Monday, May 1, 2017

Exploring the Northeast: my travel blog


Manipur: Floating islands, navigating a "phumdi", a tribute to the fallen, mythical dragons, a live concert... click here.


Assam: Rhinos, rustic chic, the world's biggest river island, traditional dances, tribal culture, a dinner cruise on the mighty Brahmaputra... click here.


Meghalaya: Living Root Bridge, Asia's cleanest village, the wettest place on earth, Mawsmai Cave... click here.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

How grit can make you successful in your career

How important is the grit factor? Grit, defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals, isn't something you are born with. It can be learned. Here's how:


1. Hidden Brain, hosted by Shankar Vedantam (here you can listen to this particular episode, download the podcast, and read the transcript)

2. Freakonomics Radio, hosted by Stephen J. Dubner  click on this link: How to Get More Grit in Your Life.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

If newspapers die, what would happen to allied media fields? What would happen to, say, PR and advertising?


Hindustan Times is shutting down its Kolkata edition as well as its editions in Ranchi, Bhopal, and Indore. Details here.
One of the reasons could be a decline in circulation followed by a decrease in ad revenue.
Young people (including media students, some of whom get as much as Rs.5,000 a month as pocket money) refuse to pay as little as four or five rupees to buy a newspaper. Could this be the reason for a decline in circulation?

I urge you to consider what would happen if newspapers and magazines all over the country were to suffer the fate of HT's Kolkata, Ranchi, Bhopal, and Indore editions.
If newspapers die, what would happen to allied media fields? What would happen to, say, PR and advertising?
What would happen to journalism?
Do use your imagination to consider what would happen to your career in the future.
And please think about buying at least one newspaper every day. And persuade your friends to do so too.
Best wishes,

UPDATE (January 17, 2017)

Death of a newspaper: Read this piece on The Hoot, which describes how HT's Bhopal edition was "slowly stifled before it was shut down earlier this week"  A requiem for the Hindustan Times, Bhopal.

UPDATE (January 19, 2017)

There is already blood on the floor of one of the last bastions of print media in the world. Major national dailies are shutting editions, laying off staff, slashing costs, and freezing expansions and investments. Smaller papers have been doing this for the last five years. Worse is to come if taxes are raised under the GST regime, if the damaging two-month impact of demonetisation persists in this quarter and the next, and if the government does not at least part-discontinue the wage board.

That is an excerpt from a hard-hitting edit in The Times of India today. Read the column in its entirety here: Indian newspaper industry: Red ink splashed across the bottom line  Hard-hit by factors beyond its control, print media needs reasonable tax and labour policies.

UPDATE (January 30, 2017)


Friday, January 6, 2017

Can you write a three-word intro? Do three-word intros work?

Here is the three-word intro Sam Borden wrote for a golf story in The New York Times:
It was in.

To understand why it is a great intro, you will need to read a little bit more. But don't take my word for it. Instead let a master, the man I consider my journalism guru, Roy Peter Clark, guide you through the story's spectacular structure. Here is Clark's post: Want a lesson in focusing your writing? Read this hole-in-one lead.

PS: Marvel too at the nut graf in the original news report  again, just three words.

  • Learn more about Roy Peter Clark: The power of writing. Commits students can also borrow from our library three wonderful books written by Clark: Help! for Writers, How to Write Short, and The Glamour of Grammar.
  • On New Year's Eve, Roy Peter Clark retired from Poynter, a legendary journalism institute. His first piece since retirement was published six days later: 40 things I learned about the writing craft in 40 years. There are so many great points on the list, these three especially:

8. Tools not rules: We could think of writing as carpentry, learning how to use a set of tools. Rules were all about what is right and what is wrong. Tools are all about cause and effect, what we build for the audience.

9. Reports vs. stories: Reading scholar Louise Rosenblatt described a distinction I adapted to journalism: that reports were crafted to convey information — pointing you there. Stories were about vicarious experience, a form of transportation — putting you there. 

19. Emphatic word order: The journalist with news judgment decides what is most interesting or most important. That judgment can be conveyed in word order, placing the key words at the beginning or end. Not “The Queen is dead, my lord.” But “The Queen, my lord, is dead.”

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What does it mean to be an effective altruist? A fascinating podcast interview has the answer

We are (mostly) happy to help people who are less fortunate than we are, provided it doesn't cost us too much in terms of time, effort, and money.

So how do you account for people who go out of their way to provide succour to those in need, no matter what it costs them in terms of time, effort, and money?

That was the subject of a fascinating Bookworm podcast discussion between host Michael Silverblatt and New Yorker staff writer Larissa MacFarquhar, which I was privileged to listen to recently.

I was so impressed I not only ordered MacFarquhar's book, which focuses on what she calls "effective altruism"; I also urged my students to listen to the interview and submit their impressions in a short article afterwards. "There is no word limit," I told them, "but there are two conditions: You must use your imagination and you must make it interesting to read."

Out of the 30 or so submissions, I found Shreya Roy's write-up to be exceptional, so here it is for your reading pleasure:


Life. What is this life we are living? Have you ever taken a minute out of your life to think about life? By that I mean taking the time out of your busy schedule to think about the lives of others out there and not your own.

Just one minute. That’s all it takes.

Unfortunately we all know the answer to that question. We don’t! And why would we want to think about other people’s lives anyway. We are so busy struggling with our own we never think about what others are going through in life. We complain over and over again. Unfortunately, life isn’t a bed of roses.

There is just one word to define us individuals. Selfish.

Yes, that’s right. We are selfish human beings. All we think about is ‘I’ rather than ‘you’. We always see life from our own perspective rather than someone else’s.

Take a moment to think about what it would be to like to live the life of someone who has never seen her own mother or father. How would her life be different from that of yours? Does she even get 1% of the love that you get? What are her feelings? What goes through her mind every second of the day? Put yourself in her shoes for once.

Fortunately (and unfortunately for some of us), there are certain people in this life who care more about others than about themselves. They care about being effective irrespective of what others think of them. They are extremists in their own way of life and would go to any extent to help the needy, give them the love they deserve. These especially good Samaritans are the focus of Larissa MacFarquhar's first book, Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help.

Strangers Drowning talks about many different kinds of people who have committed themselves to helping others in an extreme way. It’s more to do with "effective altruism", which is so rare to find these days.

And it is these altruists who make a difference in this world. They see things from a different perspective. Why? Because that is what gives them a reason to live. To serve society this way. They feel if they can have the means to buy branded clothes, why can’t they use the same amount of money to save a life? Precisely why MacFarquhar has included in her book the story of an American couple who adopt two children in distress. But then they think: If they can change two lives, why not four? Or ten? They adopt 20. But how do they weigh the needs of unknown children in distress against the needs of the children they already have?

It is interesting that MacFarquhar would never put herself in the category of the people she is writing about. She doesn’t believe in being an altruist herself, precisely why, she says, she became a writer. The fact that she put herself out there to find out more about what drives such people itself is praiseworthy. Not only does MacFarquhar put herself in their shoes but she also tries to explain what true effective altruism is all about.

Strangers Drowning showcases a world of strangers drowning in need and the different ways by which these do-gooders help to make their world a better place.

Moreover, is it right to care for strangers even at the expense of those we are closest to? Strangers Drowning challenges us to think about what we value most, and why.

Now that you have read Shreya's well-articulated thoughts on the podcast interview, surely you will want to listen in on that absorbing conversation between Michael Silverblatt and Larissa MacFarquhar? Yes? Just head on over to the Bookworm website  click here.
  • To learn more about the gifted host of Bookworm, read this interview. You can also learn what things to avoid when conducting an interview.
  • And to learn more about Larissa MacFarquhar, check out this interview in The Guardian.
  • Back in May last year, Shreya Roy had written a post for The Commits Chronicle about why she was glad she was joining Commits. Read her piece here.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Can you imagine a Reuters copy editor not knowing the difference between "it's" and "its"?

Last evening I spotted a typo in a caption for a picture accompanying a story on the Reuters website. So I scrolled down to the "Corrections" tab and wrote this message:

Rd Prabhu, Oct 12, 10:02 PM SGT:
The Amazon Echo, a voice-controlled virtual assistant, is seen at it's product launch for Britain and Germany in London, Britain, September 14, 2016. REUTER/Peter Hobson
That is the caption for a photograph accompanying a Reuters story about Amazon's new music service. "'s product launch"? That should be "...its product launch".

Shortly afterwards I received this automated response:

Ticket #78452: Mistake in caption


Thank you for contacting Reuters Online Support. Your request (#78452) has been received, and is being reviewed by our support staff.

To view responses to Frequently Asked Questions, visit our Knowledge Base.[link Knowledge Base to ]

We will get back to you as soon as possible.
Kind regards,

The Team
And when I took a look at the story again, the error had been corrected:

Is it any wonder that a Google search for "its vs it's" throws up more than 13 million results?


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

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Who are these people who get bombed while doing their work but keep going back?

And who are the people bringing us their stories?

Physicians working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) have saved countless lives in troubled and war-torn regions over the years.

Dr. Navpreet Sahsi, an emergency room physician from Toronto, on his daily rounds in an MSF camp in South Sudan. Dr. Nav, as he is known, features prominently in the podcast discussed below. Photo courtesy: NPR/David Gilkey

But what does it take to volunteer for a mission with one of the world's leading humanitarian organisations?

And how will we, siting in the comfort of our homes, know what it means to be an MSF doctor if we didn't have journalists who risk their lives too by travelling to these dangerous areas to report on the work being done there by these amazing, brave, big-hearted men and women?

If you want to know more, and I'm sure you do, click on this link: Embedded for Five Days and Five Nights with Doctors Without Borders.

When you get to the page, click on the "play" icon to listen to the podcast.

When listening to the podcast, pay attention to the journalistic values  how similar is this podcast to a news feature in a newspaper?

Also pay attention to the following:

1. Pronunciation
2. Voice modulation
3. Use of music
4. Use of silences

This is a great example of "radio journalism".

Also, it's a great example of a human interest story.

Who else but journalists can bring us such stories?

  • NPR is a wonderful source of some gripping podcasts, as is Longform. Here are some of my favourites:

Saturday, July 30, 2016

How marvellous it would be if you could edit your own writing...

...but there are not many people out there who are capable of doing so. Lisa Lepki of Ragan Communications understands that and she wants to help. So she has compiled a list of six common problems to fix "before your editor gets out the red pen":

1. Replace adverbs with strong verbs.

2. Fix repetitive use of initial pronouns.

3. Get rid of clich├ęs.

4. Declutter your writing by cutting redundancies.

5. Eliminate your passive voice.

6. Get rid of sticky sentences.

Lepki elaborates on each point and also provides easy-to-grasp examples. Check out her post here: 6 self-editing tips to strengthen your writing.

Afterwards, download this free white paper, "10 ways to improve your writing today".

"Whether you're composing a press release, a blog post, a script, or executive talking points, these techniques," Ragan claims, "will enhance your communication." Get the white paper here.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

"8 small things you do that people use to judge your personality"

Yes, you will be judged on whether you are punctual, whether you arrive in time for class, for a date, for a meeting. But did you know you will also be judged on how you treat waiters? And where you look when you drink out of a cup?

Business Insider India has helpfully made a list of eight small things we do that people use to judge us. Here's the list:

1. Your handshake
2. Whether you show up on time
3. How you treat restaurant staff
4. Where you look when you drink out of a cup
5. Whether you bite your nails
6. Your handwriting
7. How often you check your phone
8. Whether you make eye contact

You can read this topical feature in its entirety here.