Back to the beginning

Pride, sometimes, is a legitimate indulgence. For News Today and me personally, small fishes that we are in a turbulent ocean infested by sharks, pride is the only source of sustenance.

Pride for survival, therefore, is our reality and every year, in the last thirty six years, the dawn of this day is a real relief to us, first, and a matter for celebration, very juvenile though it may seem. So, every year, we promptly reach for the trumpet, which is blown by us and for us, to keep us dancing through what is often a futile and fanciful pursuit. In this, the future is the last on our mind. We are aware, in human life and all its laboured endeavours ‘forever’ is still finite.

In running News Today, I feel like walking on a treadmill, covering distances in a frenetic pace and burning mental calories just to stay in the same place. Growth and progress are to be measured by the seemingly laughable logic of perennial status quo. Just Chennai and a few KMs around and 8 pages, and yet we have innovated a lot within these constraints, in three dozen years.

While existential issues stare at all forms of media all over the world of late, for us our very existence has been a challenge from Day 1. So, at last small fishes are in the same league as the sharks who thought themselves unshakable. But we will still blow the trumpet and say our extinction, if it befalls us or the industry itself, was with distinction – the distinct factor being we were not supposed to last this long – something that our founder-editor TRR was always aware of and drilled into us.

But let us set aside such morbid tidings. To me, personally, ever since I unsuspectingly grasped this live wire called News Today, it brought me laurels but also cusses and curses. It was a roller-coaster ride, enjoyable, entertaining, engrossing and enlightening, but with troughs outnumbering the crests. For News Today, there was never any carryover bread in the oven and we have to earn it every day in less than four hours flat. A typical morning starts with my fingers toying over the phone keys for ensuring the daily dough before moving on to the laptop keys for pouring out the daily dose. Here it is numeric-alpha, if you see what I mean. But the birth pangs ease and cease once the newspaper is ‘delivered’ from the machine.

I was able to rub shoulders with the high and mighty but the frictions dwarfed the fun. Of course, it goes with the profession. But, being a small paper, we were like children of a lesser God. So, if the barons bent before the powers that be, we were supposed to break. But I assure, never once did I feel inferior or intimidated and instead was happy to wear my ‘smallness’ as a badge of honour. The heady cocktail of passion & profession made me immune.

Trying to run an independent newspaper in TN (wherein pompous politicos ruled the roost), we should actually qualify under IPC Section 309, for attempted suicide. But we braved both this ‘law’ and lawless lawmakers who presided over our fate, by needling them no end. We have attempted nuttier things: Like for instance, with no access to money power, muscle power or man power, I embarked on ventures — adventures really — in the ‘fond’ belief that NT would one day pip the rest of the print world, including Washington Post, to the post.

There was pain and gain, too, though grossly disproportionate. There was fame and lots and lots of shame. We have to beg, we have to borrow, but stole only hearts — very few as they may be. I can go on, what with memories overlapping and the decades of the daily drill fusing into an amorphous jelly of thoughts, faces, events, information and all other phases a newspaper goes through.

So, how did I survive with this addicting albatross around my neck? For one, my father’s dictum, ‘Target is trouble, so speak your mind’, which I have been doing, kept me going. His carefree, bordering on the cavalier, taglines, ‘Easy, Racy, Full of Life’ and ‘As long as it goes’, kept me constant company in what was essentially a solitary mental sojourn. So, when problems overwhelmed, I stopped taking myself seriously; keeping the paper young despite me greying in the fringes; and, above all, showing up every day, come what may, as if today is the first day. But the biggest motivation is my staff, most of whom have stayed put through the rare thicks and the frequent thins.

In the first issue of the newspaper 7 December, 1982, TRR opened his editorial with the words, ‘We are here’.

Thirty six years later, and twenty eight years after his passing, I am proud to say: ‘We are still here’.
And ready to start afresh.

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Jawahar T R