“HT’s coverage is crisp, comprehensive, clear,” began a letter sent in last week by Dr Leo Rebello, a devout HT reader. Before I could recover from the praise, he turned tack. “(But) in HT Cafe, day-in and day-out you give coverage only to filmy people and all those party hoppers, known as page 3 people. Why not (give coverage) to good social heroes who work silently without the media gaze?”
Like Dr Rebello, I too have very little appetite for news about Bollywood film stars and socialites. But my — or other senior editors’ — personal likes and dislikes can prevail only up to a point.
We serve readers and there is a big readership for such fare. HT’s market research shows that 85 to 95 per cent of readers of English newspapers in Mumbai read their respective entertainment and lifestyle supplements.
Many of these readers are young people, a very coveted group for newspapers.
Moreover, HT Café stands out in its genre by including sections on a range of other topics that animate young readers, such as gadgets, cars, health, weekend planner, travel — which appear from Tuesday to Saturday, one on each day in that order.
We offer such variety because we realise youngsters have eclectic interests; they aren’t uni-dimensional.
As I’ve pointed out in this column before, our readers are not a homogenous mass. Some devour Bollywood trivia, others detest it. The latter group does have the option of not reading Café.
But are there also stories in HT about ordinary people who readers like Dr Rebello yearn to know about?
We can always have more of these, but we do give a decent amount of space to them, and regularly.
I’ve already pointed to our ‘Spirit of Mumbai’ series in which our reporters profiled people who define success not in terms of what they gain but what they give. It ran in November-December 2007.
Just yesterday, we flagged off another series on Indian Heroes in which we will profile, to use the language of the series’ introduction, “eight men… (who) in one extraordinary moment… made the leap from ordinariness to heroism.
The first installment, which appeared on our front page yesterday, told the story of Tukaram Omble, who died catching Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only terrorist who attacked Mumbai in November who we have apprehended alive.
I won’t pretend that we were so blisteringly responsive to our readers that we put this series together in the two days after we received Dr Rebello’s suggestion. But we do know he’s not alone; readers regularly write in or tell us that they want to hear more about the extraordinary and hidden achievements of the ordinary Indian.
Today, in our Grey Matter section you can read about the work of six young scientists who recently won a prestigious national award. They may not qualify as “social heroes” in some people’s eyes, but they aren’t conventionally glamorous. They are unknown.
In the same section, you can also read about six “slumdog millionaires”, entrepreneurs who grew up in Dharavi and have made a fortune through tremendous perseverance and hard work.
They also may not attract the label “social heroes” (although creating employment could be viewed as a social function), but they certainly had less than ordinary origins. And they aren’t celebrities.