Ranjona Banerji: Medianet mars trendsetting paper

23 Apr,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

I was quite pleasantly surprised to see an old masthead font staring at me as I picked up The Times of India this morning. I thought it was a jacket ad actually but when I looked down the page, it was of course the beginning of a year-long celebration of the newspaper’s 175th birthday.

 

This common mistake is sort of mentioned if you manage to read through the full page article by TOI editor Jaideep Bose – all of what, 4000 words? In the second fourth column (no, that is not a pun), Bose says: “We have also been accused of being “too commercial”, but how many of our readers know that several companies and governments have stopped advertising with us because we wrote something they didn’t want us to. Our refusal to bend to their will has cost us hundreds of crores.” These two sentences are in parenthesis, by the way.

 

He goes on to say, “Truth is, we have no masters and no hidden agendas. Our dharma is to serve our readers.”

 

Of course this is something for readers to judge and certainly, The Times of India has grown tremendously in number and geographical terms since it started as the Bombay Times in 1838. What Bose does not mention however is the one thing which his newspaper is most criticised for – the invention of Medianet where the prospect of appearing as an editorial endorsement rather than a declared paid advertisement has led many wills to bend and much credibility to be lost.

 

Having said that, it is also true that under the editorship of Bose, the paper’s coverage of news has improved quite remarkably – especially the Mumbai edition. There were times when the paper would carry news items a week late since “something is not news unless it appears in The Times of India”. Editors would second guess what the owners might want and censor news unnecessarily. Rumour said that malnutrition stories were not carried until senior editorial staff threatened a pens’ down strike. And the 2002 Gujarat riots were covered cursorily (did not directly relate to Mumbai apparently) until senior editorial staff complained. That these were journalistic decisions I must make clear: I worked in the Ahmedabad edition of the Times of India during the riots and we had the full support of the management in spite of immense pressure from the state government to stop us.

 

All those days are long gone. The Times of India can be a one-stop shop for the reader as it carpet bombs you with news. It employs a large number of journalists and tries not to miss out on whatever’s happening: reporting and reportage are both to be found. If it is short on anything, it would be analysis and investigative journalism.

 

It is also true that within the media, it has become a trendsetter. Good or bad, if the group does it, the rest of the media houses follow suit. Medianet and its cousins therefore are now almost everywhere and paid news was not a TOI invention anyway.

 

Incidentally, I covered the paper’s 150th year celebrations for Bombay magazine and it was all art and culture. Now I find it is about Ranbir Kapoor. Well. And what really describes what TOI has made of itself for me is on its centrespread walk through 175 years of the Times: what pops out is the picture of Aamir Khan as Mangal Pandey with poor Mahatma Gandhi coming a poor second on the page.

 

The dumbing down of India starts here, one might say. But clearly, speaking to the lowest common denominator has made TOI a massive success. So Happy Birthday and thanks for much entertainment.

 

**

 

It’s not often one can say this but kudos to the television media for focusing on the rape of a five-year-old girl in Delhi. The gender discussions begin again and though they may be much of a muchness, until there is some change perhaps we have to continue. And thanks also to TV for showing us a senior Delhi police officer slapping a young female protestor. This is TV’s strength and it would be doing us a favour if it gave us more of that and less of those silly debates.

 

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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Medianet mars trendsetting paper”

  1. raj ghosh says:

    When some one kisses ass of times, the rest of the world can see right through the effort 🙂

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