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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Media Matters-7: Good readers make good media professionals

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


GOOD READERS MAKE
GOOD MEDIA PROFESSIONALS

By Ramesh Prabhu

Everyone who knows me knows how crazy I am about books.

I have been reading books since I was five or six years old. And like many of my generation I began with Enid Blyton’s children’s stories and progressed rapidly to the thrillers and crime novels of Alistair Maclean, Arthur Hailey, Desmond Bagley, James Hadley Chase, and Agatha Christie. Along the way I discovered that sublime humorist, P.G. Wodehouse.

I have bought a lot of books in my time. In fact, books call out to me (I think), which is why I have many books at home that I have bought but not yet found time to read.

I also buy books intuitively. To give you an example, five works of non-fiction that occupy the pride of place on my bookshelves — Here At The New Yorker; Remembering Mr. Shawn's New Yorker: The Invisible Art Of Editing; Just Enough Liebling; How About Never — Is Never Good for You?; and The Gang That Wouldn't Write Straight — were purchased because they have a connection to one of my all-time favourite magazines, The New Yorker, and because they are about writing, about journalism.

I often employ a similar approach when buying fiction. Once, after having read and enjoyed Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell, I brought home the whole series — nine books featuring the iconic Inspector Kurt Wallander. And when a new Wallander was released recently, I bought that one too.

I believe you are what you read. I also believe you have to be a good reader if you want to be a good writer. So at Commits, I am always trying to get my students to read the wonderful books I have helped to stock in the college library. I also lend books from my collection. And many students seem to like the books I recommend. That is why I was especially pleased to receive this e-mail one day from an ex-student, Sumith Sagar (Class of 2009; pictured below):

I wanted to tell you that I have started reading books earnestly. :) Reading has become a serious activity now. I read all kinds of books — economics, management-related, novels, short stories, and many more — in both English and Kannada.
   
I wanted to thank you for making me read the first book of my life. I still remember the day you gave me that book: The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold. Frankly, I did not understand much when I read it. But then you had the patience to sit with me and ask what I liked and did not like about it.
   
And I can never forget Tuesdays with Morrie, one of my favourites. I must thank you for giving me that book because bad books can make one stop reading completely but you kept it going by giving me exactly what I wanted to read.
   
You might be thinking, “Why is Sumith writing about this to me now?” There is a reason. I came across an article which made me remember you (that does not mean I do not remember you otherwise) because it was you who made me read books. I would like to share that article with you and let you know how happy I am to have read that first book given by you.
   
Here is the link: “My Father’s Son”.
   
We will discuss the books I read when I come to college next.
   
Thank you once again, Sir.

“My Father’s Son” is veteran journalist Prem Panicker’s account of how he happened to fall passionately in love with reading. The post is also a Father’s Day tribute by a grateful son. Here’s an excerpt:

“Several times, in course of my twenty-odd years as a journalist, I have had people write in and tell me that they thought a particular article I had just written was well expressed, or passionately written, whatever.

“And, each time, my mind would flash back to my father. To how he taught me to read and, in the process, inculcated in me a love for words and for writing. And in my heart, I would feel an immense gratitude for that moment in time when he locked up all my beloved comics and left Doctor Sally [one of P.G. Wodehouse’s great comic novels] on the living room table.”

“My Father’s Son” is a treat to read. And it is also a pleasing paean to the power of reading.

BIBLIOPHILE: AJAY U. PAI
Sadly, book-lovers, according to my young nephew and fellow bibliophile, Ajay U. Pai, are labelled “nerds” or “bookworms”. He told me once that Generation Next is drifting away from the dreamland created by books. “Nowadays no one wants to read and be termed a nerd and humiliated in class,” he lamented. “Can we ever reverse this trend and live happily ever after in our world of books? Is this possible?”

Yes, it is possible. I know many young people who find reading a strain, or worse, a bore. That is probably because no one encouraged them to read when they were children, and when they were growing up there was little incentive to spend time on books given the distractions of the computer, video-game, smartphone, and television (distractions that did not exist when I was a child).

But I have found that people who are averse to reading even in their twenties get to love books once they realise that reading can make a difference to their lives and careers.

We learn from my student Sumith Sagar’s experience that it is never too late to begin reading books.

MASTER: STEPHEN KING
Clearly, if you want to be a good media professional, your writing skills will be crucial to your success.

Now here is master storyteller Stephen King, in the brilliant On Writing, stressing the importance of reading and the connection between reading and writing:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

And here’s James Ellroy, the author of L.A. Confidential and other bestselling crime novels, on the same subject in a Q&A published in Time magazine. He was asked how he had acquired the knack for writing such colourful lingo. His answer (in part):

“I spent my early life reading, reading, reading, reading, reading, and reading.”

LIVELY: JAMES ELLROY
Ellroy was also asked if people are born good writers. His answer (in full):

“No. You have to read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, and read. As you read, unconsciously you assimilate the rudiments of style and technique. And when it comes time for a person to begin to seriously write, they either have it, or they don’t.”

I have been saying something in similar vein to my students, but Stephen King and James Ellroy have put it much better than I ever could. While both are referring to the writing of fiction, I believe what they say applies to all forms of writing, and that is what I emphasise in my journalism class.

Which brings me to the question that bothers me big-time: Why do so many young people give short shrift to reading?

Many youngsters today want a career in media. That really makes me happy. However, for the life of me I can’t figure out how someone who doesn’t like reading can become a good journalist.

If you don’t want to be a journalist, I have no quarrel with that. But I also believe that if you can think and write like a journalist, you can succeed in any media field. Which is what I tell every batch at Commits. And if you want to write and think like a journalist, close reading is vital. A devotion to words is essential. A love of books is fundamental. Reading should be like breathing. Then the writing will follow. And it will flow. Unhesitatingly.  Copiously. Gracefully.

If I were a betting man, I would stake my entire library on it.

THINK ABOUT IT: “Reading usually precedes writing. And the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer.” ― Susan Sontag, American writer and filmmaker, teacher and political activist

BOOKED FOR LIFE: If you want to be a good media professional, you must make time to read. (Main picture: Shweta Ganesh Kumar, author and former television journalist now based in Manila, photographed by her husband, Sagar Rajgopal, while on vacation in Myanmar.)
  • Coming up in the next installment of “Media Matters”: How reading non-fiction pays dividends
·        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 education@khaleejtimes.com.


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