India’s Hindi Newspapers: ‘NaiDunia’ vs ‘Dainik Jagran’

Tears are being shed for NaiDunia and its exasperated new owner is wondering why

Talking Media | Sevanti Ninan

Two newspapers were started back in 1947, in towns of the Hindi belt not that far from each other—Jabalpur and Jhansi. Last week, one acquired the other. In their 65-year trajectory, one produced some of the most venerable Hindi language journalists the country has known, the other achieved growth which has made it the most read and highest circulated paper in the country. No prizes for guessing who acquired whom.

Dainik Jagran, the country’s leading newspaper, acquired NaiDunia, now headquartered in Indore, in a cash deal. NaiDunia, which has been much romanticized for producing Rajendra Mathur and Prabhash Joshi, towering figures in Hindi journalism, and for nurturing a culture that set the journalistic benchmark for the Hindi press, finally succumbed to market realities. It suffered huge losses in the last few years. But it began to lose the battle a long time ago.

n early 2005, Ajay Chhajlani, son of one of the three founders and the man who had presided overNaiDunia’s heyday, explained to me how the paper came to lose out. In 1967, it was the first paper in the country to make the technological shift to offset printing. From the early 1980s to the mid-1990s it was in technological transition, even as its three original owners died one by one. Meanwhile, newspapers across northern india were becoming multi-edition. “By the time we thought of multiplying, newspapers had become capital-intensive.”

There was another factor not mentioned then. Whereas the third generation of other leading newspaper families in the Hindi belt entered the media business, Ajay’s son Vinay went into software. When things became critical in the family newspaper after an expansion to Gwalior, he came in, got an infusion of finances from a leading industrialist, and led a short-lived revival and expansion which included an edition in Delhi. But the losses only mounted till the backing for Vinay Chhajlani dried up.

Dainik Jagran, meanwhile, was less about scaling the heights of journalism than about expanding from early on, and getting masses of readers.

The editor of Prabhat Khabar, Harivansh, a noted figure in contemporary Hindi journalism, recently published a long piece over three days extolling the high-minded, spartan living tradition of NaiDunia’s early editors. One took no raise for eight years on a salary of Rs150 a month. The other asked for a salary of Rs75 a month. He wrote about NaiDunia’s glorious contribution to the intellectual life of the period.

But that was in the past. Is small and high minded now unviable?

Harivansh’s essay invoked Marx, Engels and Darwin, among others, to warn that it was inevitable in a market economy that the big fish would gobble up the little fish. And, it diagnosed the changes in the newspaper industry that are making it near impossible for the small, family-owned newspapers of yore to survive. Rising costs of raw material, including newsprint, the fact that advertisers favour big publications, and the advent of papers like Sakshi andDNA in a crowded market where it needs an investment of upwards of Rs1,000 crore to launch a newspaper.

Tears are being shed for NaiDunia and its exasperated new owner is wondering why. The way Sanjay Gupta, India’s leading media baron, sees it, he is not gobbling up NaiDunia, as is being made out. He is giving it a capital infusion that will put it back in the race for readership in Madhya Pradesh.

“I am not gobbling them, I am making them grow strong. I am giving them their right place to survive in the market. If (Dainik) Bhaskar buys them, they will close it down. I am buying and mentoring an old brand which would have withered away. Today a Mid-Day is standing up to a DNA and HT (Hindustan Times) onslaught and even a Mumbai Mirror because I have given them an infusion of capital.” (His company acquired Mid-Day a couple of years ago.) He adds: “If a newspaper is about an idea of journalism and not able to survive, it needs to go and sit in the lap of a media group. Whatever its tradition, it is going to be a stronger paper.”

Gupta says that today the debate is twofold. Should you earn out of journalism, and if so how much should you earn? “I don’t think we should start disowning capitalism and start moving towards socialism.” And he adds dryly, today nothing can be small or it will be gobbled up. “This logic was applied in our family 30 years back. Expand, or perish. We began in Jhansi and then in time we launched in Gorakhpur.” They were not an entrepreneurial family backed by large funds, but they were clear that it was a business. “Back in 1947, it was also to make money. We were not some kind of an NGO.”

And for one journalist involved, the wheel has come full circle. Shravan Garg, who is now NaiDunia’s chief editor, has to help the newspaper regain ground from Dainik Bhaskar. He was the man who in September 1993 took over running Bhaskar in Indore and oversaw its overtaking of NaiDunia in that market. The challenge is now reversed.

Sevanti Ninan is a media critic, author and editor of the media watch websitethehoot.org. She examines the larger issues related to the media in a fortnightly column.

Mediaah! Morparia moves from Mid-Day to Mirror, Weekend tweets, The Monday Psssst!

Pradyuman Maheshwari

Big Switch! Morparia takes his toon from Mid-Day to Mumbai Mirror

In Mumbai’s media circles, this is a piece of news that’s going to generate much sound and angst. Hemant Morparia, one of India’s foremost editorial cartoonists, has moved from Mid-Day to Mumbai Mirror. There was a time when he could have been called a part-time cartoonist, but since around a decade, he appears to be doing two full-time jobs. The first as a radiologist and sonologist at the Breach Candy Hospital and the second as an editorial cartoonist. Now with Mumbai Mirror, Time Out and a few other publications.

Sound and angst because Mumbai Mirror isn’t an afternoon paper like Mid-Day, but they are kind-of in the same space. So the switch will hurt Mid-Day much. And angst, because it’s sad to see Mid-Day lose Morparia just around the time when it was getting its act together.

In a sense, the Mirror switch is a kind-of homecoming. He started out in the Times building in the late 1980s with The Evening News of India and then the Illustrated Weekly before doing daily toons for Bombay Times for nine years. And then in 2003, he shifted to Mid-Day. Another nine years later, he’s moved to Mumbai Mirror.

I posed a few questions to Morparia on the move.

1. So, why the switch from Mid-Day to Mumbai Mirror?

> Some change of scene is always good, specially after nine years. It gives you a new audience and new space and new feedback. It helps to re-evaulate your own style and content. I was perfectly happy with Mid-Day, very pleasant people to work with and no problems with them at all. Happy memories with them. Sachin Kalbag is a friend and am saddened to leave.

2. One of my peeves with Mid-Day was that your toon was all over the paper. How much is a fixed slot necessary for a pocket cartoon? Like Laxman had in ToI for years?

> Ya, a fixed slot is a great attraction for a daily cartoonist, I would say a must. See, a daily cartoon is, or could become, a habit. If all over the place, it does not easily do so.

3. Will we continue to see your toons in Time-Out and elsewhere?

> Yes, I have only given the daily cartoon slot to the Mirror.

4. So what’s more fun at this stage of your career: doing sonos and xrays, or tooning?

> Well as I respond to you, I’m at the hospital, having just made a rare diagnosis on an emergency basis at 9pm on a Sunday. I did a sonography on a lady in pain, who just lost her father, two days ago. The diagnosis will be the key to whether she needs surgery or not. With this diagnosis, a surgery has been averted. That does give one satisfaction, undoubtedly. But it’s of a different type from the creative satisfaction that a making a cartoon gives. Creative satisfaction satisfies me first. And that is fun. Medicine and radiology are not fun, but are skills that can be learnt and honed. Being in two professions as different as these give one a sense of balance, proportion and some real-life perspective.

5. Do you find the role of the cartoonist diminishing in the newspaper? There are more illustrations than cartoons offering commentary?

> I think the reverse is true. Since we famously have a young population and young people enjoy humour, laughs, irreverence, visual stimulation and rebellion, then how can cartoons have a poor future? See how standup comedy has taken off in the country.

6. How would you see cartooning shaping itself in the time of tablets and smartphones?

> I don’t know. Probably an avenue for many cartoonists who don’t have the space provided by big publishers to access audiences directly and worldwide.

Hmmm. Good to see Morparia welcoming newbies (and possible competition) to the business. Given the nine-year itch, guess the next change will be in 2021. :-)

Tweets of the weekend

Until we find a permanent home for this and given that tweets from people across our business are perhaps the best way to keep tabs on what’s happening, here’s a sample of some gems that I picked over the weekend:

Mahesh Murthy (@maheshmurthy): The most amazing discovery at @TimesNow #Foodie Awards? Arnab standing silently on the sidelines :)

Satbir Singh (@thesatbir): In Goa, time passes so slowly you can almost hear it go hic hoc, hic hoc.

Shishir Joshi (@joshishishir): What do you do whn a boss asks young reporter to pose as visiting actors fan since the office is falling short of crazy lovers of the star?

Prabhu Chawla (@PrabhuChawla): Norway, gujrat porn gate, Coalgate makes it clear: Media just hypes a story and forgets a story behind such stories?

Lynn de Souza (@lynndesouza): If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman. From Lokmat Women Summit at Pune this morning.

Anant Rangaswami (@AnantRangaswami): Just to make you feel better on a Saturday morning. Petrol now costs 1.40 GB Pounds/litre in London….

The Monday Psssst!

Is there more freedom to journalists in newspapers or on news television? Well, the likelihood of stories getting killed before they are carried is huger in the papers given the lead time.

Recently, a commentator in a much-read daily found that his/her column was not carried because it was negative on a key political leader. It may have been for the first time in many years, but the fact that a column was dropped from the commentator who is a reasonably sound name in the media was shocking. And by a newspaper which prides on its ethical way of doing things.

So why am I not taking names? Well, I’m sworn to secrecy. The column in question has appeared elsewhere, and all will soon be forgotten.

 

(courtesy: Pradyuman Maheshwari & MXM)