WOMEN JOURNALISTS rarely make it as newspaper EDITORS

Plenty of women journalists in India but few make it as editors! The few who did (top row, l to r) Olga Tellis (resident editor of ‘Asian Age’ where she now continues as consulting editor); Dina Vakil ( former resident editor of ‘The Times of India’), Carol Andrade (a former editor of ‘The Afternoon Despatch & Courier’, the popular daily tabloid eveninger finally shut down earlier this month), Gauri Lankesh (edited Kannada daily ‘Lankesh Patrika’ and was killed for her leftwing political views); (second row) Malini Parthasarathy (appointed resident editor of century-old important English daily from South India ‘The Hindu’ on January 2015), Mrinal Pandey (editor of Hindi daily ‘Hindustan’ till 2009 when she was appointed chairperson of Prasar Bharati , India government broadcasting media), Seema Chisti, (former editor of Hindi BBC, later No2 at MJ Akbar’s ‘Telegraph’ and currently the resident editor of ‘The Indian Express’, Delhi), Nanasaheb Parulekar (founder editor of Marathi daily ‘Sakal’) and in Goa there’s Jyoti Dhond (founder-editor of the Marathi daily ‘Goa Doot’)

BY TARA NARAYAN

It is true that there are very few women editors in journalism be it in English or vernacular newspapers and the reasons can be quite frustrating, says Tara Narayan

TODAY we see many women in print and electronic media as reporters, sub-editors, anchors, news readers — but to this day there are very few women news editors or straight out editors in positions of power. This is true not only of Goa but in the rest of the country. Much water has passed under the bridge of journalism but from the sound of it few women have staying power or command enough respect in the eyes of proprietors to be hired as editor of a daily newspaper.
For some reason women make it as keen or hard-nosed reporters or chief reporters and even news editors — maybe a No.2 in the hierarchy of newspapers, but rarely as an editor. From my 30 years in Mumbai-that-was Bombay I know of several excellent newspaper women. For many years Carol D’Souza (later Carol Andrade), who started out as reporter with Times of India and later as chief reporter at Mid-Day when Behram Contractor was editor, also his news editor when he left to start The Afternoon Despatch & Courier. The ADC soon became a popular eveninger with Mumbaikars addicted to Contractor’s signature daily column called Round & About. It also went to become a successful daily tabloid newspaper with many stories to tell and survived ten long years even after the legendary editor passed on and his wife Farzana Contractor took over.
Unfortunately, proprietor Kamal Morarka (a wealthy politician and patron of the media) who had initially bankrolled the paper) decided to relieve Farzana Contractor of the editorship of the ADC. In fact, he removed the paper from its original offices at Flora Fountain to take it to offices at the upmarket business district of Nariman Point and inviting one-time close confidant of Behram Contractor, Carol Andrade, to be the editor.
Ironically, after serving as editor of the ADC for several years but unable to make its cash registers ring, and finding the long commute from Versova to Nariman Point tiresome and worrisome, she decided to quit and took up a far more relaxing job as dean of St Paul’s Institution at Bandra where she is currently engaged with the challenge of inspiring students of mass media education. Carol Andrade is considered as much a hard-nosed journalist as say Dina Vakil at The Times of India. It was some kind of media history when Dina Vakil was appointed resident editor and story goes that what counted in her favour with the management was that she is a single woman, and had long innings as assistant editor helping Vimla Patil to bring out pioneering women’s magazine Femina. As single woman Dina Vakil came with impeccable journalistic experience and that too without family baggage! Quite possible the perception is that a single woman would be able to do better justice to the newspaper by devoting herself exclusively to the rigours of being a full time editor of The Times of India.
Not that there were no newspaper women eyeing the editorship of The Times of India — I dare say apart from Carol Andrade, Bachi Karkaria and a few more women on the TOI journalists roll call could have entertained the idea of being editor and why not? It would be a challenge like no other for women who have worked their work up the ladder painstakingly but at the final post got dismissed as not editor material.
There are several women’s names in the editor’s roll call of monthly, fortnightly and weekly magazines like Fatima Zakaria, Anees Jung, Olga Tellis, Seema Chishti (fiercely loyal to M J Akbar even if he has been in the news in recent times for making his women staff’s life a roller coaster ride depending on how sexually sweet they were to him) and a few more. The #MeToo recounting of sexual harassment is familiar to most of us now and several women journalists are familiar with the predatory arrogant male editor’s prerogative of treating their women staff as easy prey to woo for sexual favours. No man so powerfully vengeful as a man scorned even in journalism , my dears.
Gulshan Ewing was the editor of the once popular Eve’s Weekly (in competition with Femina) but the story goes that she was editor more for her social status and networking skills than any hard work up the ladder of grinding journalism. Other names which ring a bell in mainstream journalism are that of Pamela Philipose (yet another Times of India journalist who has come a long way, who moved to Delhi after marriage and is currently Public Editor of Wire, as also senior fellow at the Indian Council of Social Science Research and associated with online paper The Wire). Funny, how women journalists who’ve missed the hot seat of active editorship do well as consultant editors and as contributing editors.
Coming back to Goa one can’t think of a single woman editor of a daily newspaper be it in English or any of the mother tongues be it Marathi or Konkani (sadly Konkani newspapers have little readership as proved by the closure of Sunaparanta which was the baby of industrialist Dattaraj Salgaocar for many years before he got tired of its failure to stand on its two feet financially and shut it down). One may consider Jyoti Dhond as the editor of the Marathi daily newspaper Goa Doot but here again she is both proprietor and managing editor, bringing out the newspaper with a team of staff members.
Jyoti Dhond is or was fortunate enough to have had the late chief minister of Goa Manohar Parrikar as one of her paper’s strong supporters, he undoubtedly helped boost the advertising revenue of Goa Doot to keep it swimming happily financially. Mrs Dhond herself is quite a personable editor with considerable contacts of her own and undoubtedly it helps being married to Justice Desmond D’Costa.
Interestingly, when I asked Rajan Narayan, founder-editor of 20 years with the English Herald, and currently editor of the Goan Observer, why seasoned and eminently qualified journalists like Devika Sequeira missed out on being editorship, his cryptic answer was, “Male politicians prefer to sit and talk with male journalists! As far as I know the only chief minister who was comfortable speaking with women journalists was Dr Willy!” (referring to former chief minister of Goa Dr Wilfred D’Souza). Also, he offered, sometimes the women journalists themselves are content and don’t want to be editors, “Go and ask Suhasini Prabhugoankar if she ever wanted to be the editor of Gomantak? You cannot ignore the fact that being the editor means not only being a good journalist but also able to work long hours at desk from say 11am to 3pm like I did day after day and year after year…also as editor you have to take hard decisions quickly with the interests of everyone in mind, which I know few women can do!”
Meaning women journalists are not fools, they know how much responsibility they can and cannot shoulder. You cannot play at being editor of a newspaper for it is demanding both in political as well as social terms. After putting in hours at office, editors do well if they go socialize at evening functions and parties of importance to fuel their understanding of political, economic and a gamut of equations. For 20 years, says Rajan Narayan, “I would sit around with all kinds of people after office hours pretending I was an alcoholic with a glass of whisky in my hand… so that they thought I was drunk and didn’t mind confiding in me!” Never mind that his memory was razor sharp and recall absolute when he went to office the next morning.
Well, perhaps there’s an element of truth lodged somewhere in all this as also in the fact that women once they marry put their domestic responsibilities first and inevitably there’s a clash between home and professional responsibilities and accountabilities to husband and extended family. It’s something which is unlikely to jell well with newspaper proprietors of the terribly business minded kind or also perhaps of the male chauvinistic kind to boot, who may think editors they hire (or fire without any sensitivity or sensibility) should be personally on duty and at their beck and call around the clock (much like doctors if they have a conscience).
Not surprisingly in the light of all this, male editors are taken seriously while female editors non-existent at least in Goa and India. It’s much easier for a woman to be a token editor by being a newspaper proprietor’s wife or mistress! In which case the credentials of being a journalist do not arise. One can only endorse Devika Sequeira’s hope that male (and perhaps even female) attitudes towards women journalists in the editor’s chair will change for the better soon!

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