An Era Ends


Posted: 2010-08-11

The death of prominent and independent Manipuri vernacular daily Poknapham editor and owner, Shamurailatpam Gopal Sharma, may indeed well mark the conclusion of an old school of journalism and journalistic practice in Manipur. The genial, soft-spoken gentleman, other than everything else that he may have represented, was also someone who successfully tided the onslaught of the new and brutal paradigm the media world was thrown into in the mid 1990s – a brave new world, if you like, in which business and business gains became the oxygen and prime motivation of a profession which was once thought to be a mission before anything else. Most others who began with him were not resilient enough to change with the tides of the times, and perished. Gopal Sharma not only survived the severe trepidations of the 1990s, but came out riding with aplomb the high waves of the new game.

The transformation happened before the eyes of everybody older than 20 years. From a single sheet newspaper printed on flatbed letter press treadle printing machines which had not seen much technological advancement from the one Johannes Gutenberg invented in 1439, newspapers in Manipur in the mid 1990s saw a literal quantum leap in terms of printing technology, quality and quantity of editorial content and not to say the least, an exponential expansion in the size of readership. In evolutionary jargon, this was akin to one of those cataclysmic climatic changes the earth is believed to periodically undergo, such as the one believed to have wiped off 75 percent of life on earth about 200 million years ago. The evolutionary truism is, those who cannot cope changes are eliminated.

Once upon a time, newspapers in Manipur were the enterprises resulting out of journalistic heads getting together to launch mediums of information disseminating. This explains why once, journalists owned newspapers, and predominantly editors were also owners. Today, it is business that drives these enterprises, and sure enough, it is about good business management and deep pockets for investments that hold most of the keys to success. Editor owners of media houses are getting fewer by the day, and may indeed be a dying species. Whether this is for the bad or good is secondary, but the truth from which nobody can escape is, this is the defining value of the enterprise Today. The front page jacket advertisement, in which the entire front page is given away for catchy display advertisements to cash loaded multinational corporations, obviously for a fortune, were unthinkable a generation or two ago anywhere in the world. Today it is very much an accepted media practice. The liquidity in the hands of newspaper managements have also increased manifolds as a result, giving them much more investment latitude.

This has no doubt promoted professionalism in many senses, but as witnessed in many of the metropolises in the country with respect of many national newspapers, it can also seriously marginalise the importance and independence of journalists. Gopal Sharma, belonged to the past school once but he was among the very few who managed to reinvent himself to meet the new challenge of the newspaper as business first. While other dinosaurs perished, this one transformed to acquire a new avatar. He was thus a well known editor of a slick, respected prominent newspaper, and the engine of a successful media business in the same breath. He held fort to remain an editor owner in the new age too. With his death, another important bridge to a past media paradigm may have died. May his soul rest in peace.

While the journalistic fraternity mourns the death of a self-made journalist and entrepreneur, whose life is another story of grit taking the brave and perseverant from rags to riches, let the fraternity also take heart in the possibilities that the media pioneer in the state has shown. Given the preparedness to work hard, the resilience to accommodate changes, and the acumen to timely identify business opportunities, there is no adversity which cannot be turned into advantage. Gopal Sharma’s life is indeed a reminder of the epitaph given by Horatio the philosopher friend of Hamlet at the death of the sweet Prince of Denmark: “The readiness is all.”


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