I was all of 14 when I first watched Devil Wears Prada. Meryl Streep walking into Runway magazine’s (essentially their take on Vogue & Wintour) very poised, very snobbish office & then throwing her coats on Emily’s desk made me want to immediately apply for a job at Vogue India or equivalent. Little did I know.
For what started off as a very robust industry that didn’t spare a single typo, we have come a long way. I remember being unabashedly mesmerised by print journalism. Being a part of editorial & a good publication was like a dream come true. Something to dress for, something to show off, a little air that came with knowing your grammar a tad bit better than other civilians. I distinctly remember visiting FabIndia and Westside to dress the part. Those long kurtis, oxidised Jhumkas, a colourful Jhola bought from the streets of Colaba and Kolhapuri Chappals with a hardcover notebook in tow was the look every journalist dreamt of, so cliché & so filmy. The editors were strict, old school media mavens who wouldn’t bat an eyelid unless you came with contacts or a grand degree in your portfolio. There was no room for mercy.
I started my career in writing with digital so I wouldn’t claim to know much about print. But I tried to get a job in print, nevertheless. I applied rigorously to magazines and newspapers. Most magazines were shutting, and the newspapers had already made a shift to a digital version, with massive cutbacks in budgets for print. Print advertisements saw a similar fate, most brands were joining hands with content creators, bloggers, influencers, the works. The space was opening up and yet was shrinking away at the same time.
I watched helplessly as my go-to publications collapsed. The pandemic was the last straw. There was no looking back for most newspapers. We saw Harper’s Bazaar India, Seventeen, Redbook, Glamour, Teen vogue to Mumbai Mirror cease print publication. An iconic ethnic Indian newspaper in the US (India Abroad) that catered to the Indian diaspora recently halted publication after 50 years, thanks to the pandemic. In a press note issued in October 2019, DNA went out of print 14 years after its launch with a view to reduce losses and optimise costs. The brand announced a shift to digital with a focus on video based original content. Utterly painful when an assumption, that what previously was a feature article can now be replaced by video content is held by the showrunners. “The pandemic is certainly to blame, but it has merely accelerated what was inevitable – the print medium is no longer viable”, The Wire declared. Talk about an impending doom & a tragic demise.
So, I begin to wonder, do people even want to read interviews anymore? What happens when the celebrities you read about in the glossiest, most sought-after magazines have their own Instagram accounts and PR teams that doll out every bit of their life through stories & TikTok videos? What does a publication with a lifestyle beat even aim to cover when every influencer knows how to communicate the exact same message in a more relatable (read: conversational) way?
Where does that supplement go and will we always be this replaceable?
My publication dream collapsed bit by bit in 2020. I made realistic amends in my thinking as to why I shouldn’t apply for a vacant position at an X magazine or a Y newspaper with a low pay. A bunch of great journalists and writers lost their jobs. Not only was the industry in a disastrous state, most writers begin migrating to advertising. It lacked the charm of the newsroom but came with a hefty pay, fancier offices & less judgement.
But to this day, I look back on that day I sat at Asian Age trying to write a 500-word feature. A very dingy office, the smell of old books and strong coffee. A very strict, snobbish editor sat at a mahogany desk with his glasses firmly in place. There was energy in the air, the prospect and anticipation of a new story was palpable. The urgency of printing without a typo, very evident. And to this day, I feel like I would like to live a day in the pre-digital era. That time when a draft was not on your phone’s notepad, when a typo meant you could lose your job, and when a kurti with a colourful Jhola & a hardbound notebook meant a journalist had arrived.