Mukund Padmanabhan is Editor of The Hindu, one of the largest English dailies in the country. He is the second non family member who hold this position in the 125-year old Newspaper. Since August 2012, he was the editor of The Hindu Business Line and has been working with The Hindu for the last 15 years. He have a BA in Economics, MA and Mphil in philosophy. He taught in Hindu College for a while as an ad hoc lecturer. He previously worked for Sunday, the weekly magazine in Calcutta and the Indian Express before joining The Hindu.
What motivated you to pursue a career in journalism?
I flirted with the idea of doing academics but somewhere down the line, I probably thought I wasn’t good enough for academics. I was interested in writing and I think I lost interest in academics. So with a couple of things by my side, I thought this was a more interesting and dynamic profession. So I moved from academics to journalism.
What was your first job in the field of Journalism?
My first job in journalism was in Hyderabad at a place called News Time, a newspaper which folded up.
You have also worked with the SUNDAY magazine (ABP Group). Do you remember any memorable incident from that time?
I enjoyed reporting out of Sri Lanka.
How you came working with The Hindu? Headed business line since 2012.
I was working with the Indian Express at that time. I came to Chennai and I was offered a job and to be honest, twenty years ago it seemed like a good offer, so I took it up.
I was offered the job of the editor of Business Line in 2013. This decision was taken by the board of the company but I took it up with some apprehension as I’m not really a business journalist. But having decided to take it up, it was enjoyable. We did something to change the paper and make it more interesting and relevant.
How is it different working in a business newspaper than a regular newspaper?
I think it’s very different because the focus of news is narrower. Although we have pages on politics and social issues, the primary page is devoted to business news, corporate news and government policy. I mean the way you select news is different but the way you do journalism remains the same. The difference is not much as you evaluate the story in a similar way and it demands the same kind of rigour and accuracy.
What do you think is the future of print journalism in India?
I think what has happened in the west has now started happening in India. Print media business is still growing, but there is a threat from the digital world. As more and more people get mobile phones and as more people have started reading on digital media platforms such as Google, Facebook, Twitter (which basically take content from other media organizations and provide it to more people and become highly popular), there is going to be a threat to the way the conventional print media conducts itself. The good thing is, we have seen what is happening in the west, so we probably are better prepared to deal with it, than they were. They couldn’t see what was coming.
If the print media is going to survive in the long run, it must find a way of making people pay for what they provide. That’s the only way it can survive in the long run. Otherwise there is no future in providing anything for free.
On which skills should a student focus to get a job in the mainstream media?
What you really need is a strong language skill. That’s the first thing. Most newspapers in India don’t demand a degree in journalism to provide a job. You just need to show some ability of writing. Sometimes it’s good to have one or two articles published somewhere, so that somebody can see how you write, and that becomes a window or a pathway for getting a job.
Do you have a degree in journalism?
No, I don’t have a degree.
India is ranked 136th in the Press Freedom Index. What do you think are the reasons responsible for it?
I am not a great fan of such ranking. I don’t think we suffer…I think we enjoy a fair amount of press freedom in this country. Of course there are places in this country where reporting is difficult, challenging and problematic. I am not arguing that everything is perfect. We have faced many threats and challenges. We have several laws in this country which are inimical to press freedom. The way criminal defamation, contempt of court…the way sedition laws are being used. There are many ways to threaten and intimidate free speech. There are also sections in the Indian Penal Code, such as 153A, 295A which have been used to threaten not just the press but individuals as well. I think there are very serious problems. We should look forward to cure it.
We are probably the only country in the region which emerged out of colonialism and has had a fairly robust and free press. If you compare India with its neighbors, such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, China, Myanmar, Pakistan, and others – we have enjoyed much more press freedom.
So I think we need to look at it in the context of our history and make that distinction.
What are the major challenges to journalism today?
I think the biggest one is the digital (social networking and internet) threat. The threat from platforms which take content from the media houses and transfer it to the people, at free. They produce no content by themselves. There are platforms for determinating contact.
The other threats which we have faced from a very long time are – threat from governments, from draconian laws. They have always been there and they might remain but the biggest threat we face is from digital media- the internet.
People say media is not being respected the way it used to be ten or twenty years ago. Do you agree with this?
I think that’s a fair comment. Never before in my history as a journalist have I seen the media as less respected as it is now. It is still admired that probably people see it as a little glamorous and all of that. But I think the respect that the people had for media has drastically reduced. And I think it’s an unfortunate thing. One of the reasons is the social media, which has given rise to a lot of fake news and opinion in the guise of news. Everybody has a voice now and they convey what they want. There is a lot of stuff which is unregulated. With a lot more competition now, everybody is trying to reach out to more and more users. Sometimes the news is sensationalized and packaged in a way which is aimed at attracting more and more eyeballs. So I think there are some unhealthy practices that are creeping into journalism and it has also affected the way how mainstream media conducts itself. So while it is unfortunate, it still happens to some extent. There are sections of the mainstream media which have contributed to this profession.
Interns from all the fields often complain (in general) that they don’t get paid. So, if an intern is working in a media house and learning while working from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M.,should they be paid at least a minimum wage rate?
Well, it depends. In our company, we have a policy of not paying everyone. There are some people who have to do the internship compulsorily as a part of the course they are doing. And they need to spend just one month at the office. So every summer we have a lot of people who are attached to various offices of the Hindu doing a one month statutory internship. If we have to pay a lot of them, it would be a lot of money that goes out. There are some others who come with some talent and skill, who want to be there for a while and we put our minds to it and we pay those people. So it is not that we don’t pay anyone. We do pay some people but we don’t pay everyone. We have a selective policy. But yes, in an ideal world every intern should be paid.
It also depends on the number and the need of the organization. There are some people that we take on, just as an obligation and not that we need their services. They need to pass the course. If they can’t pass the course, they don’t get placed. So, we are aware of that and we take them for their sake in a certain way.
An owner of the largest circulated daily once said that “We are not in the newspaper business…we are in the advertising business.” What are your views regarding it?
I am not sure in what context that statement was made. But, there are two things.
One is, everyone is in the newspaper business because they are publishing newspapers. That’s a fact. If you mean that all the news is advertisement and the only reason that you are here is to do news as advertisement, then obviously I will disagree with the statement.
This statement is merely to underline that, newspapers survive in this country because they get most of their revenue from advertising, that is true. That’s a fact. The vast majority of newspapers survive because of advertisement and not because of its circulation revenue; which is an unfortunate thing.
Newspapers must have a greater share from circulation revenue. Which means, of course, consumers will have to pay more for it. But in this country, particularly when we talk of the English media, most of the money is made from advertising, which I think is an unhealthy dependence on advertising. So I think we should reduce the dependence.
When you hire new journalists, does their political ideology or political leaning mean anything to the organization?
I can only answer my case. And the answer is no. I don’t think I have questioned anyone regarding his ideology during the hiring process. I think it will be a unfortunate thing to do that. You only discover what a person thinks after you hire them.
What would be your advice to students of journalism as well as young journalists?
My advice would be to principally try and acquire expertise in one area at least or two if you can. That should be your goal very early on in life. Otherwise there is a tendency among journalists to be very much generalist and they lose a sharp and deep knowledge of one area. So my advice would be to do your journalism but also read and try and develop a solid bank of knowledge in the subject you are to write about or even to edit.
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