7.2.12

Laundering News

Sab ki dhulai” is becoming such a drag when it is by a sponsored website, which will most certainly have its own agenda. “You watch! We’re Watching!” is the purpose of Newslaundry. The name itself suggests that the people involved are looking for dirty linen.

This is a wonderful marketing opportunity at a time when news is not too different from reality shows and newsmakers are feted by the ‘objective’ media. It might, in fact, push people into keeping a keen eye on various channels and papers, increasing TRPs and circulation, which will result in more ad revenue that will in turn percolate to the launderers as the searches will all be tagged to ‘expose’ the makers of such news.

Now, it is great to keep tabs on the news – whether in print, television or the internet. Some of us have been doing it quite consistently. So, what is new about this? Can a media group sit in judgment over others of its ilk? Isn’t there a huge outcry when there is talk about any sort of censorship? Will it try to suppress a story with consistent onslaught or will there be a tacit understanding between the ‘exposers’ and the exposed that controversial stories could gain more notoriety and, therefore, more popularity? It might end up further encouraging a personality cult.

Besides, there have been earlier attempts at introducing the ombudsman, but we know that such impartiality is limited to merely listening to complaints. What happens to instances of front page stories committing huge errors? You see an ‘errata’ or a short apology in a corner of the inside pages. It often goes unnoticed. With newspapers having web editions, there is already some smart shuffling of sentences, so a story can not only get updated but altered.

One should wait and see how things unfold. But, I see it as another channel that wants to act as gatekeeper. Not much different from other sources of news that do so already.

After the 2G scam verdict, Times Now’s Arnab Goswami kept repeating how they had first broken the story, how they first got there, all the while showing the main characters getting in and out of cars. It was amusing that there were several microphones of other channels in full view. In fact, the reporter at the site spoke about how the corridor was packed with media persons. Just how did Times Now get the story first, then?

And, how important is it when all that happens is heroes change within a day? That’s the lifespan.

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Brand battles are quite well-known, but to see two newspapers slug it out is quite disgusting. I am particularly disappointed with the manner in which The Hindu conducted itself. In one TV campaign young people are asked general knowledge questions and they don’t have the answers; they are then asked about Bollywood stars and they respond immediately.

This is a dig at The Times of India’s Page 3 culture. I find it quite insulting to the youth, the same segment that The Hindu would also want to cater to and probably does. The TOI’s problems are not with its Page 3, but how it deals with news. If we talk about the glossy and gossipy stuff, then it really does not matter whether one is discussing Bollywood stars and their trivia or of literary greats, which The Hindu is probably more comfortable doing.

The ad campaign itself shows that it is playing the game the TOI way instead of treating it with disdain that it purportedly feels. If you think something is way below your level, then you don’t have to crawl to watch it.

The Times has reached ten cities in Kerala and it put up an ad about how people were wondering why they had not reached the most literate state. Sure. It isn’t that it has discovered its literacy now; it has seen a market. This market is not about merely making money – although the tourism industry there is huge – but extending its reach.

It’s really like seeing the paper in every household, at kiosks, at traffic signals. This is brand visibility. The paper is the sideshow. Times of India will soon be sponsoring kathakali shows; perhaps it will start an initiative to involve children in some education programme; there is Malayalam cinema, literature and food.

And with so much happening, there is bound to be noise and stains. Here, Newslaundry will step in with a detergent that will wash nothing but create little bubbles in which you can watch the dirty linen grow before your eyes.

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