Monthly Archives: December 2006

Nieman Fellowship in Global Health Reporting

Bharat Kumar H alerts us to the Nieman Fellowship in Global Health Reporting.

The Nieman foundation will award three fellowships for the 2007-2008 academic year: one to a U.S. journalist, one to a European journalist and one to a journalist from a developing country.

During their Nieman year, the global health reporting fellows will be part of the 2008 Class of Nieman Fellows and will participate in weekly activities at the Nieman Foundation. They will pursue a concentrated course of study at Harvard’s School of Public Health and will have access to faculty and courses across the university through the Harvard Initiative for Global Health.

At the conclusion of their academic year at Harvard, the fellows will begin four months of journalistic field work in a developing country. At the conclusion of their field work, the fellows will be expected to produce work based on this experience and their academic studies.

For more information about these fellowships and an application, go to the Nieman Foundation’s Web site:
Applications must be postmarked by Jan. 31, 2007.

Really, really short stories

Can we tell a story in 50 words? A story—not a report, not an assignment—a real story, a work of fiction.

Some people are trying, and here are some fine examples of very, very short stories which are exactly 50 words long.

SALMAN RUSHDIE/ Another Ulysees: Ulysses comes home after a lifetime’s wandering. His old wife, Penelope, has remarried, and has a beautiful daughter, Telemacha, whom the warrior soon seduces. Old Penelope bursts into their love-nest and kills herself. Telemacha steps over the dead body, comes towards the appalled hero and opens her cruel young arms.

JOHN LE CARRE/ The Eye of the Needle: A rich man died and asked God, “How as I?” God scratched his beard thoughtfully, but made no answer. “I strove,” the rich man protested, “I savaged my competitors! I gave millions to charity! Are you saying you’ve never heard of me?” God sighed, “Only from your competitors,” he said.

MURIEL SPARK/ An ordeal: Strange that the dog should give his emergency bark which normally he reserved for the night-prowling fox. This was daylight. Out of the car stepped our visitors. Three days later, Emma lay fatally stabbed on the kitchen floor. They stepped back into their car. The dog leapt with joy.

Trying to be better is half the battle won

There is advice—and then there is advice—on what newspapers should be. Much of this is predicated on doomsday theories that do not hold much relevance in the Indian context. Nevertheless, Alan Jacobson‘s thumbrule for transformation is apt and precise:

“Products need not be perfect. They just need to be good enough and slightly better than alternatives.”

It’s a piece of advice we could usefully employ for the next story we do, the next picture we shoot, the next package we commission. Because, a newspaper is just a work in progress. We are not—cannot, should not be—trying to get in the last word on the subject.

Just a slightly better word will do most times.

Do we need quotas in the media?

G.N. Mohan forwards a survey of the social profile of key decision makers in the “national” media conducted by the Centre for Study of Developing Studies. Its key findings are that the India’s “national” media lacks social diversity and does not reflect the country’s social profile.

Hindu upper caste men dominate the media. They are about 8 per cent of India’s population but among the key decision makers of the national media their share is as high as 71%. Only 17 % of the key decision makers are women. Their representation is better in the English electronic media (32%).

The media’s caste profile is equally unrepresentative. ‘Twice born’ Hindus are about 16% of India’s population, but they are about 86% among the key media decision-makers. Brahmins alone constitute 49% of the key media personnel. Dalits and adivasis are conspicuous by their absence among the decision makers. Not even one of the 315 key decision makers belonged to the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes.

The OBCs comprise only 4 % compared to their population of around 40% in the country. Muslims are only 3% among the key decision makers, compared to 13.4% in the country’s population. Christians are proportionately represented in the media (mainly in the English media): their share is about 4% compared to their population share of 2.3%.

These findings are based on a survey of the social background of 315 key decision makers from 37 “national” media organizations (up to 10 key decision makers from each organisation) based in Delhi. The survey was carried out by volunteers of Media Study Group between 30 May and 3 June 2006.

Questions: Is it time for reservations in the media to restore the balance of coverage? Or should the media voluntarily seek to introduce diversity in the newsroom? Would better diversity have resulted in better coverage of, say, the reservation issue? Or are these issues only limited to the North of the country?

Ours is not to ask why

Last Saturday, a friend—a businessman 34 years of age, Indian, resident in India—called out of the blue and among, other things, said, “Oh, I forgot to tell you, I am buying a plane.”

Yes, you read that right, a plane, an aeroplane. It’s going to cost Rs 34 crore.

Ours is not to ask why; ours is just to wonder what’s the EMI.

Which is a nice way of introducing you to the “Guns to Caviar Index”. The Economist newspaper of London has the Hamburger Index, by which it measures global prosperity by comparing the price of a MacDonald’s hamburger across the world.

The Guns to Caviar Index, the brainchild of Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at the Teal group, does something very similar. It measures the state of the world using by comparing how much money the world spends on fighter jets (guns) versus how much money the world spends on private business jets (caviar).

Which should explain why a 34-year-old Indian businessman is buying a plane.

Read more here.

How not to serve yesterday’s news tomorrow

Mark Potts addresses a familiar demon on the Recovering Journalist


“I hear more and more people grumbling that some newspaper stories seem so…out of date. As more of us read the news online in real time, it seems odd to find the same stories in the printed paper the next day, as if the coverage was a day late. I find myself reading printed papers and thinking, “sheesh, I knew about that two days ago.” Even the latest editions run several hours behind the news when they finally land on readers’ doorsteps, and if a story happens overnight but doesn’t appear until the following day’s paper, it can be more than 24 hours old before it appears in print. No wonder papers seem out of date.

“This wasn’t an issue before the Web, before cable news, when newspapers were the primary source of news and information; news didn’t really happen until you read it in print. No more. We know what’s going on in the world shortly after it happens, with sound, video and multiple versions. By comparison, newspaper coverage of the same story often seems to be stale.

“There’s no easy solution to this, but newspaper editors and reporters need to be aware of it and shape their coverage accordingly: fewer “for the record” stories and more context, explanation and analysis. Move the story forward from what everybody already knows. Sports sections have been doing this for years; because of TV, most readers know the score of the previous night’s games, so sports stories have become more analytical. This practice needs to spread into the rest of the newspaper. If the paper isn’t absolutely the first place readers are seeing a story, make sure that what they’re seeing looks fresh and new. Otherwise, you’re yesterday’s news.”

PR kiya to darna kya?

Nine out of ten journalists land in journalism by accident, most often because they weren’t fit or good enough for anything else—a sad reality that gets exposed when they leave after a few years for PR or corporate communications. Or, worse, when do the latter using the former.

Not Howell Raines.

The former executive editor of the New York Times unabhashedly claims that journalism was his second love, second to writing. And in his just released memoirs The One That Got Away (Scribner), Raines proves why with breathtaking prose.

The One That Got Away is mostly about Raines’ real love, fly-fishing, an obsession ingrained in him by his black nanny reading Hemingway‘s The Old Man and the Sea when he was a young boy. (Raines’ essay on the nanny, Grady Hitchinson, fetched him a Pulitzer.)

“The governing emotion of fishing is not one of attainment but one of anxiety about incipient loss. Every moment that a fish is on the line, we dread the sensation of being disconnected against our will, of being evaded, escaped from, of grabbing and missing. Every fish that slips the hook instructs us in the surgical indifference of fate. For, like fate, a fish only seems to be acting against us. It is, in fact, ignorant of us, profoundly indifferent, incapable of being moved by our desires, by our joy or sorrow.

“We regard the moment when the fish rises to a fly as a triumph of piscatorial artistry, and when the line breaks or the hook pulls out, we feel cheated, outfoxed, chagrined. We take it personally. But to the fish, such an encounter is simply an interruption, unremarkable and unremembered, in the instinctual, self-absorbed journey of fulfilling its fishhood. What we experience as an exercise of will and hope, the fish encounters as an accident, no more or less remarkable than meeting a shrimp.”

But Raines, whose last year NYT was clouded by the Jayson Blair controversy, also weighs in with thoughts on his second love, journalism:

“A newspaper is a daily miracle of birth through the agency of scores of midwives and great barns of tireless robots and thundering machines. As for the people, every newsroom is a ship of fools. Some are mad, some are funny, some brilliant, some priapic, a few tragic, and, of course, a good many drunk or stoned.

“The best of them are haunted by the knowledge that newspapers don’t create anything that lasts. In the next rank down, you find those capable of true enjoyment, riding the daily adrenaline rush and not caring a whit that the next day’s work will vanish into the maw of time before they have their next scrambled egg.”