Jansatta – The Yug of Numbers

Jansatta, which was once a bastion of journalistic excellence, for all practical purposes, is now defined by numbers.

WrittenBy:Anand Vardhan
Article image

A generation of Hindi media consumers grew up in 1980s seeking cerebral edge in identifying themselves as Jansatta readers as they did by announcing their love for a Shyam Benegal film or for Naseeruddin Shah’s acting. Being relatively young at 34, it seems the daily is already showing wrinkles of time. Points of departure are obvious for a daily which, discounting nostalgia, was once known for editorial depth, a vibrant opinion page and news reports which went well beyond translated versions of English agency copies. That’s increasingly unrecognisable in a paper with trimmed content and altered priorities while its web edition seems falling prey to the formulaic script of click-baits.

Beginning its journey in 1983, as a sister Hindi publication from the Indian Express Group, Jansatta carved a distinct niche in Hindi journalism as the editorial vision of Prabhash Joshi, Satish Jha and Hari Shankar Vyas gave it rare gravitas. Though Hindi magazine journalism was well served by literary editors like Dharamvir Bharati (Dharmayug), Jansatta was remarkable for its impact on newspaper journalism in India.

Surprisingly, it had decent circulation figures for two decades after its birth. It had succeeded in attracting a sizeable and loyal readership. Here, one is tempted to share an anecdote. While researching for her book, Headlines from the Heartland, journalist and media critic Sevanti Ninan met a school teacher in Bihar. He was so addicted to his daily dose of Jansatta opinion pages and its literary supplement that he would travel 30 kilometres every day to get a copy for himself from the state capital, Patna. In all likelihood, he wouldn’t be as enthusiastic now. First, with its plunging circulation, the paper is difficult to find even at a news stand. The daily has a slimmer opinion section and has no op-ed page while the number of exclusive reports has dwindled. What, however, is drifting far more dramatically from Jansatta’s core identity is its web presence.

It’s a space which major Hindi dailies like Dainik Jagran, Dainik Bhaskar and Hindustan have been leading with a thali package of news articles, pieces from its parent paper and generous sprinkling of relationship tales of celebrities and soft-porn tour of cleavages masquerading as what is euphemistically called by a hybrid name—infotainment. Jansatta, as a sign of changing times, couldn’t defy this formula for attracting clicks. In fact, its website (jansatta.com) seems to have joined the race.

It’s working on certain assumptions about digital news consumers. Somehow it has figured out the click-bait value of mythology. Sample this. On June 22, the paper’s website had a long video story about the special features of four different yugas (eras) that Hindu religious texts talk about. It had the trappings of a headline which elevated the height of a satyug man to 32 feet. For a story based on mythological narrative, the story hasn’t put a disclaimer to editorially dissociate itself from the veracity of the reported details—to separate the facts of recorded history from the assumptions of religious belief. Such editorial intervention, it seems, would have diluted the awestruck traffic that the story was obviously trying to generate. It’s a sign of times that the allure of a-million-hits story hasn’t left Jansatta untouched.

This, however, doesn’t take away from the case that some commentators like Ashutosh Bhardwaj make remarks about the fallacies that modernity spawned about the nature of myths in knowledge production or for that matter explanations offered by the popular interpreters of mythological tales like Devdutt Pattanaik, who have been contributing to public discourse. But, it’s clear that the story wasn’t shaped by such reconsideration of mythological narratives. What has been dictating the terms of Jansatta’s digital engagement is the cold logic of numbers.

So the paper’s website, and its social media page, has ensured that your voyeuristic instincts are taken care of as it gives you a peek into Sachin Tendulkar’s opulent house in Mumbai. You are informed about what Gauri Khan told Shah Rukh when he broke the news about leaving Delhi for what was then Bombay. In case you were wondering how sensuously the homely daughters-in-law of TV serials dress in their offscreen lives, Jansatta has covered that for you too. That’s a usual route to cater to the celebrities-chasing eyeballs, what was unusual was that Jansatta also jumped onto the bandwagon. In a space where there is deluge of such newsfeed, traditional media brands like Jansatta smell the kill that they can make by attaching their credibility to infotainment.

Shedding the weight of seriousness can liberate a newspaper in many healthy ways too. What, however, Jansatta is attempting is something more dramatic—shedding the historical baggage of being a distinct voice in the Hindi world of letters to being an also-ran in the dotcom race. From a generation which considered it a bastion of journalistic excellence to a generation which looked up to it as the last bastion, the newspaper can now only evoke nostalgia. Its present, for all practical purposes, is defined by numbers.

The author can be contacted on Twitter @anandvardhan26



We take comments from subscribers only!  Subscribe now to post comments! 
Already a subscriber?  Login

You may also like