Tuesday, December 8, 2015

"Words. A child needs a forest of words to wander through, a sea of words to splash in. A child needs to be read to, and a child needs to read."


Words. A child needs a forest of words to wander through, a sea of words to splash in. A child needs to be read to, and a child needs to read.

Reading fuels the fires of intelligence and imagination, and if they don’t blaze well before elementary school, a child’s education — a child’s life — may be an endless game of catch-up.

“Kids who read more get better at reading, and because they are better at reading, it’s easier and more pleasurable so they read still more,” he [Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the author of Raising Kids Who Read] said. “And kids who read well don’t just do better in English class — it helps them in math, science and every other class, too.”

I’d go even further. Reading tugs them outside of themselves, connecting them to a wider world and filling it with wonder. It’s more than fundamental. It’s transformative.

Read the article in its entirety here: "The Gift of Reading".

Friday, December 4, 2015

No, my dear young lady, contrary to what your parents have told you, journalists are not "fanning the flames"

On November 25, I received this message on Facebook:


    All these reports pointing to increase in Hindu extremism. What is your take? My parents insist the media is fanning the flames but I can't believe it.

  • Ramesh Prabhu
    11/30, 1:45pm
    Ramesh Prabhu

    Many people, when they refer to the "media", they are, I think, referring primarily to TV news channels.

    Take the Aamir Khan episode, for example. If you were watching our 24-hour news channels the day after his comments were reported, you would think this episode was the most important news of the day. But that is the nature of the beast, as Rajdeep Sardesai described it during his talk at our seminar a few years ago.

    There were no flames being fanned. It's just that the debates, which become especially raucous on Arnab Goswami's prime-time show, gave the impression that the whole country was talking about this incident.

    By way of contrast, take a look at how two leading newspapers reported that same Aamir news item (see photo below). These are the front pages of The Times of India and The Hindu, which I was reading when on holiday in Yercaud last week.

  • 11/30, 1:49pm
    Ramesh Prabhu

    But, yes, there are problems and there are difficulties.

    Some of the issues that plague journalism today have existed for a long time, for example, the pressures brought upon editors and their staff by the owners.

    Some are new, like the MediaNet phenomenon introduced by The Times of India.

    Some challenges are specific to today social media has helped to amplify many issues, I believe, because it's so easy now to "shout from the rooftop" and be heard by all your "friends" and "followers".
  • Ramesh Prabhu
    11/30, 1:50pm
    Ramesh Prabhu

    Good training is part of the problem — do go through this article I wrote some time ago for a Pune-based magazine: "Media education: From course structure to quality of students, the challenges are immense"
  • Monday
  • 11/30, 8:05pm

    Thank you Ramesh sir for taking the time for an elaborate reply... Your reply puts a lot of things in perspective.

    A lot seems to have changed as far as Indian TV channels are concerned in the 10 years that I have been away. But again it's the same everywhere — the TV news in the States is very sensational too!
    I find myself on the other side of the Hindutva issue than the rest of my side of the family. And I get judged a lot but I guess that's par for the course!

    "Indian mainstream news media has a strong culture of protest"
    JUST TO GIVE MY READERS ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE, here are three points I have excerpted from a piece on the Aamir Khan episode published by The Hoot, a New Delhi-based site which was set up to scrutinise the media in India:

    First and foremost, Indian mainstream news media has a strong culture of protest, and we are lucky to have such a news media despite claims of creeping corporate control. The culture of protest is much stronger than what we see in western democracies....

    Second, the news culture in India suggests that any value-framing of good vs bad in a news story will privilege victims, and should. This is what we would expect from any news media that speaks truth to power....

    Three, despite this predisposition, most journalists try to be fair to all sides in political debate over policy....

    Read the article in its entirety here: "Aamir's 'alarm' and media bias".

Friday, November 20, 2015

This media student's answer to a question about "burglary, robbery, and theft" gives a whole new meaning to the word "misappropriate"

What is the difference between ‘burglary’, ‘robbery’, and ‘theft’?

(a) Burglary means forcible entry with intent to commit a crime.

(b) Robbery means stealing with force or threat of force.

(c) Theft means stealing without force or threat of force.

And then there is this:

Obviously, these are testing times for students... and teachers.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Even journalists seem to have trouble figuring out when to use "I" and when to use "me"

The other night, while reading the latest edition of the always interesting Mint Lounge, I came across this jarring sentence in the otherwise well-written column by Shoba Narayan:

My father walks down every day to visit my brother and I. 

Clearly, if the author's father was visiting only her, then she would not have written, "My father walks down every day to visit I."

It stands to reason therefore that the sentence should have read, "My father walks down every day to visit my brother and me."

I'm surprised no sub at Mint Lounge caught it.

Or, perhaps, I should not be surprised because I have heard this incorrect construction quite a few times when watching a TV show or a film, and even when listening to music. For example, there's a Cliff Richard song, whose title I can't remember now, that has a line ending with "you and I" when it should end with "you and me". It is possible, therefore, that this is a universal problem.

So, here, for the benefit of the confused souls out there, is a blog post from Merriam-Webster that explains, with examples, when to use "I" and when to use "me". Click here.

PS: I have another issue with this particular column. The strapline below the headline reads, "Why do we like poetry? And how do they get into our lives?" Surely that should read, "Why do we like poetry? And how does it get into our lives?"

Listen in as Rukmini Callimachi, the remarkable journalist who is tracking ISIS, talks about possibly the most difficult of media assignments

How on earth does she do it? Rukmini Callimachi, who began her freelance career in New Delhi with Time magazine and who now covers ISIS for The New York Times, has written some striking stories in the past year or so. Here are just a few:

ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape

From Amateur to Ruthless Jihadist in France

The Horror Before the Beheadings

Before she joined The New York Times, Callimachi was working as the Senegal-based West Africa bureau chief for The Associated Press. Her AP stories were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in the international reporting category last year. Check out those stories here.

Earlier this year, Callimachi was interviewed by Aaron Lammer on the Longform Podcast. I have been listening with fascination to the first part of this two-part interview, which has become especially relevant in the aftermath of last week's Paris attacks. From figuring out how to deal with sources to pondering the journalist-terrorist relationship, from asking the tough questions to taking on the trolls on Twitter  Callimachi discusses the many issues that journalists have to grapple with when reporting on one of the biggest stories of this era.

Listen to the interview here:
A word of advice: To better appreciate and understand what Aaron Lammer and Rukmini Callimachi are talking about, it helps to be well-informed and well-read. Here are a couple of the topics that you may like to bone up on before putting on those headphones:

The conflict in Mali

The strife in Libya

And, of course, you should also read Callimachi's stories, at least the three I have highlighted above.

PS: Rukmini Callimachi, according to Wikipedia, left Romania with her mother and grandmother when the country was being run by a communist regime. Her name "Rukmini" is derived from her family's closeness to Rukmini Devi Arundale, founder of Kalakshetra in Chennai.

Monday, November 16, 2015

"The last of the human freedoms — to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's way"

Some years ago, I read an eyeopener of a book titled Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl. I found it to be so inspirational I bought two copies for the Commits library. Today, while rearranging the books on the shelf in my cabin, I happened to pick it up again.

I remember being struck by one particular passage and I went hunting for it again:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's way.

And here, in an excerpt from the preface, is Frankl's take on success and happiness:

And so it is both strange and remarkable to me that — among some dozens of books I have authored — precisely this one, which I had intended to be published anonymously so that it could never build up any reputation on the part of the author, did become a success. Again and again I therefore admonish my students:

"Don't aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run — in the long run, I say! — success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it."

Here you can read the New York Times obituary of Viktor Frankl to learn more about the remarkable man and his little book that, at the time of his death in 1997, had been reprinted 73 times, translated into 24 languages, sold more than 10 million copies and was still being used as a text in high schools and universities: Psychiatrist of the Search for Meaning, Dies at 92.

Friday, November 13, 2015

How to use chat to initiate a refund from Amazon for an undelivered item


Message From Customer Service


Here's a copy of the chat transcript you requested:

Initial Question: Re: My Amazon order #402-2752557-1749161

I was informed six days ago that this item had been returned to the fulfillment centre by Aramex. I have two issues here:

1. When will I get my refund?

2. Aramex is unreliable. If I remember right, this is the second or third time that the Aramex courier has said my address "cannot be located". Every other courier company has delivered to this address for many years now without any problems.


03:45 PM IST Sangeetha(Amazon): Hello, my name is Sangeetha. I'll certainly try to help regarding your concern.

03:45 PM IST Ramesh Prabhu: Thank you, Sangeetha.

03:46 PM IST Sangeetha: Thank you for providing the order details.
Let me check the details for you.

03:46 PM IST Ramesh Prabhu: Sure. Thanks.

03:47 PM IST Sangeetha: Thank you for being on hold.

03:48 PM IST Sangeetha: I'm sorry that your order is not delivered to you.
I've forwarded your complaint about the third party couriers to our shipping department--I know they'll want to hear about your experience. I'll also be sure to pass your message on to the appropriate people in our company

03:49 PM IST Ramesh Prabhu: Thank you.

03:49 PM IST Sangeetha: As your order is returning to seller I'll refund the amount to you right away.
Please be on hold let me process the refund for you.

03:49 PM IST Ramesh Prabhu: Okay.

03:51 PM IST Sangeetha: Thank you for being on hold.
You can see your refund requests here - [redacted]

03:53 PM IST Ramesh Prabhu: Right. I checked my bank account yesterday -- the refund had not been processed.

03:53 PM IST Sangeetha: I've processed the refund for you now.

03:54 PM IST Sangeetha: This is the confirmation that I've processed the refund for you now and it will be credited to your account in 2-4 business days.

03:54 PM IST Ramesh Prabhu: Oh okay. Thank you.

03:54 PM IST Sangeetha: As I've initiated the refund and your bank takes 2-4 business days to credit to your account.

03:55 PM IST Ramesh Prabhu: But shouldn't the refund process have been processed automatically without my having to contact Amazon?

03:56 PM IST Sangeetha: Generally the refund will be processed automatically once the order reaches the our fulfillment centre and as you are the valid customer I've initiated the refund as your order is not delivered.

03:57 PM IST Sangeetha: Please do not worry I've forwarded your query to the concern department and make sure this may not happen in future again.

03:57 PM IST Ramesh Prabhu: Okay. Thank you. You have been very helpful. I have to leave now, so goodbye.

03:58 PM IST Sangeetha: It's my pleasure to assist a valuable customer like you.

You're welcome. Is there anything else I may help you with today?

03:58 PM IST Ramesh Prabhu: No, nothing else. Have a nice day!

03:58 PM IST Sangeetha: ​T​hank you for contacting Amazon. We hope to see you again soon.
Have a great day ahead!

Please click on the “End chat” button at the upper right corner of this window.

Thank you.

This email was sent from a notification-only address that cannot accept incoming email. Please do not reply to this message.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Why Jonathan Bach wants to be a journalist, come what may

Here is a relevant excerpt from a recent op-ed feature in The New York Times:

"...the best journalists connect with readers, viewers and listeners by being open-minded and compassionate. That’s one reason so many people remain in the profession..."

The piece, written by Héctor Tobar, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, focuses on the importance of journalism while highlighting the journalism ambitions of one of his students, Jonathan Bach.

Read the thought-provoking article in its entirety here: Who'd be a journalist?

Surely "etc." has no place in a news report?

Here is a portion of a badly written press release (something I made up for a news-writing exercise at Commits):

The ten categories at the Ibda'a awards (Ibda'a means 'creativity in the Arabic language) were print journalism, print advertising, radio feature, television documentary, television advertising, animation, graphic design, analogue photography, digital photography and film feature, and students from many countries sent entries, including the US, Egypt, the UAE, South Africa, the UK, etc.

There are many things wrong with it, not the least of which is that abbreviation at the end. Journalists would not use "etc" in a news story because that could imply that they do not have all the necessary information at hand. And surely no reader likes to think that their newspaper has published an incomplete report.

But a case could be made for using "etc." for emphasis, for effect. As in this excerpt from a New York Times book review:

Sometimes reading the book feels like being trapped in a particularly dull town hall meeting — as on the ­pages that ­bullet-point Hillary’s accomplishments as secretary of state or the achievements of the Clinton Foundation: “More than 33,500 tons of greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced annually,” etc., etc. Sometimes it reads like a generic ad designed to introduce a political newbie: Hillary is “a woman with a steadfast commitment to public service, a clear political vision and a deep well of personal integrity.” Or the version that might fit on a bumper sticker: “America is so ready for Hillary,” because “she is so ready to lead.”

In the paragraph reproduced above, "etc." has been used (twice in succession) to convey to the reader that "this is all so much fluff". It works here, but I can't see it working in a regular news story. Can you?

Now, here, in the same vein, is an excerpt from the footnotes to a profile of Roger Federer by David Foster Wallace in Play magazine, which used to be published by The New York Times (this piece dates from August 20, 2006):

There are wonderful things about having a body, too, obviously — it’s just that these things are much harder to feel and appreciate in real time. Rather like certain kinds of rare, peak-type sensuous epiphanies (“I’m so glad I have eyes to see this sunrise!” etc.), great athletes seem to catalyze our awareness of how glorious it is to touch and perceive, move through space, interact with matter.

As for that badly written press release right at the beginning, here's an acceptable version:

Entries for the Ibda’a Awards, named after the Arabic word for creativity, were submitted by students from many countries, including the US, the UK, South Africa, Egypt and the UAE. The 10 categories this year were print journalism, print advertising, radio feature, television documentary, television advertising, animation, graphic design, analogue photography, digital photography and film feature.

Not an "etc." in sight.

Give me full names (at first reference), please

It is important to give full names (at first reference) in a news story. Or isn't it?

I have some difficulty in persuading a few of my students that journalistic pieces should contain the full names of people mentioned in the report. So here, for these students and for those who are interested in such matters (if you want to be a journalist, you should be interested), are examples of news reports with full names and examples of stories that have used only one name for valid reasons:

1. A New York Times report from Kabul uses full names at first reference throughout, except in the 23rd paragraph when it uses a quote from a particular university lecturer — see below:
“The main problem is that some people in our city are Taliban and some are local police,” said Sighbatullah, 25, an agronomy lecturer at Kunduz University, who like many Afghans uses just one name.

2. And here's an illustration from a recent issue of Bloomberg Businessweek:

3. In this story in Mint, the reporter gives us only one name for a source, but we get an explanation for this in parentheses. Take a look:

4. Now here's another example from The New York Times, this one a news feature about how San Francisco is changing the nature of AIDS treatment:

It wasn’t his first broken condom, so Rafael didn’t worry. But three weeks later, the man he’d met in a bar called to say that he had “probably been exposed” to H.I.V.

Rafael, a muscular, affable 43-year-old, went to a clinic and within 45 minutes learned he was infected. Although it was already closing time, a counselor saw him immediately and offered him a doctor’s appointment the next day.

At Ward 86, the famous H.I.V. unit at San Francisco General Hospital, the doctor handed him pills for five days and a prescription for more. Because he was between jobs, she introduced him to a counselor who helped him file for public health insurance covering his $30,000-a-year treatment.

“They were very reassuring and very helpful,” said Rafael, who, like several other men interviewed for this article, spoke on condition that only his first name be used to protect his privacy. “They gave me the beautiful opportunity to just concentrate on my health.”

In the intro, we get only one name. And why we get one name we are told only in the fourth paragraph. That makes sense, if you think about it. The structure and the flow of the story would be badly affected if the intro was written to include that explanation:

It wasn’t his first broken condom, so Rafael, who, like several other men interviewed for this article, spoke on condition that only his first name be used to protect his privacy, didn’t worry. But three weeks later, the man he’d met in a bar called to say that he had “probably been exposed” to H.I.V.

See what I mean?

So, give me full names (at first reference), please.

Why ad guru Piyush Pandey cried, along with his clients

An excerpt from a thoroughly entertaining and enlightening book I finished reading in just a few hours on Tuesday:

It was in the early 2000s that Ogilvy's Thought Leader, Madhukar Sabnavis, and his team, along with the Asian Paints marketing team, came to me with a new insight. They said that the focus of the consumer is on pride in their house, and paint is only an expression of that. This ground reality gave me the licence to fly when I wrote, 'Har ghar kuch kehta hai' (Every home has something to say).

I still remember having written that emotional piece on my pad — one shot, no change of word or punctuation. I read it to myself and cried.

I called up the clients, K.B.S. Anand and Amit Singhal, and said, 'Drop everything you're doing and come straight to my office.'

They arrived within an hour. I read out that piece. And this time all three of us cried. We knew we were about to take a flight together.

There are a couple of other instances in the book when Piyush Pandey talks about tearing up over ad copy. And there are many, many examples he gives us of the terrrific concepts he has come up with over the years for ads that continue to be fresh in our memories. What a great learning experience this book is for anyone interested in media! Get hold of Pandeymonium now. Commitscions: A copy has been placed in the Commits library.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

You can learn so much from listening to these fascinating podcasts

If you're an aspiring media student or a young journalist or a writer-in-the making, there are few better ways of learning the craft of non-fiction than by hearing from the experts how they did what they did. In this respect, the Longoform podcasts are an invaluable tool.

Here, just for starters, are 10 podcasts I have  listened to (some more than once) and enjoyed thoroughly:

1. Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of The New York Times

2. Alexis Okeowo, a foreign correspondent, has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and Businessweek. Recently wrote about Boko Haram

3. Rukmini Callimachi, covers ISIS for The New York Times

4. Tim Ferriss, productivity expert and author of The Four-Hour Workweek and The Four-Hour Body

5. Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, which was made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon, and Tiny Beautiful Things

6. S.L. Price, senior editor at Sports Illustrated. He has written in his book, A Far Field, about his experience of covering the India-Pakistan cricket series

7. Carol Loomis, who retired last summer after covering business for 60 years at Fortune magazine. She continues to edit Warren Buffett's annual report

8. Ian Urbina, an investigative reporter for The New York Times, who recently published "The Outlaw Ocean," a four-part series on crime in international waters

9. Stephen J. Dubner is the co-author, with Steven D. Levitt, of Freakonomics. Their latest book, When to Rob a Bank, came out in May

10. Ashlee Vance covers technology for Bloomberg Businessweek and is the author of Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future 

What can we learn from listening to these podcasts?

  • What it means to be a journalist/writer/reporter/editor/author
  • How to deal with the issues that come up in the course of work
  • How to conduct interviews
  • How to ask probing questions, to listen to the answers and ask follow-up questions
  • How to articulate your thoughts
  • What you have to do to succeed in your chosen field
As of the time of writing, there were 164 podcasts in the Longform archive. So after you are done listening to the 10 listed above, go ahead and wade right in.

UPDATE (November 5, 2015): To understand better the craft of journalistic interviewing, listen to this podcast with the New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir, whose expose of worker exploitation in New York's nail salons was one of the newspaper's biggest stories in recent times. Maslin Nir worked for 13 months over her story, which was then published in two parts earlier this year. You can read the stories here:

And you can listen to the podcast interview with Maslin Nir here: #142.

UPDATE (November 6, 2015): I have just finished listening to an eye-opening interview with Anand Gopal, who gave up a planned career in physics to go to Afghanistan to write about the situation there. Why Gopal did it and, perhaps more compelling for aspiring journalists, how he did it composes the bulk of his conversation with Aaron Lammer of Longform Podcasts. Listen to the podcast here: #125.

PS: I have aready ordered the book Anand Gopal wrote about his experiences in Afghanistan: No Good Men among the Living.
  • Here you can read an interview with Aaron Lammer and learn how he and his partner Max Linsky went about building the highly popular site: The Art of Podcasting.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Why American writer Dinty Moore is all praise for Indian speakers and writers of English

I have been reading an interesting and highly original book (pictured) by author, editor, and writing coach Dinty Moore.

Moore writes with humour and with intelligence. Here's the first paragraph from the introduction:

"Perhaps you are standing in the bookstore, scanning this introductory chapter, wondering just what sort of book you have in hand. You are a good-looking person whose minor flaws seem to only accentuate your considerable charm. You are intelligent. And immune to flattery."

So yes, Moore writes with humour and with intelligence. But we all make mistakes and I thought Moore made one on Page 18 in a four-page essay dedicated to teaching readers how to use an "em dash". So I wrote an e-mail to him on Sunday night.

Subject: A question regarding the em dash as used in your book, "Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy"
Hello Dinty,

This is Ramesh Prabhu in Bangalore, India.

I am a good-looking person whose minor flaws seem to only accentuate my considerable charm. I am intelligent. And immune to flattery.

In other words, I have bought a copy of your book.

Now that I have got that out of the way, let's get down to the nitty-gritty.

On Page 18 of your book, in the essay regarding Cheryl Strayed's letter to you about her love affair with the em dash, you give us this example of how to use this particular punctuation mark:

I have three goals for my day—measure an "n" and an "m", memorize the width of the two letters, and look up "obsessive disorders" on Wikipedia.

My understanding is that a colon, not a dash (em or en) should be used to introduce a list. So don't you think you should have used a colon instead of the em dash in that sentence?

I have three goals for my day: measure an "n" and an "m", memorize the width of the two letters, and look up "obsessive disorders" on Wikipedia.

I am a journalist turned journalism professor. I have been teaching journalism since April 2003 at a media college in Bangalore. My students and I hope to hear from you soon.



And here's Moore's reply: 

Subject: Re: A question regarding the em dash as used in your book, "Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy"

I think you are correct.  I also think that, in general, Indian speakers and writers of English are far more precise and correct than the British are nowadays.  And for sure, you are better at this than we Americans, who tend to be immensely sloppy, informal, and inconsistent. Thanks to you and your students for the correction.



An e-mail interaction with The New York Times In 8 minutes, a response from The New York Times to my e-mail pointing out a typo in a headline

An e-mail interaction with author Mardy Grothe —  It all depends on the telling, sure. But surely who does the telling matters?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

10 interesting — and relevant — articles to inspire media professionals, especially young journalists and journalism aspirants

1. "The best farewell address by a journalist":

‘At The [NY] Times, you can imagine yourself making journalism that changes the world’
  • "This so inspiring," wrote Commitscion Barkha Joshi (Class of 2016) on my Facebook wall soon after I posted this link yesterday.
2. Taking magazine cover design to new heights:

How they did it: "Behind the Making of Our Walking New York Cover"

3. An essay adapted from Tales from the Great Disruption: Insights and Lessons from Journalism’s Technological Transformation, by Michael Shapiro, Anna Hiatt, and Mike Hoyt:

"The Value of News"

An excerpt:
... I can think of no better distillation of what exists at the heart of the relationship between journalism and its audiences than the phrase that Lisa Gubernick, a wonderful journalist at Forbes and the Journal, used to open every single conversation, professional and personal. She would ask, “What’s new and interesting?”

4. Journalists talk about what is perhaps their greatest fear:

"Fear of screwing up"

An excerpt:
To be a journalist, you have to be afraid. Fear makes you triple-check your work. It makes you sharper, faster, more focused. It wakes you up in the middle of the night, or drops in unexpectedly at that party or dinner. Fear demands that you be absolutely sure you want to say every little thing you’re saying. 

"I have enough fear to do my job well. Brilliant article," wrote Commitscion Abira Banerjee (Class of 2015) on my Facebook wall the day after I posted this link.

5. Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron on journalism’s transition from print to digital:


6. Rolling Stone magazine and the controversial university rape article:

Do scandals like Rolling Stone’s do lasting damage to journalism?

An excerpt:
While many agreed Rolling Stone’s failure harmed the media’s reputation, they also said it and the industry could repair the damage. The larger threats to journalism, many of them added, are more gradual systemic changes, from the implosion of business models to false balance in public “controversies.”

7. "A year after the firings of two top women editors, four journalism leaders discuss the challenges of editing while female."

"Can you think about rising?"

8. "Many writers are fond of semicolons; we use them a lot; even when we shouldn’t; and we often don’t know how to use them. (One clue: not the way we just did.)"

"To semicolon, or not to semicolon"

9. A well-deserved tribute to veteran journalist P. Sainath and his team:

"Documenting India's Villages Before They Vanish"

An excerpt:
So far, Sainath has recruited more than 1,000 volunteers for the archive project, ranging from 30-year veterans of the journalism business to software engineers who’ve written nary a word. They’ve documented some fascinating characters. One of them is a 73-year-old librarian who manages a trove of 170 classics, mostly translations of Russian masters, in a tiny forest village frequented by wild elephants.

Also read: A savvy, must-watch documentary on the peerless P. Sainath

10. "Copy-editing can be a great job. I’ve always been grateful for the work and especially for the people I’ve met, copy editors, fact checkers, editors, and writers alike."

"Workers of the word, unite"

Friday, April 10, 2015

All hail the Comma Queen!

When a copy editor of the Salon e-zine chats up the copy editor of New Yorker magazine who also happens to have published a book about her profession, what results is an interview that puts the spotlight on a vital job: editing.

Here is a sample Q&A: 

Q: Schools are teaching grammar a lot less and relying on technology and word processing programmes to “teach” it by default, pointing out grammar mistakes. Do you think this, not to mention texting and tweeting, will have a significant effect on the grammar and spelling of future adults? 

A: That’s not a very nice way to learn, just by having your mistakes pointed out. But there are fun ways to do it: “Schoolhouse Rock,” for instance, and pop music. Lately, Weird Al Yankovic has been singing about grammar and usage. Texting and tweeting shouldn’t really affect grammar, though spell-check programmes and autocorrect will have an effect on spelling. I believe that the only way to learn English grammar is to study a foreign language.


Q: Your profanity chapter is full of hilarious examples of language writers are competing to get into the magazine. One piece by Ben McGrath debuted “bros before hos” in the New Yorker, creating a spelling dilemma with “hos”—hmm, I see that Webster’s gives the plural of “ho” as either “hos” or “hoes.” Where do you turn if it’s not in the dictionaries of record? 

A: When a word is not in Webster’s or Random House, I will look online. There are many dictionaries of slang, but you have to choose your source carefully. One of our sources is the New York Times, but of course it’s no good for profanity! One feels so silly looking up “jism,” say (though there are variant spellings), and even sillier querying it. You try to find a respectable source for the profanity, and it is a bit of a challenge. Rap lyrics, especially.

Read this fascinating feature in its entirety here: New Yorker copyeditor dishes on the wacky side of her (quite dignified) job: “One feels so silly looking up [profanity]” 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Make social media work for you (not against you)"

What I have been telling my students for many years now: "Recruiters are looking at your social media posts."

Here, writing in Mint, Infancia Cardozo explains how you can ensure that potential employers like what they see and how to improve your hireability.

 Read this instructive and enlightening article in its entirety here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Media Matters-10: What to read, especially if you want to understand the media (Second and final part of a two-part series)

This was published on the Education Page of Dubai's Khaleej Times today:


This is the second and final part of a two-part series

By Ramesh Prabhu

In “Media Matters” on February 24, I introduced you to Krishna Prasad, the editor in chief of Outlook, and his list of recommended reads. In that column we covered two categories: “Fiction” as well as “Style and Writing Guides”. Today we will cover the remaining five categories.

I have had to trim the original list for reasons of space, as well as to add some books which I have found to be especially useful and some books which became available only recently. My choices are marked by the prefix “RP”. If you would like to go through the list Krishna Prasad gave me, here’s the link: What To Read.

The best way of learning journalism is to think and act like a journalist. And one sure way of doing so is to find time to go through some of the compilations of great journalism. Not only will you get an idea of what was done by journalists before you, but you also get to read and update your knowledge about events, people, and places in history.

1. The Faber Book of Reportage, edited by John Carey
2. The Granta Book of Reportage
3. The New Journalism, edited by Tom Wolfe and E.W. Johnson
4. The Penguin Book of Columnists
5. (RP) Making News, Breaking News, Her Own Way: Stories by Winners of the Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Women Mediapersons, edited by Lathika Padgaonkar and Shubha Singh
6. (RP) The Paris Review Interviews, Vols I, II, III
7. (RP) Global Muckraking: 100 Years of Investigative Journalism from Around the World, edited by Anya Schiffrin
8. (RP) The Best American Magazine Writing 2014, edited by Sid Holt for the American Society of Magazine Editors
9. (RP) Journalistas: 100 Years of the Best Writing and Reporting by Women Journalists, edited by Eleanor Mills and Kira Cochrane
10. (RP) Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns, edited by John Avlon, Jesse Angelo, and Errol Louis
11. (RP) Time: 85 Years of Great Writing, edited by Christopher Porterfield
12. (RP) Telling True Stories, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call
13. (RP) Writing a Nation: An Anthology of Indian Journalism, edited by Nirmala Lakshman
14. (RP) Breaking the Big Story: Great Moments in Indian Journalism, edited by B.G. Verghese
25. (RP) Foreign Correspondent: Fifty Years of Reporting on South Asia, edited by Simon Denyer, John Elliott, and Bernard Imhasly
This is a sure-shot way of learning how journalism works and how journalists work. The very best people in the business have put it all down on a platter for young journalists and you would be foolish not to partake of a great feast.

1. A Good Life, by Ben Bradlee, the executive editor who turned The Washington Post around
2. Good Times, Bad Times, by Harold Evans, the pioneering editor of The Sunday Times
3. A Personal History, by Katherine Graham, the publisher who oversaw the Watergate exposé
4. (RP) Lucknow Boy, by Vinod Mehta
5. (RP) Editor Unplugged, by Vinod Mehta
6. (RP) News from No Man’s Land, by John Simpson, the famed BBC TV journalist
7. (RP) Remembering Mr Shawn’s New Yorker: The Invisible Art of Editing, by Ved Mehta
8. (RP) Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival, by Anderson Cooper of CNN

Another great way of learning more about our business. There are two you must try to read. The first is Paper Tigers, by Nicholas Coleridge, in which he profiles some of the world’s great publishers, including three from India: Samir Jain of The Times of India, Aveek Sarkar of the Ananda Bazaar Patrika group, and Ramnath Goenka, the feisty founder of The Indian Express. And the second is my all-time favourite: The Years with Ross, by James Thurber, in which he profiles the eccentric founder-editor of The New Yorker, Harold Ross.

Most great journalists have published collections of their stand-out work. And the books by some of the very best are always at my bedside.

1. Essays, by George Orwell, unquestionably the most vibrant columnist of the 20th century
2. The Best of Plimpton, by George Plimpton, the pioneer of participatory journalism
3. (RP) Frank Sinatra Has a Cold and Other Essays, by Gay Talese
4. (RP) Interviews with History and Power, by Oriana Fallaci
5. (RP) Anticipating India, by Shekhar Gupta, former editor of The Indian Express
6. (RP) Journalism, by Joe Sacco, the pioneer of comics journalism

Some books by journalists have become classics: Hiroshima, by John Hersey, a sterling account of the victims of the nuclear bombing; In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, a reconstruction of a serial killing in Kansas; The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, on the horrific conditions in the American meat packing industry. But my own personal favourite is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson, a drugged-out, tripped-out modern classic by the Father of Gonzo Journalism.

 (RP) My must-reads in this category:
1. All the President’s Men: The Greatest Reporting Story of all Time, by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
2. Heat and Light: Advice for the Next Generation of Journalists, by Mike Wallace and Beth Knobel
3. Hard News, by Seth Mnookin
4. Everybody Loves a Good Drought: Stories from India’s Poorest Districts, by P. Sainath
5. Page One: Inside the New York Times and the Future of Journalism, edited by David Folkenflik

THINK ABOUT IT: “A reporter's life, by God, it’s an absolutely wonderful life. Somebody’s paying the bill to educate you — to send you around the world, if you prove worthy.” — Legendary American TV news anchor Mike Wallace

·        Ramesh Prabhu is professor of journalism at Commits Institute of Journalism & Mass Communication, Bangalore. Commits offers a full-time two-year MA degree course.
·        “Media Matters” welcomes questions from readers who would like to know more about careers in journalism. Please send in your queries to