Be present in the future: TOI will look back only if it helps you look ahead

The Times of India is one of those rare brands in the world that have remained unquestioned market leaders 180 years after birth. Perhaps the biggest reason for our continuing dominance – TOI is by far the largest English newspaper in the world – is that we think of ourselves as 180 years young, not old. We are proud of our legacy, but have consciously avoided the ‘legacy problems’ that besiege many brands and organisations.

At a fundamental level, we have not allowed the past to dictate the future. And that is true of all Times Group publications as they have ceaselessly reinvented themselves and reimagined the future in order to stay relevant and engaging.

Information has never been more abundant; indeed, our cognitive capacities are being affected by an overload of it. It’s forcing even ‘news junkies’ to apply self-correctives by tuning out the useless and the irrelevant. At the same time, there is a growing appetite for data and facts, analysis and perspective that (a) have cleared multiple filters for accuracy and quality; and (b) focus sharply on explaining the present and understanding what the future has in store.

Given these broad realities of the information market, a quality newspaper must concentrate its editorial resources on bringing readers the best possible value for their time and money by staying fresh in its thinking and writing.

A question we are often confronted with is: How should we as a paper approach the past, especially historical events and personalities? Anniversaries, in particular, tend to produce a flood of editorial content looking back, chock-a-block with dates and places. These exercises in looking back are often mistaken for ‘depth’ and ‘intellect’. But how unique or relevant are they really? Our sense is, not much.

First, information platforms not geared towards news are a dime a dozen. Anyone interested in history has a plethora of choices, including niche ones, and doesn’t need newspapers to recycle the same, at-times-factually-suspect stories.

Second, the present is far more complex than it used to be and the future is therefore that much more uncertain. Technology is changing everything around us – the way we live and love, commute and communicate, work and wander, plug and play – and at a pace unmatched in human history. Above all, it is disruptive and discontinuous. Yes, we all know the old saying that history repeats itself, and hence carries lessons for the future. But for the most part, it is just that – an old saying. Endless reams of newsprint devoted to the past don’t necessarily add to the reader’s understanding.

Third, a vast majority of consumers of news are mostly interested in developments that inform and entertain their present and future-geared minds, and in issues that shape their lives. It is this philosophy that will increasingly drive our editorial planning every day, even on the anniversaries of history’s great and good. The chronological hierarchy of coverage must start from the present. The past will be considered relevant only if it helps explain the present, and more importantly, the future.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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