Working in The News Minute (TNM) news room is like being on a roller coaster ride without seat belts and you have to remain silent. When we are having a good day, that is.
On a less good day there are long power cuts in Bangalore and you could be sitting upside down staring at deadlines. Try and hold that thought and popcorn if you can.
But, if there’s one word that captures the magic and the hard work, the disappointments and joys of TNM, it has got to be serendipity – that wondrous coming together of circumstances and the invitation and excitement of risk. It is probably that what made Raghav and Ritu Bahl of Quintillion media invest in us one year after we were in business covering the south
In 2013, Dhanya Rajendran was ready to do something after a baby-break, I was over the hump with my encounter with cancer and we were having lunch at the Bangalore Club when the conversation veered around to journalism and website. « With that phone » she asked staring at my neanderthal Nokia. « Yes » I said. She fainted. I had done funnier things I told Dhanya who at that very moment was trying to organise a birthday party and seriously contemplating launching an event company focused on children. What should I call it she asked me. It was my turn to roll my eyes.
As she tells me now, I gave her the confidence to run a media company. It was about the same time Vignesh Vellore was telling her why work for someone else. What TNM’s two rock stars – Dhanya and Vignesh - didn’t realise then was that they too helped me in no small measure to regain confidence in something as simple as filing a 300-word copy. When you emerge from a longish period of ill-health, confidence levels across the board run dry. I did say serendipity.
Oh, and there was something else. In fact without this ‘something’ it was a no-go for all of us. Both Dhanya and I have no history of corruption, we are not pliant and we have a healthy disrespect for status quo which means we don’t go after people, we go after stories and people who come in the way of facts. We wanted to do good journalism i.e. solid ground reportage, news and views, campaigns and data-based advocacy. We also wanted to mentor journalists and help them become top notch reporters.
We did not want to be in Delhi for personal and professional reasons. Our ‘mafias’ are largely Bangalore-Chennai based and this is where the threesome is most comfortable. Professionally too, we felt Delhi needed to reinvent itself to regain credibility across the board and more specifically in the media. The south focus was lacking in the media and seemed just right. Finally, Dhanya was from television, I was from print, we belonged to different generations but we were ready to look at new media whose potential was clear as daylight to us.
While we had covered all our know bases, what we didn’t realise then was just how submerged we would be with the work coming at us from all directions – website, stories, people, expectations, funding, traffic jams, power cuts– even as we were struggling to get an Indian proof of concept established.
What followed was complete chaos, or if you want to be fashionable, disruption. Funny but most of those who have disrupted rarely speak about it probably because it is virtually impossible to capture the reality of life in the trenches. We went live not as planned but because Dhanya had a scoop in our dry-run phase. She got through to the daughter of Rajiv Gandhi assassins Nalini and Murugan when the TN government had decided to release them.
For me, our time in the sun came when Chennai was submerged under water in December 2015. TNM became a reference point not just for verified information, but we also served as information conduits for food, vegetables, shelters, doctors, hospitals etc. We were able to show the true worth of journalism as a public good. We have often used our site to raise funds for worthy causes and have been overwhelmed by the trust people place in us. We have run public health campaigns and women's safety drives in collaboration with other organisations. We try to earn our credibility everyday. We have made mistakes, learnt and moved on. People who have made no mistakes are almost always those who have not done anything significant with their lives.
So what is TNM’s personality ? It is young, it is edgy, it is boisterous and it is very, very serious. It is a reporter’s newsroom where all ideas are welcome and research is encouraged. There are no short cuts, the story can wait till it is sound. We have resident feminists, leftists and rightists, up and down and even the middle, but if you can’t tell a consistent story, it is not passing. We all have views and opinions and we share them freely, but gossip is seriously shunned.
Dhanya is a prankster and Vignesh is a man of few words but has hugely funny ways of conveying a message. I am told I make people laugh and have a funny bone which means the three co-founders of TNM are a rock-and-roll band. Someone sent me a note recently saying we were underrated. No, we are not. In a span of 36 months, we are referred to as TNM, a branding others will pay and kill for. But yes, we are understated as people because that is how we are and that is how we like our friends.
Some other time I will write about how 4 year old Vedanth our first Editor-in-Chief would barge into the office and disconnect the internet sometimes during deadlines. Or how our 4 pm tea-seller stopped coming because we harassed him for samosas, then jhal-muri, then chaat, then change till he came no more. How I would use age to bully people to walk across the road to bring me some lunch or our many parties where Dhanya would play party pooper by reminding us that hangovers were not allowed as tomorrow was a working day. From a hole in the wall, we have grown into a full fledged office complete with paved entrance, separate bathrooms for men and women, a kitchenette, three newsrooms, one torture chamber and televisions screens.
I did get my revenge on Dhanya for her gag order on me against singing in the office. She hates going to public functions as much as I do, but she is the face of TNM and chechi will simply have to grin and bear it. Without Vignesh and Dhanya, there would be no TNM. And I am preserving my ancient Nokia. Look what it made happen.