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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Newspapers or rags!

by Proloy Bagchi (writer), Idgah Hills, Bhopal, November 03, 2018

With innumerable pages with ads the Times of India has ceased to be a purveyor of news

The Times of India (Bhopal Edition) created a record of sorts on 10th October last by printing ads mostly of full page on more than seventeen and a half of its 32 pages. First 10 pages were nothing but full page ads. One had to wade through these pages to look for the news on the front page. In fact the Times of India is guilty of dispensing with the concept of “front page” of a newspaper. You do not hear the term “making front page news” these days as there is hardly any front page – at least not in The Times of India.

Ever since the print media was commercialized news, i.e. objective news, took a back seat. Commercials took over the newspapers and made money for the promoters. Quite clearly, the editors have lost all their authority over making and organizing of news items into several pages of the newspaper. It is mostly determined by commercial considerations and, perhaps, the commercial officer of the newspaper has a greater authority in this matter. His actions are directed from behind – by the promoters or owners who love their money more than the papers’ readership. The more the money comes, the better it is for them – the subscribers or the readers could go and get lost.

Newspapers are meant to be purveyors of news. News in the modern world is apparently so important that elaborate arrangements are made to gather news through reporters who use the newest of technology to communicate whatever they gather to their headquarters for use in the newspaper that is being readied for the day. The news room in an organization dealing with the business of dissemination of news is, therefore, like a beehive with news editors busy with arranging items and aggregating them in a manner that attracts attention of the readers. The items may include reports, opinions, editorials, photographs, maps, charts, cartoons, graphics et al. All this processing of news has to be done in a jiffy so that the printed newspaper is able to catch the next available transport to reach the hands of the reader.

Although with the progress of communication technology readers of news papers have declined in the developed world, in India printed news business is on the up and up. Out of sheer force of years-old habit millions of keen followers of news impatiently wait in the mornings for copies of their favourite newspapers. People are yet to get used to “watching” the news on the computer or TV. Many like to hold a newspaper in their hands to read the reports or articles of their choice. To give them pages and pages of advertisements before they are even able to get to the front page is, to say the least, highly unethical.

Moreover, a recent scourge has appeared on the scene – the scourge of the “half front page”. The half page could have news or only ads. I call it a scourge because it is very inconvenient to manage the newspaper in one’s hands with a half front page. Those who hold the newspaper in their hands to read it sitting or reclining in bed with their cup of morning tea would know what I mean. On many occasions when one turns pages the whole paper of several pages gets loose and untangled in a mess of printed newsprint. One then has to collect the pages and put them back together in order of the page numbers.

Another peculiarity that I have noticed with Times of India is the declining size of the fonts it uses. They us around 8 or 9 point font size which becomes difficult to decipher in indifferent light, particularly for the elderly. This is not true of other newspapers like, say, the Indian Express. It uses fonts of decent sizes which are readable to all and sundry. Perhaps, the idea is that a smaller font size would allow far more space for ads and, of course, more revenue.

As regards ads, one does understand that some ads are necessary to sustain the newspaper. After all, promoters cannot run a newspaper by incurring losses or meeting the expenditure out of their own pockets. But they should not go overboard and cram almost the entire paper with ads and various other commercials.

There is a flip side to these ads also. They indicate to me the pinkish health of the economy. The Opposition has been crying hoarse about slowdown and suchlike. But the tremendous investments in ads do not indicate that. None would invest so much on propagating when the products are not being lifted. And, sure enough, there was a report confirming my hunch in the Times of India the other day that along with a boom in the online business there has been a boom in offline business as well. That puts paid the adverse propaganda of an economic slowdown where, apparently, there is none.



About the Writer

Pushing 80 I was born in Gwalior in Central India to parents who were educated in Calcutta, now Kolkata. My father did his master's in English in 1916. He was a professor of English in the then only college in Gwalior. After qualifying in the exams for entry in to central civil services I served the government of India for 34 years reaching the very top of the professional cadres of the Indian Postal Service. I also acted as consultant ion behalf of the Universal Postal Union in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Swaziland.
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