Monday, April 30, 2012

A 'woman journalist' who believes in respecting the reader


Sushila Ravindranath’s article in the Financial Express, about whether gender really matters for a journalist, set me thinking. Most of the solid contributions to Grassroots and Vidura, two journals from the Press Institute of India stable, come from women (whether they think of themselves as ‘women journalists’ or not is another matter). Sushila mentions several of the well-known names, probably she forgot to mention Sakuntala Narasimhan, Shoma Chatterji and Ammu Joseph, prolific and superb writers all, each well past their prime time yet meticulous and thorough, and Pamela Philipose as well, who now heads the Women’s Feature Service.

There are others who are not so well known, such as Bina Raju who edits Eve’s Touch, and Lakshmi Natarajan, editor and managing director at the Kalki Group. When I met Lakshmi recently, a few things she said struck me. “Speak the truth. Everything is contained in that. To speak the truth we should know the truth, so we should be there and ensure for ourselves that we give a true story,” she said, adding, “Your conscience is then clear. The advertorial concept is picking up very fast, but we are not close to such ideas. We don’t do an advertorial that is based on a write-up sent by somebody. We send somebody to meet the client; we ensure the client has valid information to provide, and that his credentials are okay. Even when our reporters write, stories are based on interviews. Advertising is different. So are opinions. But when it is an article, we ensure we are there.”

The other thing Lakshmi said: she believed in giving readers a lot of respect. “My reader is my customer. We must keep her happy, be it replying to a letter or answering a telephone call. As an editor I make sure that if there is somebody who wishes to talk to me, I will. Even if it is just a New Year greeting, I take the call.” Indeed, it is the speaking of the truth and the attempt to bring credibility that has enabled Mangayar Malar, one of five magazines published by the Kalki Group, to develop quite a remarkable rapport with readers. Significantly, the magazine has no staff reporter, with 70 per cent of the content contributed by readers. Recently, the magazine was chosen by the All India Confederation of the Blind as one of five in India, for publication of the Braille edition.

Lakshmi Natarajan, who has been at the helm of the Kalki Group for more than a year, belongs to the Kalki family (part of the third generation, she is the daughter of K. Rajendran, granddaughter of T. Sadasivam and M.S. Subbulakshmi on her maternal side, and Kalki on the paternal side). She does not get into the day-today working of the magazines, saving her functions more for conceptualising. “The foundations that were laid are very strong,” she says. “We believe in the vision – welfare of the nation – and are carrying it forward. Whatever we do, credibility is right at the top. ‘Commercial’ will probably lie at the bottom.”

Although the role of an editor is quite new to her, Lakshmi’s thinking is clear. “A reporter need not necessarily be a journalist or an editor. But the person working at the desk definitely needs some training, some skills. From the time Kalki and Sadasivam were there, what they had done to the institution and to the outer world was that they trained a number of writers and even converted them into journalists. New writers are always encouraged. We need to do this in a more professional manner, though. The most important thing is for the reporter to do some homework before meeting somebody.”

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