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Headlines from the Heartland, a book on local media revolution
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Headlines from the Heartland, a book on local media revolution

In the 1990s, when the Indian politics was on a threshhold of major change due to communal and castesist politics in the heartland of the country, a new revolution was sweeping the Indian press.

By Sanjay Kumar

New Delhi, May 21 : In the 1990s, when the Indian politics was on a threshhold of major change due to communal and castesist politics in the heartland of the country, a new revolution was sweeping the Indian press.

While the emergence of the religion-based party like the BJP and caste-based political groups like the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Bahujan Samaj Party brought the subaltern and unrepresented masses to the mainstream of political discourse, the phenomenonal growth of Hindi newspapers during that time broke the stranglehold of the English dominated national media and led to the localization of news.

A newspaper revolution began blowing across northern and central India.When literacy levels rose,communications expanded and purchasing power climbed in these Hindi-speaking states, newspapers followed, picking up readers in small towns and villages.

Even while these newspapers surged to the top of national readership charts, they localized furiously in the race for readers. But in this universe of local news, questions arose about what localization wasoing to regional identity and consciousness.

Capturing this tumultous growth of the local media in the Hindi heartland is a book, " Headlines from the Heartland" by Sevanti Ninan.

Using notes from her pioneering field study in eight years,Sevanti Ninan brilliantly brings alive India's ongoing Hindi newspaper revolution,and its impact on politics,administration and society.Set against the socio economic and political changes in the countryside,it is a remarkable story of how journalism flowered in unexpected and unorthodox ways,and colourful media marketting unfurled in the Hindi heartland.

The book was launched on Saturday amidst the presence of politicians and people from the press.

"The Local Press in Hindi Heartland- a boon or bane"- this was the topic of a panel discussion in the book release function.

Political scientist and psephologist Yogendra Yadav moderated the discussion which was participated by some of the architects and beneficiaries of this localization of the media.Present on the podium were Harivansh, the editor of "Prabhat Khabar,"a Ranchi based local Hindi newspaper;Shravan Garg,headf Hindi daily "Dainik Bhaskar" in different states of the Hindi belt, Ajay Agarwal, a newspaper industry veteran in Western Uttar Pradesh for close to thirty years and editor of "DLA", an evening tabloid in Agra, which has attained a circulation of 1.85 lakhs in less than two months after its launch in March 2007.

The political class was represented by Janta Dal (U) leader,Digvijay Singh and the young Congress parliamentarian from Dausa constituency in Rajasthan,Sachin Pilot.

Yogendra Yadav termed Sevanti Ninan's book as "a story of expansion,localization,fragmentation".

One thing that most of the participants agreed on was that the "credibility of the press has gone down" over the years despite the tremendous growth of the media in local areas.

Sachin Pilot called it "trivialization of the newspaper". Digvijay Singh finds "lack of credibility" among local media persons and stingers,who gather news for smaller newspapers and channels.

He described "Headlines from the Heartland" as the first serious effort to capture the Hindi press" not by a foreigner, but by an Indian.

Praising the book Robin Jeffrey,who was the first one to talk about media revolution and dumbing down,says "Ninan strives to connect her richly woven stories into larger pattern of media and newspaper development throughout the world in the past 200 years.This is a book for everyone interested in modern India,and in how print and capitalism shape societies."

Famous author and columnist Ramchandra Guha describes the book as "fascinating and richly textured study of the rise to influence and power of the Hindi press across northern India".

Sevanti Ninan,editor of the media-watch website "thehoot.org",is a newspaper columnist,researcher and one of India's foremost media analysts.She took eight years to finish the book.


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