Print media & holier than thou journalism


By: Ravi Sinha

Track2Media Exclusive

Newspaper, Print Media, Barter Deal, Ad for Equity, Indian journalismMore than a decade back while working as Assistant Editor of a monthly newsmagazine I came up with some fancy ideas to revamp the overall look, feel & content of the magazine. While some of the ideas were appreciated by the management, I still remember the dirty look by the Consulting Editor, an industry veteran, when I proposed the byline mentioned with the designation of the journalist.

The idea, as a matter of fact, was not original one and the leading newsmagazine, India Today already had that style sheet during those days. The disapproval of the editor was not confined to his overt gesture; he did not mince words to say that a serious newsmagazine should not be a self-glorified pamphlet for the journalists. That proved to be learning for the lifetime.

When I see all the mainstream English dailies in the country being redesigned, with glorified promotional campaign suggesting international designer giving it a global touch, I feel there is anti-thesis of what all has been taught to us in the good old school of ethical journalism.

The mug shot pix of reporters along with the bylines overtly suggests that the newspapers are brand ambassadors driven and not content driven. Five or six photographs on a single sheet of newspaper often makes it difficult to identify whether it is a news page or the advertising supplement where these reporters are IIT or Medical toppers and the coaching institute wants to make the best out of this publicity campaign.

If this is the reality of today’s leading English dailies, anything said about the vernacular newspapers would be stating the obvious. And the semi nude photographs, which proved to be the calling card of regional dailies like Punjab Kesari has moved from city supplements to main newspapers, even getting page one positioning off and on.

The holier than thou variety of journalism, the print media is facing an identity crisis today and certainly is not far behind their television counterparts when it comes to shouting at the rooftop with their perceived achievements. It seems the glamour of television journalism is a cause of complex in the print media and they strive to catch up fast on that given scale.

No wonder, following the footsteps of television news channels the leading dailies do not forget to remind the readers that this newspaper was the first to report on the given issue. Worse even, HT Impact or Times Impact of the news reports are glorified like never before, as if all the good things in the world are result of media trial nowadays.

“I, Me, Myself” syndrome is all pervasive in today’s print journalism when it comes to credit share. Print journalism, as a matter of fact, has always been plagued with this “I, Me, Myself” mindset with individual journalists’ deep-rooted belief that they are god’s gift to the profession. My Story, my byline, my scoop, my expose… could never become a team job.

No wonder, barring a few exceptions, journalists could never specialise in team handling or man management. Snob value it seems gives a cutting edge to the editorial profile and everybody is found bitching up and down the editorial chain.

However, this inherent weakness in the nature of the business was always overshadowed by an intellectual clout where commitment to the news and profession remained more or less unquestionable. Personal glorification and personal graft remained that only – personal. This is despite of the fact that most of the journalists in good old days of journalism were poorly paid and many of them even died in acute poverty.

However, the advent of TV channels brought about a sea change in the overall economy of the business. The new generation of print journalists landed up in their respective jobs with relatively comfortable salaries. Unfortunately, more money failed to raise the standards of journalism, nor did it contribute to the commitment or the integrity of the individual journalists.

The only difference was visible in the lifestyle choice of some journalists and they appeared more corporate in their appearance and attitude than newsmen.

More money also initiated a greed driven economy in the print media and the line that bifurcated in the collective consciousness between editorial and marketing got blurred. Of course, the nature and character of the newspaper owners had also changed to the extent that the leading English daily in the country started overtly proclaiming its edition as “Made in Delhi”, and not published.

Once newspaper became a product, like any other product, for the management, the marketing folks took the center stage and quality of editorial content nosedived like never before.

Barter deals (Ad for Equity) between the corporate groups and newspapers became the new market mantra and editors started getting notes from higher-ups to protect the reputation of barter deal clients. In such a win-win deal for both the newspaper and the company, the mediator advertising agencies were also laughing their way to the bank and the job of PR pros too became easy. The quality of editorial content remained nobody’s agenda.

Today’s print journalism is not dependent on right kind of sources for news; PR industry has mushroomed like anything to offer them readymade releases, features and what not. And somewhere in this evolving economy of journalism personal integrity has seen its rock bottom.

Triple Cs of modern marketing (Concept, Contact & Corrupt) works in tandem and some of the PR agencies discuss three picks of the day (read three overtly paid stories) in their routine morning meetings. Needless to add, PR pros are always on prowl for such journalists who are available for moonlighting.

Print journalists love to ridicule television and many of the newspapers have a dedicated media page to evaluate the counterparts in television. I wonder how many times that space has been used for self-introspection. I remember it was around 1995-96 that the media page of Thapar-owned newspaper Pioneer used to evaluate Media with feature stories on print media as well. At least I have not seen that kind of integrity or honesty with the print media of late.

I always suggest to my print journalist friends that the next time you mock at TV news, must remember that conventional wisdom suggests that those who live in the glass houses should not throw stones. But then one wonders whether wisdom has its way in the big bad world of journalism.


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