History & Culture

The story of a scribe

ABK Prasad  

There’s nothing quite as pleasing as interviewing a journalist. He guesses your question even before you complete it, and responds with right words. He provides, what editors term, a ‘neat copy’. But there’s a bit of apprehension too. Would he find the questions frivolous? Or irrelevant? But ABK Prasad, the doyen of modern vernacular journalism is patience personified and displays the rare virtue of optimism. While sharing his journey of six decades in journalism, ABK Prasad unravels the changes that marked the evolution of media. ABK enjoyed the unique honour of being the editor of all the mainstream Telugu newspapers. “I have been mostly destined to be a launching pad for many Dailies,” laughs ABK. As an author, orator and the Chairman, Official Language Commission (till 2009), ABK wore many hats with élan.

On the eve of his 80th birthday the veteran journalist goes down memory lane:

Your thoughts as you enter into your 81st year

It is any other day. But at cellular level we journalists are all ‘youngsters’ defying time factor! I spent almost 60 years in this august position in different capacities as sub-editor, editor, correspondent, specialist in interviewing personalities and ultimately emerged as Editor-in-Chief of about five Telugu dailies. My satisfaction knew no bounds with the launching of new news dailies and making them successful with new formats, new type of attractive single line spicy headlines, spread over eight columns with massive pictures as a feast to readers eyes (hitherto confined to single column or maximum double column photographs) for the first time in the history of vernacular press. Also for the first time I brought sports news with big pictures on to the front page top on all celebrated events of the day, plus punchy editorials on all events of importance of the day which have bearing on national, state and international issues.

What has been the most significant phase in your career?

The significant phase I had faced was when I was working in Eenadu on emergency declaration day (June 25, 1975). At that time any beat-constable in India can subject the newspaper or editors/correspondents to censorship and harassment. I suspended the regular editorial piece in protest against emergency and put in its place Tagore’s poem Where the mind is without fear...’ in Telugu version indicating enough that we are against the emergency declaration. At that time Mr. Jayabharat Reddy was the collector of Visakhapatnam ( Eenadu’s first edition started from here). He called me up and cautioned me mildly against putting such material in the paper, but in a round-about manner I used to push material to educate the public.

Another significant achievement is through Udayam daily. Though short lived, in the two editions (Hyderabad and Vijayawada), I made it exclusively a mirror of investigative journalism for the first time in the undivided Andhra Pradesh. It started with a bang with a catchy motto – “There is only one morning ‘Sun’ for the entire world, but two morning Suns for the Telugu people (meaning Udayam). In 1985 Udayam played an historic role in defence of dalits, when ghastly incidents took place in Karamchedu.

Traits that make a successful journalist?

There are no short-cuts in any vocation, so also for those who choose this profession. A journalist may be a stubborn guy in his pursuit of getting at the truth or for a story behind the story but never ruthless or impatient in his dealings with men and matters. Being shrewd you can also be accommodative in letter and spirit but never lose your point while extracting from the other side.

You have been associated with generations of reporters over the years, how do you think the concept of news reporting has evolved?

As Herald Evans of the London Times put it succinctly and in a sweet and short epitome, after all ‘News is People’ and nothing short and nothing long! I was invariably drilling this in schools of journalism run by some dailies. Concept of news reporting has had its roots in coffee clubs of Europe in 17-18th centuries. And to be more at home in our Telugu land it was the great poet of 11th century Nannaya in his celebrated epic Mahabharata work (Sabhaparvam) started propagating through a meaningful poem starting with lines Vaartayandu jagamu vardhillu (The world progresses through news and devoid of it people will have to suffer in darkness)! But it was Narada known for tricky and double-meaning words with cajoling tactics, spread rumours. So ‘vaartha’ is news as well as rumour in circulation.

Journalists should continuously be in the reading habit as we should mind ourselves every minute that we are students. It is a humble way of learning all main trends, though not in detail, in essence literature, economics, politics, culture and every other aspects of people’s interest.

Are these the challenging times for reporters to hold readers’ interest?

Whether the reader has time to read the news extensively or not, it is the reporter’s job to file the story in depth or in a short form as per the strength of his story irrespective of what readers feel. It is for the desk to decide to ‘cut the size’ as per the available cloth and space! There may be some occasions to expose certain events of social concerns, political or otherwise. The noticeable flaw in most of the newspapers is that we miss the follow-up story. If somebody scores by an item published in rival paper, correspondent or special correspondent should go in for a story behind the story!

Your comments on juxtaposition of electronic and print media

Some professionals of print and TV media maintain respectable decorum in churning items of public interest. In such situations reasonable self-restraint in reportage and analysis has to be observed. But major difference between print and electronic media is that channel viewers are left with just a short lived ‘passing show’ leaving behind a story without much analysis. In between, before ‘breaking news’ number of advertisements intervene. But print media is in a better position to present its readers in-depth news and analysis. Electronic media could just be a passing phenomena with much repetition of same visuals, sometimes played an entire day to the fatigue of viewers whereas readers feel more at home with print media as the material can be preserved for research.

You have written a lot on international affairs too. In comparison to national or local context, what’s the readers’ response?

All through my 60 years of career, I kept constant track with major events and development of not only national and state levels, but also international affairs. This habit forced me to indulge in deep study and observations and go on churning articles extensively on number of subjects in a quick succession for publication in newspapers. Readers immensely liked and continue to like them. I receive about 80 to100 calls a day whenever my article is published. As Winston Churchill observed on an occasion, ‘abused or otherwise you must be in circulation’.

Can a good writer be a good reporter or vice versa?

A good writer can certainly be a good reporter too, provided he gets sufficiently grilled in learning of the twists and turns of professional work. It is an exacting task though, but and an exciting one. But of course, one must have ‘nose for news’ to make a mark, for, this is a profession not meant for those who consider ‘a job for job sake’.

All the years that you’ve burnt midnight oil in newspaper offices, how did your family cope with your absence?

It’s not just me, most journalists have to deal with this issue. My wife is a well-organised woman with time and everything else. She loves gardening. Despite her advanced age and failing health, she nurses variety of plants with so much care. After being married to me for 60 years, she now jokes with people that, “one should not marry journalists as they don’t have any time for families”. On a serious note, she always loved and supported me for which I shall be ever thankful to her. I have four daughters; all married and none of our sons-in-law demanded dowry from us. Ours is a casteless family of a good commingling of six castes. In a word our family is a ‘Casteless society’!

Future plans

I while away my time at ‘No.1 News channel’ as its elderly adviser. I am in the process of penning my professional biography.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 4:45:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/interview-with-anne-bhavani-koteswara-prasad/article7481069.ece

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