Edit with a KISS!

credit: www.salisbury.edu
credit: www.mindfultitle.org
credit: www.mindfultitle.org

By Akash Shukla

The maxim for editing can be explained with no better acronym— KISS. The ‘Keep it Short and Simple’ mantra helps the editors and reporters alike to wade through the quagmire of trash writing and long-winded write-ups.

Some of the funny quips from the reporter’s domain are as follows…

  • The case would be cracked in transparent manner and the culprits would be dealt with iron hands.
  • The instructions of Chief Development Officer to provide about 50,000 Above Poetry Line(APL) ration cards and Below Poverty Line ration…
  • As pleasurable winter is going on that make my mood full of Masti.
  • I feel like lingering with my boyfriend my parents are familiar with but because of interference of civic and police I am petrified of coming in limelight.
  • The thieves not even burgled the house of jeweler, but they also made picnic there as well. They prepared edibles and relished it with the chilled cold drinks that were kept inside the refrigerator, which indicated that the city’s law and order situation has gone worsened.
  • While Pooja turned into a fire-ball, Mehtab fled from the spot.

The above-stated examples reflect the obnoxious yet the obvious language disparity when a person chooses to codify a Hindi Muhavara into an English idiom. Reporters tend to transliterate one language to the other.

It is a common misnomer that grammar of one language (Hindi) would adopt the rules of the other (English).

While aspiring print journalists penned the K-word for further reference, the media educationist spoke of hand-subbing in the line of fire, popularly known as the ‘deadline’. What people don’t know is that rapid editing becomes a far cry when errors pertaining to word power and misplaced usage eat their way into the editor’s efficiency.

Have a look at some of the most common gaffes that an Indian editor grapples with on a daily basis…

  • The Panchayati Raj department has decided to lighten the streets in the villages by installing solar streetlights in the district villages.
  • Health department of Kanpur Municipal Corporation collected food samples from half-a-dozen hotels to ensure adulteration on Monday.
  • He claimed that the perpetrators sketches must be made with the help of Chote Lal who was a lonely eyewitness.
  • Not only people but the health department staff are living in panicky
  • ….makes one believe that this year the event would prove to be a rocking block-bluster

All of these anecdotes are a good read for an English learner but they are hazardous for the editorial desk when the work is being taken care of at the eleventh hour. Reporters and editors share a symbiotic work balance. It is equally ridiculous for both to imagine their work survival without the other.

Poor constructions and jumbled facts predominate reports of various beats, namely, crime, business and page three. A learner can get a hang of it in bits by going through these examples:

  • Taking whiskey, vodka, beer, rum, gin, vine, champagne and even tequila shots is very common in girls and would certainly leave the boys turn their heads.
  • The flooding Short Messages in mobile and emails in inboxes dwindle the sale of greetings.
  • The network congestion throw cold water on the emotions of several people.
  • All the station In-charges in the city are making gruelling efforts to praise the god and goddess by offering them lucrative offers to avert the chance of the first FIR lodged at their respective police stations on the new year 2010.

From medical exigency to financial emergency, from on-the-border reportage to on-the-line interview, layer by layer subbing is the master key to jimmy all locks.

Since the speaker wasn’t a dullard, he didn’t disappoint with a drab harangue. He addressed the active-passive issue in the formation of headlines for English newspapers in India. Shooting instances from his mainstream days, he summarized and spoke of:

Headline 1: Cops canecharge mob

Headline 2: Irate mob batoncharged

Semantically, there is no difference between the two. But syntactically, headline 1 pegs the importance on the word ‘cops’ while the headline 2 treats the same news differently and gives the same importance to a different word ‘Irate mob’. Headline 1 being active in nature speaks of cops in action in present tense, therefore, highlights immediacy. Headline 2 is the passivised form of headline 1. It speaks of an occurred event, a thing of recent past. Headline 2 weakens the event of occurrence.

credit: mywebtext.com
credit: mywebtext.com

Another example:

Headline 1: Farmer killed in dispute

Headline 2: Dispute causes farmer’s death

Though headline 1 employs ‘ed’ form or the past form of the main verb ‘kill’ yet it is better if compared to headline 2 because it fits in less space and serves the purpose if there is space crunch on the page. Although both headers employ four words to bring out the meaning, headline one does it in a more dignified and concise manner.

“None of the days are same. No two stories have the same treatment. And, no two mood swings of the boss are easy to survive. Everyone presses the panic button when an idea fails to fall in place on the page layout. The top bosses are harried if they can’t keep the ‘sacred cow’ out of the harm’s way. A dexterous sub-editor edits his way out of these pot-boilers,” said the insightful media educationist.

For the first time, we realized that even 50 shades of malevolence were possible. The K-rule in editing not only helps in the removal of chaff from grain but it also helps us with the discipline of language in such a way that we must not write to impress but to inspire.

Since language is arbitrary and we twist it to our purpose for desired meanings, the one who reaches the closest to the latter is called ‘the gifted’ or ‘a good copy editor’. But all this dexterity or bliss from God cannot rule out the perennial and reinforced use of KISS mantra. How else can one connect and shape the views of the layman in the impoverished democracy of India? Keeping it short and simple helps the reader with easy and prolonged retention.

Simplicity is not only the charm of life but also of those with meagre livelihood. We had a task at hand to prod the young and old and ask them about the most important news that they had encountered in their life till now. Babri Demolition, Sikh Riots, and Aarushi Murder Case were some of the most voiced and strongly-opined answers. All and sundry claimed that since the coverage was not jargonistic, they remember a lot about it. Some of them even uttered headlines which were printed a decade ago.

The amusement that the activity drew does not seek refuge in the language but in the treatment of language instead. The KISS factor determines not only the language but also prunes and pegs the view that needs to be tabled everyday for the common man’s reading.