The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- For the US newspaper reader, the opposite of provincial is metropolitan

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The Times of America' Not likely. Every major newspaper in the US, with one exception, is determinedly local in the way it styles itself. The Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle and, of course, The New York Times are great metropolitan newspapers and they primarily address their cities. None of these are multi-edition newspapers that appear simultaneously from several pan-American locations. The New York Times is bought outside New York because of its authority and reputation, but the edition outsiders buy is the same as the one New Yorkers read. Unlike the The Times of India and the Hindustan Times, both of which have metro sections that change names to season a pan-Indian paper with local flavouring, The New York Times, like other American broadsheets, is produced for its primary audience alone.

The contrast with English language broadsheets in India is total. No place name is ever allowed to sneak onto a masthead, even if the paperís readership is confined to a single state or city. The most successful dailies nearly always move to capture markets in other cities by establishing local editions: The Indian Express pioneered multiple editions and now the Hindustan Times, The Times of India and The Hindu, the heavyweights of the English broadsheet world, have followed suit. Local newspapers have to defend their turf against these interlopers and often the deeper pockets of the heavyweights carry the day.

The nearest thing the United States of America has to a ďnationalĒ newspaper is USA Today which started life as a free handout in hotels and aeroplanes but which today has respectable circulation figures. That said, in the two months Iíve been in New York I havenít once seen a copy of USA Today being read by anyone. It carries no editorial weight and is unlikely to threaten any of the great newspapers on their turf.

In theory, a multi-edition ďnationalĒ English newspaper should be more likely in a country like the US than it is in India. The US is an affluent, efficient, capitalist country with wonderful infrastructure, and a relatively homogeneous culture where everyone speaks English. India is a poor, infrastructurally challenged subcontinent, riven with cultural division where hardly anyone speaks English. Paradoxically, it is India thatís home to these English language behemoths that keep cloning themselves successfully, while America has to make do with the USA Today. Why the difference'

I donít know enough about the history of newspaper establishments in India and America to answer the question seriously (and historically one important reason must have been the restrictions US state governments put in place to limit the spread of nationwide networks of banks or chain stores or newspaper businesses), but some speculation is in order. On the face of it, it is remarkable that The Times of India should do so well in cities as different as Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. But before we succumb to this vision of Maharashtrians, Punjabis and Kannadigas all reading the same newspaper, itís worth remembering that these three cities have the most hybrid English newspaper readerships in the country. They are home to middle-class readers who come from all over the country, readers who have no particular stake in the ďlocalĒ. So long as the classified ads pages address their marital and real estate needs, they arenít particularly concerned about being loyal to the local paper. Itinerants themselves, they are unlikely to see The Times of India as an interloper.

On the other hand in cities like Calcutta and Chennai, where the English reading population is less culturally hybrid, the English newspaper market is still dominated by home town papers like The Hindu and The Telegraph. Iím suggesting that a largely Bengali or largely Tamil readership is more likely to feel attached to local institutions than the footloose, carpet-bagging readers of Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore.

That said, we need to recognize that for the typical English newspaper reader in India the idea of reading a paper called The Indian Express has more cachet than the prospect of reading the Delhi Gazette. Itís a choice between the republican and the parochial. The American reader feels no such insecurity because for him the opposite of parochial or provincial is not national, but metropolitan. Metropolitan towns in America, even after the middle classís flight to the suburbs, have a strong sense of their own significance. Unlike Indiaís swollen postcolonial cities, great American metropolises were neither created nor sustained by bureaucracies. They rose and fell on the back of business and private initiative and consequently, their citizens donít need to invoke the nation to ratify their sense of worth. Itís not an accident that New Yorkís greatest museum is called the Metropolitan. With the exception of Mumbai no Indian city has the swaggering independence that American towns take for granted.

In the most fundamental way, the nature of the newspaper industry in India and the US reflects the political arrangements of the two democracies. For all its quasi-federal features, India is a unitary state where the Nation belongs to the Union and the Union is greater than its constituent parts. The US constitution, on the other hand, goes to great lengths to emphasize that the nation is merely the sum of its constituent states. So to read the Chicago Tribune or The New York Times in this setting is not to be parochial; it is merely to survey your country and your world from where you are sitting. And the smaller the place name on the masthead, the more focused your point of view.

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