Ranjona Banerji: Long way to go for ToI’s Doon edition

12 Aug,2014

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand, where I now live, has been privileged to receive a Times of India edition all of its own – or so we were informed in a series of advertisements and announcements in the paper and in the local compact daily, Garwhal Post.

 

But in the week or so since this has happened, what has The Times of India told us about the city in which we live? There is no edition office in Dehradun and the resident editor sits in Delhi. The edition carries no imprint line at all (or I should amend that to any more) so the reader – even one inspired to decipher 2 point print – does not know who owns, prints or edits the paper. The newspaper is not printed in Dehradun either. I understand from sources within the paper that the resident editor is Anand Soondas.

 

Usually, at least one Page 1 story carries a Doon dateline. This provides the “local flavour”. Most of the rest is either the previous day’s news or of the day before, as befits a mofussil or dak edition.

 

On Tuesday, August 12, 2014, TOI’s front page led with former judge Markandey Katju’s allegations about corruption in the judiciary, with Nitish and Lalu’s new friendship, TRS MP and Telangana CM’s daughter booked for a remark on Kashmir and Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks on all Indians being Hindus above the fold.

 

Below the fold, a body has been found at Congress leader Kumari Selja’s residence in Delhi, former PM AB Vajpayee’s relatives excited about a Bharat Ratna and tweets by a teenager in Gaza.

 

The Garhwal Post (edited by Satish Sharma) led with a picture of mountaineering twins posing with the Uttarakhand (the short form is UK, hopeful migrants please check before you hitch a ride on the wrong plane) governor.  Next, the TRS MP, scrapping the collegium system to appoint judges and the DMK warning of action against Katju.

 

What about local news? TOI’s first city page’s lead story was about students protesting against merit-based admissions at DAV college. The other stories on the city pages were about a decision over whether revenue officials (patwaris) should also be allowed to continue as policemen, an ancient ritual of stone-pelting and government doctors refusing to take remote postings.

 

On their first city page, Garhwal Post took their story on the mountaineering twins further with the government funding a trip to Antartica. Plus, a strike by collectorate employees and the agitation at DAV college. Garhwal Post however is peppered with local stories, based on their pagination system with features and sport both getting good coverage.

 

I would give TOI’s effort a 5 on 10. The first rule for a local edition is local coverage and a look through most newspapers will tell you that municipal issues and crime top the list. After that, local politics, local trends and people follow. Garhwal Post answers some – though not all – of those questions. But the TOI seems hard-pressed to get a grip on any. Of course, the first rule of starting a publication is to do it as badly as possible so that the only way forward is upwards. Most publications which broke that rule – and started too well – only collapsed under the weight of expectation.

 

TOI right now seems to have stretched itself too thin over the entire state – Garhwal, Kumaon and the plains. A little more focus to start with might make for meatier stories. Scandal and corruption are the other obvious choices. Glamour is the other but it is amply covered by both papers being compared.

 

Interestingly, landslides in the Himalayas – affecting the Char Dham yatra – have got very little coverage – especially after the disasters of 2013. The only guess is that access is difficult and the Rambo-like PM is no longer interested in a magical rescue.

 

As of now, the Garhwal Post stands on firm ground because it is better rooted in the community. For the TOI to make gains, it has a long way to go.

 

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