Changing focus of news
Selection of the lead news for the page one of the newspaper has always been the most challenging job of the news editors. That is why often even the chief editors are also involved in this important task.
When I joined journalism profession in Goa, most newspapers were totally dependent on the two news agencies,the PTI and UNI. These news agencies transmitted their news through teleprinters installed in the newspaper offices. The news desk teams would then sort out the news, pin them together subjectwise and place them before the chief sub-editor for marking them on various pages. I remember, sometimes I used to accompany the newspaper's chief sub-editor in the jeep to the residence of the editor from Panaji to Miramar for selecting the lead news for page one and deciding their headings.
Sometimes, especially on Sundays and holidays, the days would be very dull newswise and it would be difficult to select the page one news or the lead news of that day.
In such circumstances, the editor had a permanent solution. He would then see what the then prime minister Indira Gandhi had said or done that day and tell us to use that as the lead news for the next day's newspaper. There is a famous dictum in journalism, “When in doubt, cut it out!” In a similar lines,his refrain was: “When in doubt, always use the PM's speech. You'll never be faulted for that.”
Before 1970s, political news always dominated the front pages of all newspapers in the country. For many years, the municipal corporators, legislators and parliamentarians obstructing the functioning of their respective Houses or running with the maces of the presiding officers to press for their demands were the favourite front page news for the news editors. It took many years for the newspaper editors to realise that these issues did not really deserve the front page slots and that the elected representatives were emboldened to stall house proceedings or create ruckus there only to hog limelight in the media.
Some years later almost all newspapers concluded that the politicians, ministers and elected representatives and – their speeches and actions – did not always merit front page space. This provided some space to humane interest stories,sports issues and local stories on the front page. Business matters which was in the past relegated to inside page of the newspapers also started appearing on the front page, thanks to the Harshad Mehta-led stock exchange scam and the increasing privatisation in the country's economy.
In the recent past, sensational celebrity crimes have been occupying the newspaper's front page space. A couple of years back, the issues related to the then Union Minister Shashi Tharoor, his wife Sunanda and a woman journalist from Pakistan were the matters of the front page newspaper coverage for many national and regional newspapers.
For the past fortnight, the issue involving Indrani Mukherjee, wife of Peter Mukherjee, former CEO of Star India, had dominated the front pages - and also inside pages - of several national and regional newspapers. At that time, some newspapers had only grudgingly allowed some space on the front page to the Patel community's massive agitation in Gujarat!
The other day, a senior citizen who is also a former bureaucrat questioned me why we mediapersons in newspapers and television channels were devoting so much space and time to the Indrani Mukherjee affair. I counter-questioned if whether he himself had not read or watched avidly all those details. His smile itself was his affirmative answer. “TRP is all what matters,isn't it...?” he said in exasperation.
Of course, I know it is a vicious circle. Neither the media or the readers are to be blamed in this regard. The focus of the media for news will always keep on changing. For good or bad.