Sidharth Bhatia | Times have changed, so has the Times

08 Nov,2013

By Sidharth Bhatia

 

For most readers of the English language media, the Times of India is not just a newspaper, it is a habit that goes back generations. At least in Bombay, where the paper was founded, there must be families who have got the Times every morning for decades. In my own home, I recall reading it as a schoolboy, a college student and ever since. I have a personal connect too-I worked for its sister concern in the same building.

 

But I speak of it not as a journalist, nor a former employee of sorts. My relationship with the Times is that of a reader and a Mumbai resident. And, as it turns 175 years, I must confess it is a relationship that has remained strong but one that has seen a few ups and downs.

 

Ask any old time reader and they will tell you that the Times is no longer the paper it was. This is usually the response of those who love the good old days and feel the paper has given up on many of its earlier values-its journalism is often poor, the language is casual and full of mistakes, and its story selection too leaves a lot to be desired. (Too much entertainment and fluff is what they will say.)

 

Of course the Times is not what it was, but that is because India is not what it was. India has changed tremendously in the last two to three decades-how exactly is not the point of this piece. But what is to be noted is that as the country’s leading paper, the Times of India has kept in step with those changes. Some may even argue that it has led those changes. The much-maligned Page 3 for example is a reflection of the aspirations of a new class of people who want to be noticed and admired socially. They want to feel they have “arrived.” The Times was the first to understand this emerging trend and introduced a full page which would have pictures of parties, with prominent guests showing off their finery. The older, more conservative readers sniffed at this vulgar display of wealth and status, but it became a hit. Every newspaper has a similar page now. For some years, that section is now run as a paid supplement through “Medianet”, which works on a commercial basis, so it is more an ad than news.

 

For the record, I do not read that section, and I may not even be its target audience. But the main paper, which I devour every morning for almost an hour, gives me all the news in the city, the nation and the world. It offers cogent and high quality commentary on the edit page. (full disclosure-I occasionally write for it.) The business coverage is flimsy, since the paper no doubt thinks interested readers also buy the Economic Times, but the sports pages are comprehensive. It is the first paper that one picks up and it keeps one engaged over the morning cuppa.

 

But of course, there is some merit in the statement – allegation? – that the Times of today is no longer the Times of yesterday. A few years ago it was noticed that the news pages of the Times were getting frivolous and devoted a lot of real estate to silly issues. By that people usually mean Bollywood. In recent years, gradually, filmstars have been nudged back into the supplements, though it is also a fact that they have now assumed a larger than life dimension in our daily lives.

 

Perhaps what is more of a concern is that the paper – and this unfortunately applies to the mainstream media in general too – now speaks to and speaks of almost exclusively about the middle classes. The needs and demands of the middle class have now become most important. At one time, newspapers in India spoke up for the under privileged and the indigent, focusing on their problems and bringing these to the attention of the power structure. In the post-liberalisation era, the mainstream media has become a spokesman for the well off; the poor have been largely forgotten. In this, the media has abdicated a prime responsibility. This is obviously a generalization but one that has some merit. Ironically, the Times of India can be very feisty when it wants to be, and has been more activist than in earlier times. As the country’s leading paper, it needs to show the way through its coverage and articulate the voice of those who remain unheard and unseen.

 

One hundred and seventy five years is not a small timespan. At a time when newspapers around the world are suffering, the Times of India has survived and thrived. It keeps opening new sections. The daily newspaper scene in India, with all its travails at the moment, is vibrant and robust and serves its purpose of bringing independent news to its readers. That is something to cherish.

 

Sidharth Bhatia is a senior journalist, commentator and author. He can reached at @bombaywallah

 

Post a Comment 

2 responses to “Sidharth Bhatia | Times have changed, so has the Times”

  1. Guest says:

    Still no. 1.

  2. Kaushik says:

    The TG of a product will determine what the product should be. So if the poor and indigent are not the TG for TOI, then it is fine that TOI does not cover the poor and the indigent. TV does – but again English TV does not for TG reasons – indian language TV does.

    Why should we expect TOI to be everything?

    After the radia tape episode journalists should stop moaning about paid news – they are the first ones to leap at the lollipop dangling in front of them when someone wants to pay for news coverage.

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