November 14, 2015

Recreating Moments at the Times of India- Functioning of a Newspaper

Recently I was privileged to be a part of the junior editorial board of the Times of India for the Children's Day edition. This post is about my experience at the Indore bureau of the Times of India and all that I learned. In this post, I will answer questions like how a newspaper actually functions, how an actual editorial board meeting happens, how is it like to be in the editorial board meeting room.

How does a newspaper function?

The place which I visited was the Indore bureau of the Times of India. This bureau consists of reporters, a head of bureau and a desk other than the response team and advertising team which I will later in this post come upon. During my introduction to the reporters at Times of India, I got to know that the purview of each reporter was intricately decided. For example, there was a crime reporter, a transport and traffic reporter, a Municipal Corporation reporter among others who make up reports and give it to the bureau. These reporters who work under the Head of Bureau in Indore get the news that the City page consists of. These reports are finally forwarded to the desk which rectifies grammatical mistakes, works on spelling mistakes and actually puts it into the newspaper. The desk is not only a part of each of the 52 city bureaus that Times of India operates in, but there is also a state desk and a national desk (in Delhi) which work in respect to each other. As one of the Times of India reporters told me on my visit to the Indore bureau, “It is like a bucket of information. From all 52 city bureaus, we throw information into that bucket (a metaphor for their software) and then the reports are picked up from the bucket by the desk to make up a newspaper.” Over this whole hierarchy lies the editorial board! Now editorial board doesn’t actually write for a newspaper but instead decides what all reports the newspaper which reaches you every morning must have. The editorial board has a regular meeting where they accept ideas from anyone and everyone, make up stories out  of them and commission them(or sometime don’t). This whole hierarchy makes up your everyday newspaper but the responsibility to get that newspaper at your doorsteps mounts upon a completely different team of individuals with odd working hours.

The Head of Bureau, Mr. Salil told me that the processing and the printing cost of one single newspaper (when produced in thousands) is approximately 12.5 INR, however, you get it at approximately 2.5 rupees. This cost is brought down by the advertising team, which decides the size of ads, where they have to be placed and as a result of the advertisements that appear in your daily newspaper, the cost of your morning daily drops down to 2.5 rupees.
   
Some of my friends complain that the there are just too many advertisements in the times of India which, I now realize, is very imperative. To no one’s wonder the Hindu which cost approximately 8 rupees per copy isn’t as widely accepted and read as the Times of India. Therefore the reason why the Times of India comes to your home is because of its ads.

The newspaper with advertisements has been made and printed but how does it come to your doorstep? The responsibility of bringing it to your doorsteps lies on the Response team which gets to work at 4:00 a.m., passes the newspaper to the vendors by 5:00 a.m. and the vendor passes it on to sub vendors to reach your doorstep at 6:00 a.m.

“Now just think about it,” said the head of bureau, “If the response team gets the newspapers at 4:00 a.m., it has to start printing by 1:00 a.m. and hence, the newspaper has to be ready by 12:00 midnight.” I thought if the content team worked till midnight and then the Response team worked in the first 6 hours of a day, it seemed that the Times of India was working almost 24 hours a day (different people at different times). This kind of work culture and lifestyle seemed very interesting and fascinative to me. It was all news to me!

How is it like to be in the editorial board meeting of a newspaper?

Our junior editorial board consisting of 5 students was headed by Dr. Sumer Singh, principal of Daly College. Bringing a smile to everyone’s face, he asked the Head of Bureau (HOB) a question that supplements the whole debate about unbiased journalism. He asked, “What influence do the owners of the newspaper have on the Editorial board of a newspaper?” The HOB answered, “The owner of Times of India have given clear guidelines to the editorial board but when it comes to regular functioning of the editorial board, they don’t intervene.”

The editorial board meetings seemed very interesting to me. We sat in a meeting room with a round table where all the reporters of the Indore bureau and the editorial board sat along with the Head of bureau and our mentor and guide, Dr. Sumer Singh.
The editorial board consisted of 5 students including me. Each of us put forward one topic which we though should make up a story on the Children’s Day feature of the Times of India but we put forward topics and not stories and the whole objective of the two hour long discussion that took place was to obtain stories out of these topics. To me the topic seemed self explanatory but I realized that the HOB was reluctant to get a story out of it. As we discussed each topic in depth exploring all the different aspects and subtopics lying within the topic, I observed that he was noting down 3 points below each topic. This was how a story was evolved out of a topic. The story was more specific and focused than the otherwise broad topic. The three points provided a direction to the report and somewhat defined what the report has to be. In addition to the three points, he also noted recommendations about who has to be interviewed and from places where the reporter can get an insight into the topic.

For example, one of the topics that the editorial board members put forward was solar energy. The story that came out of this topic was altogether different from what I had primarily thought of. From the topic solar panels, a person might logically think of meeting energy needs, renewable energy and sustainable energy sources and their importance. But the story that was commissioned by the Editorial Board was about wiping off a major misconception that solar panels are expensive. The story was about making people aware of the subsidies that the government gives on solar panel installation cost, emphasizing on the fact that the installation cost could be overcome within five years and getting something out from an interview of the people who supply and install solar panels. The reluctance of the Head of Bureau to get out a narrower and a focused story was justified.

This discussion about our ideas was followed by a discussion on the TOI reporters’ ideas. They had some ideas which were discussed. One of them was refused to be admitted by the Editorial Board, one of them was merged with a report which was warranted before and the one of them brought out a story. Therefore as a part of this meeting, we discussed about solar energy, public transit system, garbage, playgrounds, poverty, crimes by children, education for poor, addiction of children to social networking sites, cyber crimes, cleanliness in the city, waste management, waste collection and segregation and brought out about 7-8 stories for the children’s day edition.

As I receive a lot of regards and congratulations today on Children’s Day, it’s time to introspect this experience. As the Times of India edition was released today, I was bombarded by calls and messages from my friends and relatives. I was flattered and wanted to recreate those priceless moments at the Times of India office. It has not only been a great learning but has also arisen my interest in journalism. I heartily thank the Times of India, the Head of bureau Mr. Salil, the reporters at the TOI and Dr. Sumer Singh for giving me such an insight into a newspaper’s functioning.    

All comments, feedback and opinions are welcomed at abhimanyusethia12@gmail.com ! 

November 6, 2015

The Backward Way Forward- Reservation System in India

In the constituency where I live in, the previous MLA worked hard to build up parks, improve water and gas supply and facilitated local get-togethers and social living. Everyone was content and evidently he had to win the next elections too! And oops! It became a SC/ST constituency this election. Pity, he was not from the backward castes. The story pertains. A 90 percentile scorer didn’t get a seat at the top institute and the person with a 80 percentile got it, just because he was from the backward caste. The reservation system has been a widely debated topic and it just got heated up due to an agitation by one of the most prosperous communities- the Patels. Sure, the reservation system was very important when we attained freedom, as India seemingly was a country drained with social evils and caste based discrimination. But is it even relevant now? Has the Indian government failed to observe the unscheduled changes in the scheduled castes? 
But before I start raving about reservation system in India, let me make this clear that the goal of reserving jobs in offices and seats in Parliament is to bring forward the discriminated backward caste groups. The reservation system is just a way in which the government helps to reduce the discrimination against them by making them a part of our offices, of our colleges. The reservation system does not impose on the minorities but on the backward castes. If the backward castes are the minorities, it is merely coincidental. Thus, demanding for reservations just because if some sect of the society is a minority, is not in the keeping with the reason why the reservations were introduced.
Everyone today wants to be a “backward.” People deliberately tend to be a Scheduled Caste to get privileges in colleges. Parents have intentionally displayed their illegitimate grotesque incomes to get some economic privileges for their children. It seems as if everyone wants to be poor. Everyone wants to be of the backward castes or as Shashi Tharoor puts it, “It seems as if one can’t move forward until he is backward!” 
Now while this kind of a system has made the competition for colleges unfair and the elections to the Lok Sabha undemocratic, it is agreeable that it has forwarded the backwards. So should this kind of a system be removed? 
One school of thought says that now is the time when the reservation system has to be made dysfunctional. According this school of thought, the reservation system has accomplished what it was supposed to but now if these caste-based privileges aren’t pulled out of their constitutional mandate, they will make us even more caste conscious than we have ever been, they’ll take our progress with the backwardness in reverse gear! 
Another school of thought is definitely less critical about the reservation system. They reason out that a government can be effective and a democracy can stay alive only when the interests of every sect of the society are entertained. Discontinuing the reservation system would definitely lead to an underrepresentation of the backward castes 
While the debate goes on, the school of thought that I have adopted is a third one and perhaps, a more practical one. I believe that the reservation for Parliament is one thing and the reservation for research institutes and offices is another thing. I believe that in the parliament, efficiency can be compromised upon if that makes the Parliament more representative and therefore, a Parliament definitely has to be representative over efficient. Yet, I think it is alright if a college or an office is not representative. In fact, I don’t see a point in compromising on the efficiency and quality of a hospital or a research lab just to make it more representative. Thus, reservation in colleges, research labs, offices, public sector hospitals seems to be a little pointless though reservation in Parliament seems to be highly justifiable. 
But it isn’t as simple as it seems. The expansion of the reservation system has a political incentive and political parties appeal to communities basing up their propaganda on the reservation system. Therefore, considering the political interests of a political party, it might never want to discontinue the reservation system or even compromise on it. Hence, we still have a long way to go answering unanswered questions and entangling this debate about reservation system. To wrap it all up in a nitshell, once Narendra Modi told Obama that he was thinking of sending some Indians to the moon. Obama asked,"How many?" He replied,"100, 35 OBC, 25 SC, 20 ST, 10 minorities, 9 sport factions and 1 astronaut." :-) ;-)