The print media in the West, more especially in the United States and Britain, seems to be on the death roll. Dozens of daily newspapers are reportedly going bankrupt. In the United States at least 120 of them have already shut shop. The prestigious New York Times had to seek the help of a Mexican billionaire to keep going. The Tribune Company, publisher of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, as well as the Hearst Corporation, owner of the San Francisco Chronicle are bankrupt. To reduce costs, many newspapers are cutting back on the number of pages. The Washington Post has eliminated its book review pages. The Financial Times is asking its editors to consider a three-day week and has drastically trimmed its staff. Since January 2008 to date the American newspaper industry has shed a record 21,000 jobs!
Britain’s The Independent and The Times (London) have accumulated major economic losses and to many it seems it is only a question of time before they close down and go on the internet just as The Christian Science Monitor is presently doing. The CSM has dropped its papers edition to cut down losses. Spain’s EL Pais and France’s Le Monde are in grave financial trouble. Only in India, it seems, the print media is doing comparatively well. In Mumbai, the DNA claims to have consolidated its position among city readers while Mid-Day has apparently lost 8.8 per cent of its circulation. Are Indian newspapers helping western papers and journals to survive?
One Mumbai paper carries pages of The New York Times as a supplement. Another carries stories from The Economist. Now Hindustan Times says it has entered into an exclusive content partnership with Washington Post. From 1, the paper is carrying columns and articles from the Post and Newsweek on an exclusive basis. As it is, Hindustan Times brings out Mint in association with Wall Street Journal. That is probably a cheap way of providing foreign news to Indian readers. Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria’s columns will now be available to Hindustan Times readers, which is all very well, but one might as well ask the simple question: why aren’t our newspapers which are dong quite well, thank you, maintaining foreign correspondents of their own in, say, London or Washington?
In the sixties and seventies Hindustan Times, The Times of India, The Indian Express and Press Trust of India maintained correspondents at the very least in Washington. The Times of India at one time had correspondents in Washington, London, Bonn, Cairo, Karachi and even Nairobi! Foreign correspondents have now become expendable, thanks to technology. But no matter what technology has done, an Indian newspaper must rely on an Indian correspondent to provide the reader a feel of what is happening abroad. When Indians correspondents accompanied Dr Manmohan Singh both to Washington and to Copenhagen, they provided excellent coverage of news from an Indian standpoint. Foreign news agencies may provide us the news but that reportage cannot possibly compare with reportage by Indian journalists.
It is no great prestige for a paper to say that it has links with New York Times or Washington Post. Neither can serve Indian needs. It is not that our newspapers are doing poorly. Whether it is the Free Press Journal of Mumbai, or The Hitavada of Nagpur or Hindustan Times of Delhi, they are lush with pages of advertisements that one wouldn’t even have dreamt of, say, four decades ago. And they keep winning awards. The Agriculture Correspondent of The Hindu (December 10), MJ Prabhu, has been awarded by the National Innovation Foundation for popularising grassroots innovations through his Farmers’ Notebook column in the newspaper. Chairman of the Foundation is RA Mashelkar, former Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. Hindustan Times’ senior editor Kumkum Chadha will be conferred the Best Journalist of the Year Award in print media 2009. She was awarded for the series called Power Drive on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet.
But what award can one give to newspapers that sell their columns to politicians for a large sum? ‘Paid News’ is now getting to be popular, especially in the Indian language newspapers. The matter was raised by P Sainath of The Hindu some weeks ago but now the matter has been taken up by the Editors’ Guild of India. According to The Hindu (December 24), shocked by the ‘pernicious practice’ of publishing ‘paid news’ by some newspapers and television channels-particularly during the recent elections-the Guild has strongly condemned the practice “which whittles down the foundations of Indians journalism”. According to the report, the Guild noted: “Both the media organisations and editors who indulge in it, and the customers who offer payment for such ‘paid news’ are guilty of undermining the free and fair press, for which every citizen of India is entitled to.” The issue of “paid news”, it would appear, was raised at a meeting of the Guild by Business Standard’s Editor-in-Chief TN Ninan and Guild president Rajdeep Sardesai both of whom apparently want to run a campaign against “paid news” in 2010. What is heart-warming is to know that the meeting of the Guild drew record attendance by its members who took part in the ‘animated discussion’ at the meeting.
Recognising the media’s right to publish and broadcast advertisements on all issues, the Guild reportedly said that it was imperative that news organisations clearly distinguished between news and advertisements will full and proper disclosure norms, so that no reader or viewer was tricked by any subterfuge of advertisements published or broadcast in the same format language and style of news. In another article in The Hindu (December 24), Sainath named names of papers which indulged in publishing paid news. Shockingly, some of the news published carried the by-lines of a chief reporter and even, in one instance, of the chief of bureau. One reporter is quoted as saying: “In the days when this was about petty corruption of individuals journalists, we had a choice, to be or not to be corrupt. Now, when this is an organised industry run by our employers, what choice do we have?” The Economic and Political Weekly (December 12) carried an editorial which said: “The Indian media is selling its soul to the market and forfeiting its claim to be an independent estate.” How true!