The media roller-coaster ride which Kejriwal and NRN rode on the way up are dissimilar, but their downward trip has similarities, especially the alienation with the media.

Voices Tuesday, April 07, 2015 - 05:30
By Chitra Subramaniam Working with the media is a two-way street that can also turn into a one-way sword and as sharp as it gets. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal learnt that in 12 months. Infosys Founder Chairperson and Mentor N. Narayanamurthy may be learning that a bit later, after a dozen or so years.  What happened? We in the media decided we know how to build a brand. Marketing and advertising professionals as well as event managers turned into journalists, politicians and businesspeople became all things to all people.  That is fine, but when journalism is understood as public relations, board rooms and political offices become extensions of news studios, it signals the beginning of the end of trust.  The media roller-coaster ride which Kejriwal and NRN rode on the way up are dissimilar, but their downward trip has similarities, especially the alienation with the media. Once, a company that could do no wrong, Infosys has now sent legal notices to media houses to retract what they say are speculative stories about their internal management issues. Kejriwal stopped being a story some time ago.  In the beginning, he too could do no wrong. Even after he tumbled his own government 49-days after being in power as Chief Minister of Delhi, people including the media were willing to give him a second chance to become Prime Minister of India. So mesmerized was the media, they followed him around the country, sought his views on India’s foreign policy and Obama’s smirk. Then the money ran out and what was billed as strategy and plan to give India something different from the UPA and NDA turned out to be crass ambition couched in patriotism and nationalism. Kejriwal’s constant jibes at the media, serious allegations on funding of media houses and gas prices also contributed to the down spiral. The drubbing in the election was obviously not bad enough – Kejriwal is now trying to re-form the government in Delhi. Unfortunately for him, the media is busy and some are asking him to vacate his posh Delhi government bungalow where he has stayed well beyond his welcome – professional and legal.  Infosys is a different story. The promoters created wealth for themselves and others. The media loved it. The IT Company was labelled as an IT giant, Bangalore was Silicon Valley and everybody in the city was an executive travelling abroad. Journalists couldn’t find adequate adjectives to describe the story, businesspeople prepared fancy presentations. The team was media savvy, the media loved it – there was no need to any homework because everything was shining and then it seemed, accurate. The Indian economy was on an upward trajectory and the media made their story and Infosys’ story India’s story.  Heads of state and government visited Bangalore bringing more media, media houses held their programmes on the many campuses owned by Infosys. NRN was billed to be the President of India and then more recently Nandan Nilekani was promoted as Rahul Gandhi’s Prime Minister just like Manmohan Singh was to Sonia Gandhi. NRN’s views were sought on everything from building roads to railways and finding a cure for malaria. It was as if no company had existed before and would thereafter.  Both Kejriwal and NRN said they promoted meritocracy, transparency and flat structures. In Kejriwal’s case, there was no structure as his lieutenants have been telling us for the past few weeks. He had distanced himself from his believers, even snapping at some of them who carried him to fame.  In the case of Infosys, push came to shove when numbers dipped, attrition zoomed, and competent professionals were shown the door while others walked out citing nepotism and lack of professional values. Then, stories that were buried by the media surfaced, management decisions were questioned and what was back office turned front page.  Trust had evaporated.  Too often we in the media forgot that someone who understands the big picture has to per force know the details. Too often Kejriwal forgot that the aam aadmi is closer to details – water, food, electricity, etc – about which he waxed eloquent but failed to deliver at the first stroke of responsibility. For him and the party he created, it went from empathy, to sympathy to apathy, for the time being. The solution is not more sympathy – the solution is back to the drawing board.  Infosys handled its transition from trust to trusteeship, from individuals to people, from families to society a tad poorly. Somewhere it took a turn that was the wrong one and the media failed to point it out as a necessary course-correction not only for the company but for the media itself. Editors who dictated the media finally erred on the same side – that of excess and profligacy, carelessness and camouflage.  As for us in the media, the lessons will remain the same – stories that come easily will go easily. It is not the media’s jobs to create brands. Read Chitra's previous column- Modi Will Gag the Press – The Press Will Gag Itself: The Jury Is Out. Chitra Subramaniam, The News Minute's Editor-in-chief, is a journalist most known for her reporting on Bofors. She has been a UN correspondent, reported on the Bosnian war, GATT-WTO, Arms Control, among other issues.
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