Friday, June 21, 2013

10/10 for a newspaper story written by an intern from Commits

Commitscion Natasha Rego (Class of 2014) lived up to my expectations (and perhaps exceeded hers) when she filed this brilliant story for Mumbai's Afternoon Despatch & Courier, the newspaper I helped to launch in March 1985.

Natasha, who is a co-editor of the college newspaper, worked as an intern with the Afternoon for six weeks over April-May and earned her first byline with this story about the "bottle bulbs" that are lighting up the lives of the city's slum-dwellers.

When I first read the article after she had sent me the link, I wrote back:

What a FAN-TAS-TIC story, Natasha! From idea to execution to presentation, I give it 10/10.

And then I asked her a few questions to understand better how she got the idea for the story in the first place and how she went about getting the facts and putting them together:
  • How did you get the idea?
Facebook, of course. Although many ideas have come to me when I take extensive walks around this city, I chose to work on this one because I related to the girls about whom I wrote, and it was a slum story (I've been wanting to enter a slum since I arrived and this seemed like a perfect opportunity).

  • How did you go about working on it?
I read everything on the girls' website and Facebook page, especially the press coverage that they've received in the past. I found that it told a one-sided story — that of the girls. I wanted to try and tell one that included the people who benefited from the work of the organisation.

  • What were the obstacles and how did you overcome them?
Language — my biggest drawback in Mumbai. But the girls that I went to the slum with translated for me, and a surprisingly large number of people spoke English.

  • What was the contribution of your bosses and colleagues?
Sub-editor and colleague Prasad Madhukar Patil pushed me to submit my photos and write stories after he saw my editing work.

When I asked Deputy News Editor Robin Shukla what I should keep in mind when I went out to cover this story, considering it was going to be my first, he gave me some good advice. He said not to be influenced by anything in the reports that I had read, and to give it my own "new" perspective, because I'm so new to the city.

Editor-in-Chief Carol Andrade had the final say, of course. I think she liked it.

  • What has the feedback been — from colleagues, from readers, from those featured in the story?
One of my bosses said that this is the kind of stories the newspaper should be doing.

  • What was your reaction to seeing your story in print?
I did not go to work the day they processed this issue, so I didn't know it was going to get a full page. Walking to work the next day, I picked up an issue to find that it was spread over page 5 and had a border to make it stand it was a special story. My sub-editor boss later told me that he told the page designers to put the border in.

Natasha, who is a discerning and savvy photographer, too, later published another interesting feature in the Afternoon. This one concerns an unsung organisation that teaches art to slum children. Read it here: "Everyone is an artist. No conditions apply!" (The photographs that accompany this piece, as well as the article on the "bottle bulbs", were shot by Natasha.)
  • Commitscions, our brand ambassadors, have done well for themselves in the media industry and they have done us proud, too. Here are just a few of the many stories written by those who have become, or will become, journalists:
1. An excellent example of an interview-based local feature (Dipankar Paul, Class of 2009)

2. Gutsy Commits student's story in Bangalore Mirror — an inspiration to women everywhere (Ankita Sengupta, Class of 2013)

3. "My mum has my FB password. Big deal" (Sonakshi Nandy, Class of 2014)

4. Asha Bhosle: The Eternal Indian Idol scroll down to "An interview with Asha Bhosle in Kuwait" (Priyanka Saligram, Class of 2009)

5. Reading Made Easy — Why Just Books Libraries Work (Nilofer D'Souza, Class of 2009)

6. Jet lag is for amateurs (Ayesha Tabassum, Class of 2007)

...and, finally, a Page 1 story in yesterday's Bangalore Mirror by Tapasya Mitra Mazumder (Class of 2013), who only joined the newspaper five days ago:

You can read Tapasya's report here. Well done, all!
UPDATE (August 11, 2013): Natasha Rego and some of the photographs she made when she was in Mumbai were the subject of a "Diary" item in The Afternoon yesterday:

Read the item here: "Picture Perfect!" (go to Page 3)

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