Thursday, March 17, 2011

How Newspapers are Just Like You and I

I don't know how many of you still read newspapers, not the online version but the broad sheet. But I’m still a newspaper fan. The relationship started when I was probably in sixth or seventh standard in school – and it continues to this day.

Staying in three states of India (or two states and a union territory, Delhi), I have been exposed to various English dailies at various times. I read the Statesman and the Telegraph in Calcutta; the Hindustan Times and the Times of India in Delhi; again the Times of India, the Deccan Herald, the Hindu and occasionally The Indian Express in Bangalore.

What I have always found interesting is that no two newspapers are same in character and personality. In fact, they are as different as two people and as human as they are. Their personality traits are based on use of language, style of reporting and their chief editors’ personalities.

The Statesman, whose market is mainly limited to Calcutta, for example, is like a retired man from an old-world British firm for whom an inaccurate English pronunciation is the most inexcusable form of sacrilege. Another Calcutta paper, the Telegraph, on the other hand, is like an above-40-youthful uncle who has a regard for the status quo but is also reluctant to be out of step with changing times.

Calcutta market is now flooded with other newspapers, but around 20 or so years back there weren’t more than two to three major English dailies. The Statesman had a prominent presence until Ananda Bazar, a leading Bengali daily, launched its English avatar, The the Telegraph, in the early 90s, and it became an instant hit with the young, with whom Statesman hadn’t cut the ice.

The post-90s’ ‘liberalized Calcutta newspaper market’ introduced me to the Hindustan Times, and the paper instantly scored my loyalty. It had fewer pages than the Telegraph, so you could run through it sooner. Its language was friendlier (or according to Statesman types, pedestrian) than theTelegraph and the other dailies. And it had Vir Sanghvi’s (its chief editor) Counterpoint (which ran into controversy few months back). Vir also started a food column in Brunch, an HT lifestyle Sunday magazine - Rude Food - during the time and it became an instant hit; he still writes the column.

Hindustan Times, for me, was just like Vir: easy going, unpretentious and friendly. The paper also introduced me to the columns of Khushwant Singh, whose works (short stories and essays) I later read extensively.

I continued reading the Hindustan Times when I moved to Delhi for work but also took up the Times of India. However, after coming to Bangalore, I broke up with the HT as it isn’t available here, but stuck to the TOI, which is among the leading English dailies in Bangalore.

The TOI was among the first newspapers to introduce the concept of ‘news you can use’. It dedicates a shelf of pages everyday to classified advertisements and carries news items that keep its readers informed about things that directly affect their lives, like board exam results, call center numbers for government services etc.

It runs innovative public-interest initiatives and when required, it vehemently criticizes the powers that be. In short, the TOI is everything that a corporate boss wants a worker to be: efficient, innovative, interactive and utilitarian. Additionally, it’s also chaotic and raucous. Or vibrant, depending on how you want to put it.

The Hindu, whose market is mostly in south India, is the opposite. It’s staid, sober, deep and analytical. And some would also say, humourless. It’s not speculative and colourful like TOI; it’s restraint, scholarly, idealistic and also Leftist. It’s a mirror image of its editor in chief, N Ram. In his autobiography, Nehru had written about the Hindu’s sobriety and its propensity to stay away controversies. Like the Hindustan Times inroduced me to Khushwant Singh, in the Hindu I read Shashi Tharoor for the first time.

The Deccan Herald is somewhere between the TOI and the Hindu. It mixes serious reporting with a pinch of frivolity (you will get street side food and Bollywood gossip) and presents the right balance. It also gives generous doses of literature through book reviews and pieces on literary trends and interviews. It wants to keep everyone happy.

Reading newspapers is no different from knowing people. If I had been writing about friends and colleagues, it wouldn’t be very different from this.


Ellen said...

Wonderful piece of writing. Your observations are quite enlightening and informative. Now I know what paper to pick up to read when I get to your country --- along with a good cup of tea? :-)

Have a good day, Indra.
Blessings to you and your family.

indrablog said...

Hi Elen,
If you visit India, I will tell you about many more newspapers. Thanks for dropping by.

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