TRR, the founder editor of Makkal Kural and News Today, was a firebrand journalist well known and much respected in his time.
Now nearly thirty years have gone by since his demise. Also technology has changed the flavor and texture of journalism so drastically that it is well nigh impossible to understand or appreciate what made TRR stand out.
I have had the good fortune to learn journalism under him when I joined News Today at the time of its launch. Those days, computers in news rooms was just making its entry. There was no google, no Wikipedia or no 24/7 news channels. Knowledge was what one had learned and assimilated over the years.
To me, TRR seemed a walking encyclopedia. He would hear of some news development in the 2′ O’clock news bulletin. Just a one liner story. That would become our lead story with TRR tracing the background with his exceptional recall abilities and analyzing its impact with his razor sharp intellect. All these in a matter of 15 minutes.
The story will be ready for the operator to key in, well within the day’s deadline of 2.30 p.m. The ticker one liner will not even be out by then. Such was the speed of his functioning.
And his headlines were simply arresting. One word or two . No more. Amma vs Kamma: the headline encapsulated the Andhra Pradesh electoral battle. All pages, the top story will be in 60 points and there will be straplines highlighting the core of the story. He had an uncanny ability to spot the right short word.
His language, racy, may not be Queen’s English. But it had vigor, sarcasm and delightful turn of phrase with punches hitting where they were meant to.
He used to say he breathed news. He was a journalist to the core. The excitement he would bring to the news desk was infectious. It was motivating too. Those days, corporate stay cubicles just did not exist. The newsroom would be a large hall with a table capable of seating 10 persons at least all reporters and subeditors.
Every morning he would be at the head of the table before we arrived by 8.30 a.m. We have to walk past him to go to our hall that was adjacent to his. We would be looking sheepishly at the floor, not daring to look up if we came rather late.
His penchant for perfection, eye for news and disciplined hard work done with passion would have been an object lesson for the many who trained under him and I am sure they would have benefitted a lot in their career as well as in life from the rich experience.
Every morning would start with news discussion with the team. Mostly I would be the person interacting with him. Every day was like taking an exam. I would have listened to all the news bulletins in English and Tamil between 6 and 8 a.m. and glanced through the newspaper headlines in the morning.
Still there were days when I fumbled for answers for his questions . He would tell what developments to look for during the day. That was his way of alerting us to keep a watch over the ticker which was in our hall.
If the mornings were like facing an exam, the afternoons would be like awaiting the result. The edition had gone to bed, we would have our lunch with some lively gossip with the reporters, while waiting to see the printed newspaper. TRR would be resting in an adjacent room. Suddenly the door will open and that is it for all of us.
TRR could not stand errors typographical, or otherwise. Even a wrongly placed comma or semi colon would send him into a rage. The sub editor who revised the copy will have to face the music and the rest of the team will be mute spectators, not daring to look beyond the day’s newspaper they had in their hands. But the anger was always transient.
He would cool off as quickly as he flared up. When in a jolly mood, he would order snacks and tea for the entire desk in the afternoon.
TRR enjoyed good equations with politicians across parties and stalwarts across industry even as he stayed tuned to the ground realities through his team of reporters and the contacts he had built over decades as a working journalist. When he is not at his desk any day, we can be sure he is having an important breakfast meeting with someone VIP.
He was often invited for breakfast by the then Chief Minister MGR and many, including the present day politicians or educationists of repute, would be walking into his office for consultation and advice. A person of empathy, TRR would use his network of friends to help anybody who approached him for help.
There were many who were skeptical whether his son T.R. Jawahar would be able to keep the paper running after TRR’s demise. Even as TRR was diagnosed with cancer, Jawahar used to come to the office and learnt the ropes.
After TRR’ s demise, Jawahar still in his twenties silenced the doubters with the way he steered the paper in the hurly-burly of national and Tamilnadu politics. He showed his business acumen by starting a neighbourhood community broadsheet and also a Tamil eveninger.
It is a reflection of his leadership and pragmatic approach that the evening daily, started by TRR, is going strong and steady into its 37th year.
(The writer, V Premavathy, is a former News Editor of News Today)