Original copy

Hello and welcome to another episode of Original Copy, the show that Aroon-Purie.jpgteaches you how to make your mark in the competitive world of journalism. Today we bring you a lesson on what to do if you’re caught lifting another writer’s work. As you may have heard, Aroon Purie, editor-in-chief of India Today, had to apologize for a recent “From the Editor-in-Chief” column that included lines like this: “If a tiger had sex with a tornado and then their tiger-nado baby got married to an earthquake, their offspring would be Rajinikanth.”

As it turns out, that sentence and nine others originally appeared in Slate writer Grady Hendrix’s article on Rajinikanth. Purie sent apologies to Hendrix and Slate editor David Plotz, which Hendrix included in a piece called “Great Writers Steal.”

It’s my normal practice in my letter from the editor to enumerate why we carry a particular cover story. In the regional edition of our weekly newsmagazine India Today issue dated Oct 18th 2010 we carried a cover story on the film star Rajinikant.

I normally ask for inputs on subjects that are specialized , as for instance a superhit filmstar from the south, from those in charge of editing the copy. Some of the inputs which were sent to me on Rajinikant were unfortunately taken from an article authored by Mr. G Hendrix in your magazine. This was not known to me. I believed it to be original copy and a portion of it got included as inputs in my longer letter from the editor which got published. I greatly regret this error.

Rajinikanth is indeed a very specialized subject, one that’s studied diligently at many Tamil Nadu theaters. So it’s no surprise that Purie asked for inputs, and believed them to be “original copy.”

Purie: “Original copy?”

Assistant: “Yes, sir, we are the first ones to copy it.”

Purie included an apology in the Oct. 25 regional edition of India Today:

Jet lag is clearly injurious to the health of journalism. I was in America,
and still a bit bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived when we took an
unusual decision: to split the cover. This is jargon for changing the
cover for some editions; so while the content of the magazine remained
the same worldwide, the cover that went to our readers in south India
displayed the phenomenal Rajinikanth, while our other readers saw
Omar Abdullah on the cover. This meant writing two versions of ‘Letter
from the Editor’. Not being an acknowledged expert on the delightful
southern superstar, I asked Delhi for some inputs. Unfortunately, a couple
of sentences lifted from another article were sent to me. An excuse is not
an explanation. So, without any reservations, mea culpa. Apologies.

There are some important lessons here for anyone caught using another writer’s work:

1. Blame jet lag. If you’re sleep-deprived and can barely keep your eyes open, how can anyone expect you to read, let alone write, your own column?

2. Blame your inputs. It’s one of the basic rules of journalism: Good inputs result in good no writing.

3. Minimize the damage. Don’t say that “10 sentences” or “about 250 words” were lifted when “a couple of sentences” will do. Most readers can’t count anyway. And if they do, you can always say something like, “I asked for inputs on the number of sentences that were lifted.”

4. Placate your readers. If you’re apologizing to readers in the South, it always helps to include words such as “delightful southern superstar.”

5. Avoid lifting material from well-known media outlets like Slate. Instead, focus your lifting efforts on lesser-known bloggers. You won’t even have to apologize.

6. Get a nice display in your home for all your journalism awards. And make sure it has a lock, so no one lifts them.

12 thoughts on “Original copy

  1. First: he really calls himself Aroon? :)

    That said, the state of journalism in India merits a lot of criticism. Perhaps they are teething troubles—the media in India is more powerful than ever before, and they don’t know how to handle it.

    But the root is, imo, in a undeserved sense of self importance. In the same vein, you will also see the absolute crassness and bias in articles in erstwhile reputed newspapers, the complete lack of respect for their subjects, and witch hunts without any sense of whom they are tarnishing. Even newspapers like the Hindu, once sedate and trustworthy, have lost all credibility to me. Peepli [Live] was bang on target :) .

    After all, if you (in a manner of speaking) think you are the cure for corruption and what not in India, why would you care if you lifted something from somewhere? After all, Robin Hood was a thief, wasn’t he?

    Plagiarism is a strong symptom that things are circling the drain. But it only begins to touch upon what bothers me. What is worse is the harm they do in India. For example, the media, through its witch hunts, indirectly fans corruption in India by demoralizing the only people who could stymie it—the regular civil servant and low/mid rung government employees who are, by and large, ok, with maybe the occasional skeleton in their cupboards they are not proud of. But, hey, who wants nuances when you get to play the brown sahib? Remember the CWG? And the ongoing frenzy of irresponsible journalism, trying to fan anger and resentment where there seems little of either, regarding the (as yet incomplete) Ayodhya verdict?

  2. Plagiarism is a strong symptom that things are circling the drain. But it only begins to touch upon what bothers me. What is worse is the harm they do in India. For example, the media, through its witch hunts, indirectly fans corruption in India by demoralizing the only people who could stymie it—the regular civil servant and low/mid rung government employees who are, by and large, ok, with maybe the occasional skeleton in their cupboards they are not proud of. But, hey, who wants nuances when you get to play the brown sahib? Remember the CWG? And the ongoing frenzy of irresponsible journalism, trying to fan anger and resentment where there seems little of either, regarding the (as yet incomplete) Ayodhya verdict?

    most ppl here reading are american. i’m curious as to what you’re saying, but i don’t get most of the references. do average indian americans keep up on this?

  3. i’m curious as to what you’re saying, but i don’t get most of the references.

    i get the references, but don’t really get what he is saying. CWG = commonwealth games.

    btw, grady hendrix had a couple of brilliantly sarcastic responses, both to the initial non-apology – which was left as a comment on the blog that broke the story, and to the more formal non-apology from purie.

    http://mumbaiboss.com/2010/10/14/aroon-purie-likes-slate-a-little-too-much/

    http://www.slate.com/id/2271859/

    purie is a big name in indian media. it remains to be soon whether purie will live this down in an age of blogs keeping this embarrassment alive, although i am not hopeful of anything happening.

  4. I can confirm NotG’s laments. Even hard journalism in India is a joke. Everything on TV is “Breaking News”. Everything is depicted as the most insane story you’ve ever heard. There’s a total lack of ethics and standards. The Hindu and Outlook India are good but everything else blows.

  5. “First: he really calls himself Aroon? :)

    And spells his last name as Purie? How pretentious!

  6. most ppl here reading are american. i’m curious as to what you’re saying, but i don’t get most of the references. do average indian americans keep up on this?

    I have lived in the US for quite a while as well, not sure if that makes me Indian American to the desi crowd. But I follow certain stories dilligently, and your choice of stories may be different from mine, thats all.

    CWG=Commonwealth Games. The games were held in Delhi a couple of weeks back, with about 70(?) countries participating. There was corruption in the organization of games, and there is an ongoing enquiry. But more than the corruption, what bothers me is the media. Rather than playing a rational watchdog, they blew things up so out of proportion that a majority of the people were surprised the games even happened, and went largely without hitches. The point is, it stopped being a fair enquiry a long time ago, rather it has degenerated into a gleeful witch hunt.

    For example, several “facts” used to pillory the organizers turned out to be gross misprepresentations: allegations of bribery during the bidding process, which turned out to be regular incentives every bid had to contain; allegations that they deliberately overpaid for maintainence of the games nerve center, when all that happened was that the rent increased over a period of 5 years.

    The Ayodhya verdict was handed out by the High Court, partitioning the Babri Masjid and adjoining areas equally among the three litigants. What is not clear at all from the reporting is whether the masjid land is itself partitioned—from what I gather, the answer is no—though, to me, the point is moot. But there is so much nudge nudge, wink wink, selective reporting from all sides that, depending on the newspaper you read, you would think the court insidiously sold out either muslims or hindus.

    It bothers me that hysteria trumps reasoning to this extent. And if don’t see a reasoned process, I am very reluctant to give any credence to what anyone says. While I understand journalism is a cynical profession in every part of the world, in India, it falls into deeper chasms than pretty much every other place I know—including the India of 15 years back.

  7. But we are probably going somewhat off topic. Interns, please feel free to remove the prior comment.

  8. As I read this, the comments from Tina Brown and Tom Brokaw encouraging young journalists to go to India come to mind:

    “Young journalists [should] go work in India,” she said. “There are so many great newspapers in India. I go quite a lot, actually. It has a very vibrant newspaper and magazine culture. There’s a lot of energy in Delhi, a lot of newsmagazines. It’s a very literary culture, it’s great.”–Tina Brown

    I believe her about the culture. It is kind of sad to think that working at one of these great publications might carry a bit of a taint if stories like this happen a lot (do they?).

  9. I dont normally watch INdian movies, but like any other self respecting person of South Indian origin, I refused to miss this Rajnikanth movie. I saw the Telugu version though I would have been fine with the Tamil version too. How did Robot get to be pronounced as ROBO? Here is where the indian press blows. They kept hyping the effects as if these were Hollywood quality. Maybe early 90s era Hollywood quality at best. I actually didn’t hate the movie. Some of the FX ideas were pretty good, but the polish was lacking in the finishing of a lot of FX. I know a high budget indian movie is comparable to a modest budget movie over here. Still, even something as simple as the title sequence looked like primitive computer graphics. The work in the final half hour was pretty decent, but the visual look was not even as polished as I Robot which came out more than 5 years ago. It looks like the western companies slack off when the client is Indian. Anyway, if you read the Indian press, you would get the wrong impression of the type of FX work.

    The main asset of the movie was Rajnikanth even if he curtailed his famous mannerisms for the story. I actually thought his scientist character was a selfish jerk and had a hard time rooting for that character.I never lked Aishwarya Rai as an actress, but didn’t realize she could shake her ass so well in those song sequences. She always seemed too restrained in movies I have seen her in.

  10. I never lked Aishwarya Rai as an actress, but didn’t realize she could shake her ass so well in those song sequences. She always seemed too restrained in movies I have seen her in.

    Really? I’ll definitely have to see that. She always struck me as the RealDoll of India- all looks and nothing else, including talent of any sort.