Will Barack Obama‘s reelection be front-page news in your newspaper tomorrow?
Not if your paper has a “jacket advertisement” in this Diwali season, in which case it will technically be on page 3. Not if your paper two jacket ads, in which case it will be on page 5.
In many ways, Indian newspapers have overturned the traditional importance of the front page (the disease now afflicting even The Guardian, London) although there are many media watchers who believe a newspaper is well within its rights to monetise its most important space.
The veteran editor Surendra Nihal Singh addresses the issue in the latest issue of Society magazine:
In this age, the advertisement department has more sway than the editorial. What do you have to say about it?
Nihal Singh: The front pages of mainstream newspapers are plastered with adverts. This is happening very often. These newspapers are killing the essence of the front page.
The Statesman had strict restrictions on front-page advertisements. During my editorship of the paper in Calcutta, the advertisement manager Chandran Tharoor (father of politician Shashi Tharoor) would beg me for an xtra half-centimetre of space for a front-page advert, but I used to turn down his request.
The contrasts could not be starker with today’s media. In many newspapers, it is the advertisement department that sets the terms. The newspaper owner has given himself the title of editor.
Then again, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi was not front-page news in “India’s national newspaper”. Reason: The Hindu only carried ads on page one in the innocent days of 1948.
Also read: Selling the soul or sustaining the business?