India Uncut

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Friday, February 11, 2005

Lakshmi minus Saraswati

Saeed Naqvi writes in the Indian Express:
A combination of envy and irritation is driving the somewhat exaggerated debate on page 3 culture allegedly threatening to overwhelm our lives. Page 3 itself is a function of marketing and the soaring debate, only ostensibly negative, is actually marketing’s crowning success.

And editorial's failure, no doubt. The Times of India (TOI), which openly sells its editorial space, and not just on Page 3, is a prime example of this. Naqvi remembers the good old days:
[P]ublication of an item on Page 3 which was actually an advert was always fraught with danger. It was like committing the perfect crime. First, the chief reporter had to be taken into confidence. Then the item had to be navigated past the chief sub editor and the sub editor. Even the proof reader had to be in the loop. Otherwise he could blow the whistle by bringing the questionable item to the attention of the news editor who by that time had returned from his first three-whisky session at Press Club.

Falling prey to the blandishments of the market was so risky as to be not worth the trouble. But by 1990 the world had begun to change. Economic reforms made market the ultimate arbiter.

Now we enter an area of controversy; consider the words: "market the ultimate arbiter". Gaurav Sabnis, in a much discussed post from a few days ago, said that TOI did not really deserve the bashing it got. He wrote:
[I]t is not looting, pillaging, stealing, or defrauding anyone to earn this money. All its wealth has been earned by legal means.

A company can earn so much money consistently only if it is treating its employees, business partners properly, and if it is listening to what its customers want.

In the light of all that, the cribs against TOI (and I have been one of those cribbing) seem like they are missing something. So TOI no longer fulfils our expectations of what a proper newspaper should be. So what? It is surely fulfilling the expectations of lakhs who outnumber us vastly.

Gaurav's justification of TOI as a business is bang on (and he does not need to make that justification, the market does it), but we crib about TOI the newspaper. A newspaper functions in two paradigms: as a business entity, and as a medium of journalism. As a journalistic medium, we hold it up to certain standards that we hold to be sacrosanct, and chief among them is the separation of editorial content from marketing matter. Sure, a newspaper must have both, but it should make the distinction clear to its readers, which is traditionally done with a sign that says "advertorial", or something similar. TOI no longer does that. Equally unforgivably, as former blogger Jivha had documented so well (especially see this post), they have long ceased to be honest with their readers. Heck, they are an excellent business, but they are a travesty of a newspaper.

Naqvi, towards the end of his piece, describes Page 3 wannabes as "Lakshmi minus Saraswati". That describes TOI perfectly.
amit varma, 2:54 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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