Arnab Goswami - the meteoric rise of a media outsider
Article first published in +The News Minute Click here
Arnab is a rare media personality, who from being a news anchor has transcended the professional "Lakshman Rekha" to become news himself. Much of that has been the contribution of his former colleagues, who first turned rivals and finally adversaries - trolling him relentlessly. Though Arnab too studied in Delhi (Hindu not Stephen’s) and also went to Oxford as some of his celebrity contemporaries, not being a Delhi or Mumbai boy (coming from Assam) he was not considered part of the inner circle. At NDTV - the alma mater of so many news TV stars - he was always under the shadow of not only Barkha and Rajdeep but also the next rung of starlets and wannabe stars.
When Arnab moved out of NDTV, no one took either him or Times Now seriously. The battle ahead was expected to be primarily between NDTV and TV18 CNN-IBN. The unconventional decision to have a news channel out of Mumbai, instead of Delhi, which was the place of action, was itself frowned upon. The initial years were trying for Arnab (as has been chronicled at fair length in a number of hatchet jobs in other publications) and there were rumours of the Jains even starting to look out for his replacement at one stage. Finally, he found his mojo in The Newshour and the rest is now history.
Arnab not only became his competitors envy, even those who criticised him clandestinely watched his show. The only other parallel in Indian media this columnist can think of is the Bengali Daily - Anandabazar Patrika - that everyone trashes but loves to read. This gave rise to the advertising slogan - "what does Anandabazar have to say (on a topic)?" Similarly, no matter how much people dissed Arnab and The Newshour, even his most vocal detractors were keen to know his position on key issues of the day. Often, Arnab was the one who set the agenda for others.
Another distinctive style of Arnab was that he preferred to be the quintessential Anchor and Editor instead of an Anchor-Reporter, which is more common in television journalism. Therefore, Arnab did not step out of the studio except for his face-to-face Frankly Speaking interviews. Also, being stuck before the camera, practically 365 nights of the year, he had little time for schmoozing in the capital's power circuit. So, he continued to remain the "outsider". Distance gave him an enigmatic and maverick image, which he seemed to enjoy.
In many ways, Arnab changed the paradigm of Indian news television. Contrary to popular perception, while he was not afraid of taking positions on issues, he did not bring personal bias or prejudice against individuals on his shows. This is more than what one can say about many of his peers. He provoked and intimidated - in an adversarial mode of anchoring - to bring out the counter point of view but never tried to surreptitiously sneak in political or personal agenda. I am inclined to believe he is politically agnostic and much of his posturing is for effect (On the few occasions, I have met Arnab socially, found him to be soft-spoken and polite to a fault).
To many who had followed his meteoric rise - the question was not whether he will ever leave Times Now, but when. It is humanly impossible to maintain that maniacal pace and tenacity month after month. One has seldom seen him take breaks and a few times he has even returned cutting short his leave if there was an important news-break. He had clearly peaked at his game and from hereon it could only be a plateau at best till youngsters displaced him from the top slot. There were already his clones copying The Newshour format to create a poor man's Times Now. While others after trying to put him down - with snide asides (example "You don't have to shout to be heard") went back to their old ways of slanted journalism.
Clearly Arnab had to reinvent himself. But, it is doubtful if he could have done it at Times Now. If he stayed on forever - his core audience and fans would expect more of the same from him - which would be a recipe for professional disaster. Now, if he makes a fresh start he has a better chance of creating something new for himself. The best part of that will be, this time around he shall own "the brand" not someone else.
For the Jains too, it will be a good opportunity to get off the Tiger that they had inadvertently mounted. They can now get fresh talent and also relaunch the product in a new avatar - something that BCCL is particularly good at. One would not be surprised if they make it into a newsroom-based channel rather than an anchor-dependent channel (just as they have done for their print and digital publications). It will be a "win-win" for both.
I for one do not subscribe to the theory that Arnab has resigned due to differences on editorial policy. Knowing how commercially driven the BCCL group is, TRP is what would matter to them most. However, being independent will certainly give Arnab much more room for play. It is also possible that over the past few months Arnab was raising his jingoistic pitch and displaying an incipient right-wing inclination as a build up for his next jump. But, I am willing to bet Arnab and the Jains would part as friends without rancour.
Finally, it was amusing to note that some Times Now staffers actually cried after he made the announcement. This is somewhat at variance to the impression outside that Arnab is a monster of a boss who everyone loved to hate.