TRR – a leader among journalists

T R Ramaswami or TRR, as he was called by his friends, was truly inspirational, not just as a journalist but as a trendsetting entrepreneur who set high standards as a media house. TRR proved that the pen was mightier than the sword, willing to take on the establishment through his columns, or challenging the status quo as a thinker. He not only wielded a powerful pen, he made sure his voice was heard all over India. Governments would listen to him — his words of wisdom guided them though he was not an adviser or an astrologer!

He made his mark as a writer of impeccable pedigree during his stints with the Link and Patriot, before founding the News Today and Makkal Kural, English and Tamil eveningers, in Tamil Nadu. At the same time, he also spearheaded the journalists’ movement across the country, taking up issues of concern on behalf of the media, or rights of the media to continue its operations without fear or favour. A prominent leader of the Indian Federation of Working Journalists at all-India level, he also led the Madras Union of Journalists, besides guiding the Southern India Journalists Federation (SIJF).

When TRR founded News Today in Chennai , he had embarked on a risky mission as eveningers had not succeeded after the collapse of The Mail. Even Tamil eveningers had only a fraction of the sale of morningers. Yet, News Today was a trailblazer, its news and analyses from TRR, being widely read and respected.

TRR came to be known all over India for his sharp and incisive analyses, guiding the readers to the realm of knowledge and discovery.

Makkal Kural came as a breath of fresh air providing information and analyses which were new to Tamil readers in the 1970s.

He rubbed shoulders with the greats of India, right from Nehru to Mohan Kumaramangalam, M G Ramachandran and CPI leader M Kalyanasundaram. In fact, MGR looked upon TRR as his mentor and guide during the formative years of the AIADMK. During J Jayalalithaa’s early days in politics, she would like to know his assessment of the political situation in the country. His experience in dealing with people who were active in politics gave him an insight into the political arena. Various leaders were keen on getting to know his understanding of the situation in the country.

The founding of the News Today came as a crowning glory to the doyen among journalists. The most difficult thing in the country is to run a newspaper or a magazine, given the prohibitively high cost of newsprint, printing, delivery and distribution network. Yet, day after day, for over two decades, TRR delivered high-quality products to its readers.

TRR was also known in the journalistic fraternity for his contribution to the welfare of journalists and their families, through the IFWJ in the country, and its State body, the Madras Union of Journalists, in Tamil Nadu. In his last days, he asked me and a couple of journalists to meet him and Mr Shanmughavel to revive the Southern India Journalists Federation, which has an impressive building (constructed with the help of a benefit programme by M S Subbulakshmi which raised Rs 1 lakh — a big sum in those days) in Chintadripet in Chennai, and use its funds to help needy journalists. This was achieved and it gave him great happiness.

After TRR, his son Thiru T R Jawahar took over the mantle, though as a chartered accountant and cost accountant, he had other goals. Mr Jawahar, through his analytical articles, clever articulation of views, in his column Point Blank and modernization projects, raised the bar and set new goals and challenges for News Today and Maalai Sudar, which he launched after his father’s passing. Having his ear close to the ground, and feeling the pulse of the people, Thiru Jawahar launched the Talk Media to focus on neighbourhood news and events, backed by smart marketing strategies to tap the micro, retail market.

Talk Media proved to be a big success both in terms of news coverage and marketing yields, with 18 editions and a combined reach of 8 lakh. Families look forward every weekend to the Talk editions of their areas, to get the latest on local news and sale offers in their neighbourhood.

Talk Media established a close rapport with readers at the grassroots-level. Markets, too, responded positively to Talk Media.

The group has efficient teams of journalists including the experienced M Subramaniam, Editor of Maalai Sudar, and Bhaskar Sai, Bharat Kumar and R Chitra, among others.

News Today, Maalai Sudar and Talk Media continue to provide vital information, analyses and creative inputs to its readers, guided by the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of Thiru TRR and Thiru Jawahar.

I join the lakhs of readers in wishing the group yet another happy anniversary.

(Writer R Rangaraj is a veteran journalist.)

NT Bureau