Jet lag no bar to journalism, scientists discover

February 14, 2011

I spent my first day in the Reuters Bangalore newsroom discovering that jet lag does catch up with you after a while. Most of our reporters work from 4pm-1am and 9pm-5am, but I came in at 10:30am to meet some people whom I wouldn’t otherwise see, and to get a start on seeing where things stand so I can make the training mission as interesting as possible.

I met one of our commodities reporters, who works with five other people who, unlike most of our other colleagues, do their job 24 hours a day, five days a week. That includes sending out all those notices about chemical and gas leaks at U.S. oil refineries, the ones where everybody’s happy that the release of poison gases don’t force people to stay in doors and possibly injure or kill them. Talk about yeoman’s work!

Most of my day passed with the team that covers UK companies, led by Tresa Sherin Morera. Tresa makes the most of a small team, and her reporters are hardworking people who like a good joke and take their jobs seriously. The mission here is to get their stories to move more quickly and with clear writing, even when the companies they cover issue statements that made me wonder if English was a language whose true intricacies I had never learned. Moving early updates is key to a wire service these days, but we also want to move them with maximum amounts of information in a short space. Also, we don’t want stories that adopt the language of the people and companies whom we cover. That can be tremendously difficult work, and UK companies seem to be even more adept at cloaking what they mean to say than U.S. ones. We’re going to get there, though. This I guarantee. And we’re going to do it so that we can decipher quickly what is going on. This was always a hard thing to do when I started at Reuters, but there are ways to do it.

Otherwise, I also met our team who conducts and writes up polls. That’s another area where I’ll teach a writing course. Pollsters are economically minded, and equally quantitatively minded. They know their stories very well; the numbers sing to them in a language that the public finds hard to understand. Taking the stories that the numbers whisper to them and telling them to a general audience is another thing that I’ll be doing in the coming weeks. I’m intimidated, I confess; I’m not a great numbers guy. But together we can tell a good story.

Toward the end of my day, the companies news team reporters began to show up. These are the people whom I first got to know when I came to Reuters, though many of them are newer, and others have left for jobs elsewhere in Reuters and also on the outside. These guys are pros, though they are the ones with whom I’ll work the most. They have a large number of companies to cover, and you never know from one day to the next which ones will be the hot stories. They have what it takes to break news and to analyze it properly, and they also know that entertaining the audience is as important as informing them, otherwise the audience wouldn’t bother to read. They and the UK team will be my closest companions in the next eight weeks, and it was wonderful to meet people whom I haven’t seen since their sojourns to New York. It was an equal pleasure to meet people whom I’ve known for years — but only through electronic connections.

My sensory impression of the gang reminded me of what it was like working in a print newsroom. They yell to each other as stories progress, each handing off various tasks to another. They work with urgency because they know that they have to shovel a lot of sheetrock, and not always with a whole lot of appreciation. The aim is to get them to do it more quickly and in plainer English, which is the aim of every writer. A simple concept, a complex execution. I’ll show you some of the examples of why that is over the next few days.

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