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This week it’s my turn to take leave. Last week it was my wife’s. Reason: To be with our son during his studies as he prepares for his exams. No longer people take leave only for going on holiday tours. Thanks to modern-day lifestyle, dictated by long and unusual working hours, parents have less time to spend with their children.

Journalists, like us, are among the worst hit. When children are at home in the evening, we are in the office. Even though people on Sundays follow news on radio and TV, and on Mondays read newspapers, few of them realise that journalists work on Sundays too. Yes, both of us work on Sundays, and our Sunday is on a weekday! Besides, most public holidays too are working days for us, with the result, in a year, there are very few days when all of us are at home through the day!

There’s an opinion that such work schedules aren’t good for the family. In fact, people do ask us: “How do you manage?!” There are also parents, faced with their children’s dream to be journalists, who ask us: how good is the career, is it safe, is there family life for a journalist?

My answer: we manage just as others do. It’s not journalists alone who lead such lives. Families where parents have the perfect 10 to 5 job aren’t free of problems, are they? I know a family: the husband and the wife are officers in banks; but they are in two cities and their daughter stays with her grandmother. If that you think is the worst part, the best part is the daughter is so much smarter than some other girls whose parents are always with them. I am sure there are many such examples to show how generalizations aren’t true.

Of course, more time with children does have its benefits. It’ll be quite wrong to say that our son doesn’t miss us. The same holds good for us: we too miss the evenings with our son. Family life of most journalists isn’t the same as of many others. We do miss the usual weekends; but we do find time to go out as a family, relax, unwind and recharge ourselves. There are lot of advantages when you are a little different and you aren’t following the crowd! That’s the fun! One example, as we work from afternoon to night, we never get caught in the rush-hour traffic.

It’s a tough job, no doubt. However, I believe adversities do play a positive role in shaping our lives; they make us a little harder and more prepared to face challenges in life. The trick, I guess, is not in ducking problems, but in working around them. And, it’s not the problems we should be worried about, it’s the way we tackle them.

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Who is that? In pre-computer era, only people associated with printing or publishing knew Helvetica. Today, anyone who has been using Word Document will know this character whose 50th birth anniversary is being celebrated in many ways across the world.

Much ado about nothing? Not really. In the world of communication, the way words are written or printed conveys as much if not more than the meaning of the word itself. Especially in advertising the fonts are very carefully chosen to subliminally reinforce the message.

Helvetica typeface was initially released as Neue Haas Grotesk and was designed in 1957 by Max Miedinger for the Haas Type Foundry in Switzerland. Its name was changed to Helvetica (an adaptation of Helvetia, the Latin name for Switzerland) by Walter Cunz around 1960. It soon became popular mainly found in subways of New York and in logos of BMW and American Airlines.

While Apple introduced Helvetica on its computers in 1984, it was soon rivalled by the font Arial which was used by Microsoft on its computers. The two look very identical, may be Helvetica is slightly more well defined.

The 50th anniversary is being celebrated with a film as well. Helvetica, by Gary Hustwit, explores today’s urban life and how typeface affects it. It is also about designers and their work. Read more abour the movie here. The movie is currently on a world-wide special screening tour. See the schedule here.

Links:
Article on Helvetica on Star Tribune
Article on Helvetica on Typophile
Helvetica at 50 on BBC
Different Helvetica fonts
The Helvetica movie

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On Monday, a gunman, Cho Seung-Hui, entered the Virginia Tech campus, sprayed bullets at random killing 33 persons, most of them students. This is the worst shooting rampage in American history, and it has set off a discussion on that nation’s infamous gun culture.

On Wednesday, NBC received a package containing a rambling and often incoherent 23-page written statement from Cho, 28 video clips and 43 photos — many of them showing Cho brandishing handguns. A Postal Service time stamp reads 9:01 a.m. — between the two attacks on campus. The video has disturbing texts, audio and video clippings in which Cho explains the background to his gruesome act. The package solved the mystery of the 2-hour gap between the first burst of gunfire, at a high-rise dorm, and the second attack, at a classroom building.

According to a news report: “Some of the pictures in the video package show him smiling; others show him frowning and snarling. Some depict him brandishing two weapons at a time, one in each hand. He wears a khaki-coloured military-style vest, fingerless gloves, a black T-shirt, a backpack and a backward, black baseball cap. Another photo shows him swinging a hammer two-fisted. Another shows an angry-looking Cho holding a gun to his temple.”

At times of such catastrophic events, news media too get involved in a parallel debate on how such events are covered. NBC’s decision, after careful deliberations, to air portions of the footage, has triggered such a debate now. Many networks, like Fox, have decided not to show the footage.

NBC says select portions were aired so that America understands why Cho did what he did, and the nation takes cues from it to avoid a similar tragedy in future. But others felt it was an insensitive move. In fact, the family members of victims cancelled plans to appear on NBC’s “Today” show because they “were very upset” with the network for showing the pictures.

In such cases, I believe, there is no readymade formula that can be applied. Probably NBC is as much right as others who didn’t show it. Because, how right it is to show such clippings depends on how much is shown and in what manner; meaning, the commentary and programme format that can make a big difference to the impact of such visuals.

Today, Poynter Institute faculty members Al Tompkins, Jill Geisler, Kelly McBride and Bob Steele gathered to discuss NBC’s decision. Listen to the podcast of the discussion here. There is also an explanation by the NBC why it went ahead with the telecast.

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The Changing Media Summit has been examining the future of journalism in the wake of new technology that’s increasingly redefining mass communication. Newspapers, radio, television, mobile phones, internet: all are in the midst of tech-triggered changes.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger spoke of the possibility of newspapers allowing lot more of user-generated content. He said: “We are grappling with this balance of what goes on to the website and what goes in the paper. A great part of that web [content] will be generated by users in time.”

But he was quick to clarify that this will only be a complimentary role. “The role of journalists in this multi-media age has not changed and that user-generated content will only be a compliment to their work.” (Source: Press Gazette)

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I didn’t know such a thing existed.

There is this unusual online practice of gambling fake money on future news events. According to USC Annenberg graduate student Daryl Paranada, in this article in the Online Journalism Review, website users can compete with one another by making predictions about future events.

“Predicting future events has always been uncertain, but prediction market websites like NewsFutures.com have made betting on the news a viable — and often fun — activity for Web users.”

Not quite surprising, given the uncertainty of news events.

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One of the ways journalism has changed is in the length of stories. Newspapers and magazines now a days carry shorter articles and news reports. There are more of graphics, illustrations and photos. One reason is that people have lesser time today to go through long-winded articles, two, the printable area of newspaper itself has shrunk.

The Editors’ Weblog is reporting on how Washington Post has asked its reporters to write shorter articles. “Len Downie, executive edior of The Washington Post, has made it clear: writers will have to write shorter stories if they want to go on writing them. Downie’s memo is representative of a trend to trim and trim more. The memo also discusses the Post’s new policies for the structure of its content.”

Washingtonian.com has the full text of the executive editor’s memo.

And there is a comment on the above site welcoming the move. A good observation:

“This is good news, not bad news. Kudos to Downie. Based on the memo, I believe he’s trying to get articles in the Post that people actually will read and that maintain journalistic excellence. Young people – our future market – like shorter articles, and succinct writing has greater impact than bloated writing. The Post has figured out that long-winded journalism is all but dead, putting the paper far ahead of most.”

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Sham Lal, who passed away yesterday, belonged to a different strand of journalism. He illustrated that journalism is not just about reporting news. Journalism, as a social subject of mass communication, is also a lot about the message, how it’s conceived, crafted, delivered and pondered over. It’s as much about the language as about the content. He was a great literary critic. Not many have combined so well literature and journalism. My first exposure to Sham Lal’s writings was when I used to go through The Times of India’s issues at the Trivandrum Press Club, while I was doing my MCJ in Kerala University. The column ‘Life and Letters’ was a must read. A collections of his pieces is available as ‘A Hundred Encounters’. There is something about his style that is addictive. International affairs is my favourite, and among the most memorable of his writings are on the collapse of the Soviet Union and East European countries. (Photo credit: The Hindu)

The Times of India paid tribute to this great journalist with a special Edit Page today: Homage to Sham Lal.
Leader article: Above the Fray by Dileep Padgaonkar
In a Jungle of Theories, by Sham Lal
Life of Letters, Tribute by Ian Jack, Editor, Granta

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