Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A to Z Challenge - Z for Zip

Theme - Journalism jargons
No, this is not exactly a journalism jargon. However, it's a term that we have been hearing in newsrooms ever since the advent of computers.

Indeed, it's a computer jargon, and like many typography jargons that are also journalism jargons, this too can be adopted as one.

Since this is a very modern term, I don't have to explain what it means. Yet, for the uninitiated, it is the process of using a computer programme (like WinZip) to stitch multiple files into one compressed file.

The zipped file occupies less space on the computer than all the individual files put together and such a compressed file is easier to send to another person via the internet.

The recipient will have to use the programme to unzip the compressed file into individual files.

Today journalists use computers and mobile phones for typing out stories and taking photographs and videos. When there are multiple files to be transmitted via the internet, they are zipped so that they can be sent easily.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Monday, April 29, 2019

A to Z Challenge - Y for Yellow Journalism

Theme - Journalism jargons
This is a term that refers to newspapers that publish reports that are exaggerated and not fact-checked. The language used is colloquial, and the tone and tenor of the stories are such that readers can easily relate to.

The stories are sensational in nature, relating to subjects like crime, passion, personal relationships etc., and they are splashed on pages in big font sizes with colourful photos that easily catch the attention of readers.

Yellow Kid by Richard Felton
Outcault [Public domain]
The phrase is widely believed to have originated from the name of a popular comic strip, called Yellow Kid, first carried in Joseph Pulitzer's New York World. The strip was among the many devices the paper used in its circulation war with William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal between 1895 and 1898.

The term yellow journalism refers to the sensational nature of journalism these two papers practised as they tried to gather more readers.

I don't think it would be wide off the mark to say that today's 'fake news' is the digital avatar of pre-computer era's 'yellow journalism'.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Saturday, April 27, 2019

A to Z Challenge - X for X-height

Theme - Journalism Jargons
This again is a typography term that is used in journalism.

It refers to the height of the small letter 'x' for a particular font for a particular point size.

Some letters have ascenders, like b, d, l, t etc.; and some have descenders, like g, j, p, y etc. The x-height does not include the space occupied by the ascenders and the descenders.

When you include the total height of a letter, including the ascender and the descender, it is called the point size.

Typography Line Terms

Max Naylor [Public domain]
In typography, it's the x-height that is considered while deciding the readability and the amount of space taken by the text. The larger the x-height, better the readability but more the space occupied; and smaller the x-height, more text in the given space but less readable the text.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Friday, April 26, 2019

A to Z Challenge - W for Wires

Theme - Journalism jargons
Wires or wire service or newswire is a synonym for news agencies. They are news organizations (like Reuters, Associated Press etc) that gather news, prepare news stories, have them edited, and distribute them to multiple newspapers, radio and television stations (like NYT, Fox News, BBC etc)

We say, "It's on the wires," to mean the news agencies have put out the story.  Wire stories have very matter-of-fact reporting, without much contextualising or interpretations, which are done by the newspapers and TV channels.


The wires are very important because it's practically impossible for all newspapers in the world to have their own reporters in all corners of the world. News agencies have a wide network of their own reporters or they have partnerships with local and regional news agencies.

So, if there is an important news break in any part of the world, the newsroom is alerted by a single-line cryptic message on the wires.


In the world famous announcement on November 23, 1963, on CBS Television of the news of John F Kennedy's assassination, the renowned news anchor Walter Cronkite (one of my idols) makes references to news agencies like Press Service and United Press International and reads out details of the incident as they trickled into the newsroom. Cronkite also shows on camera a photograph (an unclear shot) of the incident "transmitted by a wire". 

In the Netflix series "The Crown" (on the life of Queen Elizabeth II), in the second episode, 'The Hyde Park Corner', Prime Minister Winston Churchill makes a reference to "the wires". That is when King George VI dies while his daughter Elizabeth and husband are in Kenya and Churchill asks the royal officials, "Has the Princess been notified?" One of the officials says, "My understand is not". Then Churchill says, "Then I suggest we do so before it breaks on the wires."

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Thursday, April 25, 2019

A to Z Challenge - V for Verso

Theme - Journalism jargons
This is another typography term that is used in journalism. It refers to the left-hand side page of a newspaper, magazine, book, or a sheet of paper. The right-hand side page is called 'recto'.

Literally, the word 'verso' doesn't mean left-hand side. It means 'reverse' or 'the other side' and refers to the side of a paper that is read second, after flipping the right-hand side page.

In magazines, books and newspapers, the first page is the right-hand side page; when you turn it, you come to the second page, which is on the left. That is the origin of the words 'recto' (for right) and 'verso' (the reverse/opposite of right).

Incidentally, advertisements placed on the right-hand side pages of newspapers and magazines cost more than those on the left. That is because it's presumed people see the right-hand side page first and then the left-hand side page.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A to Z Challenge - U for Upper case

Theme - Journalism jargons
Upper case is the typography lingo for a capital letter. Lower case is for a small letter.

While editing or proofreading, if a letter has to be changed to a capital letter, then a forward slash is marked on the letter, and u/c is written on the margin to indicate that the letter has to be changed to upper case. Similarly, a small letter is indicated by l/c.

I am not sure of the origin of the word. But my guess is that in the manual text-composing era, in the printing press, the metallic blocks of capital letters were arranged in the upper rows and the small letters in the lower rows.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A to Z Challenge - T for Tombstoning

Theme - Journalism jargons
There are multiple meanings for 'tombstoning' depending on which context you are referring to.

In newspaper design, when two headlines, especially of the same width (like two double-column or two three-column items), are adjacent to each other, it's called tombstoning.

In olden days, there were very few varieties of fonts, and if two headings of the same font and size appeared side by side, it would have not only looked ugly, it would have also confused the reader, who might read one heading into the other.

Even after mechanical typesetting gave way to electronic typesetting, tombstoning was discouraged and I remember trying to redo placement of news stories on a page so that one multicolumn headline wasn't beside another.

The general practice is to separate two multicolumn items with a single column item.

A single-column item separates two three-column items.
(From today's edition of The Hindu)

In today's computer era, tombstoning is allowed, and occasionally we do see it. In such cases, care is taken to have different fonts for each of them, so that they look different.

A two-column item is beside a three-column item, but the fonts are different.
(From today's edition of The Times of India

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Monday, April 22, 2019

A to Z Challenge - S for Stet

Theme - Journalism jargons
When editors or proof-readers mark corrections but later change their mind and want to restore the original text, the term 'stet' is written.

It basically means 'please ignore the correction I made." In a way, it is the pre-computer equivalent of 'Cntrl Z'

I am not quite sure how the word originated, maybe some of you could throw light on it. My guess is it has some relation to 'status quo'.

In the pre-computer era, proof-reading and editing were done with pen or pencil on paper. And in those days, there were occasions when one had to use 'stet'.

But not now. With the invasion of computers into newsrooms, there is very little of proof-reading and editing that is done on paper; most of it is done online.

Nevertheless, sometimes editors would like to take a printout and do the editing on paper because some mistakes are more noticeable on paper rather than on the screen.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Saturday, April 20, 2019

A to Z Challenge - R for Record, on and off

Theme - Journalism jargons
When a person, who speaks to a reporter, is willing to be quoted by name, then it can be said, "the person is on record", otherwise "off record".

When a quote or attribution is "on record", it carries more credibility, than when it's "off record".

Whether a person is willing to come on record or not depends on who the person is and what is spoken. A person might not be willing to come on record if she is talking about something sensitive and if she fears that disclosure of name might boomerang on her.

Well-known and reputed reporters are generally unwilling to use anonymous quotes. They do so only when the subject is of importance and when they believe their sources are credible.


Nowadays, it is very easy to record a face-to-face conversation or a phone conversation. It's wrong to record conversations without the speaker's permission. It's always better to check if the speaker is fine with the conversation being recorded. Because the person might want to speak off record.

In very rare cases, investigative journalists go undercover, and record (either video or audio) conversations. They do so only when the issue is of public importance.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Friday, April 19, 2019

A to Z Challenge - Q for Quark Xpress

Theme - Journalism jargons
This is a popular Desktop Publishing software from Denver, Colorado-based Quark Software. The application is used by a number of newspaper companies in the world.

The first version of the software was released in 1987, with periodic upgrades subsequently. It competes with similar software like Adobe InDesign from San Jose, California-based Adobe, and NewsGate from the Aarhus, Denmark-based CCI.


In the pre-computer era, journalists worked with just pen, paper and typewriter. The page-making was done by phototypesetting operators, it was never the work of journalists.

After computers entered newsrooms, the entire word-processing operation changed. In the newsroom, journalists make the pages with help from the designers. Journalists now need to know about designing and designers need to know about journalism.


From 1999 to 2009, I worked on Quark Xpress to make pages of the newspaper I worked for. We had an MS-DOS-based platform on which stories were edited, and the edited stories were exported to Quark Xpress on which the pages were made.

More elaborate and complex design elements like charts, graphs, illustrations etc., were done on Adobe InDesign by the designers, which were then imported to the QuarkXpress pages.


Since we need to make a newspaper page in not more than one hour, and since the shape of news stories are the same (only the content varies), the 'article shapes' are templated and stored in a library.  These templates have a number of dummy articles with different shapes and different headline point sizes.

So all that has to be done is to pull out the required article shape from the library and flow in the edited news story on to this article shape. We need to then only tweak the headline and the article to fit the space.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

A to Z Challenge - P for Plug

Theme - Journalism jargons
A news item is said to be a 'plug' when it has been sugarcoated (especially by a publicity agent) to make it look newsworthy and efforts are made to convince a journalist to run the story.

Such news items are generally one-sided with the aim of gaining publicity, and often with commercial benefits accruing from the publication of the news. They are usually advertisements in the garb of news items.


Imagine there is a new gym coming up, and its owners are interested in spreading the word. There is a general impression that when something appears as a news item it carries more credibility rather than when it appears as an advertisement.

So, the owners will be more interested in reaching out to local journalists and talking to them about the gym, with the hope of getting the gym covered in the media, as a news item.

But then there has to be something newsy about the gym. So, the owner's publicity agents will talk about the great equipment they have, how they help customers to stay healthy and fit etc.

However, in reality, that's what all good gyms anyway do, right?

Additionally, the gym is a commercial venture and not a charitable initiative; which means, any publicity would also have a commercial spinoff to it.

A news item on the gym can appear only if it's really one of a kind, and they are doing something pathbreaking. Otherwise, a news item on it would qualify as a plug.


What is dangerous is journalists being provided disinformation under the garb that it is real and true. Miscreants can go to any devious lengths to spread such falsehoods in order to achieve some goals.

Good journalists are always aware of such traps, and they do a lot of fact-checking to ensure the veracity of the data and the newsworthiness of it.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A to Z Challenge - O for Orphan

Theme - Journalism jargons
When the last line of a paragraph has just one word or the latter part of a hyphenated word, then that word is called an orphan.

From the aesthetic point of view, many journalists and designers tend to avoid it since one single word in an entire line looks odd. So usually a couple of words are added to preceding lines so that a few more words will come on to the last line.

The word 'son'
is an orphan
In the example on the right from today's Delhi edition of Hindustan Times, the word 'son' will qualify to be called an orphan. 

The word 'Himalayas', which is also one single word at the end of the paragraph, though theoretically can be called an orphan, doesn't look as bad as the word 'son'.

However, there are some people who look an orphan from another point of view. They say the increased white space in the last line left by an orphan gives relief from the grey text.

After all, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, right?

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".) 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A to Z Challenge - N for News value

Theme - Journalism jargons
News value is what determines which news is important and which is not. Yes, it is subjective. What is important for you, might not be important for me; and vice versa.

However, there are a few general guidelines that are followed to determine news value. Here they are:

PROMINENCE - When prominent people say something that becomes news. That is why there is a greater probability of what President Trump of the US says making to the media around the world, compared to the statements made by other heads of state. Similarly, when something eventful has happened at a prominent building or place, that is news. For example, the fire at Notre Dame in Paris has surely made it to the front page of almost all major newspapers in the world.

PROXIMITY - A news development close to the place of publication becomes important. These are generally what gets termed as local or city-centric news items. Report of a major car crash in New York will be in New York papers, but it won't be there in any newspaper in other parts of the world.

NEWNESS - The latest development gets priority over stories that are older. Thus we have 'breaking news'.

IMPACT - The more widespread the impact of a news development, the more important it becomes. That is why government policy decisions, however boring it could be, are important.

UNIQUENESS - Something that is unusual, out of ordinary, that raises curiosity becomes news. Thus the famous adage: 'When a dog bites man it is not news, when a man bites dog it is news.'

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Monday, April 15, 2019

A to Z Challenge - M for Masthead

Theme - Journalism jargons
This is tricky because there are two meanings, depending on whether you are following the British model or the American model.


In India, we follow the British style; and the word 'masthead' refers to the entire panel right on top of the front page of a newspaper or the cover of a magazine, comprising the name of the publication, the date, the price, the place of publication, etc.

This is called 'nameplate' or 'flag' in the US.

This is called 'masthead' in India and other Commonwealth nations

This is called 'nameplate' in nations that follow the American style

The masthead/nameplate is the basic identity of the publication, it's not altered and it appears in the same way, every day.   


In the American style, 'masthead' refers to a box of text that contains the name of the editor, publisher, printer, the address of the newspaper office, phone numbers, email ID etc.

This is referred to as the 'imprint' in Commonwealth countries.

Masthead/Imprint appears at a fixed place in every issue of the journal.

I wasn't able to access the masthead of The NYT since even with a paid subscription I have access only to the PDF of the front page of the paper. I am not sure on which page of The NYT the masthead appears. The image above is the Indian equivalent, called the 'imprint', of The Times of India's, Bengaluru edition.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

A to Z Challenge - L for Lead

Theme - Journalism jargons
This is the opening paragraph of a news report, which summarises the most important points of the story.

It draws readers to the story and helps them quickly get an idea of what the report is all about. If the subject is of interest they can go ahead and read more of the article.


There are different ways a lead is constructed by the journalist. It all depends on what the story is about, and what the purpose of the story is.

If it's a breaking news item, then all the important points should be brought into the lead. That is usually referred to as the Direct Lead. Typically, the lead paragraph would have the answer to the 5Ws (what, where, when, why and who) and 1H (how) relevant to the story.

This is the lead of a Guardian story today
Jeremy Corbyn has been warned by Labour’s leader in the European parliament and other grandees that the party will be deserted by millions of anti-Brexit voters if it fails to clearly back a second referendum in its manifesto for next month’s EU elections.
There are so many points covered in that one single sentence.

Then there are cases, especially with human interest, soft stories where the writer employs other devices like interesting quotes or an anecdote or just a few isolated words to begin the story. The main aim is to the raise the curiosity of the reader to the get to the rest of the story. These leads are called Delayed Leads.

This is a very nicely written lead of a New York Times story (What It Takes to Pull Off India’s Gargantuan Election) on the ongoing parliamentary polls in the country.
Democracy doesn’t get much simpler than one person, one vote. But what happens when that one person is a hermit living alone in a jungle temple surrounded by lions, leopards and cobras, miles from the nearest town?
In India, the election comes to him.
(By the way, the story is about the diversity of the 900 million electorate, and the efforts the government and the fiercely independent Election Commission are taking to ensure that as many people can vote. The story is worth a read.)


An impressive opening paragraph is important not just in journalism but in works of fiction as well. Two of the best-known examples in literature are these:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. 
That is the opening sentence of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. And ...
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
That's the way Charles Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities.

However, the only difference is in journalism, who the killer is revealed right in the first paragraph, while in fiction it is revealed in the last.


Back to journalism, the word lead has another meaning in the context of developing news as reported by the news agencies like the Reuters or the Associated Press.

In cases of developing stories like an accident or an ongoing issue with rapidly evolving developments, as and when more details trickle in, wire services rewrite the lead to incorporate more details. It's usually referred to as the 1st Lead, 2nd Lead, 3rd Lead, etc.

This is very helpful for radio and TV channel news bulletins, where they have to capture the full essence of a story in two or three sentences.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Friday, April 12, 2019

A to Z Challenge - K for kerning

Theme - Journalism jargons
This is another typography term, and it refers to the space between two letters in a word.

For aesthetic purposes, newspaper designers who work on news pages resort to adjusting this space. This happens mostly in headlines, and not so much in the article text. 

Since all letters of our alphabet are not of the same shape, when some of them are adjacent to each other, the spacing between different letters of words wouldn't be uniform. The most well-known example is when letters A and V or W or Y are beside each other.

Source: Practical Typography
Between those two letters, there will be more space compared to when i and j and adjacent to each other. So, the designer will manually adjust to space so that the spacings are uniform to facilitate easier eye movement across words of a sentence. Kerning can be set to happen automatically as well.


There is no one-rule-fits-all solution for this. Whether to kern or not, if so, how much or how less, depends on many factors like which are the letters we are talking about, the size of the font, whether there are lines above and below etc.

It's more to do with the look for the word in a larger context. However, in most cases, words of a sentence look better to our eyes when they are closer to each other rather than when they are spaced out.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A to Z Challenge - J for Justify

Theme - Journalism jargons
When the lines in a text are aligned horizontally to the left and right margins of a page or a column, it is said the lines are (horizontally) justified.

This is different from when lines are aligned to the left margin or to the right margin. Then, the lines won’t stretch to either margin, instead would be of different lengths.

My blog posts are left aligned. On a Word document, one can justify the text by clicking on the relevant icons.

In a newspaper, the lines of reports are always horizontally justified, like in the images below. For design purposes, journalists might leave the lines of one news item not justified, like in the image on the right. In such cases, the lines will be aligned to left. Since on the right side the lines look ragged, the format is also referred to as ‘right ragged’.

Headlines of news stories are either centred or left aligned as in the images below.

A left-aligned headline in The Hindu 

Centred headlines in The Times of India.
The one in red is left aligned
The New York Times has a different style. The first line of a headline is left aligned, the second is centred and the third is right aligned.

Different lines of a headline are aligned differently


While pages of a newspaper are made, sometimes a story might fall short of a few lines to fit into the module. In such cases, some journalists resort to justifying the story vertically. They do so by aligning the lines to the top and bottom margins of the column.

However, this is not considered aesthetic from the design point of view, since lines in different columns will not be in one straight line from the left to the right margin.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

A to Z Challenge - I for Indent

Theme - Journalism jargons
There are different ways in which paragraphs of an article are demarcated.

One way is to leave a line between two paras. The other, which is more common, is to begin the first sentence a little away from the left margin. That little space, between the margin and the beginning of the first line of a sentence, is called the indent.

The following, a front page article of yesterday’s New York Times, illustrates Indent and Gutter, about which I wrote a couple of days ago.


Here, the first line of the paragraph begins from the left margin, but all the other lines start a little away from the left margin. Basically, here the indent is not for the first line, as normally is the case, instead it is for all the subsequent lines. 

This is a design format that used to be very popular in Indian newspapers many years ago. One item on a page used to be set in the ‘hanging indent’ format. For some reasons, now no big newspaper in India, at least to my knowledge, uses this format.

Most word document applications have an option to adjust the indent setting.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A to Z Challenge - H for Human interest stories

Theme - Journalism jargons
There is hard news and soft news. The first one refers to ‘important’, headline-grabbing news. The latter refers to ‘interesting’ news, not necessarily important.

Typical hard news items are the election of a president or a prime minister, a major accident, a government policy decision, etc. Usually, such events have wide political or social or economic ramifications; and/or have an impact on a large number of people.

Examples of soft news items could be how an Olympic gold medalist had won a university admission for a computer science programme but opted out in favour of training full time for sports; or how scores of local residents were the first respondents at the site of an accident; or how adoption of solar energy is saving a town conventional energy resources.


It’s the hard news that usually “break” on TV news channels. These reports are driven by hard facts, and there isn’t much scope to use very colourful language. Hard news items can’t be missed by news publications, and they have a short shelf life, meaning they get outdated too soon.

Some soft news items are referred to as 'human interest stories' since they speak of human emotions and appeal to readers. Though they could be important, they are more interesting, and there is no urgency to broadcast or publish such news items. They are usually secondary to or appear alongside the main news item.


Reporters who write human interest stories tend to use fanciful expressions, adjectives and adverbs. On the page, such articles lend themselves to colourful designs and other visual elements like illustrations or graphs and charts if the story has a lot of data.

Some human interest stories, depending on the subject, have a longer shelf life, meaning such stories can wait, and they will still make sense even if they are carried a day or two later.

The daily newspapers usually have more hard news, especially on the front page. Soft news items are the staple of magazines.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Monday, April 8, 2019

A to Z Challenge - G for Gutter

Theme - Journalism jargons
A newspaper page is divided into vertical columns of text. The number of such columns varies from newspaper to newspaper. Tabloids have usually four, while broadsheets have six or eight columns.

The white space between any two adjacent columns of text is called ‘gutter'. Some prefer to call it an alley. It forms part of the white space on a newspaper page, giving relief to the reader from the greyness of the text and the colour of the photos.

How much should be the measurement of the gutter is a call taken by the designers, and is a part of the style of the newspaper. More gutter might be better from the aesthetic point of view, but it would mean less number of words for each story.

In some newspapers, there is a vertical line that runs through the gutter to separate two stories.

In the case of a book, gutter refers to the space between the two facing pages.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Saturday, April 6, 2019

A to Z Challenge - F or Follow-up

Theme - Journalism jargons
Some stories, especially of the important, breaking news variety, are not an end in themselves. There are one or many follow-up stories. That is because the original event, on which the story was based, has far-reaching impact and therefore there are multiple developments that follow it, yielding follow-up stories. 

Imagine a bank heist. How big the story would be, depends on how big was the amount of money lost. If it was of a high order, then one can imagine many follow-ups ranging from whose heads are rolling for the slackness in the security setup to the progress of investigations. 

Another example is when the government announces changes in the tax structure, there would be many reports on how the impact of the changes would play out.

All follow-ups aren't easy because all the subsequent events might not be in the public domain, and therefore, it might require some amount of leg work and investigation by the journalist to find out happened.  

There are follow-up stories not only when there are subsequent developments, but also when there aren’t any. You might wonder how. The fact that there aren’t developments itself might be newsy enough. Like, if there hasn’t been any headway in the investigations into the big bank heist. 

There are also cases when a particular media organisation runs an exclusive story. The other publications, which missed the original story, do their own follow-ups. So, here it's not essentially about any subsequent events, but it's about other perspectives of the story which have not been written about.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Friday, April 5, 2019

A to Z Challenge - E for Editing

Theme - Journalism jargons
The heart of a newsroom has two sections: news bureau (where copies are generated) and news desk (where the copies are processed). Editing is one of the functions of the news desk.

Many people relate the word editing to "censoring", "deleting", etc. It usually carries a negative connotation, as in "it was edited out".

But the process of editing is much more than merely "striking out", and is a very positive thing. 


Editing has many components:

1. Checking the accuracy of facts and language: Why information has to be factual is obvious. Language too needs to be correct, because punctuation in the wrong place or a wrong article or wrong preposition can completely alter the meaning of a sentence, and thereby lead to miscommunication.

2. Checking for bias and ensuring objectivity: In a news copy, there has to be views and counter-views; copies should not be biased in favour of one person or institution.

3. Checking for libel, contempt of court, legislature etc: Copies need to be free of any words or attributions that could have legal issues, especially when it comes to court and legislature reporting; or that could prompt someone to file a case of libel.

4. Checking for clarity. A copy might be perfect in all aspects, but it might not be clear to a reader. It happens because of various reasons: sequencing of the narration might be wrong or the writer would have left out some detail, which she presumed the reader would know.

It also stems out what I call 'idea-rendition incongruence'. A writer converts ideas into words; a reader converts the words she reads into ideas. A writer, who writes a story, knows the plot; but a reader doesn't know the story, she would know only after reading the piece.

If there is some problem in the way a passage has been written, a reader might not understand it the way the writer would have wanted.

This is one reason why usually any piece of writing is read by someone other than the author, by someone who doesn't know what has been written.

In the news desk, the copy editors (also called subeditors) are the first readers of a news story; and they ensure that the copies are clear and understandable to the readers.

5. Rewriting, merging, trimming of copies: For various reasons, original copies of reporters might have to be rewritten or summarised.

Sometimes, copies of multiple reporters would have to be merged into a single copy. With a fixed number of pages, newspapers have a limitation of space.

So it might not be possible to fit into a slot everything a reporter has written. Copies would have to be trimmed to fit the space.


While the journalists, who report are in the limelight, with their names printed, the journalists who work on the copies, or in other words, who edit, are barely visible to the reader.

Their work is in the background, it's a thankless job they do. They are the ones who give the final shape to the copies and provide the look and feel to the newspaper the readers get to read the next day.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

A to Z Challenge - D for Deadline

Theme - journalism jargons
That's what drives journalists -- the cut-off time before which a task has to be completed.

There is a time before which they have to turn in copies.

There is a time before which all the contents of the newspaper have to be in place so that pages can be transmitted to the press for printing.

There is a time before which the shooting of a television programme has to be wrapped up so that it can be aired at the scheduled time.


Today in the age of social media, it's news 24x7. Every minute is a deadline, and journalists are under tremendous pressure to get as many facts as possible, as quickly as possible. They can't sit on copies and wait for all the details to come in before they file the stories.

The deadline for most newspapers is between midnight and 2 am.


When big events happen close to the deadline it's tough. Some prominent examples:

* Assassination of former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991, in an explosion while he was addressing an election rally in Tamil Nadu state. Initial reports came around 10.30 pm.

* Terror attacks in the US on Sept 11, 2001. It was around 6.45 pm in India when initial reports of a major plane accident came.

* Terror attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. The initial reports, which came around 10.45 pm, spoke of random shootings on the streets of Mumbai.

* Announcement of the death of the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa, on December 5, 2016, just before midnight.

In such circumstances, journalists, under tremendous pressure, turn in whatever confirmed information they can get within the deadline. Editors push the deadline, at the most by about an hour, and pages are sent to the press with as much information as can be obtained by that time.

In the case of Rajiv Gandhi's death, the last bit of news that could be pushed into the front page of the newspaper I worked for at that time, was a single-sentence paragraph, on the announcement by the Election Commission, around 2.45 am, postponing the subsequent phases of the election. (He died a day after the first phase of polling.)

Such breaches of the deadline are rare and allowed only in exceptional circumstances.


Newspaper production is a chain of processes, beginning with the gathering of information for news stories to the final step of completion of all the pages. If a deadline is breached at any stage, it has a ripple effect, affecting subsequent processes.

If the last stage, of sending the completed pages to the press, is delayed beyond the permissible limit, the printing process will be delayed, and the newspaper would not reach subscribers and markets on time early in the morning.


For most people deadline works in a positive way. They are driven to doing something. Under pressure, all their faculties are pumped up, and as a result, they are able to perform very well and turn in good copies. So, many journalists have the habit of starting to work on their copies only when the deadline is looming, even if they could finish them much earlier in the day!

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A to Z Challenge - C for Confirmation

Theme - journalism jargons
This is one of the most important tasks journalists are required to do. They are supposed to put in the public domain only information that has been verified to be correct.

The well-known adage is 'when in doubt, cut it out'. In fact, a lot of stuff that journalists get to know don't make it to print or airwaves because they can't be confirmed.

All that one hears may not be true. For example, at the scene of a crime, there will be a lot of theories and conjectures floating around. Even people who claim to be eyewitnesses, might not accurately recollect what they saw. There have been many instances when multiple witnesses have given inconsistent or even contradictory accounts.


That is a huge challenge. The more negative and damaging the information, the more difficult it is to confirm. It is usually senior officials, like directors, heads of departments, commissioners, ministers, etc who are approached for confirmation.

If journalists get to know that a prominent person is dead, they get confirmation from a senior hospital official or someone in the family of the deceased. The story will carry an attribution to the source of the information.


People who are approached to confirm themselves might not be aware of what exactly happened -- they might be waiting for details to come in. So, they would not like to either confirm or deny. For example, in the case of an accident, for hours or even days, no one might know for sure what the death toll is.

It could be that officials who are in a position to confirm might not do so because they don't want to be seen as someone who confirmed the news. This happens in cases where there are allegations of impropriety against prominent personalities.

Then there are also instances when confirming news might boomerang on officials. So, to be safe, they won't talk.


A major problem with social media is that messages might not have been verified. They might be true or false. Institutional media (meaning, media organizations) are, as a part of the standard operating procedure, required to confirm news before it is put out.

Though there are many social media users who do verify information before putting it out, many might not do so; and even if they want to confirm, they might not be in a position to do it, unlike a professional journalist, who might have easier access to corridors of power and people in responsible positions.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

A to Z Challenge - B for Backstory

Theme - Journalism jargons
"Backstory" is a term used not just in journalism, but in literature too. It’s a synonym for "background information".

When writing a novel, authors introduce events that lead up to the main plot. In theatre, the word refers to the background of the character.

In journalism, a backstory could be a small paragraph comprising two sentences or a full-length story of around 300 words.


Reporters introduce a backstory paragraph typically in cases when there has been a development to a story that happened a few days or weeks or even months before. It serves as a recall for the reader who probably would have forgotten what the original story was.

An example could be the arrest of a person suspected to be involved in a murder, which happened a few weeks before. One of the aims of providing the backstory is to bring the reader up to speed. It also serves to provide the larger picture as well as perspective to an ongoing story.

On a website, in the digital copy, the backstory can be provided in the form of hyperlinks to stories published earlier. Nevertheless, it is always better to provide a backgrounder, because the reader should not be put through the hassles of clicking on multiple web links to understand the background to a particular story.


If the background information has lots of details, then the backstory can be in the form of a short article. This happens when there are multiple interlinked elements to a story, and becomes difficult to summarise all that in a short paragraph.

An example of this could be circumstances surrounding a particular news development. Imagine a political party nominating its candidate for an election. It is possible that there was huge drama preceding the nomination. So, that can be described in detail as a backstory accompanying the main article, providing a better perspective to the candidature.


Reputed news agency Reuters, in April 2017, introduced a feature called Backstory to provide details to its readers on how a particular story was discovered, what all went into the gathering of data and the writing of the article.

Readers who are interested in journalism can follow the Reuters Backstory here.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

Monday, April 1, 2019

A to Z Challenge - A for Attribution

Theme - journalism jargons
The practice of journalists quoting individuals by name or referring to the source of a particular piece of information is called attribution.

Information that is not in the public domain, or information that is opinionated, or information that is or could be controversial is usually attributed to the person who said it or attributed to the publication from where it has been obtained.


Journalism is mostly about reportage -- the process of describing or detailing a current development related to an event, an issue, a place or a person.

So there are reports about events (sports tournaments, political conventions etc.) or about social, political, economic issues (gadget addiction, corruption allegations etc.) or about places (a city hit by an earthquake, the city hosting Olympics etc) or about people (Nobel Prize winner, the election of President etc.)

Journalists get their information from multiple sources. Some data they need are in the public domain, while some others have to be obtained from people in positions of responsibility or power. While the former is easy, the latter is not.


Getting positive information is easy: for example, the achievements of people and institutions. Everyone likes to talk about them. But, getting negative information is difficult: for example, allegations of corruption or other misdeeds. No one wants to talk about them, and no one wants to be seen talking about them. Thus getting such information is a big challenge for journalists.


Attribution brings in objectivity, transparency and credibility. For example, take a story of a train accident. A journalist wouldn’t attribute information like the time of departure of the train or to where it was headed etc since they are in the public domain and known to everyone.

However, information such as the number of people who are injured or killed or the possible causes of the accident etc is attributed to sources that are authentic and credible, like the director of the hospital where the injured are being treated, or the mayor the city etc.

It is possible that authentic and credible sources might get their facts wrong.


Sometimes journalists do not attribute important information to any particular person. They would just say, "... sources privy to the development said …" or "... highly placed sources said …  etc."

They do so in cases where attribution jeopardises the position of the source and thereby negates the very purpose of obtaining the information and publishing or broadcasting it. For example, specific details of classified documents that throw light on allegations of corruption against a Minister.

But this doesn’t mean that no one knows who the source is. The editors -- who do the fact check and ascertain the veracity of all the information that a reporter brings in -- are kept in the know about from where the information has been obtained.


Whether using anonymous sources for a story impacts credibility or not depends on who the journalist is and which is the publication. Journalists and publications build their credibility over many many years.

If a reputed publication carries stories quoting anonymous sources, people tend to believe them. Because they wouldn’t expect a reputed publication to carry a story that is wrong.

But, if stories with anonymous sources repeatedly turn out to be false, that could adversely impact credibility.


There are many people who put out factual information on social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp etc. But not all such messages are properly attributed to verifiable and authentic sources.

So it's hard to believe such messages. Who knows they could be wrong. Unless you know the person who has put out that message, and you know that he/she won't put out unverified, incorrect messages.

If you find on social media startling, controversial messages that have no identifiable source, refrain from forwarding or retweeting them, until you have fact-checked them and established their veracity.


He was identified as merely Deep Throat by journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of Washington Post who did a series of investigative reports in the early 1970s on the break-in into the headquarters of the Democratic National Convention in Watergate and the subsequent attempt by President Richard Nixon’s administration to cover it up.

In 2005, nearly 30 years later, former FBI deputy director William Mark Felt, Sr., publicly revealed that he was Deep Throat referred to by Bernstein and Woodward in their reports. The two journalists wrote a book All the President’s Men about what came to be known as the Watergate scandal. There is also a movie of the same name. If you are interested in journalism, you must read/watch it.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)