Spot the news!

There was a time when the Man from Madras Musings eagerly looked forward to the sound of the newspaper being dropped on the doormat by the delivery boy. But now no longer. MMM, as age advances, finds that he is quite unequal to the task of dealing with the modern newspaper.

He does not have any issue with the language or the quality of reporting, though he must admit that in these departments too, he finds the standard to be no longer what it was. But he is willing to give that the go by. What he is unable to handle or, as they say in Chennai, could not able to handle, is the format of the newspaper. This has become increasingly complicated and for someone like MMM, who found it challenging to make even the simplest of paper boats in handwork class in school, it is well nigh impossible.

Those in charge of such matters as format ought to make up their minds on whether they are producing a jigsaw puzzle or a newspaper. There was a time when the paper, all 32 pages or whatever it was, would arrive neatly folded. You could prop it up against the coffee pot or toast rack while having breakfast. If it was a joint family, and everyone needed to read at the same time, you had the option of each member taking out the sheet that he/she wanted, though, mind you, that is one practice that MMM detests. He is all for the newspaper remaining intact, being read that way, and, when done, folded neatly once again, as if it had just been delivered from the press.

These days, the order and the method, to quote Hercule Poirot, are just impossible when it comes to the dailies.
Firstly, as soon as you pick up the paper, chances are that rather in the manner of the pie from which four-and-twenty blackbirds flew out, several ‘flyers’ will flutter and fall all around you. These can be advertising anything – from massage parlours to clothes sales. All of them brightly coloured, they have you doing your bending and stretching, in order to retrieve and deposit them where they belong – the wastepaper basket.

You then turn to the newspaper. There was a time when you could read the headlines at the top and then proceed onwards. Nowadays things are not so easy. There is first the tough puzzle of identifying how the newspaper opens. There are days when there is a cut in the middle and you need to open the two sides out, rather like pulling open a window and seeing what is within. The two sides of the window have, needless to say, some advertisement or the other. You then proceed to page 2, only to find that this is not page 2 at all. There is another full-page ad here and sometimes there is yet another ad on page 3. Finally, having waded through all this, you reach page 4 and get on with the news.

There are days, however, when even page 4 does not cough up the news. That is because what you are holding in your hand is a supplement, cleverly got up to look like the original newspaper, just so that you will be see the advertisements. The actual paper, also with advertisements festooned on the first, second and just about every other page, is the one you assumed was a supplement and put away for reading later.

If all this was not bad enough, you have what can only be described as an excrescence – the slightly longer sheet that juts out of the folded newspaper just so that you can read the advertisement on the side. This means the newspaper no longer folds up neatly and if you suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder concerning cleanliness, chances are you have a full morning trying to fit the elongated sheet in. And then you have the half-sheet, one that is only the half the width of a normal paper, which is yet another infliction on the reader. You need to lift it to read the news that is below. This also means the various sheets of the paper need to be pasted together and so cannot be taken apart in case two people need to share a paper. MMM sometimes thinks there must be a diabolical crew in every newspaper office that comes up with ideas on how to confuse the average reader.

Mind you, even news is no longer what it used to be. There was a time when the headlines were headlines and the sports page dealt with sports news, barring the small section at the bottom where the dear departed claimed space. Several residents of Madras that is Chennai would first turn to the sports page not out of any love for the game but more to see the bottom space concerning the dear departed and plan out bathing schedules accordingly. Nowadays, most of the sports news, filled with scandals as it is, makes it to the headlines. As for the dear departed, they too have become commercial, needing photo space and so have moved to another page. The masthead is just about the only constant and reassuring factor.

To read part 2