Ranjona Banerji: Sad to see national biggies kill local dailies in Doon

30 Oct,2015

By Ranjona Banerji

 

When my parents moved to Dehradun about 16 years ago, you got the “dak” or “first city” editions of whichever English newspapers bothered to even come here. All news therefore was about two days late and there was almost no local news to speak of. Dehradun was then still part of Uttar Pradesh, a small town below a famous hill station, filled with schools and retired people.

 

There were a couple of local English newspapers. The oldest, The Himachal Times (no explanation why it has that name except according to members of the Pandhi family who own it, some family member liked the name), was in broadsheet format and barely written in English. Local news was as fascinating as “Car locked for three hours on Rajpur Road frightens residents”.

 

People recommended Garhwal Post, a tabloid and certainly it had more local news, better English, opinion pieces, gardening advice, plenty of nostalgia and fascinating beauty and household tips. It also had the other thing which a newspaper needs to survive: local and retail advertising.

 

Then the Times of India arrived with a local edition last year. It took time to build itself up, which surprised me as I have some small experience with increasing local coverage in more than one journal and also in a Times of India edition. The resident editor was a non-resident editor then but over time, coverage has drastically improved.

 

The Tribune of Chandigarh also has an excellent Uttarakhand bureau which rarely misses a beat. The state of Uttarakhand is divided between the Garhwal and Kumaon regions and sometimes we are in a “never the twain shall meet” situation, given bad connectivity. But both TOI and Tribune cross that gap easily.

However there is a tragic side to this. As these larger newspapers have grown and overtaken the local space, the area for local newspapers to thrive has shrunk drastically. The Garhwal Post has almost no local news now except updates of school events. It also has practically no advertising.

There is a piquant situation here. The reader gets more news from the big papers but to have an established paper which served you over the years die as a result is sad. A bit like the corner shop versus the gigantic mall problem but in the current economy in India, the small shop is still surviving and even thriving. The small newspaper however may find it more difficult without money.

Having said this, there are still some shortcomings in local coverage. The Times of India especially, which prides itself on its glamour quotient, has not yet got the knack of tapping into local “high society” for its Doon Times edition. And, not enough retail ads either.

**

As the political atmosphere heats up in the country, as it is doing, TV debates have become more hysterical. BJP spokespersons have become more strident which makes everyone else around them even louder and soon you will be able to hear them even when the TV is on mute. Still, you have to admire the talent of a political spokesperson (of any party) to keep talking very loudly while saying absolutely nothing. Do they practise?

Having said that, TV anchors who can control their panellists reminds a fond and distant dream. On Thursday night, the anchor (not Nidhi Razdan who is sharp and firm) on Left, Right and Centre on NDTV did not even challenge a spokesperson for calling every writer, artist, filmmaker and scientist in India “juvenile”, nor did she allow anyone to defend themselves against this appalling name-calling.

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