JULY 2002
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2002 South Asian Journalists Association Convention

From News India Times
By Jyotirmoy Datta

From noon, June 14, when the 2002 SAJA (South Asian Journalists Association) Convention in New York opened, till the afternoon of June 16, when the marathon whirl of workshops, panels, receptions, brunches and dinners closed with a guided tour of Ground Zero, there was so much to be heard, seen and done, all at the same time, that one wished one had four heads like the Hindu god, Brahma.

At any particular hour, there were such attractive workshops and discussions going on that one was overwhelmed with an excess of choices, so tempting a smorgasbord of events had the organizers laid out for the 500 or so participants.

For example, between 10:30 a.m. and noon on June 15, five simultaneous panels were in progress in Lerner Hall of Columbia University. One sat for a while in Room No. 555, where a heated discussion was raging on "South Asia’s Big Stories: How America covers (most speakers said, it doesn’t, unless it is a carnage at the palace or the sinking of a ferry with 300 on board) countries apart from India and Pakistan."

Then one wrenched oneself from those accusations of neglect by the United States media of Nepal, or Bhutan, or Bangladesh, and rushed downstairs to Room No. 477, where Gita Amar, the N.Y. correspondent of Radio Australia, Om Malik, reporter with Red Herring, Roshni Rajkumar, a TV journalist based in Atlanta, Anupy Singla of Bloomberg TV in Chicago and Anand Vaishnav, reporter, The Boston Globe, were purveying tips on ‘How to Break into Journalism.’

At the same time, in Room No. 501, ‘Investigative Reporting’ was the topic being discussed by Mukul Pandya, editor, [email protected], Geeta Anand of The Wall Street Journal, Prashant Gopal of the Wilmington News Journal, Shankar Parameshwaran of New Jersey’s Business News, and Chitra Raghavan of U.S. News and World Report.

From the above, it should not be inferred that all the participants were desis. SAJA had cast its net deep and wide, hauling up journalism gurus from every field. In Room No. 503, according to the program, Mervin Block, "America’s leading broadcast writing coach," was giving tips "guaranteed to improve your TV and radio writing skills." For tips on improving photography, a workshop was in session next door, with Stephan Jacobs, photo editor, Inc. magazine, sharing his experiences.

In her remarks opening the convention, Barbara Crossette, former South Asia bureau chief of The New York Times, noted the strides that desis have made in the media in the past eight years. She recalled that at an Asian American media gathering in 1993, with her attachment to the subcontinent, she was looking around for South Asians, who were ubiquitous by their absence. Columbia Professor of Journalism Sreenath Sreenivasan, who is the moving spirit behind SAJA, introduced Crossette as a close observer of the region for over 30 years. She first went to South Asia in 1981, as a Fulbright scholar based in Chandigarh, from where she had a good view of the Khalistan movement.

Although everyone connected with SAJA is aware of Sreenivasan’s role in creating the organization and bringing it to its current size and status, the smoothness and punctuality of the events during convention were something of a discovery. For a desi event, it was absolutely incredible, but it was overseen by Sreenivasan running around with a stopwatch in his hand.

Of course, he was supported by a wonderful team, with scores of enthusiastic and courteous volunteers, including Time magazine reporter Jyoti Thottam, who is president of the SAJA board, and Indira Somani, freelance journalist, who chaired the convention.

Although it was raining in the morning of the opening day, one had no trouble locating the convention hall, the entire campus being plastered with directions.

Registration was almost a celebration, with the girl at the desk making it seem as if it was family reunion for Durga Puja or Pongal or something. The high point of the convention was, of course, the eighth annual dinner on June 15, described as ‘An Evening with Steve Coll & Tribute to Daniel Pearl.’ If the convention functioned with computer-precision, the tribute to Pearl showed that SAJA has a heart.

Part of the evening’s program read: "Besides his wife, son and parents, Danny leaves two sisters, Michelle and Tamara. His death is also mourned by dozens of relatives, scores of friends, hundreds of colleagues, thousands of readers and millions of people around the world. To support the spirit of Danny’s work through the Daniel Pearl Foundation, visit http://www. danielpearlfoundation.org."

Michelle and Tamara were present in the hall when the citation honoring Pearl was read. The sisters broke into tears as the rest of those present at the dinner rose to their feet in silence.

Steve Coll, managing editor of The Washington Post, where he has worked since 1985, spoke of how it would be in India’s interest to help Pakistan become a liberal and secular democracy, a consummation devoutly to be prayed for but, on current indications, it seemed at least to one reporter, unlikely to be achieved in the foreseeable future.

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