May 31, 2006

Beating the liquor ban

Scene: Tehran, during the revolution, when the US newspaper correspondents kept body and soul together with a daily lunch at Leon’s Russian Grill, featuring borscht, double portion of caviar with blini and vodka. Everything went well till prohibition was declared in new Iran.

“For my chum William Tuohy of The Los Angeles Times and me, this marked the end of civilized life as we had known it …On the first day of prohibition our regular waiter pulled a long face, …carefully explained the new order of things and suggested 7Up as an appropriate alternate beverage.

“Resourceful fellows, those Iranians. When the bottles of “soda” arrived with our lunch – you must have guessed by now – they were filled with vodka
” - R W Apple Jr., associate editor, in The New York Times Magazine (May 28, 2006)

Every other journalist must have a prohibition tale. I have a couple to recall. During a conducted tour of media film critics to Bombay (under prohibition) in late sixties we were put up at MLAs hostel, where M Shamim of The Times of India, Debu Mazumdar of Indian Express, and I (used to be then with National Herald) had separate rooms, but chose to share a single bathroom, where we found a convenient closet for our pre-mixed rum and water. We learnt later that some of our more daring colleagues in the press party sipped it out of a tea cup held openly on their bedside table. They had found a resourceful room boy to bring in the ‘beverage’ in tea-pots.

Of course Bombay-based media were amused at our uninformed ways. They went for tenements in Colaba and fishermen’s huts in Varsova that morphed into an ‘adda’ during evenings for their favourite peg with churmuri.

May 29, 2006

Deepa Mehta’s pretentious ‘Water’

I don’t know if Deepa Mehta’s ‘Water’ has yet been released in India. In the US it has received much hype; and the film is playing in San Francisco and some theatres in the Bay Area, California, to critical acclaim. I couldn’t stand it for more than 20 minutes. And I am not an RSS activist. My contempt for such cinematic effort stems from a lack of sensitivity in filming. When its maker faced problem from Hindu activists during the shoot much was made in some quarters of India’s intolerance to freedom of expression.

It is not as if no film had been made on our socially-sanctioned cruelty to child widows. I recall a Kannada film (cannot remember the name) made over two decades ago that handled the plight of our women in such circumstances with sympathy and sensitivity. The film advocated widow remarriage at time when it was not socially fashionable to do so.

‘Water’ has high production value that facilitates a gullible audience to gloss over the film’s treatment of the theme. Deepa Metha’s ‘Water’ is pretentious. Director appears to relish dwelling on travails of a child widow, at a slow-moving pace with lingering shots of disagreeable rituals, such as shaving the head of a widowed child in exasperating detail. You don’t need to capture in close-up every movement of the barber’s razor over the scalp of a sobbing child.

May 25, 2006

Media correctness

I know you wouldn’t believe when I say I’m not rubbing it in on Star of Mysore. But I couldn’t resist posting this entry about Craig Silverman’s E&P Weekly column – Rosenthal’s Legacy: The Corrections. Didn’t know, did you, that the late A M Rosenthal, former NYT exec. editor, standardized the practice of printed corrections issued in newspapers. The Los Angeles Times wrote, "When the newspaper erred, he insisted that it admit its mistakes in a daily Corrections column, which he introduced in 1972. He later added the Editor's Note, which addressed flaws such as errors of omission and lapses in taste and standards."

Rosenthal's successor, Max Frankel, is credited with his own tweak on the correction by insisting on standardizing how they are written. E&P columnist Craig Silverman who is credited with having studied over 100,000 corrections published in newspapers and magazines says 1) corrections don’t work’ and 2) they aren’t the best way to ensure that readers get the correct information.

Because a) very few readers read corrections; b) they can’t be bothered to scan the ‘corrections’ column to see if something they read yesterday or the day before was incorrect; and c) phrasing of corrections do not always offer a clear explanation for the error or adequate clarification of the misleading information.

“Today's corrections are often too brief, too obscure. They read like the hurried work of an editor tasked with an unpleasant chore, or, in the worst examples, they come off as the result of an effort to conceal rather than disclose. The reality is corrections exist more to absolve a publication than inform readers”, says Silverman, who edits Regret the Error, a website reporting on corrections, retractions, clarifications, and trends regarding accuracy and honesty in the media.

May 23, 2006

A reporter inhales skepticism

We have, in this blog, raised such a ruckus (Capt. Murthy, Mr Rao and I, not necessarily in that order) over a certain Star of Mysore story that I can understand if you feel we are over-doing it. But then seeing Capt. Murthy’s ‘chutpati’ comment to a ‘Media Muddle’ blog post, I thought of adding my spoonful of ‘ghee’ to the blaze by plagiarizing something I read on the attributes of a responsible journalist and responsive journalism.

Every reporter inhales skepticism. You interview people and they lie. You face public figures, diligently making notes or taping what is said, and they perform their interviews to fit a calculated script. The truth, alas, is always elusive….The newspaper reporter’s daily struggle is against deadlines and column inches, time and space.

The italicized lines in bold have been nicked from NYT book review by Pete Hamill, of David Remnick’s ‘Reporting’. The author was a Washington Post reporter before he became ‘New Yorker’ editor. And during his apprenticeship at the Post Remnick often covered homicides, giving it his all, only to be told by a night editor: “Two paragraphs. Slug it, ‘slay’ ”.

Another lesson that Remnick learnt: the best reporting doesn’t simply look at the world; it tries to see beyond the obvious surface. The reporter goes places the average reader never visits; the reporter must make that fragment of the world understandable with details….He goes places, talks to many people and comes back to tell his readers what he has learned. And like any reporter who learns from what he experiences, he knows that the world contains very few saints.

Modesty remains a primary virtue of any good reporter….As a writer Remnick practices a classic journalistic style: concrete nouns, active verbs, graceful sentences, solid paragraphs, subtle transitions….As a writer he treats the reader as an informed, intelligent equal. As an editor, he wants to make the writer’s work better.

Those who happen to read this post would do me a favour by spreading the word about this piece of plagiarism to any reporter they might know, or anyone they know, who might know of a newspaper person.

May 22, 2006

If mom says, ’I love you’, check it out

Can’t think of a more journalistic definition of skepticism. Now The New York Times public editor Byron Calame has redefined the mom-says version, saying, ‘when there’s a story that’s likely to make readers go “Wow,” it should be checked twice’. The world’s best known newspaper carried a ‘wow’ story recently. So did our own Star of Mysore. And neither had checked it out.

Irony is the story both newspapers mishandled had to do with aviation. They played it on Page One. Both newspapers got the facts wrong. And both ‘left the incorrect story unaddressed publicly’ (for a week, in the case of NYT). The NYT story pertained to Airbus supposedly planning an aircraft with ‘standing room’ only for economy class passengers. This way they could accommodate as many as 853 passengers. The story said the aircraft maker was pitching the idea to Asian airlines, for short-haul routes.

The Star of Mysore story referred to a state government official reportedly speaking of a proposal to develop an international airport in Mysore. A story that worked up our aviator blogger, Capt. Anup Murthy, to raise turbulence in a coffee tumbler.

Both stories had, what Calame would term, the ‘wow’ factor and made their way to the front page ‘hardly meeting a skeptical eye’ in their editorial staff. NYT didn’t seek Airbus comment on the stand-up seat idea. SoM failed to ask the bureaucrat any specific question on the feasibility of the supposed proposal for an international airport in Mysore. However, senior journalist Mr Gouri Satya in a blog comment said the Karnataka official, in apparent response to the SoM misreporting, made it clear the next day that her reference was to Mangalore, not Mysore.

Neither NYT nor SoM came out with a correction soon after their mistake came to light. Delayed correction had its fallout. The NYT story resulted in publication of the stand-up seat story in several other newspapers. In Mysore SoM’s misleading report was, presumably, the basis for a comment by a Singapore Airlines executive welcoming the idea of an international airport for Mysore.

After the NYT mess the last word came from its public editor, who wrote that the Times editors at all levels needed to pick up each story with the assumption that aspects of it, or even the central premise could be wrong. Readers deserve no less. (Italics are mine). Till the time of blogging this post we haven’t had a word from SoM by way of correction. Readers deserve a lot more.

May 19, 2006

A question of media priority

Here is something for my friend Vijendra to mull over in his media blog. There are more media people in Africa watching out for Brangelina’s birth than those covering the situation in Darfur. Says who? Says my neighbourhood newspaper in San Ramon, CA.. When the story gets printed it would carry an exotic dateline: Swakopmund, Namibia. It’s a resort in an otherwise desert country.

Occasion: Angelina Jolie (don’t ask who, for I’m not sure myself) is about to give birth to Brad Pitt’s baby.

Pre-birth scoop: London’s ‘Daily Mirror’ reports that an unidentified US-based weekly has signed a $5 m deal for rights to the baby’s first pix. The money is to be donated to UNICEF.

Question: Does anyone know/care about whatever is happening in Darfur, any more ?

Brangelina: Brad+Angelina

May 18, 2006

Couch potatoes club-up

Long Beach (California) Society of Couch Potatoes has codified a ten-point exercise programme for members - 1) skating on thin ice, 2) casting aspersions, 3) throwing caution to the wind, 4) bending the truth; 5) digging up dirt; 6) flogging a dead horse; 7) going the extra mile; 8) jumping to conclusions; 9) lashing out, and 10) marching to a different drummer......... It is my firm belief that Coonoorians (and many of us in Mysore) are in no way less accomplished than Californians on any of the ten counts.

My own favorite is flogging a dead horse......And we're one better than Californians; we are much too lazy even to organise themselves on the lines of the lazy ones of Long Beach....Read more (if you are inclined and aren't too lazy to exert yourself) by clicking on Recycled Writings.

May 17, 2006

Worrying over change

If you worry about things you can change, then change them so you don't worry. If you worry about things you cannot change, don't worry because you can't change them. So said Reto Wittwer citing a Buddhist saying. The real worry, as I see it, is some of us lack the wisdom to sort out things we can change from those we can't.
Mr Wittwer is the chief executive of Kempinski hotels group, and a Buddhist by accident. As he put it in a New York Times interview, "When I was young I married a Vietnamese girl, who was Buddhist. Her parents said, 'It's Buddhist or nothing'. I said O.K". He is Swiss, and his first language is Rhaeto-Romansh, a Latin-based 'gypsy mismash', one of Switzerland's four official languages.

May 14, 2006

Cooker whistle scares babies

I thought it is just Sidharth, my 5-month old grandson, who gets scared by a whistling pressure cooker, till I read The website for Indian families in the US runs a ‘baby of the fortnight' feature that carries every other week the profile of a child. Parents are invited to mail a set of pix. of their child, along with a note on the baby’s likes, dislikes, and any noticeable skills. Editor (or is it a baby jury) selects one of the entries for web-lication every fortnight.

Photo : Sidharth, in contemplative mode, when the cooker isn't whistling.

Scanning NRIPulse ‘Baby of the Fortnight’ archives I found quite a few parents listing pressure cooker whistle as a scary item. We’re talking about infants from four to 12 months. Why can’t we have a silencer fitted in to kill that noise ? Maybe housewives should represent to the cooker makers. If they can’t kill the shrill, manufacturers could think of modulating it to produce a Himesh Reshamiya number. I hear he is adept in making music (or what passes for it) out of piercing sounds.

May 8, 2006

The Coonoor connection

A nice thing about blogging is it enables connectivity that transcends memory; insofar as it re-connects one-time friends who have long ceased to remember each other. I heard from such a friend, Mr Marshall Gass in New Zealand, the other day, for no reason other than that he happened to Google something I wrote in zine5 some time back – ‘And so I must write to GVK and say Hi’. The zine5 piece had “stirred the tentacles of an old memory”.

Mr Gass used to blog in a Coonoor site I hosted before moving to Mysore. Of the site, Mr Gass, who had left Coonoor over 35 years back, wrote; “So many mates from the old school days have made contact since my e-mail went on this site (Coonoor Connection) – Hindley, Ramamurthy, Francis Mathews, Eates. Amazing. It was the best fun in the world, catching up with those guys I played marbles with 35 years back”.

In his e-mail this Coonoor-connected New Zealander said his memories of the place were ‘browned and faded like an antique photograph’ and described Coonoor as ‘epitaph of a cherubic dream’. “The contacts appeared and disappeared, and once in a while I get the do-you-remember-me story”, writes Mr Gass, “I most often do”.

I write to him saying we have moved on to Mysore, and had to abandon the Coonoor site, now dead out of sheer neglect. But then Mr Gass has a Mysore connection as well. Look up his blog entry in Impressions – ‘Up close and cheeky with Mysore crocs’.

May 5, 2006

Coping with stray cows in California

San Ramon: A newspaper reader in our neighbourhood paper shares her thoughts on coping with stray cows on hiking trails. For someone from Mysore, where I confront cattle on streets whenever I stir out of house, any advice on tackling cows is of interest. Here is what the Californian cow adviser has to say:

“They (cows) seem to consider us (humans) a threat only if they perceive us to be staring at them. My husband and I have the following conversation while approaching cattle on the trails. We don’t look at them; instead, say to each other ‘I don’t see a cow, do you?’, I say. He says, ‘no, I don’t see any cows either’

“Calm voices seem to help. We’ve walked by cows so close we could have touched them. They don’t run or even move. I think they think we don’t see them. It’s as if they don’t see us, either. I highly recommend this technique”