Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Newsroom of The Times of India, Hyderabad

By Ardra Balachandran

The Times of India (TOI), Hyderabad is a newspaper organisation with a clear corporate identity. It is no different from any software giant’s office you would find in the grandeur of Hitec City with posh interiors and latest computers. Everything from the sophisticated newsroom to the aggressive assertion of decentralization at all levels is proof to the ‘corporatization’ that has happened at the TOI.

Under the dynamic leadership of Mr. Kingshuk Nag, the Resident Editor of the Hyderabad Edition, the TOI has a contingent of hardworking professionals literally toiling it out in the field and inside the office. Sunday or weekday – each day is a working day. This applies to everyone including the Editor.

Mr. Nag mentioned that there is currently no Deputy / Assistant Editor profile in the organisation. Mr. Thomas Sebastian, the only News Editor, is the owner of the ‘newspaper product’ within the office. However, for all external purposes, the Editor takes the onus himself.

Under the News Editor, there are various ‘teams.’ It should be noted that each of them is not referred to as desks like in most other newspapers, but as teams like in corporate organisations. People designated as the Political Editor, Sports Editor, Business Editor, Metro Editor, Front Page Editor and so on head these individual teams. They play the same role as of the Chief Sub Editor in other organizations.

Some of the desks are highly specialized in nature. For example, the Sports team contains about four Sub Editors under the Sports Editor, who stay in their own cocoon, as the Editor puts it. There is a reason for this. Most often, the Sub Editors double up as reporters as well writing the stories and editing them themselves. This is justified because of the highly specialized nature of their beat and the stories are better edited by people who know the beat well - often the ones who write them. This of course translates into insanely long working hours. “But then, journalism is not a profession, but a lifestyle,” pat comes the reply from the Editor. Doubling the resources would not be a good business proposition; something that is definitely not acceptable at TOI. After all, it is owned by the family of Sameer Jain, the pioneer who broke off shackles of puritanism and walked with his newspaper through the corridors of commercialization in a revolutionary style.

The Metro team deals with the city content, and apparently has the most high profile connections as well as the grass root ones. According to Mr. Nag, they feel the pulse of the city and pass on the same to the newspaper. They give an identity to the edition.

The newsroom meeting in the morning around 11’o clock, attended mainly by the Editor himself and the Bureau Chiefs (counterparts of the Editors who head the teams), is a ceremonial one which involves a post mortem of the previous day’s newspaper. The Editor gives an analysis in detail so that the mistakes that crept in can be avoided in the future. Since the major news items of the day would break much after this meeting, only a very rough outline of the content for the next day is discussed. Often, the decisions or suggestions from the meeting are passed on to the reporters on the field by the bureau chiefs over telephone to avoid the inconvenience of making them come to the office.

The news meeting in the evening is, however, far more important. Hyderabad press caters to only one edition, and therefore, the meeting happens as late as 8 p.m. This is in contrast to; say the Ahmedabad press of TOI, where three editions – for Ahmedabad, Baroda and Surat - are printed. Based on the distance of the cities from where the press is located, time is taken into account backwards, and the meetings are held at 5 p.m., 6.30 p.m., and 8 p.m. for the Surat, Baroda and Ahmedabad editions respectively.

The heads of all the teams usually attend this evening meeting with the Editor and the News Editor. Bureau Chief does not stay back for this meeting usually. All major decisions regarding story selection for each page, particularly the first page, is done during this meeting. Mr. Nag prefers to keep this meeting short and sweet and does not dictate too much on how each single page has to be done. He believes he has an efficient team of journalists at his disposal that can be taken into confidence.

The decisions and an approximate plan of action made at the meeting are passed on to the head office at New Delhi. Beyond the meeting, each team is responsible for the final story selection and layout of their respective pages. Every Sub Editor’s immediate boss gives the final nod for a copy and page layout. The layout software currently in use is QuarkXpress 4.1. However, a transitional process is underway where the TOI across India will be migrating to brand new customized software called Computer Composite International (CCI).

For a long time, there was no single style sheet that all the editions were putting to use. As a result, large number of inconsistencies started showing up. An enterprising team member from New Delhi decided to put an end to the chaos, and now, the TOI has a centralized style sheet which everyone follows.

One characteristic feature of the TOI that needs to be emphasized is regarding the National and International pages. Despite having a head office and a common pool of stories for these sections, these pages are done locally in all the editions. While Mr. Nag feels that this results in redundant work and that the pages should be centrally done, the fact that the current system is maintained just to ensure decentralization has to be appreciated. By giving complete autonomy to local offices on how their entire newspaper will look and read, there is a clear identity and individuality that the organisation is lending to all its Editions.

Another feature that earmarks the democracy at the TOI is a free access queue system. While there is a separate Political Queue, Sports Queue, Business Queue, and so on for the purpose of taxonomy, all Editors have access to all the queues. Of course, there is also an Editor’s queue, where stories of significance are added to ensure the Editor’s direct attention. This queue, which often has controversial or confidential stories, is accessible only to the Editor.

The News Editor informed us that a post graduation is not a must for those who aspire to be Sub Editors. Nose for news and openness is the TOI is keen about. Since the tribe of earnest journalists is fast diminishing, imposing restrictions may not be a good idea, he said.

The Hyderabad Times (HT), the city supplement, is handled by an independent team headed by Ms. Soma Shukla. Since the press has to cater to both the supplement and the main paper, the schedule for the meetings and printing of the HT is different from the TOI. The HT goes to press by 2.30 p.m. usually to ensure enough room for the main newspaper to start printing around 12.30 a.m.

The dummy of the newspaper arrives at the Editor’s table around 5pm everyday with a clear allocation of advertising space on each page. The Editor often sends it to back to the Marketing division complaining about clutter. They may add more pages and reduce the clutter before sending it back to the Editor. However, the testing times of recession do not always give this flexibility and the Editor is forced to make compromises on content. This is part and parcel of the process of balancing ethics and business and an everyday affair at the TOI.

Sometimes, the alacrity with which the dummy is sent to the Editor is not exhibited by the Marketing division in sending the actual ad copies across. This often results in friction between the Editor and the Marketing division. When the ad copies do not reach on time, the layout cannot be frozen. Unless that is done, the newspaper cannot be put to bed. If the printing does not start at the stipulated time, delivery to the wholesalers will be delayed. The hawkers will then pick up the newspapers late. At the end of it all, the consumer will get the newspaper only after he/she is long done with the tea. As Mr. Nag says, “it is a chain reaction which cannot be avoided once a lag occurs.” A bad consumer experience like this one is what the TOI dreads the most. To avoid such situations, the Editor and his team often fight against not just another set of people, but against time and a lot of other limitations.

1 comment:

  1. dear Editeo
    I am a regular reader of your esteem nespaper, now i have a news to be published, Do you accept news by email,
    your cooperation will be highly appreciated
    s. vicar