Friday, 27 February 2015

Jargons, Journalese and slangs

This is another piece from my old blog media newsletter.  I am reproducing here because it is a great learning exercise for more effective communication.
Friends Jargon, Journalese and slang are the words we should avoid. Many international publications have their style guide which tells journalists about publication's stand about different aspects of language to be used. Here is style guide of Economist about these three very important aspects of language which reporters and writers generally tend to ignore.
Avoid it. You may have to think harder if you are not to use jargon, but you can still be precise. Technical terms should be used in their proper context; do not use them out of it. In many instances simple words can do the job of exponential (try fast), interface (frontier or border) and so on. If you find yourself tempted  to write about affirmative action or corporate governance, you will have to explain what it is; with luck, you will then not have to use the actual expression.
Avoid, above all, the kind of jargon that tries either to dignify nonsense with seriousness (The appointee...should have a proven track record of operating at a senior level within a multi-site international business, preferably within a service- or brand-oriented environment, declared an advertisement for a financial controller for The Economist Group) or to obscure the truth (We shall not launch the ground offensive until we have attrited the Republican Guard to the point when they no longer have an effective offensive capacity—the Pentagon's way of saying that the allies would not fight on the ground until they had killed so many Iraqis that the others would not attack). What was meant by the Israeli defence ministry when it issued the following press release remains unclear: The United States and Israel now possess the capability to conduct real-time simulations with man in the loop for full-scale theatre missile defence architectures for the Middle East.
Try not to use foreign words and phrases unless there is no English alternative, which is unusual (so a year or per year, not per annuma person or per person, not per capita; beyond one's authority, not ultra vires; and so on).
Journalese and slang
Do not be too free with slang (eg, He really hit the big time in 1994). Slang, like metaphors, should be used only occasionally if it is to have effect. Avoid expressions used only by journalists, such as giving people the thumbs upthe thumbs down or the green light. Stay clear of gravy trains and salami tactics. Do not use the likes of. And avoid words and expressions that are ugly or overused, such as the bottom linehigh profilecaring (as an adjective), carersguesstimate (use guess), schizophrenic (unless the context is medical), crisiskeymajor (unless something else nearby is minor), massive (as in massive inflation), meaningful, perceptionsprestigious and significant.
Politicians are often said to be highly visible, when conspicuous would be more appropriate. Regulations are sometimes said to be designed to create transparency, which presumably means opennessGovernance usually means government. Elections described as too close to call are usually just close.
Try not to be predictable, especially predictably jocular. Spare your readers any mention of mandarins when writing about the civil service, of their lordships when discussing the House of Lords, and of comrades when analysing communist parties. Must all lawns be manicured? Are drug traffickers inevitably barons?
In general, try to make your writing fresh. It will seem stale if it reads like hackneyed journalese. One weakness of journalists, who on daily newspapers may plead that they have little time to search for the apposite word, is a love of the ready-made, seventh-hand phrase. Lazy journalists are always at home in oil-rich country A, ruled by ailing President B, the long-serving strongman, who is, according to thechattering classes, a wily political operator—hence the present uneasy peace—but, after his recent watershed (or landmark or sea-change) decision to arrest his prime minister (the honeymoon is over), will soon face a bloody uprising in the breakaway south. Similarly, lazy business journalists always enjoy describing the problems of troubled company C, a victim of the revolution in the gimbal-pin industry (change is always revolutionary in such industries), which, well-placed insiders predict, will be riven by amake-or-break strike unless one of the major players makes an 11th-hour (or last-ditch) intervention in a marathon negotiating session.
Prose such as this is freighted with codewords (respected is applied to someone the writer approves of, militant someone he disapproves of, prestigious something you won't have heard of). The story can usually start with the words, First the good news, inevitably to be followed in due course by Now the bad news. A quote will then be inserted, attributed to one (never anindustry analyst, and often the words If, and it's a big if... Towards the end, after an admission that the author has no idea what is going on, there is always room for One thing is certain, before rounding off the article with As one wag put it...
Perhaps even more wearying for the reader is the trendy journalist's fondness of vogue words and expressions. Some of these are deliberately chosen (bridges too farempires striking backkinder, gentlerF-wordsflavours of the monthGeneration Xhearts and minds;$64,000 questionssouthern discomfortback to the futurethirty-somethingswindows of opportunitywhere's the beef?), usually from a film or television, or perhaps a politician. Others come into use less wittingly, often from social scientists. If you find yourself using any of the following words, you should stop and ask yourself whether (a) it is the best word for the job (b) you would have used it in the same context five or ten years ago, and if not why not:
address (questions can be answered, issues discussed, problems solved, difficulties dealt with)
care for and all caring expressions (how about look after?)
environment (in a writing environment you may want to make use of your Tipp-Ex, rubber or delete button)
famously (usually redundant, nearly always irritating)
focus (all the world's a stage, not a lens)
individual (fine in some contexts, but increasingly used as a longer synonym for manwoman or person)
overseas (increasingly used, and often wrongly, to mean abroad or foreign)
participate in (take part in—more words but fewer syllables)
partner (“Take your partners for the Gay Gordons!” by all means, but dancing together does not necessarily mean sleeping together—just as a sleeping partner is not necessarily a lover)
process (a word properly applied to the Arab-Israeli peace affair, because it was meant to be evolutionary, but now often used in place of talks)
relationship (relations can nearly always do the job)
resources (especially human resources, which may be personnelstaff or just people)
skills (these are turning up all over the place—in learning skills, thinking skills, teaching skills—instead of the ability to. He has the skills probably means He can)
supportive (helpful?)
target (if you are tempted to target your efforts, try to direct them instead)
transparency (openness?)
Such words are not wrong, but if you find yourself using them only because you hear others using them, not because they are the most appropriate ones in the context, you should avoid them. Overused words and off-the-shelf expressions make for stale prose. 

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Silent witness of high palace political dramas

While going through my blog media newsletter I came across a write up about Jagadish Thakkar who is now PRO with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. You cant imagine my delight on this find which is rare by all counts.
A lot has been written about Jagadish Thakkar after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister and took him to 7RCR. But all this was woven around one theme that he is silent and it is difficult to get a story out of him. It is true. Only because of this reason my write up about this silent man is a kind of scoop.
Jagadish Thakkar is highly conscious about his interaction with media. He won't allow you to get anything from hism. I used to sit with him in press gallery of Gujarat Vidhan Sabha. In several sittings I could get some interesting details from him about himself. But not even a word about any of the Chief Ministers he had served.
He never allowed anyone to take hisphotograph. However, one day I managed this photograph from my mobile and ran this story on my website. But the story was lost in migration to different web platform since 2008 when I had written it. Here is the story as it appeared in March 2008 during the budget session. Even now the budget session is on.
I do not think that there can be better item for my new blog.

Jagadish Thakkar
The block number one of Sachivalaya in Gandhinagar has seen ten Chief Ministers in the last 22 years. There were many more senior bureaucrats attached to the CMO during this period which has seen many turbulent periods of murky politics ranging from struggle for plum portfolios among ministers to the famous Khajuraho episode, the first divide in the monolith of the Bharatiya Janata Party by its own man Shankarsinh Vaghela.
But all along these years, if there is one single person who has been quite close to the hot seat of power that runs the state is Jagadish Thakkar, Public Relations Officer to the Chief Minister. The low profile Thakkar is ubiquitous by his presence as a shadow to the Chief Minister in his all major public functions and mostly available in the CMO when the Chief Minister is in Gandhinagar.
At least for the last four years, I have been trying to find the secret of his survival in such a mercurial environment of the CMO where power politics is the other name of the existence. But, all in vain. Jagdishbhai as everyone calls him will offer tea and snacks, will use all his body language to express intimacy while refraining from the sensitive question. A touch of warmth only to signal that do not touch this subject.
Staff in the CMO calls him Dada. Most of the Chief Ministers have called him Jagdishbhai except Chimabhai Patel and Chhabildas Mehta who called him Jagdish. Something which he relishes when he recounts this fact. Keshubhai Patel used to call him Thakkar as per the tradition of Saurashtra region to which Keshubhai belonged. However, he also started calling him Jagadishbhai when he realized that there was another Thakkar in the staff and it created confusion.
And this is precisely the secret of his success. He sees everything and hears everything, but speaks nothing. Though he sits with journalists in public functions, he seals himself off all that might give wrong signals. With media his job ends with the taking notes of the event for writing of the press release of an event.
After much persuasion I could elicit only this statement from him. "I know the mind of my Chief Minister and I work accordingly. That is my brief". This is what he said when I asked him what makes a good PRO. The PRO must know about the organization and its objective, this is his general advice for becoming a successful PRO.
Jagdishbhai, basically a journalist who started his career with Lok Satta Vadodara in 1967 and later shifted to Saurastra Samachar in Bhavnagar joined the state Information department in 1972 as District Information Officer. From the day one, he has to deal with the crisis management and probably that is the reason that he is able to handle the crisis prone position in the CMO.
His appointment has an interesting tale. Though he had to take charge of Mehsana office, he was asked to report to Bharuch where the office had all kind of problem. There are many places in his list where he was posted to deal with crisis ridden position. And so when the then Director of Information P K Laheri selected him for the post of PRO for the Chief Minister Amarsinh Chaudhary he made a right choice.
He was introduced to the Chief Minister who uttered only one sentence. From tomorrow you will sit here in my office. And since then Jagdishbhai is an integral part of CMO. Though he retired four years back, he is continuing as PRO. In the last 22 years he has rose from the post of Assistant Director of Information to the Additional Director. But people know him only as PRO to the Chief Minister.
He started his career with Amarsinh Chaudhary. He is the first moving PRO. Until he joined, PRO used to sit in the Information Department and his job was more or less to issue CM's messages. And since then he is always on the move with the Chief Minister. He writes press releases of the CM himself. And for the journalists his copy is a great help in the coverage.
And as a good PRO he tells about his boss, the Chief Minister even if the other guest has a better point!
His assignments are a chronicle of the CM office. After Chaudhary, he worked with Madhavsinh Solanki who was reinducted for eight months. Then came Chimanbhai Patel followed by Chhabildas Mehta. His next boss was Keshubhai Patel who was later ousted by Shankarsinh Vaghela. After him came his confidant Dilip Parikh and Suresh Mehta and then after a full turn Keshubhai Patel again. And now Narendra Modi.
His present tenure is until February 2008. He does not plan to retire from the active life. He wants to write. Not the inner stories of the power game, but something social, something that makes people think and talk. He ran a serial on Doordarshan "Aghaat" for one year and now he writes one story a year- in the annual issue of government publication Gujarat.
Though he does not want to talk anything political at least with the journalists, he has a good repository of interesting instances of his life. Here is one that happened during the period of Navnirman agitation when Jagdishbhai was in greens of his career. He was posted in Mehsana on a quite a junior post of DIO.
Law and order situation was turning worse. A mamlatdar suggested that night curfew should be clamped to bring situation under control. But who should bring this suggestion to the notice of the district Collector and the District Superintendent of Police. Jagdishbhai suggested this to the bosses. They promised him to come back to him soon since the night session of the Radio was to close at 11 pm.
Jagdishbhai kept on trying to contact till 10.55 pm. Ultimately, he released a statement in his own name that the curfew is clamped in the Mehsana town. Collector and DSP were surprised, but Jagdishbhai had his explanation of deadline of the Radio. Subsequently orders of curfew were issued and in the morning both the bosses complimented Jagdishbhai for the timely response.
And from those days he knows how the government works.
His personal life is also quite interesting. Till the date he has seen only four films. They are Madhumati, Laajvanti, Mughl-e-Azam and Saara Akash. He is married. His wife used to run a school and also social service organization in Gandhinagar. Later, she opted for the social service only. Though, Jagadishbhai moves round a lot on official assignments, he has never gone out with his family.
Despite all this, he says he is a happy man with happy family. One has to believe him seeing him.

About the blog

The idea of this blog is to write about media and newmakers. I am very clear about the news makers. For most of us these are the persons and celebrities who hit headline in newspapers and flat screen of TV. Now web portals are also added into the increasing list of media platforms.
But my news makers are we journalists who create names and faces of headlines.
In the past I started two blogs. One was Gujarat media and another media newsletter. I did not continue for long. It was mainly because of my own lethargy rather than the idea of those two blogs that led to premature death of the two.
In this blog, I want to provide a platform where people can know about what is happening in media, where it is going and about people who make the news, journos, to use a single and most widely used expression.
No doubt the blog will have all shades of journos, right from reporters of good old days to anchors of modern time.
In 30 years in the profession, I have found that we know a lot about people on our beat, but hardly have any information about other journalists. No doubt we have all kind of stories about celebrities of our profession and we talk a lot about them like other celebrities. It is to fill this void.
Media is changing a lot, but there is not free and frank discussion. In this blog I would like to talk about this change.
This post is just to give a brief of idea. However, in the fast changing world of information age, this may change its dimensions.
But the basic spirit will be the same. We journalists and our world.