Archive for June, 2013


My former student Samarth Goyal inspired me to write this! A fan of Rafael Nadal, Samarth is distraught about the fact that Nadal lost. I, for one, think Nadal is a bore. And not just Nadal, most players, with the exception of Federer, play the game like they are programmed.

Sometime in the late 1980s when STAR TV made its entry into India, it created quite a stir – at least in my home. All of a sudden I was watching stuff that Doordarshan would never dream of carrying, for reasons best known to them. A few years earlier they had started showing the iconic Yes Prime Minister, but after a few episodes it was abruptly yanked off, probably because they thought it demeaned the office of the prime minister and showed the bureaucracy to be conniving little devils! It also showed the PM to be a complete dullard and Rajiv Gandhi in those days was floundering with the Bofors scandal having erupted. By the time STAR TV came into India (at least into Pune) Rajiv Gandhi had lost the election and VP Singh was the prime minister.

There was the kind of entertainment on STAR which I would often only read about. M*A*S*H* was one such serial about American doctors in Korea. It was and still the best sitcom I have seen. STAR also showed us sports, but initially, except for tennis there wasn’t too much of interest, unless you liked baseball, American football and basketball – which I did not. So I concentrated on watching tennis.

I remember the first time I watched the entire US Open it was on STAR and I was completely in awe. There was the legendary Jimmy Connors, all of 40, still playing, still clowning around and still swearing. He wagged his finger and screamed at a linesman for what he believed was a bad call. He was wrong, but it did not matter because just the fun of Jimbo blowing his top was entertaining enough! The thing is STAR brought it all into our living rooms. Every word he said to the linesman could be heard through the courtside microphones and, trust me, Connors wasn’t enquiring about the man’s health!

But even before STAR beamed tennis live there were the characters – Borg, Vijay Amrithraj, McEnroe, Vitas Gerulaitis, Guilermo Vilas, Ilie Nastase, and Roscoe Tanner who made tennis so exciting to watch. They played hard and enjoyed the game as much as they gave viewers a chance to enjoy the game. I remember during that particular US Open beamed live by STAR TV for the first time. In the midst of the drama involving a screaming Connors, a lone female voice cried out “I love you Jimmy!” The whole stadium erupted in laughter. And Connors turned around, anger forgotten, and blew a kiss! It was all an act but that is what made tennis so much fun to watch then.

Today, unfortunately, such characters have left the game. Today, except for the occasional Djokovic caper on the court, it is just another day at the office. Everything is about winning, winning and more winnings. Enjoyment is secondary. The game has become boring. Actually it became boring from the time players like Lendl, Courier and Sampras entered the scene – great tennis players, but lousy entertainers. Jim Courier was one of the most boring players I have ever watched. So what if he won a few grand slams? The only exceptions then were Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Andre Agassi and Goran Ivanesevic and a few others, who had fun while they played. Not too many of them around. Roger Federer comes closest. The rest, including Rafael Nadal, I wouldn’t go to watch – not even on TV.

And the same goes for the women. I don’t see even one player who comes close to Steffi Graf, Chris Evert, Martina Hingis, Gabriela Sabatini, Aranxta Sanchez Vicario, Martina Navratilova, to name just four. The standard of women’s tennis is pathetic and boring. And they actually want equal pay? So thank God, at least one bore has been knocked out in the first round of Wimbledon this year.

It is time tennis brought back its characters.

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The Hindu was once known as the newspaper which had NO errors. I stress on the word ‘NO’.  This newspaper was the last word in correct English. It must be right, if it is in The Hindu, was the foregone conclusion. With due apologies to the Virginia Slims advertisement that appeared in the early 1960’s (I think), we’ve come a long way baby!

A few weeks ago, The Hindu had a word in the lede that would have made ALL their late editors turn cartwheels in the grave. It had used the word ‘catapult’ instead of ‘capitulate’ in a report about the Advani resignation farce. It got me and I am sure, a lot of others, smiling at the delicious irony of it. Imagine the blunder happening at The Hindu, which always prided itself for the correctness of its language. The same Hindu, in the early days, offered a generous sum of money to readers who could spot an error in the newspaper. It was reported that for many years there were no claimants for the prize. But this incident also got me thinking.

After having worked in the media industry for the past 23 years, this is a question that I have often pondered over but have always come up short for answers: Is it possible to produce a zero-error newspaper? And, if so, under what conditions?

During my stint with the Hindustan Times in Lucknow, the HR guys came over once to give us a presentation on Six Sigma which they wanted to implement in the newspaper. I sat through the lecture that stretched for a half a day and at the end of it, when I was asked whether it could be employed in the editorial department, I said a flat no. Here’s why. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

Let’s just step back a few decades and explore the work in newspapers between the 1950s up to the early 1980s. In those days, most reporters still filed only a story or two every day as per their beat requirements. Copy editors (then known as sub-editors) edited three to four reports on a shift ( I may be wrong here). There was more than one sub editor to do one page. Pages were made by layout artists supervised by seniors. There were no spell-checks. If you had a doubt, there was the fat dictionary. For grammar and sentence formation, your command of the language was what saved you or screwed you.  But of the people who worked there many were dons in the language and secondly they were passionate about the profession.

By the mid 1980s, when I joined a newspaper, sub editors were editing up to two pages per shift, again in hard copy, although computers were being used to type in matter. It was only in the 1990s that computers began to be used for editing and page-making as well. Cut to the present day and age, where with the help of computers copy editors not only edit, but also design up to four pages per shift. Journalism schools were not too much in fashion in those days, and as Kushwant Singh said in the foreword of a book on journalism, one could learn more journalism in three months working for a newspaper than by spending two years in journalism school.

Today media schools have spread across the country like the proverbial rash. But they are churning out graduates and post graduates with very little connect to the high pressure world outside. The quality of manpower emerging from here has a huge role to play in the product that they intend to promote. While there are youngsters who are (to use the phrase) to the manner born, there are numerous others who take up journalism because they couldn’t get into, maybe, medicine or engineering. So unless they discover the hidden talent and revel in the course, they are already facing the proverbial Mt. Everest. Then, a month’s internship is not enough. Today, a fresher is thrown in the deep end from the day he or she joins, and not everyone feels right at home. The smart ones learn to swim the rest struggle to stay afloat. It is the latter that is a cause for worry. This is where a mentor plays such a significant role at least in newspapers. Magazines are luckier, in that aspect I am told.

When we were trainees, there were seniors who were looking over our shoulder at what we were doing. Very often, we were told to watch how they edited a particular copy. So we did not just learn to edit, we also learnt to write better.  Maybe, that’s a practice we should resume, at least in a newspaper, even if it means extending work by a few hours. Today, that is missing, mainly because there is no time. If I make copy editors sit next to me every time I rework their copies, the deadlines will go for a six.

Take the example of the newspaper I work for. On any given day we have between 25 and thirty local and region reports, which are far more than what any other local newspaper carries, except maybe the vernacular editions. So, while I run my eyes over all those reports once edited and I still find mistakes, I correct them. When the copy has numerous errors I’ll call the copy editor and show him where he or she has erred. I don’t always have the time to individually call juniors over and explain to them the intricacies of editing and rewriting every time they make an error. I hope that they will read the newspaper the next day to see the corrected versions of their copies.

In such a working environment, can we ever produce a zero-error newspaper? Not everyone could produce it then, and with the kind of pressures we face, I just wonder whether we can do it now.

And if you need more proof, here it is. From the Indian Express of July 27, 2013.