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As the campus student media body, Insight’s existence is rarely pondered over or questioned – for most of us, it’s just been there for as long as we can remember. However, like any self-respecting insti establishment, Insight too was once just an idea in the minds of a few enthu seniors, built from the ground up by the enviable skill of mobilizing freshies and sophies through the power of senti. As Insight steps out of its 20th year, let’s go back and see how it all started out.
The Beginning – 1998-99 – Starting out
Looking back at IIT Bombay’s history, the late 90s were quite an exciting time. 1998, in particular, marked a number of beginnings.“‘98 was also the year IIT Bombay broke from the pack, and the IIT hierarchy started flipping – leading students started coming here. It was quite an exciting time for all of us on campus. Things were changing, and a lot of our crazier ideas actually started looking possible”, recalls Amit Sinha, Founding Executive Editor, Insight, 1998-99. Sinha had also been PR Manager in the founding Techfest team, headed by Vivek Singhal, the then GSAA, and Mayank Goyal. Following its success, they felt the need of a public forum where issues could be discussed and ideas presented. It was this need that led the trio, along with Chaitanya Ullal (Founding Chief Editor, Insight, 1998-99) and the then GS Cult, Mokshay Madiman, to come up with the notion of a student run media body – a notion that finally manifested as Insight.
With the idea in place, the team moved to make it a reality. They decided to model Insight after a newspaper as opposed to a magazine, aiming for an uncensored unbiased publication, independent from the institute. And it was felt that wide-scale participation of freshies was a must. As it happened, Hostels 2 and 3 were the “freshie hostels” back then, and with Sinha being the General Secretary of Hostel 2, it was a natural progression for it become an unofficial HQ of sorts. The freshmen became the on-ground team, running around for distribution and ad sales.
As with all things in insti, the setting up of Insight involved countless meetings and brain-storming sessions. An editorial team of sorts was consolidated under Ullal, consisting of a team of reporters as well as people in charge of finance, distribution, and so on. Ullal and Sinha decided on a division of labour based on their strengths and diverse backgrounds: as the Executive Editor, Sinha would handle the on ground work – made sure the paper was published, copies were sent out, deadlines met, and so on, due to his experience with putting together an organisation which would be financially viable and attractive. As the Chief Editor, Ullal would be the literary head and handle the content and research for the articles- effectively, the journalism side.
The team quickly realised that they would need their own funds, which they decided to raise via ad sales. Insight collected most of its money via sponsored ads from local shops like campus bookshops and restaurants, and even companies coming for placement. In fact, they even managed an ad deal with Amazon courtesy Rakesh Mathur, who had just sold Junglee to Amazon.
However, putting together an actual master copy proved to be an unexpected challenge. Layout and design softwares like PS and Coral were too expensive for the near non-existent budget – so the team decided to use what they had, which was Microsoft Word. And sitting in Sinha’s room – Room 151, Hostel 2 – Sinha, Ullal, Aditya Rustgi and the rest of the first core team put the first copy of Insight together by hand. The articles were written in Word to the column size of the newspaper, and printed. Headlines were written and cut separately. The layout was then done on a blank white A2 sheet of paper, which each column being painstakingly cut and pasted. Thus, the first master copy was made by hand, and then sent to the printer, who would make a “negative” of the master copy and then print up positives (a process called cyclostyling).
Then came the task of distribution. Ullal and Sinha decided to price the paper at Rs 2 a copy, with the first issue free, sponsored by ad spaces, feeling that this would ensure that no one else had editorial control and they had no financial obligation. Wanting to make an impact, and being uncertain about the reception and potential backlash, the team kept their initiative a secret, and the first issue was launched in stealth in the November of 1998, with the date and other details being heavily guarded. Distributed by freshies outside every hostel and faculty residence in the near dead of the night and early morning, the first issue caused quite a stir, with the header “InsIghT” – one Prof. S.P. Arun had come up with, with the “IIT” highlighted – emblazoned boldly across the top, followed by “the iitb fortnightly” and “A YPoint Press Club Publication”.
Looking back at that first year, both the founding editors were in solid agreement on a single point – “We didn’t know if we’d survive beyond our first year”. “The first publication had been a complete leap of faith – we weren’t sure how it would be received,” remembers Ullal. The overall positive reception coupled with the enthusiasm for following issues was met with both excitement and trepidation by the team, as they were in uncharted territory – the last student run publication IIT Bombay had had, a student magazine called Pragati, had been shut down in 1980 following its coverage of the student protest that had taken place at the time, making theirs the first attempt at a large scale completely student run publication since then. The support from the then DoSA, Prof. Dipan Ghosh (Dean of Student Affairs, 1995-98), as well as his successor, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar (Dean of Student Affairs, 1998-2000) played large part in Insight’s success and continued existence.
That first year brought with it many challenges, triumphs and learning experiences, all of which the team took in stride. With just 2 weeks between issues, they had to work out an editorial calendar, decide topics, handle layouts and fresh content with near zero journalistic experience, establish deadlines – keeping in mind that they would rarely, if ever, be met – and so on. They had a main editorial team of reporters, assigned to their respective beats of sports, cult, leisure, academic news, tech news, and so on. With freshmen handling distribution and ad sales, and various section heads whom Sinha and Ullal had personally recruited, a team structure was in place, which carried on and evolved in the following years.
Passing Insight to the next generation, Sinha and Ullal recruited Tathagata Mitra and Srikant Nandagiri (both previous members of the Techfest-2 team) to be the next Chief and Executive Editors respectively, and the four of them together recruited the next core team.
Early Years – 1999-2003 – Settling In
The next few years saw their fair (and expected) amount of changes as Insight settled into its role as the official student media body on campus. “After the first 2, maybe 3 sems, we managed institute funding, and a major reason was Prof. Shevgaonkar, who was DoSA then. He was a huge support.” recalls Gadia, who stayed a part of the core team till his graduation. He remembers moving to layouts when the ad sales were no longer needed, “We [the layouts team] used to pull 3 nightouts like, every 15 days, to try and publish on time. We used to have this really slow Microsoft image software, and we had to figure the structure and fonts and things like that, and do checks for typos, spelling errors etc. It was completely new to us in the beginning, but we picked it up along the way.”
The fortnightly structure that the first team had aimed for was another challenge, since they had to come up with 8 pages of content every 2 weeks. “Keeping it regular took quite a lot of effort. Mitra and Nandgiri had, in a sense, been brought in from the outside, as most of the core team and section heads then had been students in their final year. Thus, they had to pick up the working mostly on the job-which was one of the reasons they made sure to choose their successors and the next team earlier, to ensure they would experience the process behind an issue before they took over.
When Saurabh Panjwani and Ashish Goel took over as Chief and Executive Editors in 2001, they decided to aim for 8 editions a year, making Insight a monthly, since this let them have longer print issues and cover their topics with more depth. Thus, by 2002, Insight had shifted to outside printing, with the YPoint Press Club going defunct, and since it was institute funded and no longer had advertisements.
The next academic year, 2002-03, which had Prateek Singh and Sachin Sancheti at the helm as Chief Executive Editor and Chief Editor respectively, was quite an eventful one, both for the institute and for Insight. This had, of course, been the year in which all the G.Secs and major student representatives from nearly all institute bodies save Insight and E-Cell resigned together on March 26th, 2003. An agreement was finally reached between the powers that were and the erstwhile student representatives through a series of meetings, resulting in the student representatives taking back their resignations. However, as a result of this demonstration, the then DoSA decreed that the Insight Chief Editors too should be elected by the general student population as the G.Secs were. The Insight team and the G.Secs were all heavily opposed to this, despite the sometimes antagonistic relationship they shared. The Dosa and the administration finally relented, agreeing not to insist on a general election for the next Chief Editors. Instead, it was decided that from then on, Insight would have Faculty Advisors, who would represent them in the faculty, oversee the working and have a part in the selection process for the Chief Editors from the following year.
That wasn’t all that changed that year. With the internet catching on, the institute was becoming equipped with widespread connectivity, and the hostels were outfitted with functional computer rooms. Thus, Singh and Sancheti decided to focus on the web aspect as well, and started putting up digital copies of print issues on the website. They also changed the logo and the layout of the issues, with the creation of a standard template for a more streamlined and consistent feel to the print issues and experiments with sections of colour in the previously monochrome issues.
Later Years- 2004-2012 – Evolving and Changing
While the editorial board, serving as a second layer of hierarchy comprising of the “Insight Seniors”, was an informal concept by then, it wasn’t formalised until 2004. However, as a set structure had not been decided on during this formalisation, this first attempt at having a board wasn’t too successful, resulting in the Chief Editors still having to do a lot of the content related work for the print issues. At the beginning of the 2006-07 tenure, the then Chief and Executive Editors, Krishna Ramkumar and Nishant Patni did away with the editorial board, feeling that the structure had become too flat and stagnant. Instead, they worked with the entire team as the Execution Panel, often coupling senior members with younger enthusiastic members of the team for articles. So while formally there was no division of the team into Ed Boards and the like, informally, the people on board had a clear view of their coverage areas. The next few years saw the print issues stepping up, with coverage pieces for GC events and results, leisure columns, as well as guest pieces from faculty members on various subjects.
Insight went fully colour in 2009. Before this, a single page in the issue, usually an MI/PAF review or the leisure page would be in colour, with the rest following its black-and-white newspaper like pattern. Mohit Sharma, 2009-10’s Chief Editor, recalls how it happened : “I remember Aishwarya (Chief Executive Editor, 09-10) came up to me one day in August after class, and he tells me – “I’ve changed the black of our issue to a sexy blue”. And this was right before he’d sent the order for printing. I had my heart in my mouth, but it turned out to be a great move away from the monotony of black and white.”
A major focus of the coming years was the gradual revamp and expansion of the website in particular and web-based content in general, which picked up momentum by 2010. This was consistent with the exponentially growing popularity of the web. The website as a whole shifted to an independent domain in 2011 from the gymkhana page it had previously resided on. The newly re-done website served as a regular point of contact for the readers, and a platform for the growing scale of web articles and content which by then had become norm.
The 2011-12 period, which had Ayush Baheti and Archit Kejriwal at the helm, saw a number of milestones that had been in progress become a reality. The first of these was the (re)establishment of the Editorial Board as a formal structure. The problems faced by the outgoing team with the existing structure resulted in Baheti and Kejriwal deciding to establish a structured second layer of hierarchy, formally the Editorial Board. As they had no model to base it on, the details of this body, such as the number of members and their seniority, their functions and the criteria for selection, were decided in consultation with the outgoing Editors and the former team. Thus, the first official Editorial Board comprising of 8 members was established.
[Anecdote – Despite the board being only in its first year of functioning, the board members’ responsibilities were taken very seriously in 2011-2012, and half of the members were in fact removed from their positions and replaced by newcomers in the second semester of that year!]
A major milestone that took place was the official inclusion of Insight in the SGEC in April 2012, owing to the revamp of the SAC constitution, and the agreement of the then Dosa, Prof. Yajnik. The increased focus on web content, design and layout led to the introduction of the Insight Web Nominee and the Design Nominee as official gymkhana posts. This chain of events also resulted in the addition of the Institute Journalism Awards to the Student’s Gymkhana Awards in 2013.
That year also saw the formation of Insight’s video arm, the IIT Bombay Broadcasting Channel, or IIT-BBC. In 2011, the idea for a collaboration between Insight and the Institute Cultural Council for the creation of an official video channel for relevant and quality video content was broached. The then Chief Editors, Ayush Baheti and Archit Kejriwal, collaborated with the Institute Film and Media Secretary, Poorna Chandra, decided on a system for its working: the cultural council would provide the equipment, resources and video-editing skills, with Insight providing the content and the platform.
Like any newly-formed body, most of BBC’s first year was a struggle to figure out its working, and the focus was to get out as much video content as possible. By the second semester of that year, BBC had its first set of conveners, whose job would be to find someone to go to an event and cover it, and then handle the content and editing. Over the next 2 years, BBC came to be structured like other institute bodies, and moved away from solely coverage-based content to include high quality interviews, video journalism pieces, satire based content and vox populis.]
Then to Now – 2013-present
The following years saw Insight expanding its presence and reach, as well as growing to incorporate specialised additional content for their versatile audience. This included the launch of the Freshman Newsletter for undergraduates and Fresh! for postgraduates, collaboration with various academic department councils resulting in the release of a number of Department Newsletters such as Lift Off (Aerospace) and Dhatuki (Meta). Insight also launched it’s official datablog, Datagiri, in 2015, and the Insight Discussion Forum (IDF) on Facebook in 2016, reflecting the shift in trend from the earlier preferred google group.
While the past 19 years of its existence have seen Insight change to reflect the shifting times, the spirit it was founded in remains the same to this day, and will no doubt continue to do so as its voice grows louder.
This article first appeared in volume 20 issue 1 (Feb’18) of Insight IIT Bombay. You can find the rest of the articles at https://issuu.com/insightiitbombay/docs/insight-2.2