It’s Talk time now

By Jawahar T R Published on Feb 11, 2018 07:52 AM IST

That Nero fiddled while Rome burned is familiar history. Chennai, last week, wasn’t exactly burning, thanks probably to the fuel shortage, but it came to a complete standstill, literally on the roads. Yet Nero’s modern counterparts in power here were engrossed in a preview of a film scripted by Kalaingar. The show was graced by the entire elite of the State, political and celluloid, to the extent most other functions went without VIPs; many who had promised to cut ribbons elsewhere were instead spotted clapping, compulsively if not impulsively, to K’s dialogues. But the rational neo-Nero and his crawling courtiers are not the ones uppermost on my mind now. And let the mind-blowing issues too be as they may; it’s time for me to blow my trumpet instead. In true TN tradition.

There are occasions when pride is a legitimate emotion. We at Talk Media are truly elated that in two weeks our horizons would be expanding by over a lakh and fifty thousand households, taking the weekly circulation to over six lakh and twenty thousand homes, spread over a readership of 25 lakhs plus! This from the seed of a single Talk in TNagar, covering 42000 households in mid-2004. On a given Chennai weekend now the Talks are way ahead of the print peers by miles. In saying this I am not inhibited by the fact that the said circulation is spread over fifteen areas and represented by fifteen different Talks. Yes, each Talk is an entity by itself, but several common threads run through them ...a sort of Unity in Diversity, if you get the drift of my argument. Sure, readers get to read only their local Talk, but the threads, like this self-righteous, snooty column and the one by that Crank squatting elsewhere in some Corner of this issue, among others, link up the disparate Talks. And of course, the advertiser can have the best of all worlds .. er .. local worlds! Cross-border infiltrators are always welcome here.

Then we have to contend with the unfair stigma attached to free-circulation newspapers. By some genetic order, neighbourhood journals have always come free. Some devil of a printer eons ago probably forgot to place the price tag on the page and the practice has stuck. But that said, the mainline dailies fare worse. The direct cost of a broadsheet, with its multiple colour pages and multifarious supplements would come to not less than Rs25/- per copy. And I am not talking of the overheads. The same is sold to the reader anywhere between 50 paise and Rs 3 and I am not talking of the free flasks and travel bags that come along either. I would not reveal my cost, but it would suffice to say that the ‘free’ Talk in your hand is far less subsidised than those ‘paid’ papers. Again, the heavily subsidised but lowly priced papers are round the week, while the less-subsidised albeit zero-priced local weekly, is well, only weekly! Indeed, it’s time the stigma is stuck on the real freebies. But, I would concede without hesitation that those papers constitute a truly ‘free press’ vis-a-vis the likes of Talk! In any case, in this internet age whence instant news can be flashed on your hand-held gadget, will anyone pay for news?

I will now keep the trumpet aside, but shall continue fiddling even as Chennai reels under the spell of burning punch dialogues on reel written by the ultimate scrpt-writer and such other disasters. What is the grammar of a truly local newsweekly? For one, does it need general columns as these? True, they dilute the local-ness of the neighbourhood weekly. But is that not assuming that the ‘locals’ should be confined only to their mental dens walled by limited vision? Are they not citizens of larger neighbourhoods too, the city, the State and the nation, nay, the world itself? What is wrong in local papers expanding a bit to meet the shrinking global village half way? In any case, do not the original sins behind pot-holed roads in your locality often lie in Parliament? And should the politicos who are voted to power by ‘local’ voters be let off the hook by the media that really voice the latter’s aspirations and grievances? Is that not sinning against locals by default? Now, I am not expecting the readers to buy this argument, but it is my duty to sell it -- a duty to my stomach for I earn my bread from it. I can hear the ayes from my cranky colleagues!

Local content and macro views may seem an interesting mix, but true success for a grassroots media like Talk is in being interactive. Participative journalism is what we are seeking to encourage and we want readers to air their views, particularly on local issues. We would be keen on creating space for them, that is as long as I am not asked to vacate; a gun back-firing pointblank is too suicidal. But there is another reason too beyond survival instinct: Self-realisation. Recently, a Goan scribe played a prank to expose the chinks in Indian journalism. He scripted a fake press release about an imaginary Nazi official and sent it to all newspapers. Every serious mainline paper took the bait, carried the story and some even came up with ‘fresh facts’! That in reality is the true face of the much touted tenets of ‘objectivity’ and ‘authenticity’. Your Talk too is equally vulnerable on that count.This ‘all-knowing’ fraternity is actually groping in the dark on most issues even while claiming to be shedding light on them. I may not say it again lest I lose my bread, but ‘Reader beware’ is a well-advised caution! Rather, it is better if the reader takes over some of the writing. He is eminently more trustworthy! And that would make Talk more than a media, a forum really!

Talk is a logistical challenge. It is an attempt to be everything to everyone and to be everywhere. Our intended omnipresence imposes huge responsibilities but we would still want to play the natural game; a watchdog that barks as well as bites, blowing hot, blowing cold, bold and indignant, often to the point of recklessness, irreverent of mere men, but worshipful of the worthy, laughing at the serious and getting serious about the trivial, agitated about an open drain as much as about a terror strike, guided by no rules but certainly by some lofty goals ... A word of explanation though: none of these is born out of intellectual hubris, but rather stems from a humble commitment to society as your fellow citizen, subject, of course, to elementary norms of financial viability. And for all these liberties with the written word, we seek the readers’ blanket amnesty. We once again extend our invitation to the existing and the new households coming into our fold to join the fun, the fun of living by the day in this chaotic country that houses your locality!

Let the Nero in me rest now. The fiddling shall cease and the firing will start from next week on!