A timeless timekeeper

K Balakumar

An evening newspaper is an anachronism. It doesn’t fit itself snugly into the folds of time of the rest of the world. In contrast, the morning newspaper, arriving at the crack of dawn and literally put to bed at midnight, is verily in sync with the temporal rhythms of the world.

The emergence of digital news outlets and the massive mushrooming of social media platforms — all driven by technology that is both a boon and bane — are forcefully further nudging newspapers, more so evening publications, into the abyss of another anachronism as these days, the time gap between news-break and news-delivery is more or less infinitesimal.

In the event, to run a news publication is a challenge that is more daunting than trying to tame the fuel prices in this country. But T R Jawahar, the man and the mind behind News Today for most of its 36 eventful years, loves challenges. At any rate, he has had to tackle them almost on a daily basis. This paper entering its 37th year today is a tribute to his survival spirit and buccaneering bravado. He has been tilting at the windmills of finance and fineprint with a defiant quixotic fervour.

This paper is equally a telling testimonial to its forever young news team and, of course, to its industrious marketing, circulation and printing departments. Having been part of this newsroom for several years till last April, I have personally experienced the exhilaration of its evolution from the days of its type metal printing to its now seamless digital operations.

News Today’s newsroom has always been a theatre. Of emotions. Of energy. Of enterprise. More importantly, of excellence. Peopled by fast-thinking, quick-reacting young minds, it was, (and I am sure it is, too) a crucible for honing professional skills. Almost all top journalists in Chennai today have had a stint in News Today. The team was often small, or what would you call compact, but it consistently punched above its collective weight. It had the never-say-die attitude that underdogs universally embrace. On days of sensational news developments, the newsroom sure knew how to kick journalistic ass, as it were, with smart-Alec headlines and crisp news reports that concisely captured pith and pulse of the moment.

Apart from its journalistic credentials, News Today’s newsroom has been a place of easy camaraderie and bonhomie with very little of stifling hierarchical boundaries that are known to suck the life out in other, bigger news organisations.

News Today can also take legitimate pride in offering a fair and transparent working environment for women journalists, something which needs to be underlined in this #metoo media era.

If News Today’s past was a brave and brilliant struggle, its future, too, calls for a similar stellar spirit. The media industry, which was never far from trouble, is now in the throes of a full-blown existential crisis. Newspaper bottomlines have been hit severely as the traditional print advertisement revenue stream is fast drying up. The online ad flow, on the other hand, is just in trickles. It is the same story of survival struggle across countries.

But forget the tired (and tiresome) cliche about the press being the fourth pillar in democracy. The fact is the world needs traditional mainstream publications more than ever now, as they remain the bulwark against the dangerous deluge of fake news. The immediacy of digital newsrooms and the innovation of amateur-spirited social media news are all fine. What is of vital importance in a crowded and confusing scenario is the clarity of news, cobbled up and curated through old-school journalistic rigour. And smaller publications like News Today have even more relevance because they are the ones that can be the voice of the marginalised. A kind of kindred kinsmanship, you can say.

These birthday philosophical musings, however, have very little quotidian bearing in a newspaper office. I am sure cake will be cut, handshakes exchanged, backs patted today. But I am equally sure that it will be quickly back to headlines and straplines. The clickety-clack of keyboards, the whir of cameras, newspersons talking on their phones, the studied silence of a sub-editor hunched over yet another news copy are the true sounds of partying in a newsroom.

In that sense, it is birthday every day in a newsroom. In that sense, it is timeless. In that sense, it will always be an anachronism.

(Writer K Balakumar is  former Editor of News Today.)

NT Bureau