A book on aspects of journalism

MEDIA: "This book is compiled as a result of the inspiration and encouragement I had from my friends and well wishers, and as a result of my keen interest in journalism since I was fifteen, a school boy. I devoted, if I remember correct, at least one and a half hours reading all types of newspapers even while having my lunch and at all odd times of the day.

Looking back, I don't regret for anything, as I have got sufficient experience to write this book," says Divaina Editor Merril Perera in the preface to his latest work on journalism titled Sebe Pattarakarayo, which bears an English subtitle Real Scribes [Dayawansa Jayakody 2006].

The book has 29 chapters, with facts collected from various sources inclusive of the internet, with the latest trends such as investigative reporting, interviewing techniques, court reporting, feature writing, human-interest stories, profiles of journalists, use of language, press conferences, sports reporting, and professional codes of ethics, which go to the making of a compendium of assorted information on the subject of journalism, perhaps useful as a source book and handbook of facts information and knowledge on the subject for an amateur journalist, who so wishes to enter the field as a professional.

In order to fulfil the task of compiling the book, Merril Perera makes use of some of the rare articles, which had appeared earlier in other media of newspapers and periodicals.

This helps the reader search more for such source material from the past. Apart from going down his own journalistic experiences, Merril subsequently has the assistance of his learned and experienced associates in the relevant fields to contribute to the present compilation.

This two-fold technique gives a feeling that the writer is humble enough to know more from his own associates, rather than thrusting his own experiences in the fields uncovered by himself.

Source material

The historical aspect as regards the origin of the newspaper in the West is shown in Chapter One, where he traces the 1500-year-old past. The birth of the newspaper is shown as a necessity and an information source for the people.

Most of these source materials are shown as downloaded from the Internet. The reference is made to the traditional structure of a newspaper office, subdivided into categories, such as editorial staff, features section, sports section, provincial news section, foreign news section, and graphic design section inclusive of photographers and cartoonists and/or illustrators.

I am not too sure whether this tradition is closely adhered to in most of the present day newspaper offices. The computer and other forms of communication technology had entered the scene, which is also a section that is being discussed briefly in the book.

Perera makes an indefatigable attempt to introduce the aspects of reporting, and shows the various ways and means of gathering news, and writing news stories to suit the various occasions.

Investigative reporting

The space devoted to the techniques of interviewing, in my opinion, is one of the most significant areas in all the fields of Mass Communication. He refers to such concepts as 'preparation' and 'home work' on the part of a communicator interviewer in his function as an interviewer reporter.

The most interesting reading materials found in the chapter is titled 'human-interest stories' [manava hitavadi jivana puvat], where he lays down several features displaying the salient factors that go into the making of such features. He classifies the human-interest stories as the most readable material, and most wanted features all over the world.

Then Merril Perera shows the links between the general forms of reporting, and the advent of investigative types of reporting by way of new journalism, which he deems as the most painstaking task, and the most risky area in the profession.

He says that the actual investigative forms of reporting never ends in a day or two for it may commence from one point, and shift the focus of attention to several more areas of interest, which may look more significant than the starting point.

The writer, in order to illustrate the point, lays down several investigative reporting topics culled from several newspapers in other countries, with special mention of the death of the princess Diana, and the aftermath of the effects it had on the public and the royal family.

He makes the reader feel that the questioning of things and events in the more conventional form with Who, What, When, Where, and How, may not sound so simple as one sees superficially, but takes the investigator to the realms of hidden areas.

The investigative reporter's task is shown as a 'creative living condition' on the part of his profession, with a dedication to the function in the task of finding more or digging and hunting more and more information on the subject.

Responsible journey

Followed by these facts, he takes the reader to the areas of court reporting, where he says that the emphasis is laid on knowing the legal situations and the background of cases before the actual launching of his responsible journey around courts.

These responsibilities, according to Merril Perera, are linked with a code of ethics, a subject he takes seriously, and lays down the regulatory guidelines, which I think, is one of the most important contributions in this compilation.

The last three chapters, 28, 29 and 30, are entirely devoted to the discussion of those topics. Here, the reader finds in the form of itemised references to three main areas of press complaints, press ethics, and press freedom, a subject widely discussed last week in the World Press Freedom Day 2006 held at the BMICH.

All in all, I feel that this contribution, on the part of a senior journalist, is a tribute to budding journalists of our country, who so like to take up the profession seriously.

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