Monthly Archives: October 2007

Never say ‘cheese’ to a herd of elephants

From The Hindu:

SRIKAKULAM: The herd of wild elephants that are on the rampage in the forest areas of Srikakulam and Vizianagaram districts claimed yet another victim, this time a reporter working for a Telugu daily, on Friday.

K. Nagaraju of Andhra Prabha was suspected to have been trampled to death while three other reporters narrowly escaped the wrath of the nine pachyderms which have been playing havoc in several villages.

Disregarding the advice of forest officials, the four scribes had gone to take photographs of the herd in the Hussainapuram reserve forest area, near Veeraghatam in the early hours.

According to one of the reporters, they suddenly came almost face to face with the elephant herd. One journalist triggered a flash on his camera which proved to be a red rag for the pachyderms.

With a deafening roar, they immediately charged at the fear-stricken journalists who ran helter-skelter. Only three managed to escape.

Photos taken from a distance revealed a highly mutilated body, suspected to be that of Nagaraju.

JOHN CURLEY: The road ahead for newspapers

STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania: The threat to newspapers may be from online sources, but the battle has to be fought with good content, backed by solid in-paper promotion of editorial and advertising content.

So says John Curley, the first editor of USA Today, and the man who succeeded Al Neuharth as president, chairman and CEO of Gannett Corporation.

Now a professor and distinguished professional in residence at Penn State University, and co-director of PSU’s Center for Sports Journalism, Curley says it’s time newspapers, instead of moaning and groaning about falling numbers, went back to doing more “enterprise reporting” that they used to do and many still do. Because, he avers, those are the stories nobody else can do, and will bring readers to newspapers and hold circulations at levels that are satisfactory.

“I think it’s a misnomer to believe that circulation has gone down sharply. It’s gone down at the rate of about one or one-and-a-half per cent a year. If it settles in at that, then a lot of the advertising will stay where it is.

“A lot of times the press will, rightly, focus on the good and the bad. Sometimes it looks like things are worse than they are. That’s been the case with some of the reporting (about the media) in the last couple of years. Realistically there are a lot of good things going on.”

Curley, who teaches a course issues for newsroom managers, says the newspaper industry should look at news ways of promoting classified advertising as a reading habit.

“There been some slippage (in revenue from classifieds) due to interest rates and other things in automotive and real estate. Not so much in employment. The fact is that a lot of people have not put in in-paper promotion to convince readers to look at the classifieds that they are carrying. We ought to try some interesting manoeuvres on the front pages of the classifieds section to draw people in.

“Research has shown that classifieds have a lot of appeal to people under 25 because they are starting out, looking for apartments, moving around a bit more. Maybe we ought to capitalise on the web and in print.”

Is it an idol (sic)? Is it a statue? Is it a mannequin?

Political photography, like all photography, is about timing. But good photography is no longer easy on the chaotic Indian political landscape where hundreds of (“still”) photographers and (“video”) cameramen now jostle and slug each other out for a slice of the pie.

This picture by Manjunath M.S. of Karnataka Photo News is a very fine exception.

The man jumping the chair at a protest in front of the Governor’s office is B.S. Yediyurappa, former deputy chief minister of the southern Indian state of Karnataka. The man behind him, to his left, with a hand on the chair is Ananth Kumar, a party colleague who is generally assumed to be happy at scuttling Yediyurappa’s career advancement despite his benign public posture. And the man in the white shirt behind Yediyurappa is M.P. Renukacharya, an MLA at the centre of a sexual harassment case, involving a former nurse called Jayalakshmi.

In one frame, as it were, the picture captures everything about Indian politics: the ambition of its leaders, the betrayal by partners, the sniping, backstabbing and backbiting, and of course, the colour, chaos and sleaze.

View a bigger frame at

James W. Michaels, Rest in Peace

James W. Michaels, the US army ambulance driver who was faster than any reporter to tell the world that Mahatma Gandhi had been assassinated, and then went on to edit 1,000 issues of Forbes magazine over 37 years, passed away in New York on Tuesday, the eve of Gandhi’s birthday. He was 86.

Michaels covered India’s independence and the bloody communal rioting that followed for the news agency, United Press International (UPI). He was the first foreign reporter to get to the scene of fighting in Kashmir, traveling on horseback to the remote, mountainous region.

(In a 2001 interview, he called India’s first prime minister, Pandit Jawaharhal Nehru “the worst disaster to hit India”.)

In 1954, when Michaels came to Forbes as a reporter, the magazine’s circulation was 130,000. When he stepped down as editor in 1999, the circulation was 785,000, and was described by a former head of Time magazine as “the smartest editor I’ve ever worked for.”

“He virtually created modern business journalism. He saw Forbes as the ‘drama critic’ of business. Under his stewardship, Forbes became the definitive source of who was doing well, and who wasn’t, and why,” Steve Forbes said.

In a touching obituary on the magazine’s website, Forbes editors write:

“He referred to himself as a working journalist. By that he meant that he could skip the dinner party circuit and avoid Manhattan’s media scene. Instead, he would put every article through his typewriter, usually making it a lot shorter. “It was always said that Michaels could edit the Lord’s prayer down to six words and nobody would miss anything.”

A New York Times obituary recalls that Michaels “belittled the ‘on the other hand’ kind of balance so many publications strive for as mere wishy-washiness.”

Michaels believed that it was the editor’s right to get into a reporter’s copy as much as possible to make it accessible to readers. Allan Sloan, Michaels’ protege who now works at Forbes‘ competitor Fortune, writes:

“When I was sued over an article entitled “Drilling for Suckers”—the subjects felt they needed several million of Malcolm Forbes‘ dollars to ease their pain—I testified under oath that I wasn’t sure which parts of the piece was my original writing and which were Jim’s….

“Working for Jim was more than occasionally maddening, but he was the greatest editor I’ve ever seen or ever expect to see. He used to say he could cut at least 15% out of any story, no matter how tightly written. In his memory, I’m making this 15% shorter than my normal space. So maybe he’s gotten the last word after all.


This is James Michaels’ report of Gandhi’s assassination:

‘Bapu (father) is finished’

New Delhi, January 30, 1948: Mohandas K. Gandhi was assassinated today by a Hindu extremist whose act plunged India into sorrow and fear.

Rioting broke out immediately in Bombay.

The seventy-eight-year-old leader whose people had christened him the Great Soul of India died at 5:45 p.m. (7:15 a.m. EST) with his head cradled in the lap of his sixteen-year-old granddaughter, Mani.

Just half an hour before, a Hindu fanatic, Ram Naturam, had pumped three bullets from a revolver into Gandhi’s frail body, emaciated by years of fasting and asceticism.

Gandhi was shot in the luxurious gardens of Birla House in the presence of one thousand of his followers, whom he was leading to the little summer pagoda where it was his habit to make his evening devotions.

Dressed as always in his homespun sacklike dhoti, and leaning heavily on a staff of stout wood, Gandhi was only a few feet from the pagoda when the shots were fired.

Gandhi crumpled instantly, putting his hand to his forehead in the Hindu gesture of forgiveness to his assassin. Three bullets penetrated his body at close range, one in the upper right thigh, one in the abdomen, and one in the chest.

He spoke no word before he died. A moment before he was shot he said–some witnesses believed he was speaking to the assassin–“You are late.”

The assassin had been standing beside the garden path, his hands folded, palms together, before him in the Hindu gesture of greeting. But between his palms he had concealed a small-caliber revolver. After pumping three bullets into Gandhi at a range of a few feet, he fired a fourth shot in an attempt at suicide, but the bullet merely creased his scalp.

Excerpted from A treasury of great reporting: literature under pressure from the sixteenth century to our own time, edited by Louis L. Snyder (Simon & Schuster, 1949)

Also read: James Michaels’ report on the Gandhi funeral

Photo courtesy: Chang W. Lee/ The New York Times

Why do (old) reporters end stories with ‘-30-‘?

“Some say the mark began during a time when stories were submitted via telegraph, with “-30-” denoting “the end” in Morse code. Another theory suggests that the first telegraphed news story had 30 words.

“Others claim the “-30-” comes from a time when stories were written in longhand — X marked the end of a sentence, XX the end of a paragraph and XXX meant the end of a story. The Roman numerals XXX translate to 30.

“It is rumored that a letter to an East India company ended with “80,” a figure meaning “farewell” in Bengali. The symbol supposedly was misread, changed to 30 and took root.

“Some say the mark comes from the fact that press offices closed at 3 o’clock.

“And there’s the theory that 30 was the code for a telegraph operator who stayed at his post during a breaking news story until his death 30 hours later — versions of that story even include that the unfortunate operator hit two keys on his machine when he collapsed. Which ones? That’s right, 3 and 0.”

Read all the other theories here: So why not 29?

Sir Vidiadhar Naipaul’s seven rules for writers

Like George Orwell before him, Nobel laureate Sir Vidiadhar Naipaul dug deep into the well of his writing experience and came up with a list of simple rules for those learning to put mouse on pad.


1. Do not write long sentences. A sentence should not have more than ten or twelve words.

2. Each sentence should make a clear statement. It should add to the statement that went before. A good paragraph is a series of clear, linked statements.

3. Do not use big words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.

4. Never use words whose meaning you are not sure of. If you break this rule you should look for other work.

5. The beginner should avoid using adjectives, except those of colour, size and number. Use as few adverbs as possible.

6. Avoid the abstract. Always go for the concrete.

7. Every day, for six months at least, practice writing in this way. Small words; short, clear, concrete sentences. It may be awkward, but it’s training you in the use of language. It may even be getting rid of the bad language habits you picked up at the university. You may go beyond these rules after you have thoroughly understood and mastered them.

Also read: George Orwell‘s advice on how to write better

Link via India Uncut

‘Indian media now needs to look at quality’

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed the 66th Annual General Meeting of Indian Language Newspapers Association in New Delhi on Wednesday:

“There is concern all over the world over that the growth of television and internet threatens the survival of print media. In many countries, readership of newspapers is declining. Even in India, there is a deceleration in the growth of English language publications. Despite these developments, I am very happy to note that Indian language newspapers have bucked this trend. The readership and circulation of Indian language newspapers is growing rapidly.

“We have witnessed, in India, an unprecedented growth both in readership and viewership of media. Rising literacy rates, growing political awareness and rising levels of incomes, along with processes of urbanisation, have contributed to this phenomena. It may be no exaggeration to suggest that we are living through a golden era of Indian media. The expansion of your market has contributed to greater employment opportunities as well as the growth of other media related industries and services.

“This growth has also widened the choice available to your readers and viewers. There is much greater variety, today, in terms of opinion and coverage. Depending on one’s outlook, income and interest, one can pick and choose a newspaper or a channel of one’s choice. Such diversity is always good in a democracy.

“On the other hand, I must draw your attention to certain issues and urge you to reflect on them. I have said in the past that the quantitative growth we have witnessed in Indian media has outpaced qualitative growth. This is understandable partly because demand has been outstripping the supply of well trained journalists. In the long run, I hope, as supply adjust this problem will get addressed. But it does need the attention of your industry.”

Read the full text here: The PM’s address

The end of newspapers is nearer than you think

How much longer will newspapers as we know them last? Not much longer, according to most analysts.

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, is a lot more precise.

“I predict that the end of printed newspapers will happen in the time it takes for most people to upgrade their cell phones two more times. The iPhone, and its inevitable copycats, (let’s call them iClones) are newspaper killers. When you have a web browser in your pocket, a printed newspaper is redundant. Eventually, all cell phones will have Internet browsing built in. You might not have a web browser on your next cell phone, but the one after that will have it as a standard feature…

“Imagine your cell phone equipped with a built-in scroll of “digital paper” that pulls out to the side, like a sideways Venetian blind, for reading web pages and documents. That will solve the issue of phone screens being too tiny to read. Your phone would still have a regular screen for most purposes, but for pleasure reading, you pull out the Venetian screen with its larger and clearer text.”

Read the full story: The future of newspapers

Illustration courtesy Scott Adams

The five best books about newspapering

In the Wall Street Journal, veteran reporter and New York Sun editor Seth Lipsky lists the five favourite books on newspapers and newspapermen:

1. “The Paris Edition” by Waverley Root (North Point, 1987)

2. “How I Got That Story” edited by David Brown and W. Richard Bruner (Dutton, 1967)

3. “The Brass Ring” by Bill Mauldin (Norton, 1971)

4. “A Treasury of Great Reporting” edited by Louis L. Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Simon & Schuster, 1949)

5. “Newspaper Days” by H.L. Mencken (Knopf, 1941)

Read all about these books: Read all about it
Also read: What you should read