Saturday, July 26, 2014

Yes, a comma can save lives

On July 23, Twitter users were shocked to read this tweet from AP:

The Associated Press         @AP
BREAKING: Dutch military plane carrying bodies from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash lands in Eindhoven.

Nine minutes later, there was a clarification:

The Associated Press         @AP
CLARIFIES: Dutch military plane carrying Malaysia Airlines bodies lands in Eindhoven.

But during those nine minutes, Twitter users must have been under the impression that there had been yet another aircrash.

And, as the Bangalore-based NewsMinute portal pointed out, some of the over three million followers of AP on Twitter took notice of the error and were quick to respond:

Khang @KhangSports
Commas can save lives. RT @AP: BREAKING: Dutch military plane carrying bodies from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash, lands in Eindhoven.

Read the NewsMinute post in its entirety here: "How Associated Press created a flutter by missing a comma in a tweet".

Friday, July 25, 2014

And this is what happens when subs fall asleep on the job

This news report see below was printed in the now-defunct Vijay Times, a Bangalore newspaper, on December 26, 2003. I use it every year to point out to my students that sub-editors, or copy editors, play a very important role in newspaper production and this is what can happen when a sub falls asleep on the job:

Here's the text of the report:


Shimoga: The ladies of the city listen here. If anybody told you as police being called you, just shout for help. Attract the people who are being around you. Then only you could preserve your jewellers from the miscreants.

Yes… two miscreants in the city have been making fool to the omen who are having jewelleries as the disguised themselves as police. They will be compelled you to pack your golds and ran away with those valuables.

This type of cases are very common in the city where no much cases have been registered in the police station due to the ignorance of the police officials. Even though four cases have been registered in Jayanagar Police Station. The same incident had occurred near Usha Nursing Home on Wednesday night.

Fortunately, the golds had been protected of the courage of two gentlemen in a hotel nearby the nursing home. The police have been finding them. The miscreants are yet to be find.

The same miscreants again cheated a women near Oxford School. They eloped with golds which worth Rs 25,000. Therefore the house are hereby requested to be careful if anybody call as police. Please shout
for help.

The real police might have been sleeping. You have to protect yourself and your valuables!

  • Vijay Times and its sister paper, Vijay Karnataka, were bought by The Times of India group in 2006. Vijay Times ceased publication on June 7, 2007. It was replaced by Bangalore Mirror.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Do today's journalists face more risks than the journalists of, say, 20 years ago?

The answer, going by what Commits alumni have to say, is a loud NO.

But to go back to the beginning...

On Saturday, July 12, I sent out a request to our students who have worked, or are working, as journalists (my e-mail was based on what I was told by a fresher during a classroom discussion earlier that day):

Have you ever faced threats, especially threats to your life, from the likes of crooks, politicians, and business-owners while working as a journalist?

I am asking because during a discussion in class with the freshers today on the risks of journalism, I told them that, generally speaking, criminals in India don't target journalists. I told them the case may be different in, say, the US and Mexico, where ruthless drug cartels can put out hits on journalists. (Read this book to know more about the journalists who have died for the story in the world's most dangerous places.)

One of the students then asked me if newspapers would ever deliberately NOT give a reporter his or her byline for a controversial story, especially if giving the byline would mean the reporter could then receive threat calls.

My response was that a reporter who has got his or her hands on a controversial story WOULD INSIST on a byline. It would be a matter of pride.

At this point, a student from Kolkata narrated an incident involving her friend who works with The Times of India in Kolkata. This student said her friend was denied a byline by her editors because her story involved some wrongdoing by a few business-owners in the city. This friend was told that she would receive threats from the people concerned if they knew that she was the person who had written the story. The student told us her friend was in tears because she wanted a byline for this story, which, ultimately, was published without a byline. EVEN SO, this girl apparently received threat calls.

In all my life as a journalist, nothing of this sort has happened to my colleagues or me.

So I want to know from you now: Have the times changed so drastically? Do today's journalists face more risks than the journalists of, say, 20 years ago? Have you ever had the same experience as the young Kolkata journalist? Have you been denied a byline for a controversial story?

Please let me know.

Many thanks.




I was never denied a byline [when I was working with DNA in Bangalore]. But I had received threat calls from the secretary of a local MLA because I had written an article about his inertia when it came to addressing the civic problems in his constituency. The secretary also made a formal complaint to the editor and said that, in the days leading up to the elections, the newspaper should have behaved more responsibly.

Despite the threat, my boss supported me and said that this was a good sign, and that this was a reflection of the power of our article.

I have not received any such threats. In India, such threats are rare but not nonexistent.


Since the time I have been working I haven't encountered anything of this sort. Neither have any of my close journalist friends or acquaintances ever faced such a situation, though many have worked on controversial stories, including the CWG scam involving Congress bigwigs.

During that period I was with Times Now in Mumbai, working closely with senior producers who wanted to break the story which had taken almost seven months of legwork for the journalist: Navika Kumar. We were aware (only the team that was working closely on the story) that she was getting threat calls but that didn't stop her from going ahead and breaking it and being the face of the story.

In fact, from what I have seen at newspapers, including Deccan Chronicle and Bangalore Mirror, reporters want their bylines for all their stories, and if it is a controversial one they fight for it. Most editors encourage giving bylines for such stories, the reason being a controversial story would have required extra work on the reporter's part to ensure he/she has the facts checked and corroborated too. So all the more reason to give a byline.

Another instance is when AG (Arnab Goswami) apparently received a threat from a radical group when he was constantly following up on the 26/11 attacks. I was on leave for a few days and when I reported back at the office, I was stopped at the entrance by bouncer-lookalikes: huge men who wanted to inspect my bag. That's when someone told me that after that e-mail threat, the channel had to station guards at each entry point to the office. Also, I was told, AG would personally go to his son's school to pick him up to avoid any unfortunate incident. But even then he didn't give up focusing on the story; neither did the management stop him from anchoring fearlessly.

Working in the arts/culture/tech fields, as I do at Time Out Bengaluru, this is never a problem. I have never met a journalist who complained about such an issue here.

At Time Out, as well as at Books & More, my previous employer, I've never seen a piece go without a byline. Unless it's partly or wholly a promotional feature which was rewritten to meet our editorial standards but is originally a PR-related piece. In such cases, the writer wouldn't want a byline anyway. :)

If the Kolkata story is true, it is quite sad for the reporter to not get her byline. If this is the case, can the reporter not insist on a byline, regardless of her personal safety? She was threatened anyway. She shares a professional relationship with the newspaper and can insist on a byline despite her editors' conservative approach. In fact, getting her byline seems to offer more security in this case because if something does happen to her, won't the prime suspects in this case be those very business owners?

I have never had an experience like the Kolkata journalist's. When I had done stories on medical negligence by corporate hospitals in Bangalore, I never received any threats. I feel the reporter and even the editors insist on a byline for controversial stories because, as you have explained, it is a matter of pride. I remember, at Bangalore Mirror once, when a front-page special story appeared without a byline, the editor was furious. Bylines are a way for the reporter and the newspaper to claim a story and ensure its impact.

What I experienced was that when we did controversial stories such as those related to, say, hospitals, or builders, the people concerned would try to call you back to explain their side of the story. This has happened to me. Some doctors even try to call up the bosses and talk to them in an attempt to pressure them. But at Bangalore Mirror, none of this worked as we have always carried such stories. Of course, it goes without saying that when controversial stories are involved, the editors make sure that all facts are correct and have been verified and that we have the relevant documents or quotes to support our story.

Sometimes PR executives connected with the concerned organisation would call up and request the editor not to publish a particular story. I experienced this when I was working with Deccan Chronicle in Trivandrum. But, in Bangalore, though PR officials did call us up to give us the organisation's version, they would not normally ask us to kill a news report. However, I remember that I once had to speak harshly to the PR executive of a hospital who asked me to kill a particular story.

When we work on stories that expose wrongdoing at corporate hospitals, sometimes the officials indirectly hint at taking legal action. But since the stories I had written were backed up by the relevant documents and quotes, we never had any legal problems; in fact, we never had to publish even rejoinders. Of course, since journalists always try to give all sides of a story, we would make sure that the hospital's version was also included.

At Deccan Herald, only the senior reporters work on controversial stories. If it is a negative story, they try to balance it by giving the company's perspective, but even then, our reporters are encouraged to include their bylines.

I have never experienced anything like this. I have never been denied a byline; nor do I know of anyone being denied one because the story was controversial. In fact, in my experience at The Times of India, I have heard about people breaking stories that have changed their lives for good.

Our editors have our backs all the time and there is no reason for young journalists to be afraid.

I received threats just once when I did my first sting operation with Mid Day in Bangalore. I went with a hidden camera and dictaphone and pretended to be a student who wanted to lodge an FIR (First Information Report) about her missing mobile phone. Of the six police stations that photographer Omprakash Parker and I visited, we found only one (Bharatinagar) with responsive police officers. The rest accused me of being careless, or a liar, and even tried to scare me by telling me that my parents and I would have to make endless court visits if I went ahead with the FIR.

But Mid Day didn't back down. We decided to publish photographs of the errant police officers and their names in a report that carried my byline. (Of course, since we had recorded all the conversations, we had the evidence to back up our story.) Two police officers were suspended after the story was published. The following day, there were a couple of threat calls; my colleague Kavita took care of them since I couldn't understand Kannada. I believe she gave them a fitting reply. :). After that day, I have never received threats for any story I have done.

As for bylines, apart from the stories published in The Hindu, where I worked as an intern (they never allowed interns to have bylines those days), I have gotten bylines for the rest of my work.


On Tuesday, July 15, Disha Bhandari, the fresher who first talked about this issue in class on Saturday, put me in touch with the friend who wrote the story for which she was denied a byline. 

Chandni Doulatramani, who came across on the phone as a very personable young woman used to expressing her views in a forthright manner, told me that the newspaper concerned was Hindustan Times, NOT The Times of India.

Chandni also clarified that she was an intern at the time, having completed barely a week with the paper. And she explained that her report was about a group of hawkers going on the rampage to protest against the opening of a Spencer's Mall outlet in Kolkata in July 2008 (see her story alongside, bylined "HT Correspondent").

That does put a different spin on things. For one thing, Hindustan Times was a relatively new paper in Kolkata at the time of the incident; perhaps the paper did not have enough seasoned journalists at the top to assure Chandni that such incidents are common, especially in the cities, and there was no need to be overly concerned about "threats" from the hawkers.

The more relevant reason for Chandni being denied a byline could be a rule that interns are not given bylines (Sherry-Mary Jacob has talked about this in her response above). But Chandni told me that her bosses at the paper told her that they were not giving her a byline because they were worried about "what the hawkers would do to her". And Chandni says they told her the next day that there "some calls to the office asking for the name of the reporter" who had written the story.

As will be clear from the feedback given to me by our alumni, journalists yearn to work on important stories and fight to get bylines. They are not cowed down by "threats". And newspaper bosses are willing to back their staff to the hilt.

So what happened with Chandni at Hindustan Times appears to be an aberration.

Sadly, those who do not realise this was an aberration, for example, parents of young women who want to become journalists, will try their best to discourage their children if their impression is that journalism is a dangerous business. Yes, journalism can be risky, but, on the whole, it is safer to be a journalist in India than in many other countries, both developed and developing.

I sent Chandni a draft version of this post after speaking with her on the phone. I wanted to be sure I had got down correctly what she had told me. And I also wanted to give her an opportunity to review what I had written as well as what the alumni had to say. The next day, July 16, I received an e-mail from her, an edited version of which is given below: 

I love the account. It's a beautiful narration. However, it would be great if certain changes could be incorporated.

1. I got over 40 bylines for my stories as an intern with HT. Just not for this particular one. [That was] because this made it to the front page and they were not sure someone in my capacity could completely be trusted with the facts. I could send you multiple articles with my byline, and even though this was my first internship, my editors were very generous with giving us bylines. They always, always gave it whenever deserved. Just this one time, after multiple discussions, they decided against it, for which my editor even apologised to me.

2. Everyone working in my team had work experience ranging from three to 15 years. It wouldn't be fair to say they were not seasoned.

3. "...what the hawkers would do to her": I would like it if not used in quotes. I do not remember the exact words since this incident happened more than five years ago.

I hope these changes can be incorporated. Please let me know if you need anything else. Will be more than willing to help.

  • I am very grateful to Chandni for taking the trouble to respond so promptly. I also learnt from her e-mail that, after her stint with HT, she worked with CNN-IBN in their Noida and Mumbai offices. Her first paid job was with Times Now in Mumbai, where she worked as an on-air entertainment reporter interviewing celebrities. After that she joined Reuters where she worked for more than two years. Chandni is now a communications executive with Styletag. And she also publishes a very professional fashion blog. Check it out here.


Having said that, I would urge you to read these posts: 


Here's a blog post by a colleague, Mike Shanahan: Environment journalists are at huge risk.
Marianne de Nazareth
Senior Journalist

I think it’s hard to make the argument that risks have grown, except in conflict zones where more journalists enter these days. Direct threats of violence are rare, even for reporters covering the Mumbai underworld. What has, doubtless, increased is a variety of subtle and not-so-subtle pressures ranging from marketing to special interest groups, and “self-censorship” (of the kind that Rushdie accuses many writers of indulging in) in terms of simply avoiding covering a range of subjects and issues.
Balamurali Krishna
Senior Journalist

I must say that today's journalists certainly face more risks.

Let's not forget that Mid-Day crime and investigations editor, J. Dey, was shot dead on June 11, 2011, in Mumbai [by motorcycle-borne sharpshooters].

Also, back in July 2005, after Mid Day reporter Kashif Khusro did an investigative story on the then CM, Vilasrao Deshmukh's "silly and awful" efforts to distribute food items and other necessities to communities after the 26/7 Mumbai deluge. The front page story in the second edition of Mid Day was headlined: "Silly CM". Do you know what happened the very next day? A bunch of partymen/goons (roughly about 25 of them) stormed into the Mid Day newsroom and vandalised it. They kept demanding to see Kashif while destroying our computers and shredding copies of the newspaper; they even set some of the copies on fire before the police arrived on the scene and took them away. Kashif was not in the office at that time. He was later asked to go on leave for a few days till things cooled down.

I've been an entertainment reporter all my life, primarily reporting on movie stars, directors, and film producers. Once, during my stint with Mumbai Mirror in 2007, I had written a 200-word report on the eerie resemblance (not physical, but style, diction, way of greeting, etc.) between a top film star and a debutant actor. It led the debutant actor's father, a leading producer himself, to call me and ask if I was on a mission to ruin his son's career even before it had been launched. On saying that this was exactly the sentiment of the film industry because his son was imitating the top film star quite a bit, he said, before hanging up on me, that he knew where I lived and I should fear for my safety!

In 2006, another leading film producer happened to call me at 7 in the morning to ask for fellow colleague and then Mid Day film critic Mayank Shekhar's address because he had ripped apart his latest film. I politely refused to give him Mayank's address and requested him to speak to him directly if he had a problem with it.

I can cite several other examples and instances when journalists have been threatened or physically assaulted. I just don't think it's accurate to put out on The Reading Room that the job is devoid of risks of physical harm.
Commitscion Sandipan Dalal
 Entertainment Editor, Femina

Very interesting to see how fierce young journalists are about bylines.The flip side: have a discussion on how dead easy it is to get a byline now. Even routine stories are dutifully and routinely tagged. Does this cheapening of the byline affect quality?
Carol Andrade
Senior Journalist

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A heart-felt tribute to a superstar of Indian television news... Commitscion SOHINI GUHAROY (Class of 2013), who works with CNN-IBN in Noida:

When the
becomes the


Life has its own way of teaching us humility. What begins always has to end. Career, power, efforts, money all have their own way of winding up, but it startles us to accept the harsh reality at times even when it is right in front of our eyes.

We have been reading several articles, tweets about Rajdeep Sardesai quitting since the last few months. My inbox has several messages from various acquaintances asking me what the situation in office is like. Is Rajdeep quitting? Who next? I have somehow never liked these questions and often chose to ignore them. Somewhere there was a bleak hope, that these articles would just be rumours, and some months later he would again come out of his cabin and yell if something was going wrong on the ticker.

He is THE boss, and just not like any other boss. He is someone everyone in the newsroom looks up to. His inspiration, his stamina, his passion have always been the driving force. I have often envied the people who've got the opportunity to work closely with him for a longer time.


Rajdeep sir had come to my college seminar, Expressions 2012, in Bangalore. That's where I first saw him in person, heard him addressing a group of young minds who were ready to step into the world of journalism. With eager ears and twinkling eyes, we all sat in the auditorium listening to the man,who gave us goosebumps as he spoke.

He gave us some anecdotes about his journey from a print journalist to a television journalist, he told us about the days in 1994 when "news was a monopoly of the government". But, today, "we're in the best of times" where we have a voice that can impact many, he said. A remarkable orator himself, he almost transfused his passion and infectious energy to us.

Two years down the line, I consider myself extremely lucky to have worked in the same newsroom with Rajdeep sir as the boss.

Every time he came out of his cabin towards the editorial desk to say how a certain news peg should be different, or how a certain story needs to be packaged in a certain way, or even maybe to show some interesting images in his Ipad, all eyes would be at him. Among the lookers were many who had worked with him for as long as maybe 12 years or more. And trust me, the look in everyone's eyes towards him in the newsroom has always been of immense respect.

The tears that didn't want to say goodbye to him said it all on his last day.

As part of the news team in CNN-IBN, I've seen several raw unedited feeds of interviews or stories that Rajdeep sir did. The respect he gets off-camera as well as on-camera from the journalist community to politicians, economists, and people across the spectrum is unbelievable. 

Being the election season, on the counting day, he was in office at 5 am, inspiring the editorial team with his energy and excitement. The anchor schedule showed he would anchor from 6 am to noon and again from evening till the last bulletin roll.  And not a moment did we see him wear out. And covering the elections was not only a day's job.

The ground reports that he did by travelling across India, by talking to the people and getting a flavour of the election from the streets was as tiring as appealing it looked on screen. Working and observing a great mind like him has taught me a lot about life. That, at the end of the day, the deciding power is always in our hands. We might not realise it often, but we are the makers of tomorrow. 

On a personal note, thank you sir, for being a true inspiration and a silent mentor.



  • Meanwhile, Rajdeep's farewell letter to his staff was published on on July 4:
"Forget the cynics; journalism
is a great profession"

My dear friends,

This is one of  the toughest letters to write. After nine wonderful years at IBN 18, it's time to say goodbye. I must confess it's not easy to leave a baby that one has helped create/build/grow and to leave such great colleagues. But I guess certain things in life are written in the stars. Editorial independence and integrity have been articles of faith in 26 years in journalism and maybe I am too old now to change!

I would though like to look at the brighter side, the many happy times we have all shared. I still remember when we decided to set up an English news channel: we had one chair and a table, and no one gave us a hope in hell.
I recall an advertising executive watching our pitch and asking why we were even attempting a new news channel. But madness and a passion for journalism as defined by the spirit of  "whatever it takes" can break many a wall: we eventually did it!

CNN-IBN was a remarkable success: in nine years, we achieved the seemingly impossible in the news business: ratings, revenue, but most crucially, RESPECT for our journalism. I am told that our awards tally is now over 200, more than all the other channels put together! This year's election coverage was a good example of what we have been able to achieve: a friend in CNN said he would have been proud to put together such a formidable line up of  programming.

IBN 7 had a more difficult period in a highly competitive market, but again I can look back with pride on the achievements of  the channel. We had a fire in the belly as typified by the tagline "Khabar har keemat par". I remember in a small town in UP when an elderly gent came to me and said, "Sir, maan gaye, aap hee ka channel hai jo na Mayawati ko na Mulayam ko chhodta hai!" And thank you to the IBN 7 newsroom for helping me improve my Hindi to the point where I could maybe anchor in Hindi one day!

And then to my friends in IBN Lokmat: you guys in many ways are the real rock stars. You overcame every challenge to build a channel of  substance. You created programming that won awards at the national level and stories that made the people of Maharashtra sit up. "Chala Jag Jinkuiya": you showed what the true spirit of journalism can do. My dream was that one day we would have similar quality channels in every Indian language: that dream must wait another day!

None of all this would have been possible without the freedom one enjoyed at Network 18. For that I am eternally grateful to the leadership. Above all, none of  this would have been possible without the professionalism that each and every one of  you has shown.

Television news is the ultimate TEAM game: I know the hard work that every one of  you put to build this network: from OB drivers and engineers from video editors to video journalists to the newsroom, each of  you deserve the highest acclaim for being there 24 x 7, through winter mornings and summer evenings.

Forget the cynics; journalism, my friends, is a great profession. Good journalism makes a genuine difference to the world by offering a mirror to society. Our stories have exposed corrupt netas and forced ministers to resign; we did stories that got jobs for the disabled, land to the landless, justice to acid attack victims.

Hell, we even pioneered the idea of citizen journalism and of  India Positive and Real Heroes to showcase an India that otherwise is lost in the noise of  breaking news.

Yes, putting news above noise, sense above sensation and credibility above chaos must remain a credo forever: else journalism will lose its moral compass.

I hope the new management will always put journalism first and I wish them well.

I don't want this note to be too long (editors takes can get awfully long-winded) so I shall end here. I shall leave you with a Hindi film song which I believe should be a life philosophy: Aadmi musafir hai, aata hai aur jaata hai, aate jaate raste pe apne yaadein chhod jaata hai.

I hope, in my own small way, I have touched you on life's journey; you guys certainly have made me a better person. I will treasure the memories of  what must be nine of  the best years of my professional life. As I move on, I have no doubt our paths will cross: the friendships and warmth will endure forever.

Thank you for the memories,


P.S. Am sorry if I would occasionally call at 3 in the morning. Blame it on being a news junkie. And remember, every time there is a spelling mistake on the ticker, my ghost will haunt you!

Friday, July 4, 2014

When will we stop using these cliches? Only time will tell.

I am obliged to Commits alumnus Deep Pal (Class of 2003) for sending me this link to a recent post on The Washington Post website:

150 journalism cliches — and counting

Read the more than 300 comments, too, to understand what other phrases, used and overused by journalists, really put off readers.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The best of journalistic virtues:

A serious engagement with serious things
A sense of fairness
An eye for injustice
A passion for explaining
Knowing how to achieve impact
A connection with readers
  • From Alan Rusbridger's essay, "Does Journalism Exist?", in a wonderful and fascinating book, Page One: Inside The New York Times and the Future of Journalism (edited by David Folkenflik), which puts journalism and one of the world's greatest newspapers front and centre. I have already placed a copy of the book in the Commits library. (Alan Rusbridger is the editor of the highly respected Guardian newspaper.)

  • I have now ordered the documentary on which the book is based. Take a look at the list of awards and award nominations for the documentary here. And here is a riveting feature from Slate on David Carr, "the star of Page One", the documentary. (Carr has also contributed an essay, "Print Is Dead. Long Live The New York Times", to Page One, the book.)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


TAPASYA MITRA MAZUMDER (Class of 2013) has just completed a year as a reporter with Bangalore Mirror. Here she tells us what she learnt during the course of her journey:

I am not here to tell you about the many methods you can use to write good stories; you have RP Sir for that. :-)

Instead, I am going to highlight the many lessons I learnt in the course of my journey and the mistakes I made, from which I hope you will be able to learn.


My chemistry teacher in school had once told us that fools learn from their own mistakes while the wise ones learn from other people’s mistakes. Well, I have been both foolish and wise in the past one year. In the course of gathering more than 250 bylines (including more than 30 Page 1 stories), I have learnt that they do not define my success. I consider myself successful because I have evolved for the better since I graduated from Commits and completed one whole year in my profession.

Remember one very important thing: You have to figure out how you are going to survive in this profession. It will take no time for the management to chuck you out if you are an underperformer. People have bad days at work. I have had bad weeks, and sometimes bad months. For me, it was a challenge to go about doing city-based stories without knowing the local language. On top of that, I do not have a beat, a specific area or subject to cover. But I turned that around to do stories from every beat, and so far I have written on education, science, technology, health, crime, and youth issues. I have also highlighted some very important issues that have gone on to become national stories.

Stories can jump at you from anywhere, so always be on the lookout. My first cover story with Bangalore Mirror was published four days after I joined and I got it from Facebook.

As RP Sir has always stressed, social media networks are often a good news source and I have produced stories based on what I read on Facebook, web feeds, WhatsApp messages, adverts on the back of autorickshaws, circulars posted on national websites, and even from comments on the micro-sites of some educational institutions.


But at this point I should warn you that it is not a good idea to warm the seat of your chair by “Facebooking” all day; go out in the field instead.

Which brings me to my next point: networking.

I get a kick from going out in the field and meeting people. It is the best part about my job, but I make sure they remember me too once the event we are attending is over. So I give everyone my card when I am attending, say, industrial conferences. One day I got a call from a person I had met at one such conference. He had called to tell me about a story and the next day the paper carried my article on Page 1.

But you have to be able to sift the grain from the chaff to know which items can be developed into newspaper articles and which ones are simply not worth pursuing. Initially, I would run to my boss for every small story I could grab but my effort would often get spiked. Over time, though, I learnt to distinguish between what readers would find interesting and relevant and useful and what they would ignore.

It is also very important to mention here that you need to know how to pitch a story to your boss. I have learnt now to highlight only what’s necessary and also point out sometimes what section of the paper it would be suitable for.

Now that you have pitched your story, learn to defend it. If you think it is a good one, make all-out efforts to persuade your bosses to see what you see in it. Don’t be disheartened if your idea is rejected; sooner or later you will learn why it wouldn’t have worked. I have sometimes fought heated and emotional battles with my boss over my story idea, but most times wit and tact will do.


I have a habit of writing lengthy pieces (as RP Sir will confirm) but the news desk staff, who edit my stories, have not complained. Their reasoning is that it is better to trim a long piece than try to chase the reporter for more information. I try to give them comprehensive stories that need to be adjusted for length.

I also never take the subs for granted by giving them shoddy copy which they will have to spend hours editing. Their job is to check the facts, not straighten out your poor grammar all the time. Have respect for what they do.

I want to add here that no journalism school, however high its standards, can replicate a newsroom nor can it provide the experience you need to survive in a profession that requires interacting every day with people, both colleagues and outsiders, so here I would like to roll out a few points.

Working in an office with almost 50 people and being the junior-most staff member, as I am, it is impossible to avoid getting involved in office politics or in so-called healthy banter. But know your limits and, without seeming too aloof, keep a safe distance from controversy. For example, if two senior colleagues are pulling each other’s legs in a sarcastic manner, it would be a good idea to quietly disappear from the scene.

Don’t ever involve colleagues in your personal life unless you trust them absolutely. The consequences of that can be dangerous.

At all times, watch your back because if you don’t, there will be no one to catch you when you fall.

P.S. Before I started writing this piece, I put together some points on a sticky note. That is a good practice to institute. Try it out yourself.