I didn’t realize till I read last morning’s paper that The Economic Times, our worthy (and much larger) rival had entered its 50th year of existence. My congratulations to the paper and all those who put it out every day; more power to their pen and all that.
It is difficult to think of business journalism as a 50-year-old vocation in India; before 1991, business journalists largely concerned themselves with covering economic policy (and not in the kind of detail that today’s journalists do), and state-owned companies and banks. There would be the rare article about a private sector firm but this would either be based on a press release or, at the other end of the spectrum, an investigation that showed the subject in poor light.
The prevailing belief (among journalists of the time) was that all business was bad and all businessmen crooked. This wasn’t entirely unjustified, especially given that the government had to sign off if a company wanted to order new stationery (I am overstating the case, but everything was regulated in those days).
In many ways, the events of 1991 changed that—and this wasn’t entirely good. After India partially opened up its economy that year, business journalism rapidly moved to the mode that was popular in the US in the 1980s and 1990s. Journalists began believing that companies could do no wrong and that CEOs were rock stars (with due apologies to the good folks at Intel, our rock stars were different from yours). Indeed, many business magazines, in the US and India, still appear to be locked in this mode—something that probably explains why all of them are doing as badly as they are.
By the mid-2000s, however, readers had begun to tire of such journalism. I’d like to think that this coincided with a liberal (and libertarian) wave around the world and, yes, even in India. Whatever be the reason, smart readers began demanding more from their news media of choice. It helped that a series of corporate frauds in the US in the early 2000s, and the collapse of Wall Street icons in 2008 pointed out the folly of the celebratory kind of business journalism.
I believe the success of Mint can be attributed to this trend.
Still, this column is less about Mint and more about The Economic Times. As someone who has always been a reporter at heart I can’t help but envy a paper that was around to cover the Green Revolution, the beginnings of Maruti, the sagas of the pioneering business families of the country, and the onset of economic reforms. One of our biggest failings as a people is our scant regard for history—a history that, interestingly enough, can explain why contemporary India is the way it is. In the year ahead, I am hoping to read more about this past in The Economic Times.
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