Reporters on the Job

Soap Opera Sourcing : Sometimes journalists turn to academic experts. But sometimes the best experts are closer to home. In today's story about public-service messages written into Indian soap opera scripts, staff writer Scott Baldauf turned to his wife's niece, Zenia. She's an accountant in Bombay by day, and a soap opera viewer by night.

"We made a date to watch several of the serials one night, from 8 p.m. until 10 p.m., and she would fill me in on the back story: which character was married to whom, who was cheating on his wife, who was accused of murder, etc.," says Scott. "The only problem was that Zenia hadn't watched for several weeks. So she called up a friend, an absolute addict, and for the next 20 minutes, the conversation went, 'uh huh ... OK ... and then she did what? Oh my God.' It reminded me of something an Indian friend told me about soaps," he says.

" 'If you listen to what the people talk about in the cafeteria at work,' said my friend, Khurshid, 'it's always about the mother-in-law, and what she said, the sister-in-law, and what she did. It might help them to feel better about themselves if they see their problems on TV and that other people are going through the same thing.'

"Of course, that's what they said about Jerry Springer," adds Scott wryly.

Timely Outage: To get background information about Cuba's electricity problems, contributor Corey Sabourin went to a Havana library one rainy afternoon - following days of sweltering record heat - to read through back issues of Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban government.

One article he found explained that the rice-steamer distribution, which had begun earlier in the year, was a strategy aimed at encouraging Cuban housewives (who still do most of the cooking) to cook at off-peak hours.

"In the story, President Fidel Catro assured Cubans that progress was being made in the electricity problem and that within 11 months, the nation's electric system could add 1 million kilowatts to its capacity," says Corey.

"No sooner did I jot this down in my notebook than there was a loud, deep bang in the library. The power had gone out."

The power went out several other times that week, though to be fair, Corey says, some of the outages are planned and sometimes listed in the newspaper; other times, weather was the culprit.

"Cubans are resilient and can even find humor in these circumstances," Corey says. "A recent short movie shown here was the story of a farmer who, after a power outage, improvises with his mule the story line of his favorite TV soap opera."

David Clark Scott
World editor

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