Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Yes, names and designations do matter

Editing a journal is not easy, especially if it is targeted at an external audience. I can imagine the anxieties editors of mainline newspapers and magazines go through every day ensuring that copy produced is clean. For, many reporters/writers I know do not really care much about checking and double-checking facts.

It was only last week that I had an argument with my nephew when he wondered how people led lives in earlier years when there wasn’t Google. Many of my generation and those older know only too well how much simpler and happier life was without Google and all the gizmos we have today. What's more, typists and reporters/writers were far more careful, too. My father would type out a full page without a single error while today we rely too much on Spell-check and take little effort ourselves to double-check. And we all know how Googling up information isn’t as good as being there where it matters. Google is of course an excellent tool/guide, an encyclopedia, but I wouldn’t rely on it fully.

Comment is free but are facts still sacred? Yes of course they are! Earlier this week, I was surprised to receive an email from the director and managing trustee of a school in Bangalore saying that although she liked the article that was published in Grassroots (a journal produced by the Press institute of India), she was not happy with a couple of errors in a paragraph, including the misspelling of her name. She insisted that I make the necessary changes in the electronic version and in the next issue of the journal.

When I forwarded the mail to the writer (a Chameli Devi Award winner who ran a column in the Deccan Herald for 27 years), I received a response saying she was “baffled”. “The 'corrections' essentially amount to what I have said. In fact I was a little hesitant about doing this story after she expressed some reservations that my article could antagonise government authorities. But I was later assured that there were ‘no reservations’, and as you know I held the article back by a few months while carefully choosing my wordings. Personally I don’t think any correction is called for. In fact, given the trouble I had sending you the photos, I should have given up long ago,” she explained.She went on to add that after 47 years in journalism,  three national awards, one lifetime achievement award, writing 11 books and  two bestsellers,  and teaching journalism at the post graduate level in Mumbai and Bangalore, she didn’t think she was careless or had “got  my facts wrong.”

That I thought was not quite the right approach or attitude, especially from somebody as senior as her. There is no doubt it is important to get names and the basic facts correct. I wouldn’t like my name misspelt. Designations matter, too. In the story, the names of the women carried no designation. To an extent, therefore, what the director of the institute said was right: “It is my institution that is being written about - an institution into which I have put many years of devoted effort. If it was a patent issue it would have been a grievous error. Imagine the light bulb being credited to Adison instead of Edison. I certainly hope you can see it from my point of view and carry the note in the next issue.”

May be that was going overboard slightly. It was after all a wonderful story about a school showing others the way. But then, a misspelt name and omitted designations seemed to matter more. Moral of the story: You should not trifle with names and facts. And if a mistake has been made, acknowledge it and make amends.