Hermes' Wings

History, Writing and Personal Musings

A Paper Trail: My Work in Newspapers

Newspaper-Mast

Ask anyone about newspapers these days and their eyes seem to glaze over. Newspapers belong to the era of one’s grandfather, to a bygone age when trees were felled, wood smashed into paper pulp, and printed to carry day-old news. They are quaint, their total obsolescence forestalled only through the continued existence of the likes of the New York Times, the WSJ, The Guardian, Le Monde and all those venerable broadsheets which still shape national policy the world over.

In my incarnation as a journalist, I mostly describe myself as a newspaperman (new media man/person just doesn’t sound right). Big mistake. Maybe. After all, why would I attribute myself as being part of an archaic order that is being gradually hacked to oblivion by television and the internet? Back in 2007-08, when I was graduating from college in the US, the national consensus of journalism was that it was dead as we knew it — in the form of newspapers and magazines anyway. Pundits proclaimed the rise of the citizen journalist, the neighborhood scribe (aka Joe Schmo and Mary Jane) who stalked the streets, taking to online forums to report on what he or she saw, replacing traditional reporting, and triggering the demise of those great hulking, lumbering dinosaurs called newspapers, in a vastly more clinical and aesthetic fashion than fire from the heavens ever could. These scribes, the pundits said, would give rise to Social Journalism — a transparent and community driven form of news gathering. And here I was with my newly minted BA in English Lit and Mass Comm. Did I feel like a dope.

But what the pundits, with their eager-beaver prognostications, failed to understand was that journalism is a trained profession, much like how lawyers are trained, although without the required longevity of law school. Imagine if suddenly one day, the experts declared lawyers obsolete, and declared the rise of the citizen-lawyer? Well, we’ve all heard the one about the man who acted as his own counsel.

Newspaper journalism is a white collar profession, a noble profession arguably tainted through the interference of media barons, incompetent publishers, corporate advertising, and quisling, piss-poor editorialists. At its core, it is a profession which only seeks to illuminate, to explain and to inform, at the cost of near anonymity. Let’s face it. Nobody every really became famous merely working in papers, except for maybe Gay Talese and others whose names escape me. I rest my case. But mostly it’s all about shining a light on issues to help create a more informed public. These are the reasons which drew me to print. That is not to say that the same cannot be achieved in new media. It almost always is. Newspapers simply feel more tangible and vetted. And there happens to be a divide of pedigree between print and online news (blame the system).

The hypocritical and lazy part of my journalistic nature, however, sees to it that my primary source of quick news at home comes from an online portal — the BBC World app, with another 15% gleaned from the New York Times app. It is rumored that the BBC uses a “robot,” an advanced algorithm to write some of its stories. Which seems to explain why I seem to get exactly what I paid for, which is zero. Many of the articles have regurgitated facts. They seem to have been written by a 12-year-old. They fail to ask and answer the most basic of questions.

The economic part of my nature, in contrast, saw me working for a respected national broadsheet in South India called the Deccan Herald, doing exactly what I love — covering international news and informing the public over issues running the gamut from the Syrian Civil War, Donald Trump,  MH370, wildfires in California, to Brexit, the Mediterranean migrant crisis, to elections in Sri Lanka.

Why India? For one, newspapers continue to thrive there. Second, because the economic situation for journalists of all mediums in the US is dire — and has been since 2007. It is just now sinking in that the American Dream is in big trouble. Maybe it never really existed and was simply a product of post-WWII optimism. Perhaps it was an ethos brought into existence by sheer force of the American “can-do” spirit which ran high until 9/11. The rot may have set in earlier, in the 1980s, when corporations, attracted to low-cost Chinese labor decided to make China the factory of the world. The end result: the iPhone, and a hundred Chinese clones, a resurgent Beijing with an iron hold over US debt, growing dominance in Africa and recently, defiance over UN rulings over reef-building activities in the South China Sea. But I digress. My point is that when one pillar of an economic platform goes, things gets wobbly.

In such a situation, the only thing left for all able men and women to do — as the old saying goes — is to go “west.” Only, there are no latitudes anymore, only longitudes. At the Deccan Herald, I had near unlimited freedom to choose and analyze, for the general public, all the major stories of the day. In this era of dominance by TV and online news, newspapers must offer readers something they cannot often get from these two mediums — fresh content, visuals, context and an indepth look at stories. Fortunately, my role as editor in-charge of a high-profile foreign news page (although on page 13 — one would think unlucky, but not so) came not only with a leeway to shape the newspaper’s editorial policy, but also allowed me to employ a variety of skills to achieve the hitherto mentioned goals – with some tasks being beyond the scope of my job title.

All the pages displayed below (posted for purely selfish reasons, by the way, to show off my work — in case you hadn’t guessed), were wholly conceived, edited and designed by myself. This includes the creation of new graphics or the major modification of graphics obtained on license from Agence France-Presse (AFP) and the New York Times. The choice of stories and photos was also my own and thus I am wholly responsible for all content — and any errors. Some of the slug choices, however, were not of my making. One particularly wince-worthy example appears on a tribute page to Robin Williams, a day after his death. Many of the photo cutouts were created by the paper’s graphics department. As anyone in newspapers can tell you, the graphics people are some of the hardest working and hardest pressed folks you will find.

I write all this to reveal the ridiculous and intricate amount of work that goes into bringing the news to your doorstep or desktop, and my final segue, although clunky, is this: without the public’s support of responsible media (yes, the mainstream media), we are headed for trouble. If that doesn’t at least convince you to subscribe to a newspaper, then consider this: all newspapers are ultimately recycled into toilet paper.  No newspapers, no bog roll. Now, who would want that?

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Return of the Chindits, Part 1

ChinditsReturn-Mast1

Operation “Thursday,” the second Chindit operation of World War II was an integral component of an Allied plan to liberate northern Burma from the Japanese. The campaign centered around the recapture of Myitkyina city. Among the attackers were four colorful forces – Stilwell’s Chinese, Merrill’s Marauders, Cochran’s Air Commandos and Wingate’s celebrated Chindits. Their war was meant to be short. Instead, they would be pitted to the point of destruction against an enemy renowned for his toughness and unwillingness to surrender.

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It was the night of March 5th, 1944, and first of the gliders touched down in the Burmese clearing.

Little more than a large dirt track in the jungle, the clearing had been chosen by the eccentric British Major-General Charles Orde Wingate as one of three landing zones for his division of “Special Forces” known as the Chindits. Codenamed Broadway, the site was originally intended to take gliders carrying Brigadier Joe Lentaigne’s 111th Brigade, but unforeseen problems with the another landing area had forced Wingate to divert Brigadier Michael Calvert’s 77th Brigade there.

As they labored over that bald strip of earth, tugged by noisy C-47 Dakotas, the sounds of snapping rope tore through the air as tow lines were discarded and the gliders began their descent in the brilliant moonlight. Quickly, the craft gathering speed, utterly silent save for the howling wind and the whimpers and oaths of their terrified human cargo. Each glider was an archetype of multinationalism. The pilots were Americans, the troops a mixture of Burmese, Nepali Gurkhas and Britons from the Midlands and the northwest.

One by one, the gliders swept down towards the dark earth, alighting — and sometimes striking the ground with an earsplitting crash that sent bits of undercarriage, wood and metal flying into the trees. As the gliders came to a stop, men spilled out – automatic weapons and rifles at ready. One of them was Lieutenant George Albert Cairns of the 1st Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment. The jungle loomed all around them, the noises of the night abruptly silent.

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Return of the Chindits, Part 2

Return of the Chindits, Part 3

A Novel Idea

NovelIdea

Concepts and characters for an as-of-yet, unnamed trilogy of novels.

The drawings were scribbled down during spare moments. Several characters are deliberate homages. The rest are constructs built by the mind’s eye.

Book1

Characters

T1

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Ongoing Graphic Work

Ongoing-Work

When in charge of all world news at a daily newspaper, it occurred to me (eventually…and not all at once either) that the existing coverage relied on a preponderance of syndicated photos (to which our competitors also have access) and too little on creativity. The end result was that I took on the task of creating special news graphics whenever time permits – hardly a part of my job description. How they are received by the paper’s subscribers…I haven’t the foggiest, but the art has been satisfying. Below follow select efforts.

This post includes some of earlier art, for the magazine format, including one about UN peacekeeping operations in Africa in 2010. So scroll through and take a look.

Lancaster-FS

Avro Lancaster NE114, 166 Squadron Published in April 2016

A distasteful image this, I thought, having completed it after 25 hours of work. No, not art itself, but of what it represents – an Avro Lancaster of RAF Bomber Command in trademark livery. Although I had created dozens of similarly colored Lancasters over a decade ago – and proudly of having done so at the time – my perception towards that type of aircraft known as the bomber has changed. Maturity crept in somewhere. When I was a boy, my grandfather held a shotgun up for me and said, “this is an instrument for the taking of life.” It was a statement that failed to resonate against the smug exterior of youth. But the message eventually sank through. And so, if the gun is the instrument of a living being’s death, the bomber is an instrument of wholesale destruction.

The German historian I created this piece for expressed the hope that I had fun while working on it. No, I can’t especially claim that. It kept me indoors for far too long when I could have been enjoying the spring weather outside, but his undertaking was noble – he wanted to cobble together the story of the men who flew NE114  – exploring their lives until they hurtled to their deaths in a blaze of fire and cordite over his hometown. I seized upon this aspect to bring NE114 to life, as if it were no longer a weapon of war, but an entity responsible for the human beings in its charge, a creature which ultimately succumbed to its own fragile mortality.

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Paris Attacks V3

Latest developments, Paris Attacks November 19, 2015

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Paris Attack Nov 13

The Paris attacks Published November 14, 2015

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Arras Train

Hollywood on rails — The Arras train incident Published August 23, 2015

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Experiments and Art

Experiments&Art

Frame-Flamenca1 Frame-Flamenca2

FLAMENCA DANCERS
Watercolors, July 2016

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Frame-NZ-TreeNEW ZEALAND
Watercolors, July 2016

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Frame-Brazil

RIVER TOWN, BRAZIL
Watercolors, July 2016

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Frame-Beaufighter Frame-BighiElevator

BRISTOL BEAUFIGHTER, MEDITERRANEAN, 1942 (Left)
Ballpoint pen & pastels, 2015

BIGHI NAVAL HOSPITAL ELEVATOR, MALTA, 1940 (Right)
Ballpoint pen & pastels, 2015

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HMS-Eagle

HMS EAGLE, MALTA, 1940
Ballpoint pen & pastels, 2015

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MOTHER & DAUGHTER: TWO GENERATIONS OF THE PEREZ FAMILY,
NORTH TEXAS

Ballpoint pen over photo matte paper, 2011

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