SOS! Editor Kingshuk Nag laments decay in values at The Times of India

29 Sep,2014

This eloquent appeal to Times of India journalists and editors to reclaim their dharma found its way into the MxMIndia mailbox over the weekend. Written by Kingshuk Nag, Resident Editor of The Times of India in Hyderabad, it is a reaction to the whole fiasco between the glamour sections of the newspaper and first film star Deepika Padukone and then the world at large. The Times of India’s blatant sexism has been attacked by the national and international media and the open letter written by Priya Gupta, head of all Times’ supplements, only made matters worse.

 

Mr Nag was earlier RE of The Times of India’s Ahmedabad edition where he and the newspaper took a resolute stand for justice during the Gujarat riots of 2002. He has also written a biography of Narendra Modi, now Prime Minister of India, plus books about the rise of the BJP, the Telangana crisis and the fall of Satyam.

 

Mr Nag’s letter to his colleagues points to the dilemma faced by all journalists when they have to deal with a powerful marketing department and with impossible diktats that run counter to the ethics they have nurtured for years. It raises questions that we have all had to deal with at some point and underlines the fact that we cannot and must not give in. There is more at stake than individual careers.

 

We publish the letter as is. MxMIndia has verified that the letter was indeed written (and mailed) by Mr Nag. Although this letter is published without Mr Nag’s permission, given its content and the fact that MxMIndia is read essentially by the media fraternity, we think it merits wider discussion in the news media ecosystem. – Ed

 

Here goes the letter:

 

Dear Editorial colleagues and co- pilgrims:

 

Subject: Reclaiming Journalism

The Navaratris having begun and Vijaya Dashami will follow in a few days. Traditionally this is considered to a very auspicious time and legends have it that this was when Lord Rama had invoked goddess Durga before launching all-out war against Ravana. Vijaya Dashami is the day when Ravana was vanquished the occasion is celebrated as the victory of good over evil.

 

Good and evil are however subjective words and evil could mean to denote not only our external enemies but also our internal obstacles. In fact most often than not we are inhibited by obstacles that we place before ourselves and victory is to surmount these impediments to go forward on our path and practice our dharma.

 

Nightmare

For the last few days I have been disturbed a lot. This followed the by now widely publicized row that Bombay Times has had with Deepika Padukone. Our ‘vagina and tits’ reference in a story carried in the supplement has lot a drawn of adverse reference in even international media. I feel shamed and humiliated by the comments being freely passed about us including in competing publications.

 

For me the worst nightmare would be if someone went to the Supreme Court with a PIL seeking printing of a statutory warning on the masthead of the paper. The warning is that “some of the news carried in this paper is paid for.” This would be a statutory warning like that carried on cigarette packets: “Smoking cigarettes is injurious to your health.” Somebody could also file a PIL asking for a definition of what a newspaper is.

 

This is not an implausible scenario considering that the supplements carried along with the TOI main paper have provisions for medianet. These supplements – though they have their own editors and imprint lines – are distributed along with the main paper. Of course, we carry on the masthead a line called advertorial, entertainment promotion feature, as a safeguard. But can a court not go beyond this?

 

A few months ago- in February end- at our brand editorial meeting in Sri Lanka- the managing editor of Bombay Times (the same person with non-editorial background who has written the vagina and tits story) made a suggestion that on Sundays probably the Bombay Times could on top and the main paper could be wrapped within.  I recollect vividly that the suggestion was met with a hushed silence and disbelief, till the CEO dismissed it saying: ‘that’s just an idea (which I read as meaning the idea of the person suggesting).

 

Journalism: a lifestyle

Almost all of us came into the sacred profession of journalism by choice. At the beginning of our career many of us had other options but through affirmative action chose this path. By doing so we forsook many ordinary pleasures of life. For us, there is no Sunday, no Holi, no Diwali. For us there is no watching a movie in a hall in the evening 6-9 show. Thus journalism has become a lifestyle for us and this is something that we wear on our sleeves- very proudly. For us nothing gives us more kick than paper well brought out, a page well designed, a story well written and a picture well displayed. Nothing is more dampening to us that spotting errors and misses in our paper every morning. It spoils our mood. Yet we cannot be described as living in our own world. We are perpetually on the ball, and I reckon the fastest decision takers. This is not only regarding news but also designing strategies to take on competitors. We can cut through clutter and zero on problems and devise solutions, faster than the fastest ‘managers.’ This is not an empty boast.

 

The only constant in life is change. Times change and so do realities but values that we imbibe remain. We are all aware that a paper that we sell to our readers for Rs 3 costs us upwards of Rs 20 to produce. The difference is paid by the advertiser. Considering this I can affirm and proudly so that the advertiser has almost no say in the content our paper. This is something that is amazing and unbelievable but so it is. Also over my long years in the TOI – I am now in my 22nd year -I have not been subject to any owner/ senior management pressure on what can be carried in the paper. I have worked in four different centers of TOI: New Delhi, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. In some of my job profiles I have faced external intimidation but no internal company pressures. For over 14 of these 21 plus years I have been the editor of an independent edition.

 

Yet a bias against journalists can be discerned. Though this may not be an institutional bias but it sometimes does percolate down the line and is not pleasant to encounter. As an example two years ago just before Diwali, I ran into the director in charge of the Management Assurance Services (MAS), a function which is akin to internal audit. The director who had come visiting Hyderabad told me (in words to that effect) that all journalists were corrupt. When I glared back at him, he said ‘at least in Delhi’ but withdrew because I started at him harder. I wanted to tell him that he had no idea and clue about the complexities of the job of an Editor but thought it a waste of time to educate him.

 

There are many other ways too where these biases show up but they are too numerous to be listed. All of you must have discerned this as well.

 

Once upon a time, TOI was infested with union politics. I remember my early days in Delhi in the first half of the 1990s when the editorial floor would be taken by union netas who would climb on the table making incendiary statements and create ghadar all around. I have also seen political netas (including one who became a minister soon thereafter) throw stones on the glass door on the ground floor of the TOI office. Thank god we have left those days long behind. Yet at the same time the pendulum has swung from one extreme to other.

 

Change but is all for the good?

The country has also changed a lot in these years and we have to adapt ourselves to the new changes. Yet some things do not change. One of them is that good journalism is all about reporting events around you -without biases and taking sides. It is not about the worship of Mammon. In fact the worship of Mammon leads nowhere and our recent national history proves this.

 

Ever since 1991 when the economy was opened, profits have become a sexier word. But this has been to what effect? When Manmohan Singh became finance minister in 1991, the rupee was around 26 to a US dollar. As is write as on September 26 2014, the rupee is 61 to a dollar. Our currency has declined sharply. What was all this liberalization all about, I wonder. If you want to get a reality check and feel first- hand how you ‘disempowered’ you are, you have to go abroad. India is actually a nation that lives beyond it means, which is why imports are higher than exports and our currency is getting constantly devalued. We not only import oil and coal, but also gold and even fruits and vegetables. What a sorry state of affairs! Increased consumption and consumerism may not be bad but only as long as you can afford it.

 

Of course it has to be admitted that liberalization also unleashed the creative urge amongst the entrepreneurially inclined and the importance of this cannot be underestimated. As a result our business landscape has changed and there are tremendous opportunities all round. Yet our manufacturing remains below par and most of the so called economic growth is only real estate boom and pure speculation. This is not growth, but just an illusion of growth. Creating a monoculture and façade of unappetizing concrete structures cannot be described as growth; it’s just a pretension of growth. A huge part of the money created by speculation has entered politics and led to huge corruption, fall in moral values and resulted in ‘contractorization’ of politics. All these are valid concerns, which our journalism must aim to articulate.

 

National Interests

All of us have individual interests. Above them we have the interests of our family, friends and relatives. Above all this is the societal and national interests. What our societal interests are and what our national interests should be – could be a matter of debate. But we cannot forget that there has to be national interest. When a soldier goes to war we expect him to fight for the country and even die in national interest. We will not pardon a soldier who draws his salary but runs away from the battlefield. As journalists we cannot be say that we can run away from the national interest, whatever the compulsion is.

 

Friends, I took the liberty of writing to you because you are my co travelers and co pilgrims on this path of progress of this great nation. I write to you because I am extremely troubled and nowhere to turn to. I hope we will be able to work together and reclaim journalism and give back to society what we take for it. This is what we owe to our great nation. This is our dharma.

 

With Best Wishes foryou and your nears and dears for Vijaya Dashami

Thank You,

Kingshuk Nag

27 September 2014

 

Post a Comment 

7 responses to “SOS! Editor Kingshuk Nag laments decay in values at The Times of India”

  1. Vinod Menon says:

    Few thoughts:

    If this is an email written by Kingshuk Nag to his colleagues
    as an internal communication, someone revealing it to the public confirms Mr.Kingshuk
    Nag’s worst fears.

    With my 7 years in TOI Response (Marketing) I can confirm that
    at least in Hyderabad the marketing never indulged in any coercive methods for pressurising TOI editorial. Marketing team was not even allowed
    to walk into the editorial office. I can confirm Mr.Kingshuk Nag’s statement – “Considering this I can affirm and
    proudly so that the advertiser has almost no say in the content our paper”

    Please remember TOI did not succumb to the arm twisting
    tactics of the largest industry group in India when the group withdrew
    advertisements in TOI brands, because of a unfavourable news item appeared in ET.

    The problem started when the TOI management decided to spoil
    the happiness of PR agencies by introducing paid news division called Medianet
    and before that City Times were introduced to showcase wardrobe malfunctions. Glamorous
    people without any editorial experience who felt they are a cut above all
    filled these supplements with mostly rubbish sprayed with Axe. The main
    editorial never had a control on them.

    The other move to dilute the editorial quality was when the brand team and the management
    assumed that people don’t read and made the TOI content look like fast food. Management made money from fragmenting
    the product into supplements and amidst these new borns the main editorial
    stood stripped and hapless.

    Jains are running a newspaper business …

  2. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Kingshuk Nag is absolutely wrong about Journalists being non corrupt. Hardly any media person is honest. If they are honest by 10 %, they would have disapproved in open the 24 hours, 12 years biased stories about our present Hon. Narendra Modi. Mr. Kingshuk is no exception. He has written a very weak book and daily writes biased opinion column in TOI publications. TOI is famous for paid journalism among its readers. They never publish news reports in their pages but all paid news at every page. What a same that no one in TOI is standing up. Let Mr. Kingsuk don’t cry foul but as a part of National Campaign of Cleanliness, bring the glory of report journalism back. Mumbai Times pages should be withdrawn at the earliest. Yellow and vulgar photos, interviews and paid reports have spoiled TOI beyond recognition. Thanks for writing a fraction of the truth but hiding many facts behind the back. Hope “Achhe Din TOI me, kabhi to aayenge”. Jai Hind.

  3. Virag Dhulia says:

    Well written article except that it comes from a TOI Editor, a tabloid that has been responsible for the worst possible decay of journalism.

  4. kaushik says:

    Either Mr Nag’s letter has the blessings of the owners of BCCL OR he has found a new job.

    He and his ilk should ponder why the word presstitute is now a new word and why Rajdeep Sardesai gets roughed up.

  5. Kashyap says:

    I am sure Kingshuk is an honorable man and his heart is in the right place but I find his claim that “Considering this I can affirm and proudly so that the advertiser has almost no say in the content our paper” very hard to believe. Also notice the slipping in of “almost” in the above sentence – Sir, that is trying to have it both ways – wink-wink at what’s going on but from a high horse. Advertisers influence content or they don’t – there is no “almost” there.

    I would have found it more credible to believe this if I did not find this article in today’s Economic Times (Bangalore print edition) which extols the virtues of a new business – it’d be clear to anyone who pauses to think that it is an advertisement that ET is masquerading as news.

    http://epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/Article.aspx?eid=31815&articlexml=Breathe-This-Network-has-Plenty-of-Room-for-30092014005038

  6. Yamini says:

    As a person who worked with TOI for seven years, I share similar sentiments. TOI-bashers usually consider the supplements as main edition and ignore the efforts by ‘real’ journalists in the actual main edition.

  7. Yamini says:

    As a person who worked with TOI for seven years, I share similar sentiments. TOI-bashers usually consider the supplements as the main edition and often ignores what goes into the main edition and the efforts by real journalists! So, who should be blamed?!

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