Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thejas Daily: A Note on the Beginnings of an Experiment

Journalism is an unappeasable passion that can be assimilated and humanised only through stark confrontation with reality. No one who does not have this in his blood can comprehend its magnetic hold, which is fuelled by the unpredictability of life. No one who has not had this experience can begin to grasp the extraordinary excitement stirred by the news, the sheer elation created by the first fruits of an endeavour, and the moral devastation wreaked by failure.

--Gabriel Garcia Marquez

THEJAS DAILY was launched on January 26, 2006 as a unique experiment in mass media, with an uncompromising pro-people position in its editorial line and a vast mass base in financial sources and support base.

The newspaper stands for protection of the rights of the most dispossessed and marginalized segments in Indian society, namely the Muslims, Dalits and other backward sections. It upholds their democratic rights, their economic and social rights and above all their human rights. It is steadfast in its commitment to these ideals and its editorial policy is evolved through a process of democratic consultation based on a firm commitment to the principles of equality, dignity and social justice.

Launched by Intermedia Publishing Ltd, a company with grass-root level support, the newspaper has its editorial offices and press at Media City, on the national highway at Nallalam, in the outskirts of Kozhikode city. A multi-edition newspaper, it also comes out from major cities like Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, and Kannur. The fifth edition will be launched from Kottayam shortly. The newspaper has a widely read internet edition, and an electronic edition,, which is a paid service for our vast network of readers in other parts of India and abroad.

The origins of the newspaper:

Though Thejas daily was launched on the Indian Republic Day in 2006, the idea behind such a newspaper was there for a long time. In fact, Thejas as a new title was launched over a decade ago, from 1996, first as a monthly and now it comes out as a fortnightly.

The need for a strong, uncompromising daily newspaper has always been felt especially since the mainstream media, both in English and regional languages including Malayalam, has been unashamedly pro-establishment and spread all kinds of untruths, half truths and rumours that often painted the oppressed segments of Indian society like Muslims, Dalits,tribal people and others in a poor light. The widespread oppression of these people, the social, political and economic marginalization and ostracism practiced against them, the communal violence against them were never properly covered by the mainstream media and the versions of the forces of the state and perpetrators of violence and oppression received undue importance.

Another aspect of this media war against the oppressed people was the deliberate demonization of these communities which painted them as the breeding ground of terrorism and social evils in India. It was such a widespread and deadly strategy that whenever an incident of explosion took place anywhere in India, the needle of suspicion automatically pointed to the Muslim youths and a large number of them were jailed, terrorized, tortured and even murdered in the past many years. The situation of Dalits also is no better. In many cases, such incidents were later proved to be completely false and media stories deliberately planted and willingly purveyed by interested parties.

This media apathy and a sense of alienation and cynicism caused by such a totally one-sided media atmosphere had to be countered for a variety of reasons. First, it was slowly giving rise to a social psychology of frustration and a willingness to take extreme steps that would only mean further alienation and cause harm, thus ultimately playing into the hands of the oppressors who were plotting for such an outcome.

The strategies for counter moves in media:

Thus it was almost self-evident the need for evolving counter strategies in the media which had put the Muslims and other oppressed people in such a hopeless straight jacket.

To counter the massive propaganda, we needed our own strong media organizations, but the question was how to go about it.

The planning and execution of the project to develop Thejas as a daily newspaper run on professional lines with a self-sustaining financial model, was, in a way, a theoretical and practical experiment to answer this serious question faced by Indian Muslims and all oppressed people. It was an experiment to find a pragmatic way out in the capital-intensive, big-money controlled media scene.

There were a few fundamental points on which such a revolutionary media model could work:

First, the newspaper must rely upon a strong band of independent and committed media practitioners who would remain as its backbone, both intellectually and professionally;

Second, the newspaper must be able to provide an intellectually stimulating atmosphere and also be able to give professional satisfaction to its journalists and readers;

Third, it has to develop a new kind of media ethics and professional practice in order to counter the dominant ideology that pervades the entire global media scene, especially as the paper will have to rely mainly on the imperialist versions of news coverage with its embedded biases;

Fourth, any viable media organisation that seeks to replace/challenge the dominant media players will have to master the cutting edge elements in technology to keep it ahead of the competition and to keep itself agile in a highly flexible market;

Fifth, it has to remain financially viable and must be able to rely upon its own resources, for which prudent financial control and extreme care for keeping the costs to the minimum is a must.

How we implemented our strategy:

We worked on these principles in a deliberate, conscious and restrained manner because, in Kerala, where dozens of media experiments have taken place, we have seen dismal failures of many efforts that were launched with big promises. Looking at the media experience, one cannot but conclude that media industry is a big mine-field where not many escape unhurt.

It was necessary to avoid the pitfalls and the only way to go about was through making a realistic assessment of the market possibilities and our own capability to rise to these expectations. The best option for developing a realistic and pragmatic business model was to go to the people, and when a preliminary survey was conducted, it was found that we could sell a much larger number of copies that we were initially hoping for, at the outset itself. The point driven home was that we were actually underestimating our real strength and this came as a major morale booster. Instead of a small newspaper that would remain as a niche player, we were now planning for a major newspaper that would have a statewide presence and a global readership. It was also realised that many of those who were the potential subscribers were to be first-time newspaper buyers. Hence for many, it was the one and only newspaper at home and it was absolutely necessary to make it a complete newspaper, answering all the needs of a normal newspaper reader in Kerala.

That meant larger number of bureaus all over the state and outside, bigger staff at the desk to handle all departments of news from local to international; besides other avenues of news like business, sports and entertainment and a large number of features and special pages like those dedicated to school children, that all major newspapers offered to the readers.

We had to do it within limited means, both financial and professional, and one of the major strategies used was to go for a bunch of young professionals, fresh from the colleges, capable to take over all these tasks. They needed to be trained in all aspects of newspaper operations including news gathering, editing, translating, proof reading, page making, etc, besides internalising thee special, empowering nature of this project. In fact they were to be all-rounders who could match those with years of experience in the profession and committed, socially conscious and responsible media practitioners.

It was not easy to find experienced professionals because the subaltern social classes to which Thejas belong, do not have many such professionals among them. We had to train them from the scratch and that helped us develop a committed and cohesive team with only a few senior people mainly to provide guidance to their daily activities.

That was an immense risk to take because anything could go wrong in a daily newspaper business but the best way to learn swimming is to jump into the cold water, come what may. We did just that and the result is a newspaper that has been reaching Malayali public everywhere, every morning without a hitch ever since January 26, 2006.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

It is needless to say that "Thejas Daily" changed the Malayali readers view, and the daily giving the lights of "real news" to its readers.

All the best to Theajs team.

Mohamed babu / Dubai