Then came the transition | india | Hindustan Times
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Then came the transition

BG Verghese recalls a critical period in the life of the paper that changed it forever.

india Updated: Jul 14, 2009 20:00 IST

The Hindustan Times echoed the Congress point of view, as did other “nationalist” papers, until Independence
and some years thereafter through a fading honeymoon. A number of new newspapers began publication in the post-Independence period to widen the spectrum of editorial opinion. But HT continued to wear the label of a “Congress paper” although it was not uncritical of the government on certain issues.

As Delhi’s leading paper, it had a dominant position in advertising, especially with regard to the classified columns. If you wanted to get married, rent a house, sell a car or acquire a pedigree pup, you were well advised to advertise in the classified columns of the HT. Among the more distinctive features of the HT during the 1950s were Shankar’s cartoons. Large cinema display ads filled a whole page. Most newspapers carried syndicated columns from British and American journals, strip cartoons and crosswords. Edit Page columns were carried under pseudonyms, a hangover from the pre-Independence mystique. Among the HT’s best-known pseudonyms was Insaf under which Durga Das, latterly the paper’s editor, wrote his Political Diary.

The content of the HT as of most other papers was heavily political, governmental and parliamentary. The Planning Commission, then the country’s leading think-tank, got a lot of space and Nehru was reported at great length. Local news and sport found space but business and the markets were confined to a single page as the licence-permit raj left little scope for private initiative. Social issues received short shrift as did rural coverage. HT, like its competitors, largely catered to an urban middle class readership, including “mofussil” readers who were reached through dak editions.

In 1967, the HT masthead was redesigned for a modern look. Other typefaces were changed accordingly and page and feature headings introduced.

The Sunday section was also completely redesigned and HT acquired a totally new appearance that many readers acknowledged. An HT stylebook was produced by Rupa Jansen. By this time, newspapers had begun to switch to
seven-column formats and before long this became a standard eight columns.

A major change also took place in content. Rural reporting came into its own with a pioneering fortnightly column “Our Village, Chhatera”, a hamlet of some 1,500 souls in Haryana 25 miles from Delhi. This ran for about seven years until 1975 and opened a window to country life and farming and rural development, with the HT as its mentor and diarist. The feature was skipped by some but developed a devoted readership among others and produced a breed of young journalists who were deeply influenced by the experience.

Then, in June 1975, Emergency was declared…

B.G. Verghese was the editor of Hindustan Times from 1968-1975.