Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hindi readers are poor cousins

Even the largest-selling newspapers have failed to send their reporters to London to cover the Olympics. The budget-conscious Hindi press is thriving on agency reports, writes 'ANAND VARDHAN' source-thehoot.

It has been almost seven decades since George Orwell famously described modern sporting culture as “war minus shooting”. Generally speaking, modern journalism could be credited or blamed (depending on the sense of proportion shown in coverage) for giving accounts of the sporting battles that are fought within this perpetual but bloodless “war”. To state the obvious, in the mainstream press as well as in niche sports publications, such accounts are sometimes first-hand reports and sometimes copies from agencies. But when the event can’t get bigger and the stage can’t go more global than the Olympics, aren’t the readers of Hindi print space entitled to expect first-hand accounts in their newspapers from their reporters in London? Some of the highest-circulated dailies in the country don’t think so.
The readers of the Hindi press shouldn’t hope to look for something beyond news agency copies as none of the Hindi papers has cared to send a reporter to cover the greatest sporting carnival on earth. And to think that these papers include the ones with the highest-circulation figures in the country: Dainik Jagran, Dainik Bhaskar, and Hindustan.
Sometimes the turn of events can expose such glaring gaps. So when Vijay Kumar, the Hindi-speaking Army Subedar from Himachal Pradesh (very much a part of Hindi print space), won a silver medal in 25 m rapid fire pistol event, you didn’t have any correspondent from a Hindi daily interviewing him for your morning read. All the major English dailies carried his interview dispatched by their sports correspondents covering the Olympics. The ironical import of this is hard to miss: the Hindi newspapers had to depend on agencies to know about the game and the thoughts and feelings of the silver medallist who couldn’t speak anything but Hindi. English dailies had their presence there even if that meant translating into English every word uttered by Vijay.
But this irony of circumstances isn’t an isolated coincidence. The “outsourcing” of sports reporting is a subtext to the larger paradoxical narrative of small reporting budgets of financially healthy Hindi papers.
One is tempted to contrast this with two strands in the current sports reporting scene in the mainstream English press.
One, along with the presence of all major English dailies in the sporting kumbh in London, at least three English dailies (The Times Of India, The Hindu, and The Indian Express) have also not missed sending their correspondents to Sri Lanka to report on the India-Sri Lanka cricket one-day series. Though Olympics and the fatigue caused by overdose of cricket in recent times have combined to make the series a damp squib, the English press seems to be willing to invest in covering the country’s sporting obsession. Interestingly, the Hindi press is not keen on loosening its purse strings even for milking this cash cow of Indian sports. But its reluctance in investing in reporting is no indication of its “milking” intentions. Milk it does, and it’s no surprise that cricket is the staple diet of the sports pages in the Hindi newspapers (as it is in the English press), relying on agency reports and photographs, and subscriptions to syndicated opinion columns (mostly translated from English).
Two, it’s no revelation but a current reflection of how Hindi newspapers play poor cousins to the English dailies of the same media group. While the Hindustan Times has Saurabh Duggal and The Indian Express has Shivani Naik reporting on Olympics, their sister publications in Hindi, Hindustan and Jansatta respectively, have not sent their reporters to London. And there’s something more intriguing too. Both these Hindi dailies, for reasons best known to them, haven’t used the translated version of their English counterparts’ dispatches from London.
Apart from the Hindi-English divide, the fault lines are also not too blurred on a different divide: the Hindi press-Hindi electronic media divide. You can watch reporters on all major Hindi television news channels ( Aaj Tak, NDTV India, Zee News, IBN 7 and ABP News) chronicling the Olympics from London, while their cousins in the print are confined to their TV sets like you and me.
The economy of sports reporting is a bit different from other reporting beats. And when it comes to reporting from foreign soil, the reporting budget can be really demanding. One of the country’s leading sports journalists, Kunal Pradhan (currently sports editor, Mumbai Mirror and earlier holding the same position with The Indian Express) once observed that foreign assignments (except for foreign-based correspondents) for sports journalists are longer than such assignments for other beats. This is because the sports events to be covered or tracking your country’s touring team are spread over weeks and sometimes over months. That may partly explain why reporting budget-conscious Hindi newspapers develop cold feet when it comes to stepping out of the country to report on sports.
This is not restricted to the newspaper segment of the Hindi press. A case in point is a niche sports publication in the Hindi space, Cricket Samrat, which commands seventh position in the list of ten highest-circulated magazines in the country (according to the latest IRS 2012 Q1 statistics). Despite such strong indicators of its financial health, the magazine is yet to publish any report sent by any of its reporters abroad covering a cricket tournament or the touring Indian side. Try contrasting that with an example from English space. A sports magazine from The Hindu group, Sportstar, has some of its reporters covering events from abroad, although in limited (and mostly India-centric) disciplines.
Despite reaping the financial rewards of what in Robin Jeffrey’s famous phrase could be called “India’s Newspaper Revolution”, the Hindi print medium’s narrative on the sporting events of our times seems largely outsourced. It’s symptomatic of an overstretched cost-benefit model of operations in the Hindi press at the peril of first-hand reportage. This could be one of the disturbing signs of the abandoning of one of the core functions of journalism: providing the first draft of history.

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