For Americans, reporting crime is hard boiled. You have to watch your words, watch what they imply, and know the law. Do you know the difference between "assault" and "battery"? If you don't, that's a lawsuit. Know how to hedge yourself against libel?
But it's not all a nightmare -- at least you have access to a blotter (usually), and can rely on the police to give you (relatively) unbiased information. In India, it's a bit tougher -- you have to know the police, or find out the story from the source; the processes of law and justice are a bit more obscured. Inevitably, there is less hand wringing over condemning a man in a headline, etc., and often, the crime stories sound like something from a pulp novel.
Which leads me to an excellent piece in the Indian Express by Rajeev P.I., "Doctors, this is cyanide ... the tongue burns, it tastes acrid." For the lazy -- and so I never lose track of the true genius that is this piece -- the text (I've bolded the parts that would be instantly deleted were this in America):
This could be another first of sorts from India’s suicides capital — Kerala. A bankrupt jeweller in Palakkad has demolished the legend about people tasting cyanide dying before they could pick up a pen and write down what it really tastes like. This man tasted the poison, addressed a note in some detail to doctors on it, then died.
State Health Secretary Vishwas Mehta says he is contacting experts to see if this note could be of some use to science. Forensic department sources say there is plenty of scientific literature theoretically deducing cyanide’s taste from analysing its known chemical properties — but they have yet to see any that says someone had actually tasted the deadly stuff, and then documented it.
Police say 32-year-old Prasad, said to be a reader of crime thrillers, had checked into a seedy lodge in Palakkad last week, deciding to die. A small time gold jewellery trader, Prasad had gone bankrupt after a couple of north Indian conmen sold him spurious ornaments passed off as gold. He carried the cyanide with him — it is commonly used in gold extraction work everywhere.
Prasad mixed the cyanide in a tumbler, stirred it with the bottom of his pen, then sat down to write the suicide note to his kin. The police presume that by the time he was nearly done with it, he would have been absently chewing on the pen’s bottom with the cyanide on it. His suicide note abruptly goes off course to address doctors:
‘‘Doctors, (this is) potassium cyanide. I have tasted it. It comes through slowly at the beginning, and then it burns, the whole tongue burns and feels hard. The taste is very acrid...I had read in some novel about killing a man discreetly with cyanide. It was smeared on the pages of a book that he was reading, and when he touched his tongue with his finger to turn the book’s pages, he died and no one suspected... I am now convinced how easily someone can kill another using this...’’
Forensic officials say Prasad’s description of its taste tallies with the surmises in scientific journals. A mere 300 mcg of cyanide could kill a man. The police think that though the poison might have begun acting fast while he wrote and chewed on his pen, Prasad would have collapsed and died immediately after he drank up the remaining portion of the deadly brew as well. The autopsy has now confirmed it was potassium cyanide.
A bankrupt jeweller from Palakkad committed suicide earlier this week by ingesting cyanide, officials from the Forensic Department released today.
Now, if I, as a theoretical American journalist, was to write this story, it might sound something like this:
And, despite the myth that cyanide is so lethal that it kills instantly upon ingestion, Prasad, 32, addressed a note to doctors on its taste before he died.
Etc. And, sorry, I am woefully out of practice as a journalistic writer, so I know that those two graphs can be picked apart and likely would never be printed anywhere.
Better? Worse? Comparative merits? Is it fair to compare journalism across cultures, assuming that one's factual literature should mirror the society which it assumes to represent?