Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Working one's way up and other queries

Dear students,

You have been gracious to read my blog and respond. In a personal email to me, rather than a direct comment on my blog, which is what I prefer, Amith Prabhu asks about:
a) the importance of working one’s way up, rather than wanting to be in top posts and failing miserably, which some manage to do.
b) the difference between work in a PR consultancy and Corporate Communication. Many students in communications are confused with this, and I feel a good Corp Comm professional should have PR consultancy experience.
c) the growing need for ethics and discipline in careers.

Let me take the areas, one by one. I’ll take up (b) first. And then (a) and (c) together.

b) The difference between work in a PR consultancy and Corporate Communication. Many students in communications are confused with this, and I feel a good Corp Comm professional should have PR consultancy experience.

The difference between any field of communication arises due to “where you are”.

For example, by personal communication, we mean “one-on-one” communication where we speak with someone -- face-to-face in a meeting or over a meal; on the phone; send an SMS by mobile phone; write a letter or email. This communication is always two-way; in the case of letters, SMS or email, there is a time lag. The idea of “chat” came up in order to enhance the two-way feel, while on the mobile or computer.

Then we have “one-on-many” communication – personally as in a lecture, a public speech; in writing, as in a newspaper or magazine; in the form of listening to the disembodied voice on radio; or the semblance (illusion) of voice and person on TV; access to the Internet. Here it’s essentially one-way communication, though we have efforts at enhancing feedback, through letters to the editor (in print); phone-ins (on radio and TV); online websites of papers and TV channels, etc. Also this blog!

What about “many-to-one” communication? In the form of impact on the individual person from various messages bombarding him/her through various channels like daily life (in the home, family, street, at work); through print, music, radio, TV, the Internet, etc. You can add to this list.


I am getting into basic communication (like R.P. in “Basic Journalism”), because similar principles are applicable to PR and Corp Comm. Ask yourself the question, “Where am I, the sender of messages, vis-à-vis my publics”?

If you are in a mass media organisation like a paper, website, radio/TV station, then you are in direct contact with the general public, giving you enormous power (without responsibility?).

In a PR consultancy, that is, located outside corporate entities and the mass media, you work for individual clients (generally companies, but also maybe individuals), whose messages you try to direct towards specific “publics” – like the client’s customers, share-holders, investors, suppliers, dealers, employees (current and potential), the government, and even rivals or competitors.

In Corporate Communication, you are located right inside the corporate entity, like a private limited company. Here your “publics” are the customers, employees (current and potential), suppliers, vendors, dealers. But you are in communication with them in a much more direct and personal way than if you were in a PR consultancy or mass media. Actually, in Corp Comm, you would be dealing with your advertisement agency and your PR consultancy also in order to influence your “publics”.


Since I have worked in newspapers, and come up from the ranks – right from the stringer level in 1977, to sub-editor in 1983, to chief-sub in 1984, to assistant editor in 1989 and finally as editor of a newspaper in 2004 (with a seven-year stint in Corp Comm from 1996-2003) – I have seen the world of mass communication from “both sides”.

My advice would be: do a stint in mass media first – print, radio, TV, online. Then, if you wish, do a stint in Corp Comm to get a feel for the corporate world from the inside. And then go into a PR consultancy. This is like moving from the wider world into more specialised worlds. It helps to have the bigger view first and then get closer down to the specifics.

Dear students, I feel a good PR consultant should have mass media and, then, Corp Comm experience – in that order. But you can go the other way too: PR experience first and then Corp Comm. The important thing to do, while reflecting on your experiences and learning your lessons, is to constantly ask yourself the basic communication question, “Where am I, the sender of messages, vis-à-vis my publics”?

Your ability to influence the opinion of your “publics” is critically dependent on where you are located in the chain. This is because of the issue of “credibility”.

The most insidious power of the corporate world (with the help of PR agencies) to influence the opinions of people is due to its money-power (lobbying) and, therefore, its ability to buy journalists and the mass media directly or indirectly. More of this ideology stuff, later.

But let me come back to your question. Yes, you need experience in both Corp Comm and PR consultancy. But be careful, you tread dangerous territory: manipulation of news, filtering only what creates a favourable image of your client, etc. What I call, lying and deception.

Look at the collapse of the US stock markets due to “irresponsible lending” for housing in USA. At that time, though, credit was glorified; and investment banks and their securities were projected as being “safe bets”. Even today, in India, credit finance is available for housing and vehicles, without checking the ability to repay.


And now to the second part of Amith’s questions:
a) the importance of working one’s way up, rather than wanting to be in top posts and failing miserably, which some manage to do.
c) the growing need for ethics and discipline in careers.

Let me share my own experience. As I have narrated, I started as a sub-editor on 2 May 1983 at Maharashtra Herald, Pune with a salary of Rs.600/- and then rose slowly to become an editor in 2003 at Gomantak Times, Panaji, Goa: “working one’s way up”, as Amith puts it, for 20 years. The advantage is I know the ropes and the job/tasks at every level. Finally, when I was at the top and gave instructions, I knew what it’s like to implement orders. Also, the chances are that power does not go to my head and I am more likely to be considerate of journalists at lower levels.

I don’t know about it is like “wanting to be in top posts and failing miserably, which some manage to do”. Amith, or some other student of mine, will have to explain what it means to be in that situation.


As for the growing need for ethics, I would point to honesty and not allowing the marketing or circulation people to dictate what and how news is to be portrayed. Editors are capable of understanding the business side of a paper.

Let me refer you to C.P. Scott’s 1921 essay on the centenary of the Manchester Guardian where he says, “A newspaper has two sides to it. It is a business, like any other, and has to pay in the material sense in order to live. But is much more than a business; it is an institution; it reflects and it influences the life of a whole community …”

Scott goes on to identify character – “honesty, cleanness, courage, fairness, a sense of duty to the reader and the community”. Here you also find the famous lines, “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” That seven-word line calls for an entire post on my blog.

The link is at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2002/nov/29/1
Once you’ve read the essay, I’d like to discuss the matter further.


As for “discipline in careers”, stick to one job for at least one or two years, a sufficient time to learn. I would give the job three years to teach me; you may not want to be so patient. Recall the saying, “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” This means, if you change jobs too often, you may not give yourself enough time to accumulate experience. Also, identify what you want to learn and whom you’re going to learn it from. Fortunately, there are lots of serious journalists out there. I am compiling a list, which I will not post on my blog, but will send to you only on request.

Above all, dear students, do not allow money to decide what you’re doing. My experience and conversation with journalists tells me that the jobs that pay the most are also the ones that tie down your hands and feet; worse, you’ll also have to keep your eyes and ears shut too. We will discuss this issue at length some time.

Am I sounding scary? I don’t intend to; but it’s wise to be cautious, under the circumstances. When a student asked me in class, “Sir, what do you think of the market collapse?” I answered, “When thieves fall out, honest men (and women) come into their own.” Dear students, pluck the courage to remain honest.

Warm regards,

- Joe.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Make your comments, here itself

Dear students,

I am so thrilled that you are reading my blog carefully and sending me your valued comments. However, you are sending these comments to me personally on my email comment. So your response is not reflected in the comments here.

One of the reasons for starting "Against the Tide" is to bring ALL my students, no matter who and where in this wide world they are, on to the same platform or under the same umbrella (which ever you prefer). So that you can meet and interact. So please, comment here itself, so that you can use my blog to get in touch with other like-minded journalists and vice versa.

You know I have always been candid and open about my views and opinions, even in class. And now writing here in the public domain of a blog, I do not intend to hold back. On the contrary, I am becoming upset by what is happening in the mass media, what with "Breaking News" and "Page 3" (even on TV). At the moment, I am responding to the urgent request from my students for useful material and not indulging in too much ideological stuff. Therefore, I need your questions as well as areas of concern so that "Against the Tide" becomes a lively place.

To set the tone: "I disagree with every word you say. But I shall defend to my death, your right to say it." Now who said that, when and in what context?

Warm regards,

- Joe Pinto.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A first list of useful books and websites

Dear students, colleagues and friends,

Here is a list of useful books and websites. I'll keep adding to this list as we go along and you get back to me.

Firstly: Basic Journalism by Rangaswami Parthasarathy ("RP").
This is the first book I recommend to all my students of print journalism as a "MUST BUY", since I started teaching at the Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Pune, opposite Roopali, in 1987 at the nudging of my senior colleague Kiran Thakur, who was then bureau chief at UNI, Pune, and now retired as Head of the same department.

As a colleague, Prasannakumar Aklujkar, keeps reminding me, even though the technology of writing and editing keeps changing rapidly and we get newer and sharper software packages by the day, the skills and techniques of editing of a sub-editor remain more or less the same since the days when scribes put pencil to paper.

For example, thinking-rethinking; grasping and understanding; writing-rewriting; correct spelling and punctuation; the inverted pyramid; sequencing; writing precise and simple leads or intros; an eye-grabbing headline; crisp and concise description; and above all, clear thinking that leads to clear writing (George Orwell). So, it's RP for you.

Another book that I picked out for you, my dear students and friends, from my personal collection is The Economist Style Guide.

While I disagree with most of the free-marketeering contents and right-wing opinions of this newspaper (not magazine), I recommend this lucidly readable weekly without reservation ONLY for its prose style - a mastery of clear and precise description. (Another colleague, Ashok Gopal, would recommend it for its science and technology pieces.)

Viva Books has brought out an Indian edition, so buy a copy. This style guide is also accessible on the Internet, if you register with The Economist. You ought to practise the advice given in the Introduction, if you aspire to rise above the hacks. And the warning by John Grimond in "A Note on Editing" about "de-sophistication" is worth every word.

Keep a look-out for style guides of various newspapers. Go to amazon.com and you'll find cheap used copies of great style guides from the Associated Press (AP), Reuters, UPI, The Times of London, etc. The Statesman of Kolkata also has a superb style guide. Tell your favourite "small is beautiful" bookshop (not "big is ugly" chain-store) to keep an eye for and get second-hand copies of these style guides for your shelf.

The first website I direct you to is: http://www.journalism.org/.

This is the website of the "Project for Excellence in Journalism" set up by the Pew Research Center, USA. Navigate around it like some ancient explorer and you'll discover gems to last your lifetime. A stunner is the "Advice to Students", which I have copied out for you below:

Advice for Students Interested in a Career in Journalism
Bill Kovach, Senior Counselor of the Project for Excellence in Journalism

"A curious mind and a broad liberal arts education are by far the best qualifications for a career in journalism.

The best foundation begins with an undergraduate liberal arts education that exposes you to a wide range of disciplines of study and helps you supplement your native curiosity with a habit of critical thinking. Whatever course of study you follow, be sure to include a strong foundation in ethics. Then consider study at a university that offers a graduate degree in journalism.

You can begin to develop your skill in the "craft" of journalism by working on a college newspaper or radio station; a television station that features a college report; or working as a college correspondent for a local, regional or national news organization. As for experience while still in school and immediately after graduation, think about immersing yourself in a local experience. Working in a community in which you must look the people in the eye about whom you report before and AFTER you have reported on them can provide very important lessons.

And, throughout all this, read. Read everything you can, including classics in fiction that can help you begin to understand human nature and the human condition. Develop a habit of critically following the work of other journalists and find models for your own work.

Good luck."

And then, there will be others. For that, you will have to ask. As the good man says in the good book, "Ask and you shall Receive. Seek and you will Find. Knock and the Door shall be Opened."

- Joe Pinto.
Sunday, 10 October 2008, Pune.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hi to all my students

Dear students,

I have been wanting to start this blog for a long time, as a way of keeping in touch with you. I shall post stuff here that I would have brought up in class or would have been discussing with you, if you were in touch with me.

I did try to start off a forum on Orkut called "Serious Journalism" but it didn't get anywhere; I don't know why. So I am starting off this blog, since some of my students who are clued in to the Internet said that would be a nice way to keep in touch with you all.

You all know how I have enjoyed your company and how I have been stimulated or, sometimes, even provoked by your questions. With me, you get what you see, and you see what you get. I've done that in real life and I propose to do that on my blog.

That is also indicated in the title I've chosen for my blog, "Against the Tide."

I read a fine blog called, "Life Rules", by one of my students, Gauri Gharpure, from the Dept. of Journalism and Communication, University of Pune. I am sure some of my other students must have also started blogs by now. But I am yet to know of them.

Warm regards,

Joe Pinto.

P.S.: Have I stuck to my own rule? Not more than 4-5 characters per word, and not more than 10 words per sentence?