Saturday, March 31, 2007

My life over the past few days.

Insanely early mornings, getting my posterior felt up by CISF jawans with metal detectors (haven't worked out why my ass always beeps!), yet walking through security with lighters - unbeknown to me (lighters and matchboxes have this bad habit of sneaking into my hand luggage - that despite my drastic reduction in smoking) and generally enjoying airline food (not!) and collecting frequent flyer miles (the one joy of air travel). When I was a kid I loved travelling by air - hopping from Delhi to Calcutta on Indian Airlines' huge A300 planes as an 'Unaccompanied Minor' - but nowadays it has become a chore and the silly liquid rule has led to me checking in luggage when I really didn't need to. Thankfully, I've managed to steer clear of low-costs for a while and I don't think I'll be moving my butt inside a 737 for a while.
This is one thing I have never worked out - the skies over India are always very hazy and Jet Airways desperately need to clean their windows more often.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


I have to apologise for not updating the blog for a few days but the last few days have seen me travel a hell of a lot, and get loaded up on a treasure trove of information. From succulent details of seriously compromised journalists (and we are not talking about the guys who were given free Matiz cars by Daewoo) and favours pulled in to how the entire entertainment industry got on PRDM's case at Mumbai, which was fun to see. Anyway, with the Congress headed for a debacle in Uttar Pradesh, it would be fun to see how much longer the government survives. At the same time, I also saw the funniest cover headline ever 'A Hitlerian in a Bhadralok's disguise?' - I don't have to mention that this gem of a headline was coined up by everybody's favourite ponytail, but shouldn't that actually read 'A Nazi', because was Hitler a Nazi and isn't 'Hitlerian' technically the funniest word you've heard in the longest time. Anyway, lots to come when I get some time to write it all, but until then, consider this a filler.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A media curse?

I'm off for a few days, because in an extreme change of heart, my organisation which treats junkets with the same disdain that Leonidas treats Xerxes in 300, has decided to give me a couple of days in the heat of equatorial Asia. Anyway, more on that in the other blog, but because of recent conversations with friends in the same profession, that maintaining a veneer of sensibility in your married life, or even for that matter in a relationship, is nigh-high impossible.
Just look at the divorce rate among media professionals, especially those who are a bit more go-getting than the rest. I look at my own life with disastrous relationship followed-up with another massacre of emotions. I was exchanging emails with a friend in TV18, and he gave the example of TV18/GBN where almost every senior person is either divorced or in a failed-marriage of sorts. Heck, I look at people I've worked with (or for) and at least among the 'more happening' types, stable personal lives are a no-no, except in very rare cases. Listen, I've lived through my parents marriage falling apart, and my father was/is a very senior journalist. I mean, I know the divorce rate in this country is going through the roof, but chances are if you meet a fairly senior Indian journalist today, they will either be divorced, unhappily married or (as in my own case) desperately trying to avoid a relationship, and thus screwing my life even more.
In the last mentioned case, and you will be surprised how many of those there are, it is not as if people don't want stability but both men and women are fairly paranoid of getting married because they have seen their friends all around them go through pretty bad times. There are friends I have who got married too young and are already divorced by the time they are 25 or 26.
And you go around trying to find a reason why this is happening, one maybe is that sex is well, pretty easy at most organisations. Not too many people would have that rather ridiculous scruple that 'Steer Clear of Office' rule, something I would advise people to follow simply because office people do get very boring, I mean what else can you talk about, other than talk shop? With sex so easy, and people getting pretty frisky inside editing suites and conference rooms, let alone other tight spaces, marriages are bound to go for a toss. Some senior journalists also take advantage of the situation, stuff that would pretty much constiture sexual harassment in other parts of the world (even though when cases get reported, as recently happened in the country's leading Hindi News channel, they do tend to escalate and lead to a dismissal). And before someone says, all men are bastards, let us be pretty clear about this, women are as guilty of of this as men are.
The second reason, as this is pretty much connected to the first is the long hours people lead in office, not just long but rather awkward hours. Ergo, people tend to mingle a bit too much with people in their own offices, and again because in cities like Delhi and Bombay, there are only so many 'natives', many people are actually pretty short on the friend count, so you hang around a lot with office buddies and next thing you know you're in bed with one of them. It might sound a bit too simplistic, but I'm not getting into it much more than I already have.
Incestuous behaviour leads to disaster, over here not red-neck style-inbreeding but an insane divorce rate, and with talent being hard to come by, companies don't do what they did earlier and 'advise' one party to leave, now even if couples go through a madcap marriage and quickie divorce, they find themselves working together. Not yet experienced a case where a divorced couple has had to co-host a show, but there are quite a few examples of divorced couples working on the same show, one partner is the producer and the other person is the presenter.
Anyway, these are just some thoughts on teh matter, and maybe an explanation for my own steadfast refusal to get on with life (i.e: 'settle down' according to mother dearest) and cling onto the dregs of innocence. I still seriously wonder, and I know I have the brain power to have pulled it off, what if I had studied hard in +2 and made it through engineering, what if I had taken my post-CAT interviews (I had calls from B,C and L) seriously instead of treating them like a joke! God knows, I might have turned out to be this disasterously boring guy! But it is unlikely I would give up what I have today...
Next post, next week!

Monday, March 19, 2007


When I was growing up in Delhi I used to be sent back every summer holiday to spend time with my grandparents, while I used to get to fly sometimes, very often travelling back meant taking the Howrah Rajdhani. Once, during these trips, my mother looked out of the window as we crossed Asansol and headed towards Durgapur, and told me that this is where the industrial revolution in India started in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The place looked like an industrial wasteland, hell on earth. Hundreds of small smokestacks, with only the occasional one still belching its pollution into the sky. Otherwise, broken buildings and even more broken machinery.
I once remember a Hindustan Motors lamenting how Indira Gandhi killed Uttarpara by allowing Maruti to be born, ignoring the fact that successive governments are the only reason that the Ambassador is still produced and only now are government bureaucrats moving onto Tata Indigo's and Maruti Esteem's, because lets be honest, the Amby has lived out its life by a few decades. Now even HM is talking about updating the Amby, finally! (I don't expect anything, though)
My ancestral village, rather town, is the once colonial port of Hooghly and its adjoining town (though ex-French colony) of Chandanagar, about two hours north of Calcutta. In fact, Singur falls in Hooghly district. Hooghly and the next big town in the region of Bardhwan were once hubs of India's engineering and jute industries. The last time I returned to Hooghly, which admittedly was quite a long time ago, all you could see from our century-old waterfront house was the massive river - which is over a kilometer wide over there was the skeletan remains of old factories. Even though I haven't been 'home' (though I was born in Calcutta) for a while, I am pretty sure it remains the same.
I do not claim to know the intricacies of Bengal politics, which ever since 'that' battle has pretty much all over the place and not helped by famine (stories of which my grandparents have told me) - and mixed in the wonderful fact that Bengal was always a communal hellhole. While people in Delhi never fail to remind you what they endured in 1947, the only people they can't tell anything to are Bengali's, because Bengal (and specifically Calcutta) burned for a lot longer, even though the scale of Punjabi's killing each other is unparalleled in world history, and that has a lot to do with Punjab's history ever since Alexander.
Anyway, back to the point, maybe the land distribution the communists started in 1977 (officially) was a reaction to the famine of 1942-43 which was still well entrenched in public memory, though most voters of today were born well after it. But restrictive land-laws began the flight of capital from Bengal, and worse for the state the flight of human resources had started a lot earlier. My father's ISC batch from Calcutta in 1971 had quite a few people who went on to bigger things - but other than the standard guys who ran away to the IIT's, that was one of the first batch where the best and the brightest did not go to Presidency - they went to Stephen's instead at the results of Naxalbari spread across the state, and ironically almost 35 years later are consuming parts of the country in a psuedo-civil war.
Buddhadeb came to power with a vision of transforming Bengal, making it the industrial and intellectual power it once was, and make sure that its best and brightest had votes in South Calcutta (ironically Mamata's constituency) instead of South Bombay or South Delhi (if they stayed in India if at all). And man he tried, but trying to undo a 25-year long mess in a few years would have consequences. And the consequences have not been pretty (YouTube video link to Nandigram violence).
I do not understand why there are politicians who are steadfastly refusing development, because Bengal really needs a degree of re-industrialsation, while there are others who want to shove it down people's throats. Maybe the Communists in Bengal, who are so used to staying in power have forgotten that we do happen, as does West Bengal, to be a democracy and any development should take place with that age-old Indian idiom of 'adjustment'.
I do not pretend to be a Bengal scholar, there are several people far more capable of that than I am, however, there are very few (if there are any at all) who do not share an ideology so far to one side that it is difficult to get a balanced view. Then again, I cannot change history, but seeing what is happening in Bengal is quite depressing. Anyway, I have another strange 'untopical' post coming up, and as I will be travelling outside our shores later this week, I don't think I'll be posting much this week, and lets give some regular topics a rest, shall we.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A bit more on INX Media...

Imagine - The Nine O'Clock News with Vir Sanghvi - won't that be a doozy!
A fifth English news channel, and while I completely believe in the concepts of free markets and competition, when you already have one-completely brain-dead channel and another one half-way there, and this while the top two channels were in crisis yesterday and today, desperately trying to convince us that Kenya vs Canada is more important than the shootings in Nandigram. Glad to see that the papers were not so crazy. But then again, imagine what would have happened if even one person happened to die in a police firing in Gujarat, I wonder if the priorities would have different.
What I will be surprised to see is how Madam will partition her time between Raju, Shekhar and Vir? I mean seriously, the last thing we need is another news channel which will toe the Congress line. But then again, that isn't the point it seems about this channel, which will be run by Peter Mukerjea and his wife, Indrani, and Vir will look after the editorial policies at the news channel, but they also plan to have a Hindi general entertainment channel and a third channel. Vir's first hiring at this new channel was a person who lost two jobs in quick succession, but in his next-to-last job, he was quite the favourite.
The channel has also issued a clarification that neither MDA or Rupert have any 'stake' in the company, and most of the money has come from a clutch of private equity players. But, PE firms have been known to 'lean' towards companies if suggested by large groups, in a weird sort of 'benami' arrangement (think how Uday Kotak played this role for Pearson in the case of Business Standard - OK, I'm treading on dangerous territory now).
According a few friends over at the other channels, particularly UndieTV, certain anchors have been made some rather solid deals by INX (Plus did anyone notice UndieTV's ads in HT and The Express today morning - Bennett-style journalist market manipulation anyone?). The quantum increase ranges to 2x current salaries, which according to a friend would be a "shitload of freaking money!"
On the WTFROTD front, remember those? market rumours about Chaitanya Kalbag being on his way out at HT have hit a cresendo, one text message received by someone joked about how CK has gone for an eye operation to California and when he comes back "Sab kuchh saaf dikhaye dega." It also seems that several other journalists who were 'nutured' by 'The V' are going to join him, and the no-poach agreement with Bennett which is supposedly ending soon might lead to another flurry of good junior reporters to BSZ Marg. The stop-loss point is yet to come, but the events at the ABP Group might pale in comparison to what might happen at 18-20 KG Marg. If anyone knows anything else, do email or leave a comment!
On another note, while there are people who swear by the Hindu group of publications, I find them to be awfully prejudiced at a time, particularly against the very concept of free private enterprise. Look at this line which caught my eye in HBL on Tuesday morning...
"Private broadcasters hog 40 transponders;"
Read the entire article, to get an idea, but the adjective 'hog' has extremely negative connotations, or so a standard understanding of English would have me assume. It isn't as if ISRO is giving out transponders to 'Private Operators' out of the goodness of their heart. ISRO will make five times more money than they invested on INSAT-4B by selling/leasing transponders. Which, to break it lightly to the communists means that private enterprise is funding our recent 'semi-successes' in the GSLV project, which has led to some of our rockets actually making it up there instead of splashing down in the Bay of Bengal. However, we did use a Arianespace launcher for INSAT-4B. Honestly, man on the moon plans and all in double-quick time, but even ISRO won't put such commercially important satellite on the GSLV rocket (which couldn't carry the weight anyway).
Anyway, I have a fairly hectic time in the next few days, so please excuse the lack of posts!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Internal EchTee memo!

Vir Sanghvi to expand his role through Television Media
Vir Sanghvi has decided to pursue new challenges with a move to the electronic media where he has been hosting multiple programmes.
He has been involved with HT Media for many years in his capacity as Editor-in-chief and later as Editorial Director. During this period the company launched several Editions, notable among them being Calcutta, Chandigarh and more recently, Mumbai. His columns have been widely read and extremely popular amongst all our readers. Vir has also contributed to the success of HT's Leadership Summit and the Luxury Conference ; adding significantly to the company's brand equity.
Inx Media Pvt. Ltd. are launching a News and Entertainment television network in India. Vir Sanghvi will join them as CEO for their News Business.
Vir will conitinue his association with Hindustan Times as Advisory Editorial Director and his columns will continue to appear in the Hindustan Times, Brunch and Mint. He will continue to remain involved in all company events like The Summit and Luxury Conference.
Please join me in wishing Vir success in his new forays.
Shobhana Bhartia

On another note - I hear a strong rumour that CK is on his way out and that the aforementioned lady will take over direct editorial control. Just a rumour, but remember, you heard it here first!

Friday, March 09, 2007

The mistakes we all make!

What is the name of this blog again?
Sometimes when you are searching for something you can find something completely different that makes you wonder what people were thinking back then, and if they have ever bothered to acknowledge - "No, I had no bloody clue what I was talking about, and I am sorry!"
There were 4.5 million mobile users in January 2001 - the argument given was mobile users are richer than fixed line users. I don't want to give the low-down on the growth of the industry, it is fairly well documented and the same columnists are saying quite different things. But anyway, I will give some other interesting factoids - in January 2003 when Calling Party Pays (CPP) was introduced, (with everybody's favourite hipocrites the Communists arguing vehemently against it, calling the move 'anti-poor') India had 10.4 million mobile users. That was four years ago - in January 2007 we closed just short of 140 million mobile users. At the rate we are adding subscribers there is a good chance India will blow blast 200 million by the close of the year.
Essentially, something Ms Dalal did not realise. I mean 130 million users in 48 months since CPP was introduced - quite an achievement in my book!
I know six years is a long time, but CPP was the first major 'hockey stick' to the Indian Mobile industry - the secpond major one followed two years later and that was decidedly Indian innovation of 'flexi recharge', but I really don't have the time to get into telecom history, because I will babble away for hours. However, having a socialist mindset doesn't really help does it because mobile phones have empowered the lower classes and most of the growth in Indian telecom is happening from those classes.
If the telecom model was followed for other parts of Indian industry, where the government decided to untangle a highly regulated industry and free it, wonderful things can happen despite who is in charge. For gods sake, two of the most revolutionary telecom ministers were Sukh Ram and Pramod Mahajan.
You know, I sometimes wonder if some of our politicians actually follow a policy of 'enforced poverty' - keep people poor and uneducated so that they can hang on to power as long as possible by encouraging politics of reservation and appeasement. I mean, I'm not a loony right-wing guy, but the Sachar Committee report is insane! Education which will lead to economic empowerment is the governments responsibility which is why I don't really mind the 'Education Cess' on the taxes I pay, but any further increases will be pushing it. The economic empowerment which follows that education cannot be the government's responsibility, it has to flow from private industry. The telecom industry has provided employment for thousands of people - directly and indirectly and shows how things can work. Even if you have columnists who don't know jackshit!
Of course, you have even bigger idiots on TV, from ponytailed 'management clowns' to people in UndieTV who run 'NDTV Exclusive' for news that broke six months ago. According to someone I know who worked with air-headed bimbette she asked what the BSE was? And you are a 'corporate' reporter? CRR, CPP, RoCE, EBITDA I am willing to understand, but knowing what BSE stood for, at the age of 23? Wow, I guess tits really are everything!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Churn at Daily Bhaskar?

Firstly, this isn't a rumour, this is pretty much confirmed news. Daily Bhaskar, aka DNA, has had a fairly undramatic two years. It launched, unlike EchTee Bombay with not so much fanfare, maybe after the Mirror destroyed its campaign (And hints of the Mirror's campaign are being used by MetroNow as well), but according to rumours there is a realisation that Times managed to get rid of a lot of fairly useless and lazy people and dump them in DNA. As 'The V' said in a very nasty joke around the time of DNA's launch - it was nothing more than the Times' Retirement Scheme. Not that EchTee Bombay was anything more than the Jadavpur University Graduates Job Scheme (aka get suckers from Calcutta to Bombay on the cheap).
But now, it seems the powers that be at DNA - Pradeep Guha, Subhash Chandra and most importantly the Aggarwals of the Bhaskar Group want a change at the top. They seemingly want to cut the high-level flab (I guess a diva editor who does nothing could well be retrenched) and get some pizazz into the ranks. The people at Bhaskar, used to riding roughshod over competition in the vernacular medium, and honestly if you thought Times' people were hyper-aggressive and didn't care for the little guy, Bhaskar marketing and editorial is hell-bent on dominating the cow-belt. But, I don't think they quite comprehended the sheer insanity of taking on Bennett head-on, even though the effort was spearheaded by the person who virtually built the Bennett machine. That said, just look at Papermint, five weeks on, and despite paying top dollar to sales people and having greater assured circulation than FE and BS put together, they get no ads whatsoever - so I'm not surprised they're chasing a tech-guy to head their sales team (he has clue why they're chasing him though).
So, I assume it is the end of the line for Gautam, or is it? I don't know, but I do know that these guys are desperately looking for someone to come stir up the Kool-Aid, maybe Gautam will still be around, but if I was in DNA, at any level, I would be a tad worried about job-security. Will keep you posted on where the hunt ends.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The devaluation of the 'PRESS' sticker

Many, many moons ago, when my parents marriage still had a sense of normalcy to it, my father had decided to take us out in his (then) brand new Gypsy that Bennett had given him when he had moved up the food chain. It was a brand new car, and my father's first ever 'office car' and also his first Gypsy (there were two more to come in two other jobs, the last one holding other fond memories for me). Brand new and without a 'PRESS' sticker, we took the Gypsy to the trade fair at Pragati Maidan and were promptly told that we couldn't park his car where we wanted to because we weren't from the 'PRESS' (defined by having a big sticker on your windshield), and my father flew into a rage of righteous indignation. Shor-sharaba followed, and we parked the car in the lot, but when we came back it had been towed away, which meant more shor-sharaba at Tilak Marg Police Station and when the SHO realised that my father was a fairly senior journalist, apologies followed and I got a Thums Up.
Anyway, silly anecdotal story which has no relevance to the point I would want to make over here, or maybe it does. You see, that little incident some 18 years ago now I think, taught me the importance of a 'PRESS' sticker and when I joined my first job I even got a sticker - it was just that I didn't have a car at that point of time. But, somehow by then, I figured that only wannabes and suckers with company cars ever put on 'PRESS' stickers because it seems that every second car on the road has one now.
The other day a colleague whom I was giving a lift was horrified to notice I don't carry a small sticky piece of plastic on my windshield. "Makes my car look ugly", I said, and honestly, I don't feel the need to advertise that I am from the media and that I am a journalist. I mean look at the clowns who have stickers. Idiots from marketing and sales, who have no idea about the language, other clowns from admin and just about anybody who brings out a rag, from a shady travel magazine to a neighbourhood journal has a sticker proclaiming 'PRESS' nowadays. Even cops don't take it seriously anymore, well, at least in Delhi. Putting the 'PRESS' sticker on your car was a right you earned, not something that someone in HR hands over to you in a brown envelope along with the ethics manual when you join.
And I feel disgusted, so I decided when my windshield cracked a couple of years ago that when I replace it, I will not get another sticker. And I didn't. I'm a journalist and fairly proud of it, and I wear it on my sleeve, but I've decided not to advertise it on my windshield. I'm not going to urge anyone to do the same, but think about it, do you really want to put in the same bracket as people in ad-sales who have stickers? So think about it, and remove those stickers, you're better than that!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The V can't search Google?

The headline for the story in today's Papermint reads "Google search: Vir Sanghvi. Results: 42,300". So a colleague actually went ahead and performed a search, quite a simple one, no 'AND' operators and guess what? There are only 34,800 results (search conducted 1722 IST 03.03.07) I know Google re-indexes its pages quite often, but a 20 percent downside? Hmm, seems a bit much, wouldn't you say? Of course, the search led me to his HT bio, which would make even the most idolising PR bio-writer cringe!
Anyway, I actually hadn't discovered this because Vir's column isn't about Google, but about copyright. While Vir makes some interesting noises on copyright issues, the noises are fairly old noises. The copyright battle in media has become far more interesting in the West. Look at the world now, digital media, DRM and the pros and cons of DRM (can't really see too many upsides, but anyway!) and Creative Commons. In fact, Creative Commons (under which I plan to move this blog fairly soon) has recently moved to Version 3.0. You cannot do an article on copyright without understanding the complexities of the digital medium. lame, decade-old answers are not the solution. I realise that we work in an industry that has to face the issue of online content-distribution and how best to deal with copyright in the age of the internet.
Though, I am pretty surprised that Vir mentioned the VN Narayanan incident - wherein Vir's predecessor at HT actually lifted an entire article (this is pre-Google mind you!) and passed it off as his own. Anyway, don't read too much into this post, I am just a mischief-monger! Plus, I reckon I have a lot of readers through feeds - and I know a lot of people have started writing in through email lately, and I'll like to thank all of you folks for writing in, but the slow-comment conundrum is something still baffles me!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Surprising events

Sometimes, really weird things happen in the media world and recently the title for 'Weirdest Happenings' would not go to the usual suspects (UndieTV or RajdeepTV) but in a place far more sedate usually. So sedate that they took eons over stories, but still the events of the past few days have left even the most battle-hardened journo a bit befuddled. I'm talking about Businessworld. Now, sitting on an armchair many people would find many things wrong with the way that place functioned, down to the (former) editor coming only twice a week, members of the reporting team working from home as a matter of habit (approved by the editor). However, the product still came out every week and it must be said that occasionally a decent story would slip through.
But, lack of editorial direction,and this always flows from the top saw them loose an entire crop of young journalists, journalists it must be said more loyal than the average mercenary journo, but despite the exciting times we live in many of these pretty loyal folks were given five-six percent increments and well, they saw the light and moved on to better places. I know quite a few of them, and two of them made the same comment on how their productivity has 'improved' after quitting, but the place should not have lost these folks in the first place. I'm not saying that these people were fantastic, happening young reporters (there aren't that many of those in print, well, maybe me, but anyhow) but they left. BW has had two reporters win the CNN YJA in the past three years, both have quit. Rohit, in fact quit weeks after he won the award to join ToI's edit page team. Go figure!
From what I figure, Aveek Sarkar realised that BW needed a radical transformation, but bringing in a person who was essentially your China stringer to run the place? I really can't get the logic of that, it makes even less sense than getting a bunch of Manhattan-ites running a business daily, which I can say without any trepidation isn't making sense (which is a lesson that should have been learnt from the rather dramatic decline in the mainline daily, but that is another story).
Anyway, this is just conjecture, I cannot verify any facts that I have mentioned, but if you have more information or if you work or worked in BW, please fill us in with the details. From what I have heard there was a level of nastiness at the last edit meeting. Any truth to that?
On another note - was it only me, or did you also think that the mainline dailies do a better job of the budget than the business papers. I though ToI was very good, maybe the best of the lot and far superior to ET. But I did feel that HT did a better job than Papermint. And did you notice that every paper had exactly the same column by SBM, KMB and MDA?