A peep into the scandal hanging over Tehelka, India’s premier investigative newmagazine.
The following tweet by one of my favourite writers @Sidin amused me this morning: “No Country For Editors.”
His epigrammatic quip came in the wake of the third resignation/firing in a month of a top Indian editor: first there was Siddhartha Varadarajan of the Hindu, then there was Hartosh Singh Bahl of Open magazine and today the sensational ‘recusal’ of Tarun Tejpal, the founder editor of India’s number one investigative, muckraking magazine–Tehelka. The first two are widely believed to have been politically motivated, but the Tejpal case is a different kettle of fish altogether. The prominent editor is accused of having assaulted a junior journalist not once but twice, according to reports, suggesting she comply with his desires if she valued her job. The assaults are said to have taken place in a hotel elevator in Goa where a team from Tehelka was working on Thinkfest, a forum started by the magazine.
Early reactions suggest that Tehelka might try and treat this as an “internal affair” with the Managing Editor Shoma Chaudhury dismissing it as “an untoward incident.” The problem with this is that Tehelka is now behaving exactly as the targets of the numerous stings it has become famous for do, being evasive, euphemistic and tight-lipped. “I don’t know how this concerns you…I don’t think you can ask me these questions,” Chaudhury is reputed to have said in response to a reporter’s probing queries. Will Tehelka editors ever have the moral authority to demand answers from public officials and others in the wake of TehelkaGate?
The following tweets speak for themselves–Let’s see what tomorrow brings. I hope the young woman in question has the strength to recover from all this. She has been very brave to come forward and talk about what happened. It would be great if other women who have experienced similar traumas, either at the hands of Tejpal (surely this wasn’t an isolated incident) or others, would step forward now and make their stories public. The brave young journo wouldn’t feel so lonely then.
nitin gokhale @nitingokhale
#Tejpal episode. All that we in the media accuse others of, on display here: double standards, fake morality, refusal to submit to law.
Kanchan Gupta @KanchanGupta Surprised that editor of rag excelling in stings, snoops and slander was unaware that hotel lifts have CCTV cameras!
Sonia Faleiro @soniafaleiro Looking forward to Tehelka’s expose on sexual harassment in the workplace.
Sidene Wengerkut @sidin
…You live by the broad brush. You die by the broad brush.
What the hell has happened to press freedom in Trinidad and Tobago?
The news broke yesterday. Trinidad Guardian Editor-in-Chief Judy Raymond had reportedly walked off the job, followed by Sheila Rampersad and several other conscientious journalists in an atmosphere rife with allegations of political interference. Then today both the governemnt and the Guardian refuted the charge of political interference. As Patricia Worrell @bytesdog succinctly put it “This Guardian story have more twists and turns than Lady Chancellor or the road from Maracas.”
Raymond’s laconic Twitter account @HeyJudeTT doesn’t yield much at first glance. Her last three tweets are suitably cryptic but the Orwell quote is telling:
Trinidad Guardian editor-in-chief Judy Raymond did not even realise she was holding a political seat!
Raymond was hired last year to help the Guardian bottom-line: Increase sales. However, Mr Live Wire understands she ran afoul of the company’s motto: Stay close to the Government.
Photo: Ansa McAll chairman Anthony Norman Sabga.
Editorial policy is whatever he writes down on a sheet of paper.
In a politically aware country, although not necessarily a politically intelligent one, Raymond’s Guardian won nationwide acclaim for a string of exclusives including the stunning Section 34 scandal.
It turns out that Government officials felt Raymond and her nosey crew should spend more time on hard-hitting stories like the intrusion of Keith Rowley’s back door at Balisier House or MP Donna Cox’s alleged slap across the face of a PNM rival, presumably during recess.
The Delhi gang rape case prompted many journalists to use Twitter for updates on events and immediate responses from activists. To a greater extent than in previous protests, social media helped journalists keep a finger on the pulse of middle class India and get their immediate feedback on important issues. An Australian reporter said that “Twitter was really helpful to get a sense of the public sentiment and developments.” He followed the #delhigangrape hashtag, the official Twitter account of the Indian government, women’s groups, pressure groups, and Indian media on the subject.
Venkataramakrishnan, the journalist who found 140 characters limiting, nonetheless said that the protests have been incubators for social media sophistication in India. “Following the Anna Hazare case and the Delhi gang rape case, social media began to achieve a critical mass,” he told us.
Many journalists cited the importance of social media for background information. A journalist from The Hindu told us “I look at tweets by our own editor, editors from other newspapers, well known journalists such as Pritish Nandy [a columnist with The Times of India and the Hindi newspaper Dainik Bhaskar], Abhijit Majumder [editor of the Delhi edition of the Hindustan Times], and Saikat Dutta [a Delhi-based editor of the newspaper DNA]. I also look up tweets by television journalists such as Shiv Aroor [deputy editor at Headlines Today]. You get a mix of opinions from their tweets. Knowing these people’s perspectives helps me during coverage — but only indirectly…I rely on what I see when I am on the ground.”
Interestingly the overall thrust of the article I’m quoting is that in countries like India social media only reaches a tiny percentage of people and therefore may legitimately be overlooked. In Jamaica the number of people who have access to the internet and use social media via cellphones is much higher. Low internet penetration is all the more reason for media heads and top journalists to be au fait with the latest technologies so they can use it to inform themselves and their audiences who aren’t as well linked.
In which i respond to criticism of my Usain Bolt article which appeared in Newsweek, July 16. Part of the problem may have been caused by the inevitable editing process which condenses and removes context in some cases, throwing statements into starker relief than was intended.
On the rare occasion when i’ve had to teach a writing class, usually to students at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies, there are three publications i use as exemplars of the best writing available in English today. They are Time, Newsweek and the Economist. These three global newsmagazines, employ some of the best writers in the world today evident in the tightly constructed, yet fluid articles they feature, some no more than half a page in length, or a few hundred words, but words so expertly chosen and so economically strung together that (like the ant which carries loads several times its size on its tiny back) the quantity of information they convey belies their slender word counts.
Or so i thought. When i relayed this opinion at a dinner party once, someone, and I wish i could remember who this was, suggested that I was wrong. It’s not good writers these newsmagazines have, she or he said, it’s excellent editors. Hmmmm i thought to myself at the time, not entirely convinced. Now in the wake of writing an article on Usain Bolt for the current issue of Newsweek I know exactly what they meant; they were right.
When i got back the first edit of my article from Sam Seibert, an editor at Newsweek, i was mortified but also somewhat pleased. It was a drastic edit, with some rewriting and additions to my text in places (was my writing as poor as that?), but on the whole i couldn’t deny that it had improved my submission considerably. In fact there were some lessons about writing that Sam’s expert editing and rewriting reminded me of and i can’t thank him enough for this. The transition from one paragraph to another for instance; how to link thoughts and words so that the narrative flows along at a clip bearing the reader along.
Of course some of the changes inevitably shift the emphasis, sometimes even altering the meaning that was originally intended. I was given the opportunity to correct his rewrite more than once but the turnaround time was short and in retrospect i see a few things now which i should have rephrased. They’ve come to my attention because of the number of negative reactions, even objections to some of the things i say in the article. For example Dionne Jackson-Miller, one of the top journalists here whose shows I regularly tune into on radio and tv, posted on Facebook saying: Several comments gave me pause Annie Paullike this one…” In a land where hardly anything else works, an exemplary tradition of track-and-field instruction and competition has flourished for almost 100 years. ” Gonna have to think about that – are we really as underdeveloped as that suggests?
I could see her point, it was a harsh statement. Had i really said that? i went back to the text I had sent Newsweek and found something slightly different: “In a country where hardly anything works as it should an exemplary tradition of track and field instruction and administration has existed for almost 100 years.”
In fact it’s worth quoting the entire section this line was taken from, in which in an attempt to explain the Bolt phenomenon i try to sketch out the roots of the athletic culture that has developed in Jamaica.
Biological and dietary considerations aside the truth is that to ‘get’ Usain you have to get Jamaica, a country and culture riven by contradictions and inconsistency. To call Jamaica a ‘sprint factory’ is misleading; far from churning out cookie-cutter champions Jamaica is a crucible in which unique, world-class runners are formed, bursting onto the world stage at regular intervals and conquering it against all odds. They’ve been doing this since the 1948 Olympics when Jamaican runners, Arthur Wint and Herbert McKenley, won gold and silver in the 400m. In a country where hardly anything works as it should an exemplary tradition of track and field instruction and administration has existed for almost 100 years.
A nation of fervent Christians and bible thumpers, Jamaica has a deeply entrenched network of churches which may have been very receptive to nineteenth century British ideas about ‘muscular Christianity’. This may explain why running became so popular; anyone, anywhere could do it you didn’t neeed deep pockets or an expensive infrastructure to become a runner. By the middle of the twentieth century the sport was flourishing in Jamaica. According to Patrick Robinson, author of Jamaican Athletics: “There is no entity or area of endeavour in Jamaica, whether in the public or private sector, that is as well organized and, applying international standards, has been as consistently successful as track and field athletics.”
Whereas earlier generations of promising athletes with Olympic ambitions had to go abroad to be trained on track scholarships, Jamaica now has its own world-class coaches, trainers and managers. Stephen Francis of MVP Track Club and Glen Mills of Racers Track Club are two whose homegrown battalion of runners in the last two Olympics stupefied the world. Glen Mills is not only Usain Bolt’s coach, he is also the man behind young Yohan Blake, Bolt’s most dangerous opponent in the upcoming Olympic 100 and 200m races.
Blessed with exceptional natural talent in running Usain Bolt benefited from the systems already in place to identify potential athletes and train them. His passion as a child was cricket and he played on his school team from an early age. Fortunately his father and others noticed the speed with which he ran down the pitch and sent him to the William Knibb Memorial High School, a school with a strong track and field programme that gave sports scholarships and has produced a number of the country’s top athletes including the multiple-gold medal winning Veronica Campbell Brown.
Much of this landed on the cutting floor during Newsweek’s editorial process and what was left was this:
Running is a sport that seems practically ideal for a country like Jamaica. You don’t need deep pockets or fancy equipment to become a great runner. In a land where hardly anything else works, an exemplary tradition of track-and-field instruction and competition has flourished for almost 100 years. The island first seized the world’s attention back in 1948 when Jamaican runners Arthur Wint and Herbert McKenley won the gold and silver in the 400m in London.
Nevertheless, the sport that first captured the boy’s heart was not running, but cricket. He played on his school team from an early age, and it was on the pitch that his extraordinary speed first caught the attention of the town’s grown-ups. He became a prize recruit for William Knibb Memorial High School, which featured both a strong track-and-field program and sports scholarships. Knibb has produced many of Jamaica’s top athletes.
Sam Seibert’s editing of my article was so drastic that i actually asked if he’d be sharing the byline with me, but that’s not the convention in most major print media. It was interesting to come across an article called How the Byline Beast was Born, the very day after i got back the first edit of my article. I realized that there was no need for me to be crestfallen, that the process i had just undergone was pretty standard. In Byline Beast Jack Shafer was writing about the recent fuss about Journatic a content farm that provides local news stories to news media all over the United States. It’s a fascinating article i highly recommend, the following is only a small quote of immediate relevance to the editorial process i describe above:
In even the most professional of newsrooms, editors frequently do sufficient work on a piece – reporting and re-reporting sections, composing long passages without the assistance of the bylined writer, redefining the story’s parameters – that they deserve a byline or at least a co-byline. Yet magazine, newspaper and wire editors rarely receive this credit for their extraordinary interventions.
Although I highlight the radical edit of my article in this post I don’t blame it entirely for people’s reactions to what I’ve said in this article. When I call Jamaica a country where hardly anything functions as it should I’m referring to the major structures of governance that serve the needs of most citizens here so poorly that they’ve created their own informal structures and processes. While middle-class Jamaicans may well find things to be proud of–the system does work on their behalf after all–large numbers of poorer Jamaicans may disagree, for there is a sharp divergence in the way they are treated by the Police, the Justice system, the education system and government processes in general. Even the media in Jamaica treats you differently based on whether you come from uptown or downtown.
Incidentally the text i sent Newsweek was titled Usain Bolt: A Latter-day Hermes? but news media here and elsewhere rarely use headlines provided by writers, they have special people on board just to write headlines.
There were other things i said in my article which upset readers here and in the diaspora. I’ll discuss those in subsequent posts. In the meantime enjoy this Dorian Scott video of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and others building a vibe on the racetrack in Birmingham while they prepare for the Olympics. Scott is representing Jamaica in shotput at the upcoming Olympics. You may need a Facebook account to view the video but it’s well worth it.
PS: The photos at the top of this post are from the UK Telegraph.
Men have become the tools of their tools. – Henry David Thoreau
There were many retweets (RTs) and responses to Roy’s update of her timeline with Thoreau’s dry observation; there was one brief rally that aptly illustrated the essence of Thoreau’s point, and being Twitter, did so with economy:
but is there any escape from that ? asked @sreecube.
certainly not with an iPhone 4 came the answering stop volley from Roy, irrevocably staunching the conversation. One-love.
Novelist and political critic Arundhati Roy recently came in for some sledgehammer criticism from a reviewer in The New Republic: The New Republic excoriates Arundhati Roy as a ‘reactionary’ tweeted @harikunzru; others also remarked on the harshness of the critique lobbed at the petite activist and writer.
Titled ‘The Reactionary’ the review of Roy’s latest book Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers aimed to take apart the Indian writer’s ‘assault on democracy’, and what it called the ‘righteous hyperbole’ enlisted in her often cogent critique of the free-market capitalism-sponsored ‘democratic’ rituals we live daily. There have been many times when i’ve thought Roy has gone overboard in the tone and strategy of her critical project but she remains one of the most active voices raising questions and casting doubt on our ‘corporate present’, as Andrew Ross neatly terms the contemporary obsession with ‘enterprise’–literally the zeitgeist of buying and selling–to the detriment of true democracy.
Her Twitter bio playfully proclaims her outlook:
I’m bored with globalisation. You can see it in my face. I, alone, am Moral, lest, Moral-Less, More or Less. Amor, alas…
I’m deliberately not linking to The New Republic article in this post because i don’t see why i should promote it; you can google and find it if you really want to read it. Roy is obviously hitting her mark if the conservative mainstream US media find it necessary to use such demolition tactics. Go deh Arundhati!
In the rest of this post i’m going to share links to some excellent articles i came across last week.
First there was I Tweet, Therefore I Am, a New York Times magazine article about how tweeting changes you, how it alters the way you look at things but also the way you present yourself to the world; Twitter as performance. It reminded me of the frustration i felt some months ago when trying to persuade a friend that she needed to get on Twitter asap if she was interested in promoting the research she was doing. “Oh, i’ll just get my assistant to do it for me,” was her response. Do you send your assistant to the gym when you want to get fit i asked, after which i relapsed into silence, because i didn’t have the words to describe the range of effects Twitter has on one. Well this article makes the argument i would have tried to make, while adding several insights really worth sharing. Read it if you’re interested in exploring the new ‘ways we live now’ (or the way some of us live now, i should hastily add, having no desire to incur Arundhati Roy’s wrath here).
Then, if you don’t know him already, let me introduce you to Tunku Varadarajan, who writes for The Daily Beast. “What Does Julian Assange Want?” asks @Tunku inviting us to ‘shower the attention-craving, vainglorious “truth-seeker” with our contempt’. According to Tunku “Assange is the founder and prime mover of WikiLeaks, a shadowy, show-offy little outfit that last week unloaded into the public domain vast quantities of classified American military intelligence stolen from the vaults of the war in Afghanistan.”
In intent and tactic the article is trying to do just what the New Republic critic attempted with Arundhati Roy. It’s just that Tunku is far more adept at it, and ultimately more convincing i think:
These latest leaks weren’t, of course, Assange’s debut on the world stage. This episode was preceded by “Collateral Murder,” his own Breitbart Moment, when he infamously edited the leaked video of a gunship attack by U.S. forces in Iraq to make it appear more damnable. How is that different from the editing, by Andrew Breitbart, of the clip of the lady from the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the NAACP meeting? The New York Times wouldn’t touch anything Breitbart was peddling, but it gave Assange, who professes not to know where these documents came from, the full Pentagon Papers treatment.
Over the last seven years, blogging has changed my life. As a medium, it has offered me opportunities I did not have as a mainstream journalist. It has broadened and deepened my perspectives of the world around me. It has sharpened my craft as a writer. It has introduced me to ideas and people I’d never otherwise have known.
I discovered Varma, along with most of the other Indian bloggers and Tweeters, in the wake of the attack on the Bombay Palace hotel in Mumbai a couple of years ago. He is also the editor of the opinion section of Yahoo News India where this post appeared.
In The Case for Scholarly Reporting, prolific documenter and critic of American culture, Andrew Ross, writes a really engaging account of his search for a voice and orientation as a public intellectual who has tried to marry ethnography with investigative journalism in his practice. In the process of mapping his own trajectory Ross also fluidly sketches the movement in leftwing scholarship over the last few decades and the history of the field of American Studies.
. . . it took me a long time to work off the habits of my training and find my own voice as a practitioner of scholarly reporting—the genre in which I have come to feel most comfortable. There were particular obstacles in the path. I had been trained, first and foremost, as a “reader,” alert, above all, to decoding the secret life of words. This meant that I was not a very good listener, especially to the spoken testimony of others.
By the way Andrew has written about Jamaican culture and music in his 1998 essay “Mr. Reggae DJ, Meet the International Monetary Fund in which he describes reggae as “the sound of cultural justice worldwide”. The essay documents the rise of ‘cultural’ reggae, and speculates on its emergence at that particular moment. In the process he disproves Ian Boyne’s thesis that it is a clutch of star-struck University of the West Indies academics who’ irresponsibly’ promote dancehall and DJs by focusing benevolent analytical attention on them. But more on all that in a post on the subject at some later date.
In a really good post on copyright, new media and artists’ rights blogger Barney Davey republishes a blogpost by Australian artist Hazel Dooney, one of the most outspoken writers i’ve come across. Dooney who blogs frankly about her life as a successful artist operating without a backing gallery, her fragile psychological states, her admission to a medical facility and her escape from it has useful knowledge to impart on how and when to assert one’s copyright in a world mediated by the internet. As Davey says:
I believe what Dooney is stressing is important and that we cannot avoid assessing the reality of how digital media and our interconnectedness truly have changed everything. What was will never be again. Facing what is and making it work for you is the only reality and only way to make headway in the shifting paradigms we face. Sitting still is not the answer. The famous Will Rogers saying hold’s up well here. “Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.”
We don’t take shit from anyone, so don’t lie to us or give a load of bullshit. We spend all day separating fact from fiction, listening to PR cronies and dealing with slimy politicians. If you make us do the same with you, you’re just gonna piss us off. And don’t think we’ll be quiet about it. We’ll respond with the vengeance of an Op-Ed page railing against society’s injustices — and we’ll enjoy doing it.
Just tell us the truth. We can handle it.
Hope you enjoy these picks from my weekly archive of favourite articles, blogposts, tweets and random texts and images.