Monthly Archives: May 2011

Malayalee reporters of Delhi, don’t be so selfish!

An item appearing in Raisina Tattle, the gossip column of the Delhi-based newspaper Mail Today, that proves once again that politicians know that the shortest route to a reporter’s heart is through the stomach.

Two points stand out in this decidedly parochial carrot-and-drumstick policy: 1) Minister Thomas‘s doubtless belief (pun intended) that all Malayalee journalists have a uniform fancy for drumsticks, and 2) The minister’s ignorance of non-Malayalee journalists’ secret appreciation of the vegetable’s famed aphrodiasical qualities.

Which is just another way of asking: why hasn’t a packet of drumsticks landed at the offices of sans serif, from the minister or from Malayalee journalists?

Or, to indulge in a bit of word play, has all this blogging over five years been to no avial?

Image: courtesy Mail Today

Also read: The journalist who offered a Rs 2 crore bribe

Cash transfer system is already here for journalists

Bangalore journalists named in site allotment scam

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The curious case of N.Ram, DMK and Jayalalitha

N.Ram, editor in chief of The Hindu, calling on Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha, in Madras, on Tuesday, 24 May 2011

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: If a picture conveys a thousand words, the picture above should convey a couple of them, and then some more.

At left is N. Ram, the editor-in-chief of The Hindu, currently embroiled in a major row with his brothers N.Murali and N. Ravi (and their cousins Malini Parthasarathy, Nirmala Lakshman and Nalini Krishnan), over who should succeed him at the family-owned newspaper.

At right is Jayalalitha Jayaram, the newly elected chief minister of Tamil Nadu, whose AIADMK government in 2003, ordered the arrest of then editor N.Ravi and executive editor Malini Parthasarathy, chief of bureau V. Jayanth, and special correspondent Radha Venkatesan for alleged contempt of the legislative assembly.

Then freshly installed at the helm, Ram turned the arrest order into a cause celebre.

Meeting Jayalalitha today may appear to be an entirely appropriate courtesy call, one which most editors think they are entitled to in the call of duty.

But is it too early to forget that Jayalalitha came to power on the back of the 2G spectrum allocation scam which has the who’s who of the DMK involved in it, and on which N. Ram has been under a targetted attack from his brothers and cousins of, a) being an apologist for the main accused in the scam, A. Raja, and b) of practising a strange kind of “paid news” by running softball interviews in return for ads in the paper.

The additional edge in the Ram-Jayalalitha picture is provided by WikiLeaks.

The Hindu, which scooped the American diplomatic cables pertaining to India from WikiLeaks, gladly ran a cable showed Trinamul Congress in poor light at the height of the election campaign in bengal. The insinuation that Washington wanted to cultivate Mamata Banerjee‘s party quickly became ammunition for the Left, with Ram’s Loyola Collegemate Prakash Karat even addressing a press conference on the issue.

The Bengal cable was published on 21 April; Bengal went to the hustings on April 18, 23, 27, May 3, 7, and 10.

However, the WikiLeaks cable that showed the fissures in the DMK between the Karunanidhi family and the Maran family were published only on Monday, 23 May 2011, a month and 10 days after Tamil Nadu went to the polls and ten days after the DMK had lost the election lock, stock and 2G to Jayalalitha’s AIADMK.

The best-case scenario is that The Hindu staff chanced upon the Dayanidhi Maran cable only after results day, 13 May. The worst-case scenario is not to difficult to imagine.

Amen.

Also read: The four great wars of N. Ram on Hindu soil

How The Hindu got hold of the WikiLeaks cables

External reading: Save The Hindu

Why a unique newspaper isn’t covering the IPL

Parimala Bhat reads Sparshdnyan, one of the world’s few newspapers to cater to the visually impaired.

This week’s Sunday Guardian carries a story on Sparshdnyan, a newspaper in Braille for the visually impaired. Published out of Bombay twice a month, the 48-page paper is sent out to some 400 subscribers in Maharashtra.

The paper’s editor Swagat Thorat estimates readership at 24,000 copies per issue, most of them in the 18-35 segment  that advertisers love, but not surprisingly the paper gets no ads.

The editor tells correspondent Rick Westhead that he receives 600-700 letters each issue, and covers his Rs 30,000 per month administrative costs by selling wildlife pictures.

“We cover almost everything,” Thorat says, “but there are a few topics we don’t like.”

One, surprisingly, is India’s national passion: cricket.

“The paper we use is very expensive because it’s so thick for the Braille and I just don’t want to waste it on a topic that is covered in so many other places,” he says.

“I want to make sure we have more on things like science technologies, missions to Mars, and maybe more on India’s foreign policy.”

Photograph: courtesy The Sunday Guardian

Read the full article: Braille newspaper shows blind new world

Contact Sparshdnyan: sprshdnyan [at] gmail [dot] com

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Also read: The Musalman: world’s oldest calligraphed paper

Sudharma, India’s only Sanskrit newspaper turns 38

Khushwant Singh stands up for Barkha Dutt, again

For the second time in five months, Khushwant Singh, the former editor of the now-defunct Illustrated Weekly of India, stands up for the beleaguered NDTV group editor and anchor, Barkha Dutt, in Hindustan Times:

“I shudder to think what would be left of Indian television if Barkha Dutt decides to call it a day.

“For many years I made it a point to watch two programmes to keep myself abreast of what were the main issues facing the country. One was Barkha’s We, the People and the other was The Big Fight by Rajdeep Sardesai.

“Both Barkha and Sardesai did their homework in order to ask right questions from the people they had invited to appear in the programmes. They also took care to have eminent people who had conflicting views so that viewers would get different viewpoints before making up their own minds.

“Barkha does a lot more than We, the People. Wherever riots and violence erupt, Barkha is the first TV personality to give viewers an idea what is going on and why. Our countrymen rely heavily on what she says because she never takes sides but gives participants an occasion to put across their views to a huge audience, which runs into millions.

“Recently when Osama bin Laden was killed by American commandos in Abbottabad and viewers round the globe wanted to know how Pakistanis felt about the entry of foreign forces in their soil without their permission or knowledge, Barkha was in Pakistan in order to know what Pakistani leaders had to say about it. Next to Americans Pakistanis hate Indians.

“Barkha is a fearless woman. Her good looks and dress-sense add to her acceptability. Some people say that Barkha Dutt has a swollen head. I have no means of checking if that is true. I have met her only once for a few minutes. Far from being swollen-headed, I found her totally unaware about her iconic status.”

Also read: Barkha Dutt tarred by pure malice: Khushwant Singh

M.R. SHIVANNA, a true 24/7 journalist, is dead

sans serif records with regret the passing away of M.R. SHIVANNA, an unsung hero of Indian journalism, in Mysore on Saturday. He was 55, and is survived by his wife and daughter.

For 30 years and more, Shivanna slogged away in remarkable obscurity and was one of the pillars on which stands India’s most successful English evening newspaper, Star of Mysore. Starting out as a sub-editor in the local tabloid, Shivanna, a son of a farmer, had grown to be editor of the family-owned SoM at the time of his death.

Shivanna was no poet. His prose wouldn’t set the Cauvery on fire, nor was it intended to.

First in at work and last man out of the office, he wrote simple functional sentences day after relentless day. While dozens of young men cut their teeth at Star of Mysore on their way to bigger things in Bangalore and beyond, Shivanna stayed on, lending his boss K.B. GANAPATHY the kind of quiet solidity every owner and editor can only envy.

Here, CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY, one of Shivanna’s myriad ex-colleagues, who moved from Star of Mysore on to Frontline, The Week and The Times of India, among other ports of call, pays tribute.

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By CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY

“(MRS).”

For decades, lakhs of Mysoreans have seen these three letters of the alphabet appended to thousands of news reports in Star of Mysore and Mysooru Mitra, Mysore’s dour media siblings, steered successfully by its founder-editor K.B. Ganapathy.

For most readers, these initials are a daily mystery, unravelled only in the anniversary issue of the two newspapers in February and March, respectively, when a mandatory “long-form” piece or an interview appears with the full form of the byline: M.R. Shivanna.

But for the remainder of the year, (MRS) was a byword for his straight, unaffected style.

As a journalist, Shivanna knew his limitations and that perhaps was his greatest strength. In a world of flamboyant story-tellers, he was the odd man out. Shorn of scholarly airs or intellectual pretensions, MRS pursued his vocation with a constancy of purpose, a fierce diligence that is rare in a profession where careerism has taken hold.

At times it seemed as if MRS literally lived in the newsroom, straddling two worlds, two sensibilities.

He finished his work at Star of Mysore, which is an English evening newspaper, in the afternoon, only to seamlessly drift to the other part of the building and discharge his duties at Mysooru Mitra, the Kannada morning daily form the same group.

You called the office at any unearthly hour, and more often than not MRS would pick up the phone, ready with pen on paper. A bulk of the information from across the districts was communicated over phone by a network of stringers and reporters, who spoke in varying  degrees  of clarity. MRS was an expert in tactfully prising out ‘news’ from these guys, night or day.

MRS was a 24×7 journalist before 24×7 became business jargon.

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In 1990, just before taking up my journalism course, I ventured to work in Star of Mysore as a trainee.

K.B. Ganapathy, after a cursory chat, called in MRS and asked him to take me under his wing and put me through the paces.

At first glance, MRS was distinctly unimpressive: He was frail, he had a funny moustache, he tucked his shirt out, walked with a slouch and was staccato in his speech. He fobbed me off to his colleague at the desk, Nandini Srinivasan, who helped me tremendously through the early years.

Over a period of time, slowly, steadily I built some rapport with MRS. Sometimes he would call me out for an occasional smoke which I would readily accept in the hope of having a good conversation. But MRS would keep to himself and allow me to do all the talking, seldom proffering advice or insight, a genial smile displaying his tobacco-stained teeth.

There was a manic phase, of about a month or so, when I drank with him regularly at a fancy bar in Mysore. These sessions were unremarkable, almost matter-of-fact,  as MRS insisted that the Hindi music be played at an exceptionally high volume. There was no chance for exchange of ‘journalistic views’ leave alone banter.

Through the years in college, my association with Star and MRS continued. He would give me occasional assignments and background on stories that I was following.  Although writing in English did not come naturally to MRS, he honed it over the years through repeated practice.

His news reports were structured tightly in the classic “5 Ws and 1 H” formula, and it served him well.

There were reams and reams of buff paper on which he wrote with a cheap ball point pen that leaked, smudged and grew errant due to over use. He had this peculiar habit of bringing the nib close to his lips and blowing at it, like as if he was fanning a dying cigarette. He did that always, probably to fuel his pen’s fervor.

As an old-school journalist brought up on letter press, MRS also used and understood sub-editing notation better than most journalists. He used a red ink pen to underline a letter twice for capitalisation, a hurried swirl to denote deletion, “stet” if he wanted something to stay as is.

And for all his limitations with the language, if you were ever at a sudden loss for a word, those standard ones that you use to embellish journalistic copy, MRS would spout it in a second. The words swam in his head all the time.

Instinct and Intuition guided his journalistic disposition.

Passion and Persistence gave it  further ballast.

***

In 1993, “MRS” won the Karnataka Rajyothsava award. And as it happens in journalistic circles, there were whispers of how he had engineered it all, how it was a complete joke, how he was underserving, etc. MRS continued unfazed, doing what he did best, day after day after day. In due course, the tired critics went to sleep.

Many years later, at the Taj Lands End in Bombay, I hastened to the breakfast buffet for a quick bite before a conference. I had by then quit journalism to join Intel.

I heard a familiar “Hello, Chethu”.

I swung around to see MRS holding a bowl of fruits.

Over breakfast, he told me that Intel had flown him down to cover the event and simply amazed me with the information he had collected about the company’s latest products and plans. He kept jotting down notes verifying and cross-checking facts as we spoke. That evening we promised to get together but it didn’t happen.

During R.K .Laxman’s  last visit to Mysore about two years back, MRS took on the entire responsibility of hosting him in the City. Apart from ensuring that the Laxmans stayed in a friend’s hotel he organised their trip to Chamundi hills for an exclusive darshan. Laxman was profusely thankful to him during the visit.

On their last day in Mysore, MRS called me over the phone. He began with enquiring about my well being and slowly moved on to  a long conversation on Laxman’s perspective on various issues around him. I took the journalist’s bait and went with the flow filling him with facts, quotes, trivia.

I imagined MRS at his desk, his pen scribbling away on sheafs of paper, periodically blowing into his nib, probably conjuring the headline, the lead, the middle for his copy.

MRS will continue to write wherever he is. In the end, the smudges don’t matter really.

Also read: A song for an unsung hero: C.P. Chinnappa

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IN MEMORIAM

Naresh Chandra Rajkhowa: journo who broke Dalai Lama story

Chari, a lens legend at The Hindu

Harishchandra Lachke: A pioneering cartoonist

T.N. Shanbag: Man who educated Bombay journos

Rajan Bala: cricket writer of cricket writers

Jyoti Sanyal: The language terrorist and teacher

Russy Karanjia: The bulldog of an editor

Sabina Sehgal Saikia: The resident food writer

M.G. Moinuddin: The self-taught newspaper designer

Rajiv Gandhi: 69 ads over 41 pages in 12 papers

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: On the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi‘s 20th death anniversary today, different ministries of the Congress-led UPA government are falling over each other to demonstrate that the “collective flame of political sycophancy” continues to burn brightly and shamelessly.

While Rajiv Gandhi’s widow Sonia Gandhi and their son Rahul Gandhi talk of “austerity” when it suits them, nearly a dozen Union ministries and a couple of State governments have released tens of ads through the government-controlled Department of Audio Visual Publicity (DAVP) to remind Indians that such a man as he walked this earth.

In eleven English news and business papers published out of New Delhi, there were 65 advertisements amounting to 38¼ pages, glorifying The Great Leader, without whom India wouldn’t have entered the 21st century.

Hindustan Times: 24-page issue; 9 RG ads amounting to 5¼ broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 32-page issue; 10 ads amounting to 6 broadsheet pages

Indian Express: 28-page issue; 10 ads amounting to 5 broadsheet pages

Mail Today (compact): 42-page issue; 8 ads amounting to 7 compact pages

The Hindu: 22-page issue; 6 ads amounting to 3½ broadsheet pages

The Pioneer: 16-page issue; 7 ads amounting to 3½ broadsheet pages

The Statesman: 16-page isuse; 4 ads amounting to 2½ broadsheet pages

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The Economic Times: 16-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¼ broadsheet pages

Business Standard: 14-page issue; 4 ads amouning to 1¾ broadsheet pages

Financial Express: 24-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ broadsheet pages

Mint (Berliner): 12-page issue; 1 ad amounting to one compact page

Among the departments and ministries seeking to remind the nation of Rajiv Gandhi’s magical powers are the department of information and publicity; the ministries of commerce and industry, tourism, human resource development, social justice & empowerment, power, micro small and medium industries, information and broadcasting, steel; the state governments of Haryana and Rajasthan; and Rajiv Gandhi centre for biotechnology.

Last year, on the 19th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an edit-page article in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”

On his birthday in August last year, The Telegraph reported that “Union ministries released more ads on Rajiv Gandhi’s birthday today than on the anniversaries of the rest of India’s Prime Ministers put together in the past one year, Press Information Bureau sources said.”

For the record, The Telegraph received four ads amounting to 2½ pages this year.

Which is why ‘Times Now’ didn’t do an exit poll?

The verdict in the assembly elections to the five States has been signed, sealed and delivered, but the battle is still on between the English TV news channels, with both Times Now and CNN-IBN making contrasting claims of their leadership on E-day and the accuracy of their exit poll and survey predictions.

As the former Times Now CEO Chintamani Rao wrote some months ago:

“These are not conflicting statements. But when you see the ads from which these claims are quoted, notice the asterisk: *conditions apply. It seems that at every news channel there is someone whose job is to slice and dice TAM data until they find a combination of audience, markets, and dayparts in which that channel is No. 1. The most prolific of these data analysts seems to work at CNN-IBN.”

Nevertheless, Times Now‘s potshot at CNN-IBN’s post-poll survey—“get the right picture, not the wrong figures”—is interesting because, for all its heft, Times Now was happy doing a a cheap “poll of polls” debate in the studio, while CNN-IBN was spending good money to feel the pulse of the nation through Yogendra Yadav‘s CSDS.

CSDS got many things wrong, but at least it is better to have spent and failed than not to have spent at all?

Also read: It’s their opinion that they have done an exit poll

With so many polls, somebody had to get it right?

Never let facts come in the way of a good story