Monday, March 27, 2006

So, where were we?

"Gosh, the cover prices of the newspapers here! Whats it in dollars...
Less than ten cents? How do you guys manage it and keep afloat?"
These words were said by Tim Pinnegar, the Apac publisher of The Economist in ET a couple of weeks ago and I didn't notice it until another publication reprinted the quote. And to use the favourite line of a person I once worked with, therein lies the rub. The rub being the constant whinging of Indian bloggers about the sorry state of the Indian newsmedia. "They don't do this, they don't do that... Times of India is evil personified, a waste of space.. yada, yada, yada." Heck, after Aamir Khan bashed the media, I even started wondering if its become fashionable to criticize the media - I wonder how soon before "Tum nahin jaante main kaun hoon" actress -types like Celina Jaitley get into the act. (Maybe not, as long as their only assets are their boobs)
I'm not taking it upon myself to defend the media, how can I, just look at the title of the blog. Everyday I read the papers or watch TV wincing at misinformed journalists and badly edited copy. Talking about bad copy - the best copy you will read in India belongs to Man's World even though their TV show is godawful, I genuinely like that magazine. Of course, since my editors also read this blog (and now due to someone not keeping their trap shut, so does my mom) I will praise my own publication to high heaven as well - no actually, not being sarcastic or anything (or keeping an eye on upcoming increments), I also like reading my own magazine. Then again, there are some magazines that should really be put out of their misery.
Newspapers of course are a linguistic nightmare, whats worse is that very often they're a factual nightmare as well. The problem as highlighted up at the top is that is costs you the reader/consumer next to nothing to buy into the media - for gods sake the Times in Mumbai gives me a 100 pages of tripe for four bucks, I'll get the same back in raddi. But a 100 pages is a 100 pages, and that keeps me fairly well occupied before I have to go and spend 30-40 minutes with my nose up someones armpit. And if you keep yourself distant enough from the news, absorbing just some things and neglecting others, I can find almost everything I need to know to live. Yeah sure, I'll walk into work and have my various RSS feeds deliver me unadultrated news, but then again I'm not your typical reader or consumer of information.
A newspaper/magazine/TV Channel has to take a conscious call on what a majority of their readers want - so Jessica Lal gets the prominence while the story of some woman in Chattisgarh/Jharkhand wherever gets ignored. The righteous indigation of some bloggers to this is amusing - but what the fuck is the editor supposed to do? The editor has to ensure that he sells papers, well, at Rs 2-4 per paper that isn't a particularly hard task, but he has to find the lowest common denominator for the front page. So if that means that you highlight the tale of a never-made-it-big model who was allegedly shot dead by someone who got acquitted because it will sell papers it works - because people are always willing to buy stories of nepotism and police brutality - especially if it concerns a PLU. Which is why the story of the woman in a village who was gangraped by the local political goon and his henchmen will never make P1 or P8 for that matter - she isn't a PLU. Celina Jaitley's histronics make for a better story.
This is where blogs can play a a vital role. I'm fairly surprised at the number of hits this blog is getting everyday - especially from media house IP ranges. So mediapersons read blogs and they do like to be aware. Most of them know that too many blogs across the world steer violently to the left - so violently in fact that other than a few they tend to dismiss most of them. But they do pick up stuff from blogs - leftist or not. So maybe someone might pick up the story and do something, maybe. Of course, it depends on how its packaged. Even blogs have to market their wares - and righteous (or should I call it 'lefteous') indignation is hardly the way.
The fact of the matter is that because media is so cheap in this country we get what we pay for. On one Air Deccan flight I took the passenger sitting next to me complained that the airline had no blankets or pillows, I asked him how much he paid - "Rs 2500" but that didn't stop him for showing righteous indignation - he even told me to write about it. Then, despite my 'nice guy' sort of image, I told him that he gets what he pays for. Upon this he started complaining about the media - I told him that he gets what he pays for there as well.
Would you pay Rs 15 a day that it would cost to give you a newspaper without any inherent biases - with well-paid reporters and one not beholden to advertisers? Would you pay Rs 50 that it costs to produce a good news/business magazine? Would you pay Rs 100/month to subscribe to a good TV News Channel? Chances are whatever you say here, you won't, these cheap prices have spoilt you silly.
Thankfully for Mr Pinnegar, I still have no qualms of putting down Rs 120 every week on his magazine - which despite its absurdly stupid stand on the nuclear deal between the US and India (and this isn't some post-colonial angst speaking over here) is a great publication. That said, Rs 20 for this is the most collosal waste of money possible. Trust me, four packs of chewing gum are a better investment. Don't bother pointing out the irony to me.
PS : Someone called this blog intriguing. Its the strangest adjective anyone has used on the blog. How would you describe this blog?
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s c r a p s s t u f f s said...

You would spend 120 bucks on Economist tripe? The same Economist that doesn't waste any chance on dissing India whether warranted or not? Waste of your money.

I agree that we get what we pay for. But that doesn't mean that you newsies can't edit, spell check and grammar check your copy. And make sure that the copy at least passes the test of common sense. A cheap price cannot be used as an argument for complete incompetence when it comes to sticking to the basics.

Bonatellis said...

long post ... now i know why there is nothing in the latest edition ;)

Grazer said...

When I read your blog I feel I got the grass I was looking for. The grass which is good for digestion.

Your blog has pathetic fonts and I request you, plead you, to please increase the font size while posting.

Another thing is check the spellings. Spellings I mean. Seeeee... would you be happy if I name your blog

Jessica Lal is Lall.
Chhattisgarh not Chattis.

I click on your address every day to see whether you wrote someting.

Tell you the truth- I sometimes get disappointed when I don't see one.(joking/serious)

Keep planting. (grass)

K said...

Scrapstuff : Um, The Economist is very, no extremely schizo when it comes to India - like they are with China also. I guess it depends on the person who wrote the copy, their local correpondents tend to hate the BJP, but like the country on the whole (how Simon Long got convinced to to that Vijay Mallya Face Value I still don't get) - in London on the other hand....
However, their Technology Quarterly is brilliant and so is their Business section.
Honestly - Wired, Playboy, New Yorker (it really is good reading at times) all come ahead on the magazine stakes vis-a-vis the Economist - but it is better than anything this land has to offer.
True, a cheap price can't used to justify total incompetence, but I don't think any of the major papers/magazines/TV channels are throughly incompetent (well maybe one or two) but what I get bugged about is that people expect the NYT/WP/LAT on the doorstep every morning. Hey, all of them cost $1 every day, that ain't cheap, even in Bushistan.
Bona : I've done quite a bit this time actually, refer to previous blog posts and you can figure out exactly what.
Grazer : You've complained before on my template - and I've been guilty of procrastination - but shifting would involve a lot of copy-pasting - my entire right bar for example - not that easy and ummm.... i'm fairly lazy. But I will do it soon. Promise.
As for the spellings - I'm sorry I should run spell checkers more often.

K said...

Bona : lekha shob shomaye thake - koy ek shomaye, koy ek shomaye kom. But, ey baar even the big man didn't call me a lazy bum as he usually does.... ;-)
Grazer : I'll keep smoking.. even though I'm headed the morose single loser individual way.

secret service said...

what does one think of your blog? irreverent, gossipy, juicy. hardly as bitchy as it claims to be. posts are like having a light conversation - and when i met you you didn't sound very different from what you do on the blog.

some of the stuff in this post seemed directed at me! Yes, yes, market-driven journalism is here to stay. no, nobody's saying the lalas who run the papers should subsidise them with their sugar mill profits. hats off to Jain & Jain for introducing corporatisation and financial professionalism in the print media.

The thing about Jessica is that at the end of the day that too is a good job the media did, not withstanding the PLU-bias. The media packaged the Jessica brouhaha in a certain manner. You say that blogs should package the stories of the PLTs so that media houses pick them up (ridiculous reason to blog, btw). But point is that mainstream media needs to invent creative ways of packaging and selling and making attractive stories of the India outside Delhi. Market sometimes seems like an excuse for lack of imagination, creativity and innovation in journalism. CNN-IBN - their stories on the Red Corridor and stuff for instance are good stuff about PLT's. Then again I will not say anything about my organisation and its story as an example because that will launch us into ethics!

The template does need a break. Give up beer drinking time for a day. Btw, do you have that electronic beer mug you wrote abt?

K said...

Secret Service : Who do I think you are? Now, you're right - the media in Delhi has gotten trapped into a PLUD syndrome - People Like Us Delhites or to be more precise People Like Us (urbane, upper middle-class, preferably IIC/Gymkhana/Habitat member) Delhites (as against PLTND or PND). The entire 'Justice for Jessica' on 6388 was seen by the cynical lot as a cheap way to earn money - even though most of it would have gone into Sunil Mittal's (et al.) coffers (the telco keeps 75% of the profits from such SMSes). True, each channel and publication does do an occasional story that is mindbogglingly brilliant - the Naxal Corridor was such a story. The problem is that it is too occasional at times, which makes you wonder if somewhere down the line, journalism has paid a price in all the commercialism.
I've got nothing against Times Medianet, its better than journalists lining their own coffers, wardrobes, stomachs - as was happening at KGM.
'The template does need a break' - got it, will do something - promise, promise, promise. I don't drink too much beer no more - there was an aberation when I went to Mondy's with Bossman the other night - but aberation. Therefore I don't have that mug. Well, actually I'm too cheap to buy one.

GBO said...

Bhai K, it is like this, that using the powers of the RTI Act in an inwardly squeezing shut spiral kind of way I have been able to get from NHAI and AAI and their respective parent Ministries et al copies of the files and rules and laws and acts and also file notings and responses to points above . . . that:-

a) There is no such thing like VIP etcetc.

b) That these PSUs and Ministries have the powers to levy charges and tolls but not to exempt.

c) So if they exempted by way of making so-called VIP parking areas then they caused a loss of revenue to the exchequer.

d) interim I have also got responses from worthies sitting in Big Round House and Bigger Place that THEY didn't ask for these exemptions, so they are not interested. (But they have to respond with information, alas and alack . . .)

So maybe Celina Jeailtely did have a point, as does Omkar Pal Singh recently of Air Deccan.


thalassa_mikra said...

Generally, there is greater willingness to pay premium price when the magazine is more focused and specialized in a specific professional field. People do not think twice about paying large sums of money to subscribe to trade journals (like Women's Wear Daily, Journal of Commerce, etc.).

However, these very people would be very reluctant to pay even reasonable subscription charges for general interest magazines. But then you have women's and fashion magazines that charge premium prices and manage to get away with it. It's all very complex.

thalassa_mikra said...

Oh and don't ask me why, but I have a tough time believing Celina pulled off a diva act. I've been following her career since the days she used to model for Bengali magazines in Calcutta, and she always came across as a fairly down-to-earth person. There's some amount of vindictiveness in there, for sure.

K said...

T_M : In Bombay - everybody is a diva - I have problems believing that - but maybe the story was spiced up a bit.
GBO : Maybe...

Anonymous said...

K, I have to disagree with you here. The reason newspapers are cheap is because they decided to lower prices or rather, to not raise them. But it is pointless to shove a 100 pages worth of crap everyday under your door but then they didn't do much better with 50 pages ;-).

Look, even if prices got raised, the quality of journalism won't suddenly increase. But the number of readers would go down. The readers will take advertisers with them. so the increase in revenue from raised price might end up only offsetting the reduced revenue from advertisements. And they would still be stuck with the same bunch of idiots they call journalists.

Even if readers do not go and advertisers also stay, there is no gurantee that they will become better. Then people will be paying for more paper-to print ads! They will simply make more money.

It is pretty much the same with movies or tv channels. I don't see pay tv subscription prices going down. Channel prices are only going up. Then they also put 5 minutes of ads every 15 minutes because they feel the revenue they earn isn't enough. And since we have no laws that govern telecast of ads, Zee Cinema manages to run 10 minutes of ads for every 15 minutes of film. Anyway, the point is that a higher price is not neccesarily a gurantee of better quality with the newspapers and the electrnic media. This also works for the movie and music industry.

See, we can't compare prices in the US with prices in India. I know many journalists love to parrot terms like ARPUs and compare those with numbers in the US a lot because it makes them feel important and knowledgeable. But the fact is, in a market like India with growth at 40% plus, ARPUs are not an issue anymore. Telcos in the US have been indulging in monopolistic behaviour and price gouging for a long time. Heck, they even want to control the internet now. And ARPUs conveniently sidestep the fact that the US telcos also provide the phones for much cheaper.

I've worked in the industry for long enough to know that it will take quite some time for quality to go back up now. I will have more to stay on this whenever I get around to starting my own blog.


K said...

Alok, a higher cover price will not lead to better quality unless you're a skin magazine and can pay for better looking models. I don't disagree with that, I'm saying that when you pay Rs 4, don't expect Pulitzer Prize winning stuff, maybe, just maybe if you paid more (and thus the reporters got paid more and didn't leave to join call centres) you might get better quality in the long run, but the only decent stuff in newspapers nowadays is the stuff they pick up from NYT and the foreign agencies.
Telecom again.. Um, I'm of the belief (and reporting a bit on telecom, so I'll go out on a limb here) India is an unique market ARPU's don't matter - telcos and handset makers know that - why is Nokia India's soon to be largest MNC - because of that. Indians still pay (in percentage terms) more of their Gross Income in communications (and as Gross Incomes increase, so is telecom spend) that people do in many developed countries. The problem is unless you're a smart journalist you never notice this fact.
By the way, where do you work - a TV channel?

secret service said...

great comment, Alok!

Now K, the MRP of a product is decided by supply-demand equations. It is decided by the market rules: if all papers jack up their prices to 5 bucks (which they will sooner or later) people won't stop buying the papers - DESPITE television. I bet. Outlook and IT increased prices by 50% - from 10 to 15 bucks - now that's a lot, but their circulation was not affected. Same when IT went from 15 to 20.

The price should not have a bearing on quality: the paper's revenues, comprising of price+ads decided by circulation, and a clever managment of circulation/ads incline/decline. As I said, it's the sheer lack of creativity and imagination, not cover price that's responsible for this state. And DNA thought marketing alone would win it for them!

orgasmatron said...

K, which magazine do you write for?

I fully agree with you on the point you made about paying more for better content in magazines/newspapers. Also, i too find myself mostly reading reports from foreign agencies in indian newspapers. Ok, so my interests are a bit skewed towards world affairs but still the quality of reportage from AP, The Washington Post, NYT etc is self-evident.
Here in Calcutta, The Telegraph has a tie up with The Washington Post, NYT and Los Angeles Times and their reports always stand out from the crowd. I look forward to reading an issue of Newsweek more than any newspaper or magazine in the country.
As far as Indian news channels go, you get what you ask for; i mean, a 24hr news channel is always in danger of running out of quality content and becoming interminable and monotonous unless they set aside a certain time slot for international news. But then again, it would be difficult to achieve that balance since it costs a shit load of money to have reporters stationed abroad and moreover, how many people in India would like their fav. tv channel to make that compromise? Not many.
Nevertheless, Indian news channel leave a lot to be desired. India is much bigger than 'breaking news'. Case in point - BBC World. They run regular features and documentaries on a myriad of subjects without being overly educational.
If i may digress a little bit here, yesterday i saw a little news item on a certain channel which is promoted by a certain bengali and which is almost certainly perceived by many to be 'the custodians of truth and quality journalism' (thats the biggest load of horse shit in my opinion) about Lata Mangeshker threatning to leave mumbai if the highway project near her house proceeds as it is. Now the report said 'sources say LM has threatened to leave mumbai.. blah blah blah'. And today i saw another little report on the same channel saying 'sources say that LM denied threatening to leave mumbai'. Now what the fuck is this? who the fuck are these 'sources' and most importantly why would India be concerned if LM left mumbai?? if this isnt a case of trivialization of news then i dont know what is.
I believe that indian news channels are even more obsessed with news bulletins than 'breaking news'. They just have to have some pretty face barfing mundane senseless crap that no one cares about just to fill in the 'hrs'. These days, good reports or documentaries almost seem like an aberration. The irony is painful.