We want to be lively while being serious, says N. Ram at the re-launch of Frontline

In the era of real-time news defined by the “breaking news” syndrome, there is still demand for long-form journalism that not only conveys information but also compels the reader to think and question, Vice-President Hamid Ansari said on Thursday at the re-launch of Frontline, the magazine published by The Hindu Group.

The Vice-President, who was a regular contributor to the magazine before taking office, noted that despite the incursion of the audio-visual media, the demand for serious journalism, as personified by Frontline remained. “There remains a real and popular demand for serious publications on topical issues which cannot be substituted by the ‘breaking news’ culture and short-attention span snippets in the domain of the electronic media,” he said.

While commending the editorial stance of Frontline, Mr. Ansari said he was initially a little sceptical about the re-launch. “I may be forgiven for admitting that I am moderately conservative and tolerably radical – conservative in habits and radical in thinking. For this reason, I was less than enthused with the suggestion that I attend today’s re-launch function. I could not help recalling the old maxim ‘don’t fix what is not broke.’ To me personally, Frontline has always been a stimulant to the mind, apart from providing good reading on most matters that I care to spend time on,” the Vice-President said.

N. Ram, former Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu and Frontline, said the magazine will continue to give voice to issues that affect the lives of people and remain committed to serious journalism, unaffected by any marketing blitzkrieg.

He said Frontline was launched in December 1984 and over the decades has evolved as a progressive, critical fortnightly that focusses on issues like deprivation, culture and socio-economic aspects rather than lifestyle, leisure and the ‘feel good.’ Mr. Ram said the absence of long-form journalism is a “serious deficit” that needs to be addressed.

“The news magazine has focussed on issues that affect the lives of people in India, the neighbourhood and the world. The content of the magazine has never been diluted in the blinkered pursuit of numbers,” he pointed out.

On the changes that readers will see in the magazine, he said: “Over the years even the serious readers have commented that we are too heavy. We want to be lively while being serious.”

Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh appreciated the efforts of Frontline to maintain certain standards that are different from others. “This is what makes it stand out,” he said.

Aijaz Ahmad, political commentator and critic, who currently holds the Rajiv Gandhi Chair at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said Frontline has no rival or counterpart in the English-speaking world.

Professor Romila Thapar, Professor Emerita, JNU, said that articles in Frontline not only contain information, but also analysis — which is important because it forces people to think. Citing an example of Frontline’s commitment to serious, secular journalism, she recalled how the magazine was not averse to publishing an article denouncing the claims that were made of the decipherment of the Indus script — backed by the “forgery” of a Harappan “horse seal.”

Frontline, she said, should focus on presenting issues of secularism and communalism. “Secularism needs more debate; currently we are touching the edges of the subject. There should be more space for secularism.” Professor Thapar said.

R. Vijaya Sankar, Editor, Frontline, said the magazine does not follow any marketing diktats; instead, it is the editorial policy that guides its marketing.

The re-launch was followed by a panel discussion on “The Indian Constitution’s Mandate: Whither Sovereignty, Socialism, Secularism and Democracy.”

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