Category Archives: Verbatim

The difference between fiction and journalism

DapperfuentesMexican writer Carlos Fuentes, whose next book is a journalistic report on drug trafficking and political corruption, has said he sees the press as the backbone of history, and fiction as the necessary contrast which gives meaning to the work of the press:

“For fiction to be fiction, the press must be true. When novels turn truth into fiction, it is true to itself, but when the press turns truth into fiction, it is unbelievable and reprehensible. Fiction’s truth is imagination. Journalism’s imagination is truth.”

Photograph: courtesy Warner Lecture series

‘How can you say it better in your own style?’

James Thurber, the legendary New Yorker writer-cartoonist, in a 1959 memo on editing:

“Editing should be, especially in the case of old writers, a counseling rather than a collaborating task. The tendency of the writer-editor to collaborate is natural, but he should say to himself, “How can I help this writer to say it better in his own style?” and avoid “How can I show him how I would write it, if it were my piece?”

Link via Jason Kottke

‘The only award I want to win is from my readers’


It is routine to hear super-achievers claim that the ultimate stamp of approval of their achievement comes when they are recognised and rewarded by their peers and compatriots.

Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman, in a discussion with the editorial staff of the New Delhi-based Indian Express, strikes a discordant note:

“People ask me what I do for a living. I tell them I am a translator from English to English. I sit down with that banker who really can only speak in the tongue of the financial market and I take that and I turn it into something simple that, hopefully, readers can understand.

“The trick is to make something much more readable without losing the complexity. We are in the communications business and sometimes we forget that. We are not in the obfuscation business and I have never written for my colleagues.

“I don’t want to win the journalist-of-the-year award from my colleagues. I want to win it from my readers. The reason why you should never read your critics is that if you do, you start writing for them and your reader picks up the paper and says, what the hell is this about?”

Read the full article: ‘There’s no Wall Street or Main Street, only one street, and we are all on it

Photograph: courtesy Discovery

‘Journalism is still the world’s best profession’

Columbian author and Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez in a conversation with students and journalists in Monterey, Mexico. 

“We enjoy it when we find a jewel (of a story), but suffer like dogs when we see language used badly… but it is still the best profession.”

Photograph: courtesy AFP

Twenty20 : cricket :: Page 3 : journalism

Rajdeep Sardesai on CNN-IBN:

“Twenty20 is to cricket what Page 3 is to journalism: fast, exciting, but also, often vacuous and titillating. Test cricket is a bit like the editorial page: serious, but at times, somnolent. If page three and page one can co-exist, why can’t 20-20 cricket live with the other forms of the game?

“Just as page three has been given its due space in journalism, shouldn’t the newest form of the sport be also given its moment in the cricketing sun? It should, but with a clear rider: Page 3 cricket must not be allowed to become page one sport.

“Page 3 was born out of this desire for change, much as Twenty20 cricket has emerged because of the pressures of a lifestyle that places a premium on time. A decade later, Page 3 has slowly but surely crept its way to page one: there is almost a breathless excitement with which we report on the world of glitz and glamour.”

Read the full article: Twenty20: Page 3 of cricket

‘Media can’t be in a state of permanent war’

“There is nothing called ‘fiercely independent’ or ‘tamely independent’. You are either independent or you are not independent. I don’t believe in media as a crusade. I believe media is for disseminating truth. That’s our job. It’s not our job to go into a permanent war with somebody. I am not interested in a permanent war with anyone, and certainly not with my government.”

M.J. Akbar, former editor-in-chief of The Asian Age, in an interview with Mehre Alam of Khaleej Times

Read the full interview here: ‘It’s not for media to crusade’

Also read: ‘Never let your head stoop as a journalist’

‘Even a newspaper of record is mortal’

For the first time in 64 years, Le Monde has not appeared this afternoon, as staff at the French paper of record protest the move to axe 130 jobs—two-thirds of them in editorial, one-third in administration.

In 1995, the paper produced a 40-page edition with 220 staff, today, it brings out a 30-page edition with 150. But the losses are mounting. Last year, the paper lost 20 million euros, and 150 million euros in debt.

Eric Fottorino, the chief executive of the group, and a former reporter, editorialist and editor-in-chief, says there are no magic solutions:

Le Monde’s existence is not anchored in France’s constitution. It’s a company and as such mortal.

Read the full interview: It’s a matter of survival

‘More like police briefings than news reports’

Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“English language newspapers and news channels in India have much to be proud of: their determination to tell the truth and to document atrocity during the pogrom in Gujarat in 2002 was an outstanding example of how a free press can bear witness when the State fails its citizens. The awfulness of Nandigram would never have come to light in a country with a more pliant press.

“But on some issues the press and the news networks seem to suffer a collective breakdown: the scepticism about narratives sponsored by the state that marks out good journalism is replaced by a willing suspension of disbelief.

“Since 9/11, stories that can be classified as instances of Islamic or Muslim terrorism read more like police briefings than news reports. The press coverage of S.A.R. Geelani’s arrest in connection with the attack on Parliament seven years ago was one example of the near-hysterical collusion between the news media and government agencies. Geelani’s subsequent acquittal made several newspapers and television news channels look both craven and credulous.

“The reporting on the Student’s Islamic Movement of India, banned since 2001, is shaping up to be another such story.”

Read the full article: Presuming innocence

‘Journalism: mankind’s greatest achievement’

At a time when cynicism of the Indian media is growing, both within and without, Rupashree Nanda of CNN-IBN,  the winner of the Chameli Devi Award for outstanding woman journalist of 2007, has delivered a rousing acceptance speech, in which she underlines the core values of what Gabriel Garcia Marquez called “God’s Chosen Profession”.

“I believe, journalism is the most significant human achievement. Not man’s landing on the moon, or the splitting of the atom, or the Vietnam war, or communism. It is the very simple idea of news.

“I believe just as it is the nature of water to wet, of fire to burn, it is the nature of journalism to effect change. And just as the water that nourishes can also kill, fire that sustains can also destroy, journalism can effect change for better or for worse. I believe, it has no limitations except the ones it imposes on itself.

“I believe, if it is true to its nature, it is radical, it cannot be otherwise.”

Read the full text here: ‘Such deprivation is ugly’Also read: Eloquent images of struggle

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

‘It’s all about irreverence, not subservience’

Indian journalist Seema Mustafa on the genesis of her opposition to the India-US nuclear deal, which some speculate could have contributed to M.J. Akbar being eased out of his position as editor of The Asian Age:

“It had to do with a certain commitment with which I joined the profession—a belief that journalism was powerful enough to change the world.

“I was fortunate in working with the greatest editors in Indian journalism, who not just added to this conviction, but also taught me that a good journalist was not one who made his or her peace with the establishment (as that is very easy and very comforting), but who questioned policy and wrote about the pitfalls.

“Journalism, they said, was all about irreverence, and had nothing to do with subservience.”

Excerpted from a column by Seema Mustafa in India Abroad