Friday, May 30, 2014

"Read, kids, read"

Now where have you heard that before?

At Commits, for sure. Since April 2003, when I began teaching journalism, I have been pushing my students to read. (Sometimes, they push back, and that, I have to say, is a big concern for me.)

In June 2010, I also wrote a blog post on the subject: "Why you must read".

And I have been using my social media accounts in a big way to try to popularise reading.


So you can imagine how thrilled I was when, two days ago, first thing in the morning, I received this message via Facebook from Commitscion Monika Khangembam (Class of 2012), with a link to an article by Frank Bruni in The New York Times:

Monika Khangembam
This article reminded me of you sir.
After I sent a message thanking her, Monika replied:

Yay! I am so glad you liked it. The ideas expressed in the article resonate with what you mostly say in class and how you keep telling us to read more. I can also imagine you encouraging (read nagging) your nieces and nephews to read. 

During the course of our text conversation, Monika revealed she is reading The Fault in Our Stars, which finds mention in the NYT article, too. So I replied:

What a wonderful coincidence. I bought a copy of this book for the college library some time ago, but before placing it in the library I read it to try to understand why it had become a bestseller. It is an excellent book, for young people especially. I loved the highly original plot.

Monika then articulated her own thoughts about the book:

That's amazing sir. I am not so much into these young adult novels but I accidentally came across this and I am glad I did. The characters feel so real. I can so relate to Hazel. You relate to her more if you are a 20-something and still struggling to understand your life. There is this particular part in the beginning where Augustus talks about oblivion and how Hazel responds to that. That has helped me to be less scared and be a bit more adventurous. It's funny how a few lines can influence us so deeply.

And it's amazing, I thought to myself, how a few lines written by my student about the transformative power of reading can brighten my day like nothing else can. Thanks a million, Monika!

  • There's more good news on the reading front. Commitscion Sruti Nayani (Class of 2004), who has been blogging about books for some six months now, has just published a post about the importance of writing. Sruti makes six important points in the post. Here is the first one:
Read and read some more. I do not know how one can begin writing if one does not read; reading is essential. You could begin with newspapers, magazines, essays, short stories, fiction, non-fiction or even articles. Basically, just about everything. The idea is to find a path to the written word. This kind of reading could help you to understand the different types of writing and eventually develop your own style.

Now where have you heard that before?
“My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.”
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
reading The Fault in Our Stars.
Like · ·
Frank Bruni's article is so inspiring
BISWAJIT DEY (Class of 2016): I read the article by Frank Bruni just now. I found it really inspiring this was the first time I got to know that there are so many positive aspects to reading other than gaining knowledge; reading acts as therapy too. Thanks for sharing, Sir.

  • Patrick Michael, editor of the Dubai-based Khaleej Times, commented via Google+
Ramesh, as a voracious reader, it's heartening to read that the message is getting home. I'm sure many more will realise the benefits of reading. Anything and everything. Comics included.

I follow most of the links you send and some I forward to a few of my colleagues who, despite the many years of experience under their belt, still believe that life is a learning curve and you can learn more from books than from idle chatter.

My next book: Straight to Hell: True and Glorious Tales of Deviance, Debauchery and Billion Dollar Deals. Read all about it here. Can't wait to get my hands on this mother of lies!

Oh, the pleasures of reading!

Friday, May 23, 2014

The inspirational story of the ad guru who brought the world's No. 1 agency to India

By far the best book I have read about the advertising business in India, Konjo: Fighting Spirit is a great buy at almost any price. At only Rs.199 (on Amazon, at the time of writing), it is a steal.

Sandeep Goyal is the man who brought Dentsu, the world's No. 1 ad agency, headquartered in Tokyo, to India. His story is an inspirational one, and for media students and young ad professionals who crave industry insights from a consummate insider, this book will prove invaluable with its thrill-a-minute revelations about some of the country's most famous ad campaigns (to name a few: Tata Tea, Toyota Innova, HDFC Life) and the people behind them; about the ad pitches that worked and the ones that didn't; and about the strategies used by Dentsu India to win new clients.


The story Goyal tells us in Konjo concerns only his seven-year association, in the form of a joint venture, with Dentsu. When he sold his stake to the parent company, he became richer by millions of dollars, leaving him free to pursue his many interests: according to the author bio in Konjo, Goyal is now writing his PhD thesis on "Human Brands". But I am hoping he will write at least two more books, one about the time he spent with Rediffusion, one of India's iconic ad agencies, and one more about his stint as Group CEO of Zee Telefilms. Going by the impressive insights gleaned from Konjo, can you imagine what a stimulating experience it would be to read these two books?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Eat that frog!

Mark Twain is reported to have said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

He is also reported to have said (more about that later), “If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.”

Not too long ago, management expert and entrepreneur Brian Tracy built a small empire around that principle. Brian Tracy International now offers, among other things, training in personal development, sales, time management, and leadership.

But Tracy is probably best known for his internationally popular book, Eat That Frog! in which he writes that there are "21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time".

The book was first published in January 2007, and “Eat that frog!” has since become a buzz phrase, so much so that it even finds mention in Everything You Wanted To Know about Freelance Journalism (But Didn't Know Whom To Ask), brought out earlier this year by two resolute Indian journalists.

So what does “Eat that frog!” actually mean? Here is the explanation in Brian Tracy's own words:

Your “frog” is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it.

Read the rest of Tracy's post here: "The Truth About Frogs". And the next time you find yourself bogged down when faced with a list of jobs to tackle, remember: “Eat that frog!”
  • ALSO READ: Not everyone is enamoured of this eat-that-frog business. On Huffington Post, Valerie Alexander, author of Happiness as a Second Language, argues that starting your day doing something wretched may just set the tone for a miserable day. Read her post here: "Stop Eating Frogs! Just Be Happy".
  • As for whether Mark Twain actually said that stuff about eating frogs, Valerie Alexander tells us in her intro that the phrase was actually coined by Nicolas Chamfort and "only linked to Mark Twain long after reports of Twain's death were no longer an exaggeration".
  • Photograph courtesy: Brian Tracy International

Want your dream job? Then don't do what everyone else does. If you do that, how will you stand out?

Doing what everyone else does is very unlikely to result in a job. Decide you will be different and then work hard to actually be different. Then you will stand out.

That is such good advice it is not at all surprising that the article containing this valuable tip has been shared more than 4,000 times on LinkedIn (which is where I first read it). The author, Jeff Haden, is a columnist with Speaker, Inc., magazine and in "A Resume Will Never Get You the Job You Really Want" he gives readers pointers to what they must do in order to get the job they really want:

1. Determine the company you want to work for.

2. Really know the company.

3. Figure out how you will hit the ground running.

4. Don't just tell. Show.

5. Use a referral as a reinforcement.

6. Be the one who knocks.

7. Assert yourself.

8. Ask for the job.

Haden explains each point in detail. Read the article in its entirety here.

And, afterwards, read this post to learn what one young woman, a Commits student, did to stand out from the herd and secure her dream internship in Mumbai: "How to write an e-mail that will get you your dream internship (Hint: You need the three I's: interest, initiative, imagination)".

Monday, May 12, 2014

What's wrong with this opening paragraph in a New York Times blog post?

When a copy editor gets to work on an article for The Times, it doesn’t matter what section its for, the guiding principal is the same one new doctors embrace when they take the Hipocratic Oath: First do no harm.

As soon as I finished reading this intro, written by a copy editor at one of the world's greatest newspapers, I was left dumbstruck. I had caught a glaring error. And I was all set to shoot off a stinker via the comments section.

Thank goodness I decided to read on before I made a fool of myself.

Why, you ask? Check out the clever and instructive "Times Insider" post by Eric Nagourney here: "The Copy Desk: The End of the Gauntlet (or Is It ‘Gantlet’?)".

Sunday, May 11, 2014

For only Rs.154, enhance your reporting and writing skills

This past week I have been reading Everything You Wanted To Know about Freelance Journalism (But Didn't Know Whom To Ask). And as I came to the end of each well-written, information-rich, filled-to-the-brim-with-practical-advice chapter, I would think, "What a wonderful book this is for all my students who are working as print journalists."

Sure, the title seems to indicate that this book is only useful for freelance writers, but, really, what Kavitha Rao and Charukesi Ramadurai have done is produced a brilliant "ideas" book for anyone working as a journalist, freelance or otherwise.

For instance, there is a chapter titled "How Do You Write a Feature?". Rao and Ramadurai pack more helpful material into 38 pages than many other Indian authors of similar works manage to put together in a whole book. We get not only excellent advice on how to write features but also relevant examples from their own articles that have been published in national and international publications, with detailed explanations of why their approach and style succeeded.

In another chapter, "What Is a Pitch? And Why Is it Important?", we learn how to pitch our stories to our editors, an essential skill for reporters (and, of course, freelance writers). And in "What Makes a Great Interview?", Rao and Ramadurai provide an extremely useful Interviewing 101 guide.

For serious journalists, especially for those who are starting out and also for those who are a few years old in the business, each of these chapters alone is worth the price of the book.

There are another dozen chapters that are as enlightening as the three I have chosen to highlight above. Each chapter is virtually bursting with ideas ideas for stories, ideas in terms of structure and style, ideas that will help you thrive as a reporter or feature writer or columnist. (Even subs will be able to pick up some good tips from this book.)

I consider myself an experienced journalist but I have learnt so much from Everything You Wanted To Know about Freelance Journalism that I wish I had got my hands on it when I was starting out. I would have been much better at what I was doing.

This is unquestionably the best book of its kind and I have no hesitation in recommending it highly. Place an order for it on Amazon... today. (The cover price is Rs.250. When I was looking to purchase a copy for the college library, I found it selling on Amazon for Rs.175. The price on Amazon today is Rs.154.)
  • Interestingly, both authors are based in Bangalore. Their contact details are available on their respective websites: Kavitha Rao, Charukesi Ramadurai
  • If I have one quibble about the book, it concerns the cover. What were the publishers (Westland) thinking when they decided to go with a typewriter, for heaven's sake, as the cover image?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

There is a word to describe people like me

And that word, according to Jon Winokur, is "curmudgeon".

Winokur is the astute curator of the most helpful website on the planet for writers and would-be writers. He is also the author of two dozen non-fiction books, one of which is called The Portable Curmudgeon.

I happened upon The Portable Curmudgeon when I was browsing on Scribd and, quick as a flash, I downloaded a "preview" (some 50 pages).

I had barely read the first paragraph of the introduction when it dawned on me that Winokur was writing about... people like ME. (I can think of quite a few of my students — and many other fine citizens of the world I inhabit — who will agree with the assessment):

Dictionaries define curmudgeon as a churlish, irascible fellow; a cantankerous old codger. The origin of the word is unknown, but it might come from an old Scottish word that meant "murmur" or "mumble", or from the French coeur mechant, "evil heart". The archaic definition made it a synonym for miser, and the word has had recent currency in a somewhat milder connotation, to describe a not entirely unlikable grouch.

Want to read the rest of the introduction? Go to The Portable Curmudgeon.
  • Want evidence of my curmudgeonliness (yes, there is such a word)? Here you go:
1. 50 Facebook rants to make you think about bad English vs good English

2. He is 25 — and in all his life he has read only one book

3. "I want a job that does not involve reading, writing, or thinking. What to do?"

4. What hope is there for this English teacher's students?

5. What happens when a crusty old journalism teacher takes on Gen-Y?

6. How to spot lazy a.k.a. mediocre travel writing

7.  Suck it up!

8. "If you need me to motivate you, I probably don't want to hire you"

9. "Want To Be Taken Seriously? Become a Better Writer"

10. Mind your e-language: How you interact with people on any platform on the Web and what you say about issues is an indication of the kind of person you are

11. Why amateur bloggers will never replace journalists

12. Bad grammar, poor punctuation: a sure recipe for disaster at your workplace

And, to round it up to a baker's dozen, here's a post I'm especially proud of: "What's the point of an education if you remain illiterate?"

Of course, there's more, much more. But that's quite enough to prove my point, isn't it? :-)

What's special about this sentence? (A Facebook conversation)

What's special about this sentence?
"Pack my box with
five dozen liquor jugs."