To get a fair idea about the all-time top 5 journalists in India, who all have attained cult status over the years, we need to dig deeper into our history and try to cover the trendsetters who all had made a deep impact in our daily lives both as news reporters and broadcasters.
What is the first thought that comes to the mind when you think of the word journalism in India?
Well, for some it might be newspapers, for a few, it’s related to the news that is telecast on the Television and for others, it might be both. But what journalism in true sense suggests is- the production and distribution of various reports on the recent happenings or events and their neutral interpretation. The bottom line is to collect, analyze, create and present information and news. Considered as the fourth pillar of democracy in the world’s largest republic, journalism in India has witnessed many legendary figures and there have been lots of twists and turns since it’s very inception. So, let’s retrospect into the history of journalism in India and zero-in on 5 outstanding personalities who all were innovative enough to carve a niche for themselves.
The list is based solely on the grounds of their avant-garde dedication and commitments due to which many notable names are left out.
- Late Khushwant Singh– Born on 2nd February 1915 in Hadali (now in Pakistan), Mr Singh had donned many hats in his lifetime, apart from being one of the most sought after journalists in independent India. He was an author, a lawyer and a diplomat. The trauma of partition in 1947 propelled him to write Train to Pakistan in 1956, which eventually was made into a critically acclaimed film in 1998.
He started his professional career as a lawyer in Lahore Court in 1939. Practising for eight years successfully, he joined the Foreign Services in 1947. After being appointed as a journalist with All India Radio in 1951, he was shifted to the Department of Mass Communications of UNESCO at Paris in 1956.
From 1956 onwards, he shifted to editorial services. He founded Yojana in 1951 and was its editor till 1953. It was an Indian government journal. He also edited The Illustrated Weekly of India, a newsweekly and The National Herald. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of the country, personally recommended him to be appointed as editor of Hindustan Times. Such was the popularity of his brand, that during his tenure, The Illustrated Weekly became India’s pre-eminent newsweekly, with its circulation raising from 65,000 to 400,000.
He was widely popular for his humour and sarcasm. He had been a vocal critic of religion and its practices. He was also a votary of friendly relations with Israel when no Indian government took the risk of displeasing the Arab countries.
He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974, which he returned in 1984 in protest against Operation Blue Star. In 2007 he was conferred with the Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award in India.
He had courted controversy by openly supporting the nationwide emergency imposed by the government in 1975.
Watch Khushwant Singh speaking with another celebrated reported Karan Thapar in the following video-
2. Sunanda K. Datta Ray- Born on 13th December 1937 in Calcutta (now Kolkata), Mr Datta Ray is a certified chartered accountant from England. He joined The Statesman in 1960 as junior London Correspondent. From 1960-1962 he was the roving features editor. Then he became the Sunday magazine editor in 1962 and was in that post till 1968.
His career took a peak when he was appointed as the deputy editor in 1980. By 1986 he became the editor of one of India’s most trusted and respected newsgroup The Statesman. He had also written for International Herald Tribune and Time
His works have been published for over forty years in Asia, Europe and the US. He also contributed to Penguin’s book of new Indian writing in 2005. Apart from these, he had penned four monographs and edited one.
Watch Sunanda K. Datta Ray in conversation at the Kolkata Literary Meet in 2016 speaking on The Making of Indian Diplomacy
3. Nalini Singh- Born Nalini Shourie on September 1, 1945, in Jalandhar, Nalini Singh was the face of fearless journalism amidst the turbulent political atmosphere in the late 80s. Her claim to fame was her investigative journalism, which was a first of its kind in India, especially for television viewers.
One of her pathbreaking TV shows in the national channel exposed the unholy criminal politician nexus during the Bhagalpur riots of 1989. Many senior politicians were exposed during the telecast of the show.
Her name features in this list as she was the first to shoot breathtaking scenes for the various current affairs programmes on Doordarshan. Her program Ankhon Dekhi based on investigative journalism took the nation by storm. Till then, most of India was only dependent on informative news from print media and national broadcasters.
She also made another show named, Hello Zindagi for Doordarshan in 1995.
In the following link, she raises some pertinent points on Sunanda Pushkar’s death- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Y9_q71jlo0
Mrs Singh is now the managing director, TV Live India Pvt Ltd, and Managing Editor of News Channel, Nepal-1.
4. Prannoy Roy- Born as Prannoy James Roy on 15th October 1949 in Calcutta (now Kolkata), he is also a chartered accountant and an economist. He was employed with Price Waterhouse for a brief period to become one of India’s leading digital journalists.
His USP has been his cutting edge methodology to reach out to a wider audience who were oblivious to the way international broadcasters like BBC and CNN function.
The election analysis programmes he started on national television from the late 80s along with Mr Vinod Dua has a separate fan base. Their minute assays, especially during exit polls, used to garner amazing TRPs, more than the entertainment programmes.
It is he who imported the practice of exit poll analysis on leading news channels. When he hosted The News Tonight and The World This Week on Doordarshan, they were nominated as one of India’s 5 best television shows. Roy, later on, went to start India’s first 24-hour English news channel named NDTV 24/7 and through this channel, Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt became household names.
He had served as the economic advisor to the Ministry of Finance, Government of India.
In 2009 he was one of the two Indians serving on the International Advisory Board of Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
Take a sneak peek on NDTV’s 25 years of history in the following video-
5. Arnab Goswami– Born as Arnab Ranjan Goswami on 7th March 1973, in Guwahati, Arnab Goswami is the most famous television news anchor as on date.
Starting his career with The telegraph, he, later on, moved to Delhi and joined NDTV. In 2006 he quit NDTV and to join Times Now as its Editor-in-Chief.
His 9 PM show The Newshour featured distinguished personalities. He used to host a special programme named Frankly Speaking with Arnab in which he interviewed many notable personalities like Late Benazir Bhutto, Gordon Brown, Hamid Karzai, Hillary Clinton, Dalai Lama and the present Prime Minister Narendra Modi after he assumed office for the first time in 2014. He had earned fame by being extremely vociferous which had drawn sharp criticism from a section of the media.
After resigning from Times Now, he started his channel named Reupliv TV which is now the most viewed news channel in India. Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore him as he is still followed widely by a large group of people because of his catchphrase “The Nation wants to Know”.
He had won the Ramnath Goenka award for excellence in journalism in the year 2008.
On December 2019 he was unanimously elected as the President of News Broadcasting Federation.
Watch Goswami speaking with PM Modi in the following video-
It is an uphill task to finalize 5 legendary journalists from a plethora of choices. But I wanted to ensure that I pick up those who have redefined the basic concept of journalism in India