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The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

Acid Test For Sub Editors

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August 10, 2009

I’ve been a regular reader of The Hindustan Times for over 15 years now and my morning is never complete without a copy of the paper that has a golden history going back to the days of the freedom struggle. I also have a very special relationship with the paper as it was the first newsroom I entered as an intern about 16 summers ago.

Needless to say that the paper is an important part of my life and its good and bad things matter to me. I’ve already written about how HT got everything bungled up in yesterday’s lead story. I didn’t dissect the story completely though and I’ll quickly finish that before I go into the big story that they’ve carried today.

The last paragraph on the turn page of yesterday’s lead story is a quote by the joint secretary, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Vineet Chawdhry; that is how his name is spelled in the Union Ministry’s website as well. Having been a desk person for more than 15 years, I would though not be surprised if the ministry’s website has also got the name wrong; it could be right but it sounds odd enough to double check.

“Severe symptoms such as rapid breathing, breathlessness, chest pain, recurrence of fever or breathing problems should not be ignored. Treatment using oseltamivir at a designated government hospital prevents complications and death. We just hope this death does not fuel panic.” That really is a profound golden quote that ends yesterday’s story.

Forgive me for nit picking, which basically is the job for which sub editors are paid, but the F in a Friday that lies in the fourth paragraph of the Sunday story is in lower case. I am not very familiar with Mumbai but I would also like to check if Jogeshwari lies in Mumbai’s eastern suburb, especially since the woman is a resident of the western suburb of Versova.

If anything can beat Sunday’s ‘terror and error’ story then it has to be the ‘horror’ story running as the lead of Hindustan Times’ Monday edition.

“Swine flu claimed two more lives on late Saturday night and Sunday, taking the death toll to four, even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stepped in to review the situation on Sunday and directed the health ministry to contain the spread of the disease.”

Swine flu claimed two more lives even as PM Singh stepped in to review the situation; that is what the lead paragraph says if you omit the incidental words. The Economic Times headline says ‘PM steps in as swine flu death toll rises to four’. The deaths did not happen because the PM stepped in rather the PM stepped in because the toll had gone up to four. A subtle but important way of correlating things that makes all the difference.

Smart work as HT has changed the graphic but really sloppy that the headline is the same as yesterday. So in case you are looking for the 5 things to do, you’ll have to look into Sunday’s paper.

Now I can understand that HT likes to refer to the first victim as Rida Sheikh instead of Reeda, as everyone else in the country is doing but who the hell is this Rida Shah who is referred to as the first fatality in the country in paragraph four of today’s lead story. Not too far away from this place in the Ghulam Nabi Azad story she has been mentioned as Rida Sheikh, the country’s first swine flu casualty. She is also referred as Shaikh in the second instance.

This is just a cursory glance, and I am petrified by the thought of sitting down and subbing the story. Also I am too tired and thoroughly bugged by the standard of a front page that goes to lakhs of homes everyday. More importantly, this is not a job that I get paid for; I am just a consumer who expects a certain minimum standard from the newspaper that has painted the town red with huge big hoardings.

If I had my way I would begin by testing all the sub editors in the newsroom for use of LSD or other hallucination inducing substances before I even begin to think of an Inspired India drive to demand accountability and change from bureaucracy, judiciary and all other services outside the purview of the KG Marg office.


Written by Deepan Joshi

November 23, 2009 at 1:43 pm

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