spend some time sitting across Behram at his desk and making conversation, which, with Behram, was not always an easy thing. He was known, among other things, as the funny man of journalism thanks to his famous and popular "Busybee" column, but he was an intensely private individual who preferred to let his writing do the talking.

When he died in Mumbai on April 9, 2001, I was in Goa at a company event (I had joined TMG in Bangalore after my stint in Dubai came to an end). I received the sad news from my good friend Shashikant Jadhav, who was Behram's assistant as well as the nominal publisher of The Afternoon.

Many glowing tributes were paid to the man who had become synonymous with the city but none was more personal than the appreciation written by Mark Manuel, my dear friend and former colleague. Mark's tribute to Behram was carried as the lead story in The Afternoon with the masthead placed below it. "I wrote it in one shot at 5 a.m., after coming to work straight from the hospital where I had sat beside his body through the night," Mark says. "I don't like to think it is one of my best pieces of writing, but people (and total strangers, too) still connect me today with this obituary... it is as if Behram's hand was on my head even from beyond the grave."

Here is the tribute in its entirety:

Busybee is no more!

Afternoon House’s heartbeat has stopped…

By Mark Manuel

I’ve trained under the man and worked with him for 17 years, but there is one assignment Behram Contractor, better known as Busybee, never prepared me for. The heart-wrenching task of announcing his own death and writing his obituary in this newspaper. Yes, he is really no more. And something within me dies to bring you this terrible, tragic news. He passed away early this morning, round about 00.40 o’clock, as peacefully and gently as the summer rain that had fallen on the city in the dawn hour yesterday.

I was with him when he died. We were rushing him to Bombay Hospital in an ambulance, his wife Farzana Contractor, the CEO of this newspaper, a close family friend Rajesh Jain, and Drs. Aashish Sahukar and Anil Sharma. The doctors were massaging his heart and pumping oxygen into his lungs artificially. And Dr. B. K. Goyal, as big an institution in medicine as Busybee was in journalism, was driving behind us in his own car. It was a short drive, from Busybee’s residence on Malabar Hill to Bombay Hospital, six kilometres here or there. And with flashing lights and wailing siren, we covered it in minutes. But somewhere along Walkeshwar Road, we lost him. I like to think he quietly slipped away.

Since April last year, he had been suffering indifferent health. First, a definite weakening of the lungs caused by half a lifetime of smoking 60 cigarettes a day. Then, in September, a fracture in the lower spine brought about by a spasm of coughing. He was not bedridden, only advised bed rest, but Busybee got up in lesser time than it takes to cure a fever and did what he knew best… he started writing his column. It had been appearing sporadically due to his absences, and he was eager to resume it and go full steam ahead. And he would have, but for the fact that he was pushing 70 and age and his health had begun telling on him.

On January 18, after he did a tremendous cover story for Upper Crust (Farzana Contractor’s food, wine and lifestyle magazine) at the Taj Mahal Hotel over dinner, Busybee suffered a relapse of the old lung problem. That winter night, too, we thought we had lost him. But Dr. Goyal and Dr. Sharma worked on Busybee’s heart and lungs until dawn and got him fit again to do battle for another three months.

I think he might have pulled through yet again, for both Busybee and Behram were fighter and survivor, but he had been through a major shock earlier in the day that must have weakened him considerably. Farzana’s eldest brother, Capt. Ishrat Khan, had died tragically in a road accident near Panvel. And although Busybee usually kept his emotions in check, Farzana’s loss must have upset him. For by midnight, we were fighting to save his own life. Truly if God has been cruel and unjust with anybody, that person is Farzana Contractor. I’d like to see this same God give her the strength to go through two funerals today.


For those who did not know him personally, Behram Contractor and Busybee was the son of the late Hirabai and Pirojshaw Contractor, and brother of Darius (UK) and Dadi (France). With his passing away, India has lost its only full-time genuine satirist, and easily the country’s most popular humorist. His column, "Round and About", began with the Evening News of India in 1966, went over to Mid Day in 1979, and came to stay with this newspaper in 1985. It is the longest-written column in this history of newspaper journalism and maybe Guinness will find space in its next edition to mention this.

But… you will read no more Busybee on the back page of this newspaper, no guides to eating out by him in the colour pages. And you will not come across Behram Contractor’s pithy, evocative essays on the edit page, nor find his poetic and fluid interviews of celebrities on Wednesday. His terse and laconic style of writing that had a rhythm in it which created an impression of deadpan comedy, is over. I have lost a colleague and a friend. But you have lost your favourite columnist. And I don’t know whose loss is greater. R.I.P.
Also read:
  • "Busybee wrote every day for 36 years, beginning in 1955, and he died in 2001. He was one of the few Indian writers in English who had an individual style and that made him special. He was confident enough, and good enough, to develop it and stay with it for decades. Like Hemingway, he had found his writing voice early in life and did not change it." Read Aakar Patel's heart-felt tribute to the journalism of Behram Contractor here.