Friday, February 26, 2016

Why you should listen to this spellbinding podcast interview with the mother of one of the Columbine shooters

On April 20, 1999, when Sue Klebold heard about a shooting incident at Columbine High School, her thoughts immediately turned to her 17-year-old son, Dylan, who was a senior there.

"In the very beginning, I didn't know what to think," Sue tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross [in this podcast interview]. "I was aware that there was a shooting incident occurring at the school. I didn't know if Dylan was in danger, if someone was trying to shoot him, if he was doing something."

Gradually the truth emerged: Dylan and his friend, 18-year-old Eric Harris, had gone on a shooting rampage at the school, murdering 13 people and injuring 24 others before killing themselves.

If you're a media student and if you aspire to become a journalist, here are six reasons why you should listen to this interview:

  1. To understand how to ask questions
  2. To understand how to listen to the responses and ask follow-up questions
  3. To understand  in this case  what questions to ask a woman whose son and a friend shot dead 12 students and a teacher and then killed themselves
  4. To understand the importance of diction and intonation
  5. To understand what it means to be a popular radio host
  6. To understand what works on radio  if you're a media student it is quite likely that the production of a radio feature is part of your course curriculum (as it is at Commits)

So go on over to the NPR website and pay careful attention to how Fresh Air's Terry Gross conducts this interview (recorded earlier this month to coincide with the launch of a book written by Sue Klebold): "Columbine Shooter's Mother: I Carry Him 'Everywhere I Go, Always'".

You can also read a transcript of the interview here. If you have learnt how to "write to pictures" (TV news scripting), reading this transcript will give you a good insight into how "radio copy" works.

Speaking of radio copy, you should also read the transcript of a wonderfully descriptive podcast review on Fresh Air of singer-songwriter Sia's latest studio album, "This Is Acting", by rock critic Ken Tucker. Study the structure: Intro by host David Bianculli... SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNSTOPPABLE"... Beginning of review by Tucker... SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIRD SET FREE"... Tucker again... and so on till the end.

You can read the transcript as well as listen to the review here: "Sia Reclaims Songs She Wrote For Others On 'This Is Acting'"

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Golden words of advice for journalism students

Earlier this month Commits student Sudeshna Dutta (Class of 2017) began publishing her blog, Journalism 101. Her first post is titled "Why I want to be a journalist".

Already the post has attracted comments. The feedback (see below) offered by three veteran journalists is especially worth noting for the frank evaluation of Sudeshna's aspirations and for the advice that is sure to be valuable for every young person out there who is keen to be a journalist:

Former executive editor of Khaleej Times, Dubai

Dear Sudeshna,

(A few thoughts from a vet, all my very own.)

Enthusiasm. Check. Passion for reading. Check. Writing skill: Check, but could do with a bit more sharpening that will come with experience. (My editors would often tear up my first submission and ask me to write it again, and again, till I got it perfect!)

Welcome to the world of journalism.

The thirst for news has never been greater, the news-gathering tougher, and the competition stiffer. So get ready for a rocky ride, but I promise you it will be one you will enjoy. And cherish.

Sudeshna, you’ve learned the ropes and honed the basic skills of news-gathering and dissemination. It’s time now to put what you’ve been taught to practice and I’m quite sure you can do it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

When I started out way back in the early seventies, it was said journalists were jacks of all trades, masters of none. Few had the privilege to specialise in a particular beat. Today, the approach to knowledge-based journalism (which is quite different from basic beat reporting) is more demanding. You need to specialise. At least that’s what I think. If it’s investigative reporting, then you need to be the best investigative reporter and work towards it. Be confident, work hard, and you will hit mother lode.

A WORD OF ADVICE: Read, read, and then read some more. I cannot emphasise this enough. Look at issues with many eyes, always do your homework before you go out on those deadline-driven assignments, AND don’t ever be afraid to ask questions or question someone.

I wish you the very best as you take the plunge. Feel the pain, bask in the glory. Enjoy the craft…. And the ride.

Editor, Desi News and CanadaBound Immigrant, Toronto

Full disclosure: I love hearing about/from young people who want to become journalists, and so I am already sold on your dream. For I have always believed that journalism is a vocation, much like medicine. While anyone can get the marks (if they try hard enough) to make it to med school, a mere degree does not a doctor make. It takes passion and the drive to go above and beyond. The same qualities that distinguish a true journalist from a hack.

Your passion has led you to the right place to learn the craft. Honing it is something only you can do. From the books on varied subjects that you have listed, I can see that you have followed the advice of your journalism professor. It is truly the best advice. Read everything you can lay your hands on. Even the bad ones teach you something – how not to write!

I do have to add a cautionary note, though. Journalism is not all glamour and adventure. There’s a lot of grunt work involved, too. A lot of plodding through material to research the background, to get the details right, to uncover the unexpected angle. A lot of rewrites to finesse your work. Well before you get the 3 am call, you’ll be up nights, fighting to meet deadlines.

That said, I can also assure you that you’ll have so much fun doing it, you’ll never “work” a day. You’ll meet the most amazing people from all walks of life and have the privilege of telling their stories. Every day will bring a new story idea, the opportunity to make a difference.

I wish you all success. I am sure you will make your mark and your journalism professor proud.

Former reporter and columnist, Khaleej Times, Dubai, and Gulf Daily News, Bahrain

Dear Sudeshna:


As a journalist who has never regretted becoming one and enjoyed every single moment of being one, I can assure you that you have made a remarkable career choice.

My love affair with journalism started when I was in Standard VIII when we had to write an essay on our career choice. My mother advised me to consider journalism noting "you like to read, have a flair for writing and you are always curious about everything". That was an astute observation.

Curiosity is what underpins great news stories, if you have that you will never be short of story ideas.
Just writing well is not enough, you have to develop a "nose for news".

Fact checking is also extremely important. Remember what you are told in journalism class – "When in doubt, leave it out" – I can’t emphasise this enough.

Patrick and Shagorika have covered all other relevant points. I wish to repeat one of them: "Keep an open unbiased mind". It is harder than you think, we are all humans after all, but you have to try your best to do so.

You are launching from a strong base – a reputed institution such as Commits and the best mentor a student can dream of in Ramesh.

So belt up and enjoy the journey with all our best wishes.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Barkha Dutt's This Unquiet Land: Such an important book...

...especially for media students, and especially for those who want to become television journalists.

When I brought a copy to the college today, Sreya Chatterjee (Class of 2017), whose ambition is to become a TV reporter, immediately called dibs on the book and made me promise to give it to her first. And as soon as she got her hands on it, she began reading it, giving me regular updates. "This is so amazing," she told me five minutes into the book. When we met again a little later, she was still raving about Barkha Dutt's writing: "That line about journalism and the anticipation of adventure. I just loved it."

So naturally I asked her to give me her first impressions in some detail. Here's what she had to say after reading just a few pages of This Unquiet Land:

Every aspiring journalist should read This Unquiet Land, especially if you have that fire in your belly. On Page 11, Barkha Dutt writes, "The anticipation of adventure is one of journalism's many blessings in my life." That is so true for people who get bored very easily. And I am one of those people.

A journalist's life can never be boring  that is what I believe. There might be days when things won't work out; days when you think you should have taken up a bank job instead. But the idea is to never give up. When you're feeling low, what better inspiration than Barkha Dutt? All you have to do is picture one of the country's best-known journalists clambering onto the the bonnet of a car — in the line of duty — and then climbing up to the vehicle's roof and parking herself there just to get a sound bite from a man the authorities were shielding from the media. As she tells it, the car began moving, albeit slowly, but she refused to get off. And seeing that it would be impossible to dislodge her without harming her, the officials gave in and let her have her bite. As our journalism professor never tires of telling us, "Persistence, persistence, persistence."

One more thing: If you're a feminist, as I am, then that is another reason to read this book. There's so much in This Unquiet Land, with regard to a woman's place in our society, that I can identify with and appreciate.

Thank you, Barkha Dutt, for this wonderful book.