Pati, patni and the Editor who was the ‘woh’


Sunanda K-Datta-Ray, former editor of The Statesman, in the Business Standard:

“A media that sits in judgement on the world must itself be blameless.

W.T. Stead, the famous English journalist who once edited the Northern Echo and who is credited with inventing investigative journalism, grandly told a Royal Commission, ‘The simple faith of our forefathers in the All-Seeing Eye of God has departed from the Man in the Street. Our only modern substitute for Him is the Press.’

“Some of India’s best-known newspaper magnates have been megalomaniacs without Stead’s talent. But no modern working journalist would be so pretentious though I can think of a non-working journalist editor who used equally bombastic language about himself.

“What was infinitely worse was that behind the mask of pious crusader rampaged a grasping womaniser who left the institution of which he acquired control virtually bankrupt. One thinks of another editor who sacked a junior when the latter’s wife who was his mistress (with her husband’s acquiescence) took up with another man.

“In a third case, revenue officials were disconcerted to discover that the cash donations a businessman they were watching made every month and recorded in his private diary were not to a leading politician but an editor with the same initials. I wouldn’t add open political affiliation as another sin but a paper’s politics is often surreptitious and paid for.”

Read the full column: The media as Caesar‘s wife


  1. The name of the British journalist is Wickham Steed and not Stead. He became the editor of Times, London. He wrote a book titled The Press I bought for one rupee.


    1. Mysore Peshva

      Dear Shri. Krishnamoorthy,

      William Thomas Stead was born a couple of decades before his Victorian-era contemporary, Henry Wickham Steed, whom you mention. The latter had a reputation for being suspicious of Jews for most of his career (but the former did not), even though Steed later strongly opposed Hitler’s anti-Semitism in the 1930s. Steed referred to himself as an “unrepentant journalist” whose writings were driven by a simple rule, “Thou shalt not be dull.”

      Steed was disappointed in the English press of his time, dubbing it as “advertisement-courting, dividend-seeking, circulation mongers” (“The Press,” Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1938 — you purchased it for a rupee; I read a tattered, dusty copy for free at the library of the Asiatic Society of Bombay!)

      The late Bombay journalist K.D. Umrigar published a well-received study titled “The Indian Press and its Future (Lest I Forget) (New Book Company, 1954) in which he quoted Steed to define the ideal journalist as “one who, having mastered and assimilated the wisdom of the ancients, the philosophies of the more modern, the knowledge of scientists, the mechanics of engineers, the history of his own and of other times, and the chief factors in economic, social and political life, should be able to hide all these things in his bosom and to supply as much of them as might be readily digested to his millions of readers in proportion as he divined their desire for them.”

      That was perhaps the first expressed acknowledgment by any editor that the journalist was necessarily a generalist, and, by implication, not a subject-specialist!

      1. Thank you very much, Mysore Peshwa, for the elaboration.


  2. mulakh

    it’s The Times.

  3. William Thomas Stead (5 July 1849 – 15 April 1912) was the pioneer of investigative journalism who became a controversial figure of the Victorian era. Stead published a series of hugely influential campaigns whilst editor of The Pall Mall Gazette.He is best known for his 1885 series of articles, The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon(on child prostitution), written in support of a bill to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16, dubbed the “Stead Act.”
    Stead’s ‘new journalism’ paved the way for the modern tabloid in Great Britain and was influential in demonstrating how the press could be used to influence public opinion and government policy and was also well known for his reportage social legislation and reformation of England’s criminal codes.A far cry in Indian journalism!

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