Newshour won’t be the same without Arnab Goswami. Yes, many hated him. He smashed to smithereens the way we understood journalism in that primetime slot of his. He appeared arrogant, obnoxious, highly prejudiced, illogical and an unabashed champion of the ideological Right. He was impolite to the point of being rude to the guests on his show. He hardly ever allowed any point of view other than his to be heard. He became the judge, the jury and the hangman. Perhaps he is guilty of all of that.
But then he was a winner. He ruled the primetime slot for a good length of time till the biggest competitor caught up and inched ahead. Everyone loved to hate him, but could hardly afford to ignore his show. That was the beauty – call it irony if you please — of it all. If it’s already sounding like an obituary for Arnab the journalist, well, it is not. He seems, according to media reports, to have set his eyes on bigger goals in the profession. This piece aims to have a fresh perspective on how the force of his personality impacted an important aspect of news television and drove minor changes all around.
He re-invented television for the age of social media. While many other journalists still perceived and visualised news television with the print journalism mindset, he broke free. He was quick to acknowledge the arrival of the new beast and its power and potential. He was also quick to grasp the tone and temper of the users of the new media. If his Newshour debates appeared quite similar to social media rants, then it could not have been anything but deliberate. He would choose topics that would resonate with the lay viewer and imbue with an edginess that carried a distinctive personal touch.
No one would give him credit for it, but he revived the relevance of common people in journalism again. He made journalism appealing to the new generation — the same generation which propelled Narendra Modi to power.
Newshour owed its success to it. It took off at a time journalism, like politics of the time, thrived on being condescending to the target audience. Faux-intellectualism ruled the roost and elitism prevailed. It required some incorrectness to change things. Arnab was bringing in plenty of it.
If anyone has been careful to notice, any news product — including digital — that became successful in this period sought to connect with its audience in intelligent ways. They were not correct always. Opinion drowned news, but that was okay since the reader was getting involved. If Arnab took the side of the viewer with no inhibition, never stopped reminding him that he stands by him, he was not setting low standards in journalism; he was going the right way.
He broke free of the old, fossilised template of journalism and set new standards. His arrogance and attitude sucked as did his irreverence to facts, but a whole generation of new journalists definitely has shunned docility and reverence for power inspired by him. Even the older ones are trying to bring in some aggression to their job, not without much success though. But they might be missing the point. Aggression was only a sideshow to his core ability. His strength lay in understanding his audience clearly and connecting with them well. Many news outfits are still way behind in this respect.
His next career venture, media reports say, could be an independent media house, with a bouquet of digital and other offerings. With a clarity of the target audience, chances are he won’t fail. Digital media, which has slipped into the old, lethargic mindset again, maybe in for a big shock.
Newshour didn’t change the world or didn’t tell all that the nation wanted to know, but it certainly made popular points in a forceful way. No one wants those regressive religious forces going berserk in the country; no one wants women to be harassed or VIPs riding roughshod over ordinary masses. No one gave them a better hiding than Arnab. His lack of politeness, feigned as it maybe, found appreciation rather than disapproval.
Yes, his flaws outnumber his virtues. But the virtues need to be discussed too. Newshour was a success because of these. The man succeeding Arnab will have big shoes to fill.