Monthly Archives: November 2007

World’s first ex-president to launch an e-paper

Former Czech president Vaclev Havel may be writing bestsellers even after remitting office. Bill Clinton may be wowing the world with books on how to give. But India’s A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has shown the world that he may be older but he is a step ahead of most of his younger peers and compatriots.

The enormously popular former president—a former missile technologist who answered every email sent to him while he was in office and was amusingly critical of the media’s obsession with bad news—has launched a fortnightly e-paper to highlight the stories of India’s “islands of success”.

Titled Billion Beats, the e-paper has been launched on ex-prez’s website

“We have islands of success in every field of activity and we have to connect them to make a garland. Why an overdose of politics, murder, caste wars? Why, why?” he said in his message to the first edition of the e-paper.

V. Ponnraj is Kalam’s associate on the project, M. Anantha Krishnan is the national affairs editor.

Also read: Kalam: why is the media so negative?

Surely you must be joking, Mr President?

Illustration: Uttam Kumar Ghosh Laljhandawala/


Why we don’t know who Jagennath Lachmon is

Every media house magically finds the resources to send correspondents to the Cannes, IFA or Frankfurt festivals. Indra Nooyi‘s climb up the global power ladder has our media charting her step. Every Mira Nair film has film correspondents flitting half way across the world for her bon mot. And of course each new car or cellphone release has our auto and tech correspondents doing a “dummy run” before the ad hawks swoop in.

Yet, why has no Indian media house still sent a correspondent to Malaysia to cover the plight and persecution of Tamils, and why do we have to depend on the International Herald Tribune and international news agencies to tell us of razed temples, asks Dasu Krishnamoorty on The Hoot:

“For our media, Indians reside only in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. Neither our media have space nor has our foreign office the time… Our newspapers are as loathe to posting correspondents in these countries as our journalists are loathe going there except in the company of the prime minister.

“Our media and foreign office make us believe that there are minorities only in India and not elsewhere. Our secularism is so pristine that Indian minorities in Muslim countries are not its concern. Are they children of a lesser God? Our embassies and consulates come to life only when a minister from India is visiting. People of Indian origin are not their concern.”

Read the full story here: Children of a lesser god

Crossposted on churumuri

Aussie journo wins top award for Indian story

Hedley Thomas, the Australian journalist who wrote a series of stories about his government’s mishandling of Indian doctor Mohammed Haneef‘s arrest on suspected terror charges, has won the country’s most coveted journalism award.

Thomas, who is associated with The Australian newspaper, won the “Gold Walkley” award.In his acceptance speech, Thomas thanked Haneef’s lawyers Peter Russo and Stephen Keim for risking their careers to expose vital facts about the case. And criticised the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for pursuing the lawyers who leaked the information that allowed him to write his award-winning articles.

Photograph: The Australian

Look, who the French President is dating

# In 2002, General Electric CEO Jack Welch filed for divorce with his Jane after he became involved with Suzy Wetlaufer, an editor with Harvard Business Review.

# In 2004, television anchor Marion Brooks admitted to having a lengthy affair with then Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell.

# Earlier this year, Los Angles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa‘s marriage went on the rocks after he admitted to an affair with Spanish newscaster Mirthala Salinas.

# Now the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who recently divorced his wife, is romancing his country’s most famous political journalist, Laurence Ferrari, who in turn is divorcing her husband.

Intra-office affairs, flings, infatuations, even marriages are common in the media. But what happens when journalists fall in love, not with colleagues or bosses, but with subjects and sources they meet in the line of duty? And pardon us for being so sexist, how is it that male journalists seem to be so utterly incapable of catching the fancy of high-profile personalities?!

Oh, shoot, there’s Phil Bronstein, the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, who not only won the hand of Sharon Stone but ended up marrying her before getting divorced in 2004.

Photograph: USA Today

How the Maharaja disrobed New York media

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN forwards a fine example of how thoroughbred news hounds checked facts and did background checks in the era of before Google.


Publisher Whitlaw Reid had just lost a power struggle to his brother, Brownie Reid–later to become a New York congressman–and the Tribune staff was mourning the switch from what it considered class to what it almost universally regarded as low class. But advertising and circulation were falling and the effort was clearly a last ditch attempt to increase both.

The first day of Brownie’s reign—at the very last moment with no time for planning or checking or thought—he decided to test a brand new fish-eye camera lens by using it to shoot the opening of the first Cinemascope movie: “The Robe.”

The lens, a technical marvel at the time, could capture the image of the empire state building spire from its base, unheard of at that time.

A public relations firm had called The Trib and asked if it was interested in covering the maharaja of a famous Indian province who was attending the opening of “The Robe” wearing a white turban and tuxedo with his trademark red beard. He would, the PR man said, be accompanied by his harem of 11 beautiful Indian women wearing see-through veils, among other delectables.

Brownie bit. He ordered one of his photographers, Mel Thomas, to shoot the assignment and for the first time in Trib history, also ordered editors to run the photos in a two-page double truck picture spread.

That’s old-time journalese for a two-page spread in which some of the same pictures run from one page to the other, across “the gutter” usually dividing them. The old Journal American, a Hearst newspaper, ran one every day. The Tribune had never done so; its editors considered it the worst kind of over-the- top, tabloid journalism.

But the last minute assignment was put into motion. Thomas shot a number of appealing photos of the maharaja and his wives getting out of two Rolls Royces and strolling up a shiny red carpet to the Broadway theater where “The Robe” was opening amidst zigzagging, overhead searchlights and scores of celebrities.

It was felt the fish-eye lens would be a good meld with the cinemascope debut.

The early bird edition of the Trib captured the moment for the ages. The presses rolled. There was the Maharaja of Barata and his harem, in all their glory.

Now, one of the Tribune’s most meticulous–and feared–editors was John Kalgren, a man all the copy girls and boys called “The Count.”

He would glance at a story and write a headline in seconds that would fit perfectly every time, to the amazement of everyone. He was a great editor but despised by almost everyone for his rudeness and brusqueness.

If he screamed “copy” and you, a lowly copy boy – I was one of them — were not instantly at his side, you were in trouble.

It was supposedly his day off, but the Count lived and died with the Trib every day and this day was no exception. He was sitting behind his u-shaped copy desk with the other copy editors as usual.

“Copy” he screamed and I almost fell over myself scrambling to his side.

“Bob, go to the morgue and find out where the Indian province of Barata is,” he said in his usual rasp. I hurried to the reference room and raced back.

“There is no such province,” I told him.

“Of course not,” he snarled. “Do you know what barata is?”

“No,” I mumbled.

“It is the Portuguese word for cockroach,” he said. “We’ve been taken.”

It turned out the “maharaja” was a famous Brooklyn con man and prankster named Jim Moran, who loved tweaking the nose of the staid establishment and had never been closer to India than the Bronx. And the 11 members of his harem? All hookers.

There were 11 New York City dailies at the time. Would you believe the other 10 all had the Maharaja of Cockroach and the Trib gaffe all over their editions the next day?

That night, the photographer who shot the ill-fated, badly-rushed assignment–Mel Thomas–opened the right hand door to the football field sized city room at 41st Street just as the deadline for the early bird edition was about to expire. Row after row of reporters sat at their typewriters, pounding away, as editors poured copy into various pneumatic tubes and copy boys ran from one to the other.

Thomas strolled down the long right hand aisle in the Trib city room with stately elegance. He was wearing a white turban, a red beard, and a tuxedo.

A river of laughter followed him as he walked, his face expressionless, looking neither right nor left.

As each row of reporters saw him, the laughter grew in volume. Brownie Red laughed harder than the rest and so did the late Art Buchwald, who rarely visited the city room but was there that night.

The laugher was raucous, out of control. People laughed until their stomachs hurt.

And then Thomas opened the door at the other side of the city room – bowed to the assembled throng – and shut it behind him.

As if someone had thrown a switch, the laughter stopped and everyone went back to pounding on their typewriters.
None of this could have happened now, of course, in this age of Googling and the Internet. But it happened then because there was not enough time to check, to investigate.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen to the Shore Line Times election night. Our only mistake was to falsely report that Democrats had won the majority in the Board of Finance and Board of Education when despite the huge upset victory of Democrat Al Goldberg, they did not.

I am proud of our election edition and the decision made by our executive editor and general manager to come out a day late so it could happen.

But in remembering the Maharaja of Cockroach, I also was very much aware of the obvious dangers of rushing without leaving time to check what we were rushing with – though our success with that approach this year makes me hope we can do it again.

‘Magazines, like mushrooms, should grow in dark’

It’s raining Tina Brown in New Delhi. Newspapers, magazines, television programmes are all full of the better half of Sir Harold Evans, explaining why she won’t blog, how the famous Demi Moore cover for Vanity Fair came about, how she was expelled from school for describing her teacher’s bosom as an unidentified flying object, and how the Clintons are approaching JFK, Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana in their iconic status.

On NDTV’s Walk the Talk programme, Tina spoke to Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta:

# “I think editing has never been more complex than it is now. I think it is a very hard thing for editors today to keep their focus because they are being assailed from every direction by this ambient news everywhere they go and to keep that focus and to keep yourself aware of what the priorities are.

# “The problem today, with so much media, is that everybody’s famous but nobody’s interesting. We all know too much about everybody. How do you distinguish yourself from the crowd apart from being assassinated?

# “An editor has to find the very best talent that you can… and then listen to what they want to write, but sometimes also guide them to what they don’t want to write. I find that often journalists are great writers but they don’t necessarily have great ideas. The important thing is to notice that gleam in their eyes.

# “Magazines are like mushrooms; they should grow in the dark without being vegetative… one must never forget that magazines are leisure things. If you are going to be serious and edifying, you must find a way to do it in a dramatic, even theatrical, way to make people read it.”

In an interview with Shoma Chaudhury of the newsweekly, Tehelka:

# “The challenge is not to stop doing 12,000 word stories on crop rotation, but to make them sexy to make people read. Find the angle, the headline, the presentation that will compel people to read.

# “Corporatisation is the biggest challenge facing media. The sophistry of the big conglomerate guys is to say there’s never been more plurality of outlet. Sure. We have a thousand and one outlets now, but their circulation is zip. There isn’t a place to have any meaningful public discourse. You’re just talking to yourself. Most publications and networks don’t have the critical mass. And the major networks and newspaper don’t want to do the work.

# “The worst reverberation of saturation journalism is that we actually don’t end up knowing anything about anybody.

# “Magazines have a limited role to play. There’s no use covering basic news, but people still want context, want perspective. These readers need to be nurtured and cultivated. You need committed, visionary managements for that.

# “People keep asking me to blog, but I’m not going to lower my standards, and why should I write for nothing? Haven’t done that since childhood.”

Read the Walk The Talk transcript here: I think people remember Demi Moore more for the Vanity Fair cover than any movie she did

Read the Tehelka interview here: What’s killing us is the dumbocracy of news


Illustration: E.P. Unny/ The Indian Express

Your eyes. Your ears. Your voice. Your soul.

Shooting the messenger has become an international hobby. Instead of examining the message we bring home every day , afternoon and night, we are increasingly reminded that we are just doing a job like anybody else. If, heaven forbid, if what we bring home isn’t to the recipient’s liking, we have our motives and motivations questioned.

V.K. Shashikumar, editor, special investigations, of CNN-IBN, India’s #1 English news channel, has provided a ringing response to the doubting thomases and naysayers. Kumar was in Calcutta on Wednesday when rioters demanding the revocation of visa of the Bangaldeshi writer Taslima Nasreen went on the rampage.

While the general citizenry ran to the safety of their homes, in the opposite direction of the rioters, scared of life and limb, Kumar reminds us that the media ran ran into them. Unarmed.

We stood our ground, tackled their anger, got the views of others out to the nation without judging them, we gave the news that you could consume. We informed you. We did our job. Without a chip on our shoulders. We braved the stones and the abuses so that you could know. We do this for a living.

“That’s what journalism is all about. To capture contemporary history without distilling it. And when everything is over to distill it with perspective. We are your ringside whisperers.

“We are the chronicler of the change within and without. We are story-tellers. We tell you what is happening around you. What might affect your life in positive ways. The things that might come in your way. We are also your conscience keeper.

“We raise our voice when you sit in your drawing room and criticize everything around you. When you become the arm chair critic, we give you the ammunition for an intelligent debate. We are what you are.

“We become your thoughts, we voice your thoughts, and we connect your thoughts to the larger world that you face every single day. We try to bring you right in the middle of things happening in your nation. We give a ringside view. We get into the ring as well.

“We are not the police, the army, you know. We are pretty ordinary mortals like you. Just convinced that we have a job to do. We are the much maligned journalists.”

Read the full story here: Why we do journalism