Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A sight to gladden the hearts of journalists — and media students — everywhere

Not too long ago, the venerable New Yorker carried an extensive article explaining why India's newspaper industry is thriving.

Last week, on Saturday, April 27, Mint, too, provided evidence of the appeal newspapers have for Indians:

 Take a look at Mint's photo essay here: "Newspaper Nation".

Should a cartoonist apologise when readers complain his work is "insensitive and tasteless"?

Fourteen people died and as many as 200 others were injured in an explosion in a Texas town earlier this month.

Last week a newspaper published from Sacramento, the capital city of California, published this cartoon by Jack Ohman on its editorial pages:

Joshua Gillin, writing on Poynter, tells us that Ohman has said on his blog that he had received many complaints calling it (and him) “insensitive and tasteless” and pointed out he had drawn much more graphic images in the past to make his points.

I knew it was close to the edge, but I went with it, and I don’t go with things I can’t defend. I’m defending this one because I think that when you have a politician travelling across the country selling a state with low regulatory capacity, that politician also has to be accountable for what happens when that lack of regulation proves to be fatal.

Ohman also writes on his blog that when he has to come up with these ideas, he is not deliberately trying to be tasteless. He continues:

What I am trying to do is make readers think about an issue in a striking way. I seem to have succeeded in this cartoon, one way or the other.

The question is whether it is tasteless or not.

My answer, respectfully, is that it isn't.

Read Ohman's blog post here to understand how to defend brilliantly and pithily the seemingly indefensible: 'Explosion' cartoon published to make a point.
  • Sherry M Jacob-Phillips (Class of 2007), who is a journalist in Bangalore, commented via e-mail:
    I found Jack Ohman's cartoon strip a tad insensitive, but the message was clear. Hence, it served the purpose. But where is the need for him to apologise? The cartoonist is not making any assumptions here; instead, he is sketching an independent analysis of the situation. If writers can express every note that lingers in their mind, then why prevent cartoonists from doing so? Ohman justifies his stance by writing that he is trying to make people think about an issue in a striking way. This is the best way by which one can measure the levels of press freedom a country enjoys. If you fear such cartoons, then just stay away from them.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Here's your official reason to listen to music at work

Who doesn't like listening to music? Specifically: Who doesn't like listening to music at work?

I usually have songs from one of my many iTunes playlists going on in the background when I am sitting at my workstation at Commits and checking my e-mail, writing a blog post, speaking with my students, and, of course, playing Scrabble on Facebook. (Right now I'm listening to the acoustic version of "You Learn" by Alanis Morissette, pictured.)

I play music at work (and in my car) because... I enjoy it.

But are there certain songs that can get you motivated at work or get you feeling productive on days when that's not so easy? Songs that, perhaps, simply inspire you at the office?

Yes, asserts Dave Kerpen, an American CEO who is also a New York Times best-selling author and keynote speaker.

Kerpen recently published on his blog a list of 21 songs "to inspire you at work". On the recommended listening list you will find Eminem, John Lennon (can you imagine which song by Lennon has made it?), Beyonce, Michael Jackson, Queen, even Katy Perry.

Check out Kerpen's post here and see if you agree with the choices: "21 Songs to Inspire You at Work".

PS: Take a look at my "jam history" on This Is My Jam to find out what kind of music moves me.
  • VARUN CHHABRIA (Class of 2012), associate editor of Books & More magazine, commented via Facebook: 
Kerpen should stick to CEO-ing... fortunate that his job doesn't require him to list too many things. :-)

For starters, instrumental music is scientifically proven to stimulate the growth and development of the brain, specifically the left hemisphere that deals with creative thinking and problem solving. Music with overtly aggressive lyrical content (such as Eminem's "I'm doin' this for me, so fu^k the world") doesn't come across as intellectually stimulating.

If I had to suggest listening to be inspired at work, I would go with Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, improv jazz like Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, or contemporary instrumental music (Russian Circles, Six Organs of Admittance, Snarky Puppy, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation, Noveller, etc.) to name a few.

Here's another band and song to add to the list: Mogwai — "Take Me Somewhere Nice".

P.S.: Here's one of the websites that I've followed over the years about music's effect on the brain: Effects of Instrumental Music Training on Brain and Cognitive Development in Young Children: A Longitudinal Study.

  • ANKITA BHATTACHERJEE (Class of 2014), who is currently an intern with the Statesman in Kolkata, commented via e-mail:
Although I'd love to listen to music at work I can't. The people at the Statesman would surely consider me a nuisance and chuck me out. And being me I know I'd love to sing along with the song, which I'm pretty sure would earn me a nasty look at least. So for me listening to songs at work is not an option. Moreover you know the kind of songs I like: party songs. I'm pretty sure my colleagues wouldn't approve of that either. 

By the way, somehow, even before reading the list I knew Katy Perry's "Firework" would be on the list. It's one hell of an inspiring song! Another one that I'd like to add to the list is "Perfect" by Pink. These two kept me going through my dark days.

  • NIRANJANA MURALEEDHARAN (Class of 2014), who is currently an intern with R Square Consulting in Bangalore, commented via e-mail:
Doesn't that lead to continous partial attention? :-) I really can't concentrate when I listen to music and, moreover, I feel uncomfortable when people see me with the headphones.

  • AJAY U. PAI, my 18-year-old nephew who is a budding economist, commented via e-mail:
No wonder you call it your workstation. It's where all your work comes to a stop! But seriously, you know how much I love music; even so I maintain that music isn’t meant to be heard at work. You can multi-task all you like but music isn’t one of those tasks. It's a taste, a hobby, or interest. It can never mix with work.

  • SAUMYA IYER (Class of 2014), who is currently an intern with Bangalore Mirror, commented via e-mail:
I love listening to music anywhere, anytime! The one song that motivates me whenever I’m about to begin my first day anywhere it could be an internship or attending a new college is “Brand New Day” by Sting. My favourite pick-me-up song, when I think that nothing is going my way, is “Hold Your Head Up” by Uriah Heep. Of course, given my eclectic taste in music, the songs I listen to on my iPod at work range from death metal, psychedelic rock, and punk to anime music and jazz; all of which help me through the day. It helps instill a "Fighting Spirit" which is also coincidentally an OST from my favourite anime, Naruto.

  • ANANYA CHATTERJEE (Class of 2014), who is currently an intern with Fremantle Media in Mumbai, commented via e-mail:
Music can be everywhere. It need not have a specific time and place! I listen to it because I get a weird, incomplete feeling if my earphones are not plugged in. However, recently one of my friends at work misplaced my earphones and I've been given a headphone by the office. Sitting in this quiet environment I cannot really play music on my phone :( As my work involves calling up "talent" (as we refer to the participants of reality shows here), this headphone becomes really irritating after a point because it doesn't allow me to call and listen to music at the same time (as my earphones did).

As for the music I love, the song in question need not have the most inspiring lyrics. It just needs to hit you in the right spot! It somehow makes you want to work more :) Listening to music and connecting the songs with every situation you're involved in is beautiful! Somehow, there are certain songs which will remind you of a particular place and a particular time, every time you listen to it. :) Oh dear! What would we have done without music! :D

Talking about songs to inspire you, I suggest you all should listen to "I hope you dance" by Ronan Keating and "I've gotta have you" by The Weepies.

  • LINSIYA PATRAO (Class of 2014), who is currently an intern with CNN-IBN in New Delhi commented via e-mail:
Well said, Sir. Who doesn't like music? I make it a point to listen to it at work or before I go to sleep at night. This is the one thing that keeps me going through the day. Sometimes it does become a little difficult at work with all the hustle and bustle, but as soon as I see things settling down, I slowly slip into my radio mode. Listening to "Don't leave home" by Dido in the mornings is such a beautiful experience.

I always enjoy music playing in the background on my laptop, radio, or TV. As long as it is in the background and not blaring into my ears! I can never imagine working without music. It feels weird to work in a quiet environment.

My choice of music depends on my mood. Personally, I prefer listening to melodious Bollywood music, and Meethi Mirchi on does exactly that for me. If I want retro, I switch to Purani Jeans; I can also choose from the playlists on the site.

Kishore Kumar, Sonu Niigaam, and Shaan are my all-time favourites. Romantic numbers, peppy songs, and contemporary hit tracks from Bollywood
always work for me. Then there's the instrumental series called "The Elements" and "Sound Scapes" composed by five musicians, including Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and Hari Prasad Chaurasia, which is apt when you are feeling serene. And when it comes to ghazals, nothing can beat Jagjit Singh’s soulful voice.

One thing has proved true for me. With radio playing all the time (even when I'd actually be happy to have a few quiet moments), the brain has learnt to be aware and consciously tune out the song enabling me to focus on the work at hand. You see, music essentially is not a distraction at all!

ADDITIONAL READING (AND LISTENING): Love music? Love the blues? You will love Shillong's Soulmate

Want to acquire knowledge?

All of us strive to acquire knowledge. Knowledge that will boost our careers. Knowledge that will help us lead better lives. Knowledge for knowledge's sake.

But is there an easy way to acquire knowledge? James T. Mangan believed there is, and in a book first published in 1936, he outlined 14 ways to acquire knowledge:

2.    ASK
3.    DESIRE
7.    TEACH
8.    READ
9.    WRITE
10.    LISTEN
11.    OBSERVE
13.    DEFINE
14.    REASON

My favourite blogger Maria Popova recently published a post about Mangan, whom she refers to as "the prolific self-help guru and famous eccentric". Each of those points mentioned above has been elaborated upon in Popova's post, which you can read here: "14 Ways to Acquire Knowledge: A Timeless Guide from 1936". Especially read what Mangan has to say about acting on your desires, reading, and writing.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Scintillating analysis of Roger Ebert's film review intros

Any experienced writer can master the short snappy sentence.  It takes a good writer to master the long sentence, the one that takes the reader on a journey of discovery, the one that leads you to a special place you could not have imagined when you stepped on board the bus.

That is Roy Peter Clark, a brilliant journalist and writer himself, paying tribute to Roger Ebert by explaining why he thought the late film critic was a good writer.

Good? Why not "great"? Clark writes:

Notice I am not using the word “great” because good is good enough, especially if you’ve been good for more than forty years.

And then Clark examines the intros, what he calls "leads", from the first three examples of Ebert's work that he could find online.

Read Clark's post in its entirety here to understand why I am saying this is a scintillating piece of writing from which media students, journalists, and people who simply love reading good writing can learn plenty.

PS: Don't miss the punchline — Roy Peter Clark gets a zinger from Roger Ebert.

ADDITIONAL READING: "Point your mouse to Poynter".

ALSO READ: "Roger Ebert: A film critic like no other".

If you want just one "golden rule" of writing...

...and a very good one, too, here it is:

Intend every word you write.

This is the golden rule formulated by veteran blogger Eric Cummings, who has written a guest post on the subject of writing rules for Write to Done, a blog about the art and craft of writing.

Cummings says he came up with this rule, or, rather, he learned it on the second day of the creative writing class he was taking, as his story about a farmer and his mule was read aloud.

I had spent some time writing it, one day rewriting it, and another afternoon editing it. I was nervous but confident. It was a good story.

The story began, “Light barely flooded into the room.”

“Wait.” Less than a sentence in, the Professor stopped the student reading my story. He turned to me, “Eric, what do you mean, ‘Light barely flooded into the room.’?”

“Well, it is sunrise, and the sun is coming up.” I said.

“But how can light ‘barely flood’ in? Do you mean the word flood?”

Light could either barely trickle in, or flood in, but it couldn’t do both. The lesson wasn’t that I needed to be clearer and more precise with my language–though I did–it was that I didn’t know what my words meant. I didn’t own the words on the page. The questions the professor asked us over the course of the quarter were always the same, “What do you mean?” “What did you intend here?” or “Why did you use this word?”

And so Cummings learned that writers must intend every word they write.

Read his enriching post here. (Enriching? Yes, you will come away feeling richer.)

In the same post, Cummings also provides seven tips for what he refers to as implementing intentionality behind your writing, to better convey what you want to say. Pay special attention to No. 2 and No. 7.
  • Also, check out the "Popular Posts" list on the Write to Done site.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

When an author was forced to remove an entire chapter for legal reasons

Recently discovered, a Facebook "note" I had posted on September 8, 2011:

In my 50-plus years of reading, this is the first time I have come across a book from which one chapter has been removed, only in the Indian edition, for legal reasons.

Here's the Publisher's Note from The Beautiful and the Damned:

"The first chapter of this book (pages 27-71) 'The Great Gatsby: A Rich Man in India' has been removed in accordance with an injunction order passed by the Civil Court, Silchar in a suit for defamation, Shri Kishorendu Gupta and The Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM) Versus Delhi Press Patra Prakashan Pvt Ltd and Others (Suit No. 19 of 2011)."
  • For a review of the book in The Guardian by Amit Chaudhuri, go here.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The future of newspaper journalism

In Dubai's Khaleej Times, which celebrates its 35th anniversary today, my article on what the next 35 years hold for newspaper journalism:

Outlook editor Krishna Prasad has reproduced this piece on his New York Times-acclaimed blog, "sans serif": "Will TV channels lose out to newspapers by 2050?".
  • The article has also been reproduced on the Pakistan Journalism portal, whose co-founder is Stephen Manuel (Steve, who lives in California, was my colleague at Khaleej Times many years ago): "Don't dwell on the past; digital is the future".

Friday, April 5, 2013

Roger Ebert: A film critic like no other

He was the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize. For more than 40 years he worked at one newspaper, The Chicago Sun-Times. He was hailed as the best-known film reviewer of his generation, and one of the most trusted.

So it is no wonder that when Roger Ebert died yesterday at the ago of 70, even President Barack Obama was moved to say that for a generation of Americans ... “Roger was the movies. When he didn’t like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive — capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical.”

Read the New York Times tribute to Roger Ebert here.
  • EXTERNAL READING: Jai Arjun Singh, a New Delhi-based freelance writer and journalist whose writing I admire, has published a post about his brief encounter with Roger Ebert. Read it on his blog, Jabberwock, here
  • EXTERNAL READING: Actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui's Ebert connection: "Remembering Roger Ebert". (Thanks for the tip-off, Noyon Jyoti Parasara.)
  • EXTERNAL READING: Read Roger Ebert's 20 best reviews here
UPDATE (April 6, 2013): Commits alumnus DEEP PAL (Class of 2003), who is in the U.S. for his master's in International Security Studies at the Elliott School in Washington, D.C., sent this via e-mail:

Here's some more on Roger Ebert — a series of three articles he wrote while in India in 1999, including a delightful account of his first experience of watching a Hindi potboiler [Taal] in a cinema hall.

I was introduced to Ebert by [Cinema Studies professor at Commits] Tummala Sir about 11-12 years ago. Since then every time a new movie arrived in theatres, or I heard of another oh-but-you-must-see-this-classic, I would Google Ebert and the movie's name. And he never lied to me. That was the beauty of his craft. Not only the brutal honesty that he succinctly put in a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on his TV show, but also the poignancy and sincerity that he brought to his writing in print.

Ebert didn't have the trappings that knowledge often brings, which is why his write-up on movie viewing in India is so exquisite. He is childlike in his approach to new experiences, which is why he compares in all seriousness and sincerity the snacks available at a Hyderabad single screen theatre with that in a cinema hall in Michigan.

And in this sincerity and zest he and Tummala Sir lived a very similar life — both refused to accept what life had meted out to them; both decided instead to take life by the horns, turn it around, and make every moment a celebration and a gift. It's surprising how  similar their approach to life was. Is that the power of the spirit? Is it the power of cinema? I'm not sure. But I am glad I had them both in my life for some time. And of course, the gift of movies that they brought for me.

I hope you and your students will enjoy reading these articles:
UPDATE (April 14, 2013): Maria Popova, my favourite blogger, pays tribute to Roger Ebert (there's also a link to the late film critic's "unforgettable TED talk"): "RIP, Roger Ebert: The Beloved Critic on Writing, Life, and Mortality".

UPDATE (April 19, 2013): Roy Peter Clark, a guru of journalism whose writing I admire deeply, has also paid tribute to Roger Ebert. Read his post here: "Why Roger Ebert was a good writer".