India Loves Billionaires

One week ago, in an article in Mint titled ‘Jet global expansion put on hold from November’, the following sentences appeared:

On international routes, Jet, run by billionaire non-resident Indian Naresh Goyal faces fresh competition. Kingfisher Airlines, promoted by billionaire Vijay Mallya, starts its international operations in September with a Bangalore-London flight.

A Mint reader named Harish Jagtiani sensibly wondered why the article needed to point out that Goyal and Mallya were billionaires, and posed that question to the editor of Mint, Raju Narisetti. Narisetti, in his blog, examined how many times the word ‘billionaire’ had appeared in India’s newspapers, and replied:

Clearly, business journalists love to point out someone’s billionaire status and I suspect if the B-word wasn’t so long, it would end up in more headlines as well! Is it our admiration for the relatively newly minted Indian billionaires that makes reporters go ga-ga? Actually, it turns out that being a billionaire is a good way to end up in many other newspapers. While the word appeared some 942 times in Indian newspapers in the past year, it appeared 4,102 times in Australian newspapers and 7,190 times in UK’s newspapers. I do think Harish has a point in that dropping the B-word has become a bit of a lazy crutch, whether the reference makes sense in the story or not. In a profile of Vijay Mallya it sure seems to make sense. In a story about Jet pulling back on international flights, does it really matter whether Naresh Goyal is a billionaire or not?

Narisetti’s blog The Romantic Realist works best when Narisetti writes about journalism: unlike the other journalist-bloggers I have read, he is honest, insightful and self-critical. Bloggers love criticising the mainstream media, and this blog is the first I’ve seen that gives an unflinching inside view of MSM from the top. Here are some other posts on journalism that he’s written:

Headllines Above (and Below) The Rest
Should Indian journalists cover up the truth?
Why this shouldn’t be called a foray into blogging
How bad writing (and no editing) can bias readers

Promising stuff, even if the design and user interface is appallingly bad. Why do newspaper websites in India try to reinvent the freaking wheel?


Disclosure: I wrote a weekly column and created a daily crossword for Mint for about a year, and we parted ways acrimoniously in January. I have never met Narisetti.