The virtual nation that loves and hates Times Now is in an even more piquant desire to know what’s up on seeing Arnab Goswami for a second night of News Hour after he told his editorial staff he was leaving to start an independent news channel. That the Times Group hasn’t made public its response to news of its President-News and Editor in Chief of Times Now and ET Now itching to break free, is perhaps in line with Arnab’s much-vaunted comment to the staff “The game has just begun.”
It is tempting for loyal readers and viewers of Bennett Coleman and Co Ltd’s news output in print and over electronic mediums to imagine a game, given the many forms of education, information and entertainment they have grown used to getting. But for Arnab, it’s not been a game. He came to helm Times Now in 2006 dead serious about challenging the status quo by shifting the narrative and view of India from Lutyen’s Delhi to his new command centre in Mumbai’s Lower Parel commercial area.
And change he did by getting Times Now noticed within weeks of its launch by non-stop coverage of the operation to save a little boy called Prince who had fallen into a borewell near his house in Kurukshetra. Going national with what was considered a regional or vernacular media story, he proved the 50 hours of coverage had takers across the country. But it was the Mumbai terror attack in November 2008 that won him national attention as a reporter/anchor by pitting himself against his old Delhi seniors.
Times Now was in business and so was Arnab Goswami as the reporting editor who was seen not only at a fixed time every night, but also at any hour of day he chose. He changed the standard pattern of carrying as many stories from as many places and went big with exclusives or what they break. It meant making more out of fewer stories through reportage which lent themselves to virulent debates every night between him and studio guests who faced an editorial line they could not win.
While many will attack him for making a kangaroo court out of studio discussions where the participants grew to two screenfuls and the newshour stretched to two hours and more, it should not be forgotten that he needed stories that were flammable enough to generate the audio and merit visuals (live graphics and scrolls) so that even those who had the mute button on would understand the story.
The Commonwealth Games scandal, the 2G scam, the Devas-Antrix scandal, Kargil for profit (as he called the Ardarsh housing scam) and Aircel-Maxis scam were among stories that caused considerable political damage to the UPA government and individuals, that Arnab doggedly pursued. With some justification, the man who asked the only question on corruption at Manmohan Singh’s rare press conference, asserts that others who cosied up to the officialdom were forced to cover these corruption cases because of Times Now’s persistence.
Arnab called this confrontational journalism which he said struck at the very core of the conciliatory and subservient journalism that was passé in Delhi. He also justified editorialising and taking sides in his reportage, insisting that political correctness and journalistic neutrality when rights and wrongs are clear, meant lack of conviction. Arnab may have been able to do what he did because Times Now was part of a media behemoth, but in a new venture as a stakeholder how much his passionate insistence on independent journalism will be practical is to be seen.
While he did force his rivals to grudgingly adapt some of his methods of gaining viewership and public appeal, what he has not succeeded in doing at Times Now is to train youngsters and groom them into leadership positions. He will have to change his leadership style and learn to be the editor who directs and delegates work instead of playing all in all – something he will be forced to do as an investing partner, especially with companies that have established foreign corporate and practices.
Arnab Goswami influenced television journalism in India in his decade with Times Now. There is no discounting that. But it may now be time for him to learn management and business practices and conform, unlike when he could play the crusading editor-anchor and pursue an agenda to prove himself to those in the journalistic fraternity who did not take him seriously, so long as the business managers were satisfied with the viewership figures. That’s when the real games begin.
[The author is a media watcher and trainer in Bangalore, a few of whose students have worked in Times Now]