Saga of small newspapers in Mysuru

The history of journalism in Karnataka, aka  Karnataka Press, will be incomplete without reference to the role played by small newspapers. In fact, small newspapers form a significant portion of the history of journalism because of the important role played by them for over a century and half, says Mysuru-based Senior Journalist Gouri Satya, working freelance, writing features for newspapers and magazines, apart from being the Editor of “Samachar” English daily, now defunct.—Ed

By Gouri Satya, Sr. Journalist

Small newspapers stand distinctly apart from the national or regional newspapers because of the advantages they command. Working closer to the community, they understand the local problems and needs, and act as ears and voice of the local people. They keep their eyes open to the day’s happenings around them. They deal with local issues extensively in a language that the local population understands which cannot be matched by the national or regional Press, though of late these big newspapers are trying to reach out to the local people by bringing out district and mofussil editions.

Small newspapers, which have now emerged as district newspapers, act as conduit between the public and the policy-makers and shape public opinion on local issues. These strong points have made them to carve out a niche for themselves in the history of journalism.

First Printing Press

Credit should go to the Christian Missionaries for setting up the first printing Press in the then Mysore State. It came up in Bengaluru in 1840; it was set up by the Wesleyan Missionaries. In response to the request by Thomas Hodson, one of the Missionaries who was in Mysuru, to send a person who had knowledge of printing technicalities, the Mission Committee of England sent John Garett in 1839. Soon after his arrival, he set up the Press towards the end of 1840 in Fraserpet of Bangalore Cantonment.

The Wesleyan Mission Press functioned there for a little over three decades till it was closed down in 1872. However, a few years later, a similar Mission Press was established in Mysuru in 1889. It was the famous Wesleyan Printing Press. Henry Haigh of the Mission was responsible for its establishment.

The Pioneers

Publication of newspaper in Mysuru had started in 1859, even before the establishment of the Wesleyan Press. The pioneer was Bhashyam Bhashyacharya. His was a weekly newspaper called “Mysore Vrittanta Bodhini.” It was the first newspaper in Mysuru. An English-Kannada bilingual, it was printed in the Krishna Vilasa Press, Mysuru. After a short span of five years, it ceased publication in 1864.

The first newspaper of any standing appeared in 1865. It was “Karnataka Prakashika,” an Anglo-Kannada weekly, brought out by Bhashyam Tirumalacharya, one of the two Bhashyam brothers. After an interruption in 1868, it was revived in 1894 and continued till 1898. It was initially a fortnightly and subsequently a weekly.

However, even before its publication, the Wesleyan Mission had launched a small English monthly in 1861 and it was titled “The Harvest Field.” “The Methodist” magazine was initially published in the Wesleyan Mission Press in Bengaluru and later in Mysuru. The last issue appears to be of December 1924. Between 1880 and 1903, a number of newspapers made their appearance in English and Kannada. Yajaman Virupakshaiah started “Mysore Star” in 1881. It remained in publication till 1928, beginning as a weekly and subsequently as a daily. Significantly, this is the first daily published from Mysuru and for 47 years.

Father of Kannada Journalism

The next landmark in the history of Kannada journalism in Mysuru is the period of M. Venkatakrishnaiah, popularly known as “Thathaiah” or the “Grand old man of Mysore.” He brought out a number of publications — “Hithabodhini” in 1884 as a monthly, “Vrittanta Chinthamani” in 1885 as a weekly, “Sadhvi” in 1889 as a daily, “Sampadabhyudaya” and “Poura Samajika Patrike,” (all in Kannada), “Mysore Herald” in 1886, “Mysore Patriot,” “Mysore Review,” “Wealth of Mysore,” and “Nature Cure” (all in English). He was the doyen of Kannada journalism in Mysuru.

In 1886, a Kannada weekly, “Vrittanta Darpana” came on the scene and this was followed by a weekly, “Vrittanta Patrike,” a Christian newspaper printed in Kannada. The first number of “Vrittanta Patrike” was brought out by Henry Haigh in 1887. Initially, it was printed in Bengaluru and soon secured a circulation of 1,500-2,000 copies going up to 4,000 in the later years. It had a long life lasting till 1940. The Christian Mission also printed “Mahila Sakhi” (1900) and “Bodhaka Bodhini” (1905), both in Kannada. Thereafter, a number of publications were brought out from Mysuru. They included monthly, weekly and daily. Some of them with the year of publication, periodicity, and the name of the publisher were: “Karnataka Vanivilasa” (1888, monthly/bimonthly, Lakkooru Subbaraya), “Suryodaya Prakashike” (1888, daily/ weekly, B. Narasinga Rao), “Vibhudha Ranjini” (1888, weekly, G. Ramaswamy Shastri), “Aryamata Sanjeevini” (1889, a monthly, Ramanuja Iyengar), “Sastra Sanjeevini” (1890, Dakshinamurthy Sastry), “Geervana Vaksudha” (1890, Sreenivasa Iyengar)  and “Veerashaiva Matha Prakashike” (1891, monthly, P.V. Rudrappa).

B.C. Srinivasa Iyengar and two brothers, M. Ramanuja Iyengar and M. Sreenivasa Iyengar, were three notable personalities of the time in Mysuru. B.C. Srinivasa Iyengar launched the controversial “Deshabhimani” in 1891, a monthly, and “Sthree Vidyabhimani” in the same year. M. Sreenivasa Iyengar published “Nadegannadi,”  a weekly in Kannada, and as a companion to it, “Mysore Standard” in English in 1895. Subsequently, a number of weeklies and monthlies followed.

Some of these publications, in particular “Deshabhimani,” were strong critics of the Government leading to conflicts between the Press and the Government. Such newspapers were directed to suspend their publications and their printing presses were attached by the Government.

Era of tabloids

The era of tabloids began in 1917 in Mysuru with the publication of “Satyavadi” in Kannada. It was started by M.V. Subba Rao for the cause of truth. A number of single sheet dailies began to be published emulating “Satyavadi” in the following years. Around 80s, Mysuru had as many as 32 tabloids, all single sheets, priced at three paisa. They were called ‘penny papers’ and were often ridiculed as “Mooru kaasu patrike.” They were the cheapest dailies in the country.

Most of them were popular and commanded readership. Readers subscribed for 3-4 dailies. Many of the editors were popular personalities in the city. Some were freedom fighters or leading Congressmen. The news items were brief, just four or five lines, unless very important. Even then, the news items did not run beyond 3-4 paragraphs. Majority of the news items related to local events. Editorials were rare and advertisements were also few. Monthly subscription was just eight annas of a 16-anna rupee.

When communication was limited, unlike the present day technology-advanced means of communication, these small dailies were awaited eagerly by the readers to know the news of the day. On major national-level occurrences like death of the Prime Minister or the President, they even brought out special editions. Religious events like Harikathe, worship in temples, music programmes, bhajans, stoppage of water or electricity, Municipal Council meetings, and similar programmes were the items reported in them. National or State news items rarely found place in the daily, unless they were important.

The editor himself was the owner and publisher. When a compositor abstained, he composed the matter, and setting the metal types in galleys, made-up the page to the size of his paper. In such situations, he printed the daily himself on the small treadle machine. The editor maintained personal rapport with the leading personalities of the city and gathered information. He attended programmes and meetings and acted as a reporter as well. He commanded respect and was invited for all important events.

After about 80s, these small dailies became more vibrant and spread out their coverage. They published the list of films screened in the local theatres daily. They covered crime news building rapport with the Police. They also covered the debates of the members in the City Municipal Council meetings exhaustively, in particular the Opposition party criticism against the administration.

Realising the need for an English daily, G.L. Swamy converted his Kannada daily, “Samachara,” started in 1950, into an English daily under the same name. It enabled those who could not read Kannada to keep themselves abreast of the happenings in Mysuru. A few years later, the second English daily (an eveninger) was launched by K.B. Ganapathy under the title “Star of Mysore” which is celebrating its 40th anniversary today. He followed it up with a Kannada daily, “Mysooru Mithra.” Both these dailies have become the leading papers of Mysuru. “Star of Mysore” is the only major English daily published in the city now.

“Mino-News” started by Shafi Ahmed Shariff, “Mysore Today” by B.N. Nagaraj, “Andolana” by Rajashekara Koti and “Mysore Mail” by Vasu were the other English dailies that were brought out later but folded up.

Pre-Independence saw the publication of the pioneering “Sathyavadi,” “Mysore Patrike,” “Sadhvi,” “Mysore Vaishya Patrike” and “The Rationalist.”

Post-Independence saw many new dailies. They included “Varthaman,” “Swatantra Darshini,” “Vijaya,” “Aruna,”  “Samachar,” “Independent,” “Vishwadhoota,” “Ashoka,” “Rajya Dharma,” “Sudharma,” “Daily Kausar,” “Aftab-e-Karnataka,” “Shams,” “Nagara Darshini,”  “Poura Dhwani,” “Prakrit,” “Navadhwani,” “Andolana,” “Vidyaranya,” “Sankranthi,” “Star of Mysore,” “Mino-News,” “Mysooru Mithra”, “Mysore Today,”  “Shanthavani,” “Mahanandi,” “Arathi,” “Kannadigara Prajanudi,” “Sanje Samachar” and “Mysore Mail.” During 1970 alone, the highest number of 15 newspapers took birth.

“Sudharma,” started by K.N. Varadaraja Iyengar, is the only Sanskrit daily published in the country. After the demise of Varadaraja Iyengar, it is being published by his son, K.V. Sampathkumar.

There were a few Urdu publications too like “Daily Kausar” (Editor: Khaleel Bebak), “Shams” (Nazir Ahmed), “Aftab-e-Karnataka” and “Mino-News” (Shafi Ahmed Shariff) and “Tipu Mail” (Farooq Rehman).

Often the reporters of State and National dailies depended upon the leading eveningers. Many a times, they marked stories that appeared in them and sent them to their newspapers on the teleprinters, either in a hurry to meet the deadline or avoid typing the same item on their teleprinters. This shows the credibility the small newspapers enjoyed.

Besides “Samachar,” which was the first to expose the sensational Sathyadev murder in which Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Somashekar was involved, “Star of Mysore,” “Andolana” and “Mysooru Mithra,” which continue to be popular dailies expanding into district newspapers, have also played a significant role in investigative journalism. Their exhaustive coverage to the atrocities of forest brigand Veerappan, even before the State or National dailies could cover, stand as a testimony to the role played by these small newspapers.

Despite their size and circulation, local dailies in Mysuru have played an outstanding role. They were the torch-bearers during the freedom movement and later took up the cause of the people — its readers. A few of them are still alive and kicking.

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