India’s Best Journalists: Arun Shourie # 1

Ravinar, worked with one of India’s largest selling newspapers and other orgs in Marketing functions who sincerely believe a corrupt media is the most dangerous threat to any democracy writes about 10 most respected journalists in India on his blog Media Crooks:

Since the article on India’s Worst Journalists-2012 (IWJ) last April I had received many suggestions to do one on India’s best. Some even recommended that the same ‘worst’ should be put to another poll to find out which are the best among them. When I looked up the ‘Charter of MediaCrooks’ there were hundreds of provisions to identify and talk about the crooks but not a single one to identify the good ones or the best in the business. Fair, since that wasn’t the task of MediaCrooks. So I derived inspiration from the ‘Worst list’ and ‘manipulated’ the Charter to enable this site to identify the best journalists. The candidates on the best journalists list were all picked by people on the social media. (Thanks to all who contributed). If I had left it to the Anti-SocialMedia (MSM) probably none of these names would have figured.

There is something else about the journalists on the list. You won’t find most of them flamboyant or glamorous. You won’t find most of them frequently in those back-scratching media awards functions. The greatest thing about the candidates on the ‘best’ poll is that when they write an article or appear on TV it is highly unlikely you will find them asking: “Oh God, what should I tell them”? They speak their own free minds. So here are those who have been voted India’s Best Journalists (Poll results on the top right of this page):

10. Ashok Malik – Malik has been in the business for over two decades now. His association has mostly been with The Pioneer but you can also find him in other journals and lately also on many TV channels as a panellist. His writings are not the kind that will set you on fire but Malik manages to put across his views and arguments gently and without offending. That might be surprising since many bios of his mention his wanting to be a gossip-writer in film magazines. That’s hard to believe because he looks so serious. It would be nice, though, to see a gossip column from him – just to see some stuff from him on the Poonam Pandeys, Sonam Kapoors and Uday Chopras.  In any case, don’t expect him to be politically incorrect. Like other successful journalists who have adapted to the Internet Malik understands and values the social media. He is happy to write in a form that the MSM wouldn’t consider really ‘Sexy’ in these times. He speaks his mind anyway and that’s the obvious reason he’s here.

9. Madhu Trehan – She’s one of the survivors from the journalism of the old world charm. The co-founder ofIndiaToday, India’s first weekly news-magazine, has many firsts to her credit. The other significant claim to fame has to be her video news-magazine ‘Newstrack’, in the days of Doordarshan’s monopoly, which was made available as videos through her magazine and through regular video outlets. But Madhu Trehan is not on this list for her past laurels though. She has re-invented herself and has been active on the social media. Her news channel Newslaundry is growing in popularity. It’s a site where Madhu and her colleagues launder the regular crooks in the media with a lot of humour and candour. Viewers and readers of Newslaundry have often felt she has been soft on the crooks but that takes away nothing from her sincerity and her commitment. She has also learned to engage with the crowd on social media. Her popularity is on the up again.

8. R. Jagannathan – Business World, India Today, Express group, Business Standard, DNA he has worked with all of them. A significant involvement has to be the launch of Business Today. Other than that he has spent relatively smaller tenures with most of these publications. But TheJaggi, as he calls himself on Twitter, came to greater prominence with FirstPost. Though I call Firstpost the online sidekick of the Network18 group (CNN-IBN, CNBC-TV18 etc.), Jaggi has brought a lot of balance and freshness in the online news business. As editor of Firstpost not only his own articles but even those of others have largely been truly interesting and fair. That’s what is amazing. Since the group’s TV channels are heavily biased and are nearly political mouthpieces, Firstpost doesn’t appear to be so. Being a business journalist himself, his articles on economics and financial matters make exceptional reading. I don’t have numbers but I would dare to state Firstpost could easily be the most popular dedicated online news site at the moment and will grow in strength. A lot of credit for that must go to TheJaggi.

7. P. Sainath – He calls himself a ‘rural’ reporter. One of the few Indians to receive the Ramon Magsaysay awards Sainath is the art movie equivalent of Bollywood in journalism. And I say that in a nice way. On the mainstream media degenerating into entertainment he once remarked: “”I felt that if the Indian press was covering the top 5 per cent, I should cover the bottom 5 per cent” and that he does splendidly. On another occasion he observed there were 400 journalists reporting on a Fashion show in Delhi but not one reporting on poverty in India. One recent article by him “Reaping gold through cotton, and newsprint” about the misreporting and twisted journalism by TOI is indicative of the tenor of most of his articles and exposes. It is indeed surprising that he hasn’t been called upon to be a panellist on TV shows relating to farmer suicides and such related issues. Maybe he just detests the very format of these debates and avoids them. Outspoken against Paidmedia and other evils of the press he is one reporter who should be inspiration for a lot more.
6. J. Gopikrishnan – There must be a reason his name starts with G. His stunning investigative reports on the2G scam has exposed many corrupt politicians and the entire UPA govt itself. Gopi, as he is called in trade circles, systematically pursued and exposed the manner in which scarce nation resources were sold for a song by the corrupt. Naturally, apart from rising popularity among people a number of awards followed as well in the last year or so. The mostly compromised bigger media outlets started following the 2G story only after his reports. That Gopi works with a relatively small newspaper like The Pioneer also reflects on where good journalism is coming from lately. In the words of his own editor, Chandan Mitra, “He has put on no airs despite the accolades he has received and the many awards he has won. He remains committed to his profession and profession alone”. What followed Gopi’s reports are similar assessments by the CAG on 2G and worse, the explosive Radiatapes that exposed the media-politician-lobbyists nexus. More power to him.
5. Sucheta Dalal – She could have been somebody…. Somebody like… You know who, a media super celebrity. She could have easily compromised ethics and traded that for millions. But Sucheta Dalal is one of the most reliable financial journalists around. From the Harshad Mehta scam to Ketan Parekh to current misdeeds in the financial markets she has served ordinary investors and consumers all her career. Having worked with all the major newspapers in the country she now runs her own web magazine, Moneylife. Apart from various investment and securities boards, including those of the govt, she is also on the board ofConsumer Education & Research Centre in Ahmedabad. In the crowd of many unscrupulous financial and stock market journalists, in print and on TV, she stands out like a beacon. One hopes future aspirants in this domain will look to her for inspiration.
 4. M. J. Akbar – There isn’t much that I need to write about MJ Akbar that people don’t already know. From a Trainee in TOI to launch of major journals like TheSunday andTelegraph and to also being a member of parliament there isn’t much that MJA hasn’t achieved. One of the senior most journalists of India he has also authored many books. In particular, his analyses of Indo-Pak relations are easily among the best anyone can get to read. His recent launch, the onlineSundayGuardian, has acquired a fair bit of popularity on the internet news readers. SundayGuardian is as hard-hitting a news magazine as you can get. He is currently the Editorial Director of IndiaToday and their TV channel HeadlinesToday. That he retains a high level of popularity after four decades in journalism say everything about why he is still rated as one of the best.
 3. Kanchan Gupta – He is most famous for his association with The Pioneer and even more so as an advisor in the PMO for Atal Behari Vajpayee. Apart from writing on politics and current affairs you could fairly call him a reasonable expert on middle-east affairs owing to his work in that region. He can be subtle, wry and sarcastic but don’t expect him to make you fall off your chair laughing. Straight-talking, blunt and sometimes provocative, his writings do not spin facts. That’s the reason he is very popular with the right wing and not so popular in the mainstream media. Often appears on TV shows but gets shouted down very easily. That is not so much because he doesn’t have a booming voice but because he stops when asked by the moderator and cares to listen to others. In a country where journalism and media is dominated by communists and being ‘right-wing’ is almost criminal, his success stands out for his brilliant, insightful and honest writing. Has been another one to quickly learn the future of media is online and has now started his own venture called Niti Digital.
 2. Swapan Dasgupta – Quite easily the best and most popular of contemporary journalists around. That should be a surprise because he too is a ‘right-wing’ journalist. Not just that, he also happens to be the most sought after TV panellist. I refuse to call him an ‘intellectual’ as many do since I consider that term reserved for ‘Nobeler’ souls. Let’s see, I would callAmartya Sen or Dileep Padgaonkar an intellectual. Which is why it is dismaying to find him debating ‘intellectuals’ like Mani Shankar Aiyar. SD is simply blessed with an extraordinary abundance of simple common sense. That’s what makes his writings a delight to read. The number of journals he writes for is too long to be listed here. Sharp observations, deep insights and simple honesty are key features of his writings. Like Sachin Tendulkar he is not gifted with great vocal chords but he makes up for that with his solid batting. If he is on a TV debate you are assured of a decent one without the usual cacophony that passes for debates. Whatever one’s ideology he is clearly a role model for budding journalists.
1. Arun Shourie – This is quite a surprise. I say that in a nice way because Arun Shourie hasn’t been a very active journalist for quite some time. That he remains the best journalist with voters is a tribute to his standing and accomplishments. He is the first of India’s true investigative journalists who led to the fall of a Chief Minister in Maharashtra in the eighties. His most reputed tenure is that as the Executive Editor of Indian ExpressAt one point the Congress govt had nothing less than 300 cases slapped against the IE after the Bofors episode. Author of many books, MP and was also a minister under the NDA govt. It’s distressing for many that since the days of Shourie the fiercely independent IE has more or less become a ‘handler’ of the govt’s agenda. He had also strongly opposed Pratibha Patilfor president and it’s not so hard now to see why. Every article and book written by Shourie is perhaps better researched, more thoughtful and provocative than any of the ones by many modern day journalists. Not surprisingly, he was he named as one of the International Press Institute’s 50 World Press Freedom Heroes of the past 50 years in 2000 apart from being honoured with the Magsaysay award. The likes of Shourie and the others on this list keep the flame of hope for good journalism floating.
So there it is; India’s Best Journalists and I expect they will remain so for quite some time. In an age where skin colour, lipstick, make-up, laundering and brokering skills determine the prominence and influence of a journalist, it is not very difficult for them to stand out. I believe they would have stood out anyway. If most of the media crooks are a danger to democracy and freedom then there are some who strongly protect it too. And those are 10 good reasons to cheer.

India’s first Newspaper Collector Shashanka Dash

Shashanka Shekhar Dash, who have collected 1,577 newspapers, has already been placed in the Indian Book of Records.

Newspaper collector Shashanka Shekhar Dash says his recent collection is an Afghani paper brought out by a 14-year-old boy.

Browsing through a newspaper while sipping a cup of tea is a morning ritual in almost every household. But not too many would think of collecting newspapers found across the world. Shashanka Shekhar Dash, who claims to have collected 1,577 newspapers, has already been placed in the Indian Book of Records. This 33-year-old from Arangabad village in Odisha, is now aiming to set up a paper museum soon.

Ask him how he developed this habit and Dash says, “I started collecting newspapers in 2001 when I was associated with a media in Rourkela. Right now, I have 1,577 newspapers from 37 countries in 33 languages. I have 150 newspapers from abroad, 391 single day Indian dailies and one handwritten newspaper called Din Dalit that is published from Dumka in Jharkhand. I also have 13 newspapers with Orissa in the title, 12 newspapers with Odisha in the masthead and 14 newspapers with the name Utkala.”

Though Dash has never been abroad, he has still managed to collect publications from abroad. “Sometimes my friends have got the papers for me. On other cases, I’ve written directly to the newspaper offices. Most of them have obliged. It was most difficult to source a newspaper called Voice of the Children that is published from Afghanistan by 14-year-boy Hamid,” he says.

Isn’t preservation a problem? “I keep all the newspapers in separate polythene bags. I am also a keen collector of souvenirs, books and magazines. My dream is to set up a newspaper library and museum in my village. This, I’m sure, will be of great help to the researchers and scholars,” he signs off.

New Editor takes charge of The Herald, oldest English Catholic weekly in India

 C.M. Paul, KOLKATA

Fr Julian Das

The archbishop of Calcutta, Rev Thomas D’Souza has appointed the director of Chitrabani Jesuit Communication centre in Kolkata, Fr Julian Das as editor of The Herald from 1st July 2012. Besides continuing his present office, Fr Das will also edit the oldest English language Catholic weekly in India established in 1839.

“I am soon planning to send soft copies of The Herald in PDF file version soon, so that you do not need to wait so long for the post version. Besides I am starting this week The Herald Blog to post important articles and reports. The blog link is: http://calcuttaherald.wordpress.com. I am yet to populate the blog. Will do it tomorrow (3rd July) the solemnity of St Thomas the apostle, patron of India.

Fr Das succeeds Fr. B. L. Mathai, a priest of the archdiocese of Calcutta who proceeds for higher studies in media at the National Institute of Social Communication, Research and Training in the National Capital Region, Delhi. NISCORT is a national venture of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.

The Herald is owned by the archdiocese of Calcutta and is a published under the banner of Catholic Publications West Bengal. (courtesy: NewsGrab & C M Paul)

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This is where PublishaLetter  come in. Your letters to the editors are just as important and as interesting as the articles and editorials that inspired them. This site provide you the platform to pick the publication, compose the letter on-line and send it to the editor exactly as you have written it (without inserting the name of this site anywhere). They also provide you the platform to publish your letter on their site, almost immediately or after a time delay (in case you want to wait to see if it gets printed in the paper first). You want to comment on someone’s letter? You can do it there. You want to comment on someone’s comment? Why not do that too? You want to email your letter to your friends and family? PublishaLetter make that easy too.

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Indian food regulator’s Rs 1000 crore media blitzkrieg to improve ‘food safety’ !!!

The meek justification being offered for this disproportionate funding for publicity is that people have to be made aware about various provisions of the Food Safety Act, 2006.

It appears India’s food regulator has got all its priorities horribly wrong. The regulatory body plans to spend a whopping sum of over Rs1,000 crore just on publicity during the 12th plan period.

The amount the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has sought from the government for publicity related activities is much more than what it plans to spend on its core activities – developing food safety standards, setting up testing labs, surveillance and so on.

Out of Rs6,548 crore for various projects and initiatives planned during the 12th plan period, as much as Rs1,019 has been earmarked just for publicity.

The meek justification being offered for this disproportionate funding for publicity is that people have to be made aware about various provisions of the Food Safety Act, 2006. While detailed rollout schedule and clear deliverables have been shown for various activities, the authority remains vague when it comes to its gigantic media spending plan.

All that the proposal says is ‘awareness generation/ IEC programme would be as per well-thought-out media plan to be undertaken regularly using all forms/formats of publicity having wide reach’.

The Rs1,000 crore media blitzkrieg is expected to result in ‘overall general awareness about food safety rules/ regulations and sensitisation of various stakeholders about food safety issues’.  Rs350 crore under the so-called media plan will be spent for undertaking a ‘comprehensive campaign utilising audio and video and print media for dissemination of messages’. An amount of Rs319 crore has been proposed for publicity utilising ‘non-media vehicles’ such as multi-coloured pamphlets on food safety, hygiene, prevention of food spoilage, use of potable water in cooking etc. Such material will be distributed to schools, vendors and will be displayed at bus and railway stations. Another Rs350 crore would be disbursed to states at the rate of Rs2 crore for every state every year for publicity in local language. (courtesy: Dinesh C. Sharma & MailOnlineIndia)

First ever, all Kerala Media fest to remember father of journalism education in Kerala

Professor Maxwell Fernandez helped launch the first media course in the State.

When his single-handed effort resulted in the launch of the first university-level media education in Kerala three decades ago, Professor Maxwell Fernandez’s students could not call him anything but the ‘Father of Journalism Education’ in Kerala.

The youthful professor left the world in the prime of his life — at the age of 40, but his efforts paid off.

This year, when his colleagues and students thought about commemorating him differently, they came up with something unique — a media fest, the first one of its kind for students in the State.

The event christened ‘Take One Fest,’ organised by the Communication Club and the Alumni Association of Kerala University’s Department of Journalism, is aiming to provide a platform to appraise the skills and potential of media students across Kerala’s colleges.

Scheduled to be held on 6, 7 and 8 July, the organisers claim that this is the first ever all-Kerala media fest, which will blend the academic benefits of events that hone the communication skills of students, in the atmosphere of a students’ camp.

“Mediapersons, who are alumni of Kerala University, will interact with the participants. So far, 100 students have registered online. We’re expecting about 250 students in total,” said Gokul Prasannan, event coordinator.

The organisers have lined up about 19 competition items for the participants, who would be at the degree and PG level of their education. “However, it is more of a platform for students to interact with media persons, than compete,” Gokul added. Registration is on till July 5, and the programmes will be from 10 am to 8 pm on all days.

“We are also providing accommodation facilities for students from districts other than Thiruvananthapuram,’’ said the organisers.(courtesy: Deepa Soman, Kochi for Deccan Herald)

Maya “Bush”: Goa Sting Operator Who Gave Up Anonymity

The multiple exploits of Mayabhushan Nagvenkar, the journalist who exposed Goa’s paid news racket, pulled off a prank by planting a fake Nazi story in several well-read dailies, and has held up a mirror to the media in other ways. He is known in Goan media circles as Bhushan, or The Bush. He has written an hilarious article titled  ‘Pimples on Paradise’ about the various corrupt activities of media in Goa in newslaundry.com:

“Bhushan gives the home minister too much tension. He gives the chief of police too much tension as well. He is too straightforward.”

Mayabhushan Nagvenkar

I live in Goa. In a small corner in that paradise.In that corner, where I live, there aren’t any dancing virgins. There’s only journalists. And crimson trails of torn professional hymens.

And the story I have to tell is not new. It isn’t even a big story.Like the one which spilled out with the Nira Radia tapes. There’s no Barkha Dutt. There’s no Vir Sanghvi. Not even a relatively low-brow, shrill Prabhu Chawla.

The story is about a small place. The heroes here are a lot smaller in scale. So are the villains. But the stories from this small place are as interesting as the ones which come from the big cities. Trust me. The sweet, warm smell of purification reeks the same everywhere.

As the author of this piece, I will reserve stories involving me for later.

The first story’s a comparison between two opposite journalistic poles.

This is the story of Ash. And the story of Pats.

Ash has been a journalist for nigh two decades. He’s conscientiously worked on the newsdesk and reported extensively in Goa. He’s anchored newspaper editions for all three local newspapers in Goa.

Ash has been a journalist for nigh two decades. He’s conscientiously worked on the newsdesk and reported extensively in Goa. He’s anchored newspaper editions for all three local newspapers in Goa. But then he went on and did three things over the last few years – not necessarily in the order listed. He became a founding member of a newspaper employees union seeking fair working conditions. Later, he contested civic elections after putting in a legit leave of absence. Third, he befriended me.

Result: He has been virtually unemployed for the last four of the eight years. There are four daily English newspapers in Goa. One monthly news magazine. And several other news, feature and lifestyle magazines. But no jobs to be had for him. In my honest opinion, he has the professional wherewithal to fit into any newspaper set up across the country.

The one reason which editors and newspaper managements in Goa give him for rejecting his job application, is his ‘voluble’ support and perceived involvement in an anonymous media critiquing blog I ran by the name of Penpricks. And he wasn’t even part of it.

Directorate of Official language organized a book release function on 31st May 2010 at Maquinize Palace, Panaji at the hands of Shri Digambar Kamat, Hon’ble C. M./Minister of Official Language in the distinguished presence of renowned music director Shri Ashok Patki, following three books were released in the function, one of which was “Vikas Khara Khota” written by Goa’s most prominent, resourceful, respectful and seniormost journalist, editor Shri Raju Nayak (extreme right) in Marathi
(note: This picture is not suggestive of any imaginative character in the article. It is only published here to show how Goa governments has been encouraging prominent literary personalities from all walks of life to promote art & culture.

Now, Pats has also been around a bit. He’s on the vernacular end of things. His honest cherry popped early and was perhaps replaced by a big red plum. He was caught using a ruling Congress politician’s credit card for wardrobe shopping. Took paid-news suparis regularly. Bought a few mining trucks. Started real estate projects. Until one fine day he was asked to leave by his newspaper management, when they discovered that he hadn’t withdrawn from his salary account for several years. Within a month he was snapped up by another vernacular newspaper and his cycle of corruption renewed once again.

The second story has no central characters. There were just too many of them during the run-up to the assembly elections in March this year, for any one in particular to take centre stage. Early during the campaign, both the Congress and the BJP came in with war chests to cultivate the media. Well, there’s still no confirmation of the exact monies doled out to the media here. But then there’re things you see for yourself. While one political party offered journalists covering the polls tablet phones along with money, another party simply offered cash on the barrel. So if you see media folk in Goa who suddenly flaunt a tablet phone and tell-tale signs of a sudden flush of cash, chances are you may have just spotted a bad egg.

The deal struck between journalists and newspaper managements and poll contestants these last elections was relatively uncomplicated, but also had a sheen of innovation.

Conventionally, the concept of paid news involves payment of money for publishing of favourable content. During the March elections however, the paid-news deals involved not just writing favourably about one candidate, but also blanking out news involving his opponents. Paid-news emerged as an evolved and a matured entity this time round.

Those interested in looking up lop-sided reportage, could scan the poll coverage in the Herald for a comparative analysis of assembly constituencies like Fatorda, Curchorem, Quepem, etc, where the coverage has been extremely ‘unusual’ to say the least. There were other newspapers who did it too, but none with the élan of the above-mentioned newspaper.

And then there’s this little story about me.

I’ve been a working journalist since 1997. I have worked for The Asian Age in Mumbai, Herald in Goa, Tehelka in New Delhi and have also been part of a band of journalists who produced investigative news software for television channels. And then I’ve done some writing on and critiquing of the media in Goa over the years. There’s the story about editorials for sale. Then there was the fake story about a holocaust varmint Nazi being arrested by a fictitious secret German police unit floated by me which was published in several newspapers across India and the globe. Then there was another story about newspapers publishing sex advertisements promoting prostitution, where instead of listing the pimp’s number, I inserted phone numbers of the same editors whose newspapers published these lewd and solicitous adverts. There was also the story of how the Goa Editor’s Guild (GEG) set out to gag the media critique blog, by listing the item on the agenda of an official Guild meeting. And then another one establishing paid news in these assembly elections in Goa.

Result: I’ve had to do my bit of scrounging. I have been at the bottom of the barrel for a spell. In the course of exposing the above-mentioned stories, I’ve been out of a job for a long while. There was no money coming in so I resorted to all sorts of odd writing jobs, since writing is the only paying skill I possess. I did some cheap sweatshop commercial-writing by pitching to postings on craigslist. I’ve written and rewritten about yoga mats. About turd-cleaning devices, which help you clear dog poo off the floor, without leaving stains. I’ve even written tasty little descriptors for websites hosting porn films and sleazeclips, sometimes making $2 for 500 words.

All this, until a friend and fellow journalist Fredrick Noronha voluntarily and graciously gave up his job writing for a news agency from Goa, so that I could pitch for it.

So now every story told through the ages has had its morals. And I am still looking for the morals in mine.

But like I said earlier. The story is the same everywhere. Journalistic corruption is not special to Goa. Dammit, it’s not even as big as the big metros. So why did I do the things I did and say the things I have over here?

Things come across a lot clearer in smaller places. There’re fewer people. Fewer buffers. Fewer layers of camouflage. There’s lesser intrigue. The smaller journalistic microcosm of Goa is representative of the profession’s ills and helps one understand the depravity of the broader journalistic setup in India in an easy way.

A shot of Goan feni in a Goan tavern works as well as the finest scotch in Delhi’s tony, well-heeled clubs. But what would cost you ten bucks here could cost you a few hundred quid in Delhi, with perhaps a Bangkok junket thrown in for good measure.