#Mirrored! | Ranjona Banerji: That familiar feeling of sadness… on Mumbai Mirror’s closure as a daily

07 Dec,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The news that Bennett Coleman had shut down the daily edition of the very popular Mumbai Mirror newspaper spread through the community and the outside world like wildfire. For many of us, who have been through shutting downs, the familiar feeling of sadness plus cynicism at promises about an online presence and weekend paper. It’s not just about a good journal being lost, but also the inevitable job losses in this awful environment where opportunities have drastically shrunk. Others pointed out the long record that the group had of closing down both brands and editions.

For many readers and this is the only heartening bit, there was sorrow and anger that a much-loved newspaper was on its way out. As of now, Mumbai Mirror goes weekly, Pune shuts down completely and there appears to be confusion over the Ahmedabad and Bangalore editions.

In the 15 years that it has been around, Mumbai Mirror showcased the best traditions of being the “second” newspaper. It not just complemented the more “venerable” Times of India that it was circulated with, it was also bolder, fresher and often practised better journalism. Stories which the main paper was too cowardly to take up could be found in Mirror editions. It thus carved a niche for itself in the minds of readers and established itself as the first newspaper for many.

Much credit to this must go to editor Meenal Baghel, who steered the Mirror strategy to success, together with her teams and the resident editors of local editions. Some credit must also go, elliptically perhaps, to Mid-Day, where Baghel also worked very successfully. Mid-Day as Mumbai’s after tabloid had honed the fine art of taking the news of the day and presented it from other angles, which the morning dailies would miss or ignore. This talent brought Mid-Day great success in its heyday under the Ansaris.

(Disclaimer: I worked for many years in Mid-Day, though not at the same time as Meenal.)

Mumbai Mirror, also a morning paper and essentially an appendage to The Times of India, did not treat itself as an appendage at all. It carved out its own niche, readership and identity which was replicated across India. Within the community, it was understood that Mirror launched as competition to DNA. Having worked at DNA in its early days, it is true that Mirror provided stiff competition because of its treatment of stories and its strong focus on city issues. But without competition there is complacency and whatever makes you work harder has to be applauded.

I can only hope that Bennett Coleman keeps to its promises of a “strong digital presence” and a weekly paper. As I have argued several times in these columns, the future of paper is limited. And journalism does not suffer by going online. In fact as we have seen, several news sites have outdone traditional print media as far as outstanding and courageous journalism are concerned.

The reasons given by Bennett Coleman for this decision however are very very interesting. The pandemic has been blamed, obviously. The import duty on newsprint – one more stick with which to punish dissent wielded by the Modi government – has also been blamed. But the note issued by the management also mentions this: “the long-held hope of a stimulus not materialising and the Indian economy now officially in recession”.

This is a strong criticism of the Modi government’s handling of India’s economy and it has not come from journalists. But from the group itself.

Sadly however, as we saw farewell to a great newspaper, we know that the same group’s Times Now will carry on with its third-rate approximation of journalism and continue to spread hatred and sectarianism. The very anti-thesis if you will of what Mumbai Mirror demonstrated in its short but illustrious life.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and columnist. Her column ‘Freaking News’ appears on Tuesdays and Fridays, but sometimes on other days as well. Her views here are personal

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