Writing for the Media 02/12/2010

Writing for the Media

USHA RAMAN

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS

Rs.285

 

Usha Raman’s book  on Writing for the Media  is a welcome addition to books of this genre  considering that there seems to be  a dearth  of   them especially   by Indian authors  and journalists whose focus  all along appears  to have been mainly on the reporting  aspect  of   journalism. Though the  author states in her preface that the  four-phase approach   is  based  loosely on Carole Rich’s “coaching method”, she follows  her  four C’s  principle of teaching writing  :conception-news thinking; collection—news gathering; construction-news writing and correction-news editing. However  she orients her book towards the Indian context  using mostly illustrations from Indian  publications  and some from the internet  as well.  Each chapter  highlights the learning objectives and after  a brief introduction of the topic a detailed explanation and illustrations follow. A  new feature in this book is the inclusion  of   critical thinking questions  named as “read, think and discuss”  for the benefit of  those new to the subject.

Section One  “News thinking”  divided into three parts talks of understanding what makes news; putting together the newspaper ;beginning to write. Under the heading   News values and Priorities, Proximity  is subdivided into geographic proximity and psychological proximity. The first has to do with events and issues  closer home whereas in the second  kind  we are interested in others like us, in things we identify with, notwithstanding geographical distances. For instance, she says, when a disaster strikes  halfway around the world, our interest is sparked just a little more when there are casualities  from India, more so from our own cities and towns. Though the basic news values have largely remained the same over decades, their prioritizing by the editors  have changed due to  cross-media competition. For instance while there is  still an emphasis on timeliness, the story must be “framed” a little differently in order to  sustain the interest of readers who would have already  heard the news item on the TV, says the author. The usage of  key   terms such as  Infographic and Newshole  are  found  in the first part of this section. The subsequent parts deal with how a story moves from an idea to the printed page and the different ways ideas are generated, developed  and made to fit a publication.

News gathering which constitutes the second Section deals with Laying Foundations for Stories: collecting  Information; Developing Sources; Interviewing: Drawing Information from People.

Research, investigation, and fact finding are all activities that should become part of a reporter’s daily routine and  at the same time  journalists cannot afford to ignore  recent developments, such as   blogs and citizen journalism  which have served to  expand  the news source base. They do need to sift through these sources in an efficient and effective manner, without drowning in that veritable sea of facts and opinions, states the author.

Developing Sources  deals with how to identify sources for a story; techniques of developing and retaining sources; how to deal with sensitive information sources; the importance of having a wide source base ;observation and documentation skills.

This part of the second section  aptly  begins with  what  veteran Associated Press Journalist Conrad Fink, who has, by his own description,”watched the sun rise over Mount Fuji and set over the Himalayas,” says  (during his long and varied career as a foreign correspondent for the world’s largest news agency) :THE SOURCE BOOK IS THE JOURNALIST’S  BIBLE”

In the same context she  rightly adds, contrary to popular opinion, more than news stories,’’it is the features and more detailed analytical stories that use a variety of sources. Information    that comes from people is what lends life to stories, and draws in the audience. Even on television, despite having the camera on location capturing events as they unfold, it is the “sound bites” that add the human angle, to any story, people talking about how an event or an issue affects them, or authorities giving the facts directly.”  On the subject of anonymous and “official” Sources Usha cites two examples of how one led to a  journalistic breakthrough and the other  to a fictitious story where the writer won a Pulitzer Prize  for her story. Subsequently  the paper offered  a public apology  and returned the prestigious prize. Following this, The Washington Post  and several other American newspapers  instituted a stringent policy discouraging anonymous sources. She  makes a very candid observation  here “in recent years, however, the unnamed source has crept back into news stories, and you will find several instances of only thinly  disguised anonymity—in the form of “official” sources or “department sources” or “authoritative sources”. These tend to be particularly rampant in stories about the government and bureaucracy—and this is true of reportage in India and abroad.”

Section Three, titled Newswriting   deals with the following: Putting it all together; From “Fits” to “Starts” ; Building Body into a Story”; Taking it to the Field; Press Conferences, Press Releases, and Management Events;   Development and Social Issue Reporting; Feature genres. The whole section with the exception of  Development and Social Issue Reporting   is very  basic and  theoretical   in nature. Under Preparing to Report a Beat (page 28) while referring  to her beat  which was the computer industry she cites her own example of how   she went about  talking to  people in the industry and interviewing   her sources to  do a cover story    for a Computer magazine in New Delhi It resulted in a   2,500 word analytical feature, says she. (It is however disappointing  not to find  the reproduction  of her feature in the book  as an illustration of a cover story ).

Section Four: News Editing –From Copy to Printed Page  offers very valuable advice and  practical tips  to  writers  in general   as how to make their writing reader friendly. It condenses the rules of reader engagement into  nine basic rules  which  should be  sincerely adhered to  by every writer to make his/her writing  concise and  interesting, which is what journalistic writing is all about.

Appendix 1: Tales from the Field  has  Professional journalists relating their experience  which  comes as an added interest  apart from the sprinkling of cartoons  throughout. The  author with her rich experience in the field could have  included other  genres of writing to the media, such as sports and  humour   for the benefit of students pursuing the discipline of journalism and media studies.

n.meera raghavendra rao

feature writer and author

published in Vidura:  issue of October-December 2010

 

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