When a News Publication Sells its Soul
The 22 May, 2011 edition of Bombay Times (a supplement of Times of India (TOI) ) has a front-page article about Brett Lee (the cricketer) endorsing the WhatsApp application on the Nokia Ovi store, explaining how it made it really easy to help him keep in touch with family and friends. It’s not Brett Lee actually appreciating the application, in which case he would’ve described his experiences with the application, but a blatant advertisement, since he explicitly mentions his Nokia cellphone, and the Nokia Ovi store.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize Nokia paid through their noses for this advertisement morphed into an article. Nokia is one of the major sponsors of the Kolkata Knight Riders IPL team, who employ Brett Lee. Obviously, this is just an allegation, and I have no sources; but as I said, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out this stuff. Also, this isn’t the first time Times of India has run such an ad-article.
This is a classic case of a newspaper selling it’s soul. As a content provider, when advertisements start infiltrating the content section, it means you have absolutely nothing left to sell. I’m no expert in journalism, but I do have a sense of the ethics involved. It’s as simple as this: No money should be involved when crafting the content of your article.
TOI’s quality of content has been declining for a long time now. When corporations start to prioritize money over ethics, we result with like something like TOI. If you notice their website, you would fail to find their logo on the front-page (or any page for that matter), but you wouldn’t fail to see a bunch of advertisements.
I fail to understand this obsession with increasing income. TOI is the largest selling English daily in India, and a part of The Times Group - it’s short of saying they are very, very rich. Surely they can do without ads on their website. For avid readers like me, TOI has become a useless piece of junk. After a week of TOI, when I pick up The Economist, I wonder if they are both reporting about the same planet, because I wouldn’t really have heard of anything that The Economist is reporting about.
This culture of increasing income at-all-costs is spread across Indian media. Sponsorships have become the de-facto standard of Indian media, and very few people seem to be concerned about the quality of the content they deliver. They focus mainly on “branding opportunities” and assign sponsorships to anything and everything - the Indian Premier League being one of the major culprits - but that deserves a piece of it’s own.
But that’s not all. There’s another way in which TOI sells it’s soul - By having a full-page advertisement as the first page. I firmly believe that the first page of a publication is it’s identity - there’s a history, a tradition and sentiment attached to the logo and the name. But when I pick up the Times of India on some days, all I see is a huge color advertisement, and I throw it back down.
TOI seems like an aggregation of news stories that some lazy reporters are handpicking from AP / Reuters, and rewriting/modifying, often with excessive grammatical mistakes and minimal coherence. There’s no real reporting. There are no ethics. There is nothing interesting to read. 90% of stories are mundane reports on Indian politics, crime and sex.
Journalism is one of those places in India where mediocrity pays off by virtue of the entity’s history. TOI is surviving just because it started many years ago. If TOI were to launch today, nobody would spare a second glance. Another example of mediocrity flourishing is the Bollywood “actors” of today. They are employed solely because their parents were actors. I am willing to wager on many of these “actors” failing a basic acting audition.
However, things are looking brighter with the emergence of publications like LiveMint. Their weekly Mint Lounge is a pleasure to read, and is somewhat comparable to superior publications like The Economist, New York Times, NY Times Magazine, Readers Digest, Vanity Fair, Slate, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Esquire et al. who employ real reporters who have a passion for journalism and writing. Granted many of the aforementioned publications are magazines, but TOI can learn a thing or two about journalism, English, and writing nevertheless.
Otherwise, I predict we’re going to have Nivea Editorials, DLF Sports News, Idea World News and Nokia Tech News in TOI very soon. And, the problem in India is, if one person does this, everyone will follow, blinded by the promise for greater profits. Someone really needs to teach TOI a lesson in journalism, and I hope that happens soon.