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Journalism: Profit over People

More and more editors today have turned their attention away from readers' interest in news and views to the promotion of their publishers' financial success. The sad effect is to make press coverage of news and views inadequate and shallow, to focus less on issues and more on personalities, to concentrate on today's sensations but neglect follow-up.

When you buy your daily newspaper, what is it you are looking for? For me, it is chiefly the obit notices. So I stick to The Times of India, which faithfully tells me how fast my contemporaries are disappearing, some of them, I am assured, ‘bound for their heavenly abode’, wherever that is. No other newspaper is so informative on this subject. And the Times gives me an inestimable bonus: R K Laxman’s humour. There are, of course, other benefits: news of cricket scandals, fodder scandals, the Misses World, Bal Thackeray’s latest outbursts and the ongoing extinction of his henchmen. There are still more dubious benefits, contained in the Bombay Times, with its pictures of half-naked models and Asit Chandmal’s pontifications on foreign food and wine. On top of all this, advertisements, more and more of them. Where else could I find so many entire pages devoted to the virtues of Santro, Indica, and all those grand and beautiful things that I’ll never afford to buy? Thoughts that set my mind wondering and my fingers counting: Wonder about whatever happened to the op-ed page that most respectable papers fill with thoughtful, serious pieces on contemporary national issues. How did it dissolve into inconsequential pieces lifted from foreign tabloids?

In last Tuesday’s Times, which cost me Rs 2, news and views – all those scandals – occupied 39 per cent of the paper’s 24 pages. Advertisements got 50 per cent, pictures 5 per cent, readers’ letters 1 per cent. Tuesday’s Statesman, on the other hand, gave me only 16 pages for the Rs 1.50 I paid for it. But news and views took up 60 per cent of those pages, advertisements only 21 per cent, pictures 10 per cent and readers’ letters 1 per cent. Those figures tell only half the story. The Statesman’s 60 per cent brought me 1,538 column inches of news and views; the Times’ 24 pages contained less (1,514) column inches of news and views, much of it lost in other-worldly speculation under labels like ‘The Speaking Tree’. On the other hand, the higher price I had paid for the Times bought me nearly 2,000 column inches of pictures and promotion of unaffordable luxury goods and barely covered girls. Where was my money better spent? Really, the Statesman today reminds me of the Times of better days, before it modernised its culture.

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