Monday, May 07, 2007

Tum media waale...

"You guys are such hypocrites, you'll bend over for a corporate if they went to you with a wad of rupees." This is not post-coital talk, but the general anger expressed towards my profession by individuals ever so often. Well, more often than I would like to hear, but I have given up trying to defend the indefensible. Because the fact of the matter is no matter how sincerely you work on a story as a reporter, someone in marketing and ad-sales will find a way to screw you over. That is if your proprietor doesn't first.
But then again, we are a bunch of hypocrites even before marketing and ad-sales enter the frame and say, "Well, you know what, these guys have just bought a large advertorial section, be nice to them." You just buy your way out of having bad news written about yourselves, and you have to give full marks to the Ponytailed Guru of Weirdness, a man who had his Bentley Continental scraped of its factory paint and painted what can be politely called TGIF Electric Lemonade Blue. Which though cool, is somehow not Bentley!
Anyway, so how did this entire problem arise, why are journalists here always travelling on one junket or another. Heck, I even overheard this maniacal conversation where a bunch were discussing the coffee-shops in Munich airport. I mean I travel a fair bit too, but auto-magazine reporters take the cake and stuff themselves in the face! Of course, if I bitch too much about junketeering, I'll be branded a hypocrite, or worse - Jealous. No, that would be a mistake, I'm only jealous of TV journalists who have orthodontic work done and well, I think that is about it.
Anyway, to cut to the chase, at the end of the day, producing a magazine or newspaper costs money, serious money. And I'm not just talking about salary costs - salaries are a small part of the cost, the biggest component of a publications cost is the paper. Now, your average Times of India in Delhi or Mumbai would have paper worth at least Rs 10-12. Add in production costs - that is running the press, employing a fleet of reporters and taking care of the management et al, it costs close to Rs 15 to produce a copy of that paper. A paper you buy for Rs 3 at the most, now the people back at the office don't get all that money, because someone has to pay the distributor. Yada yada yada!
So someone has to pay the cost. Therefore, the reader pays for it through shitty content and the advertiser pays for the reader to get that shitty content. That said, I must compliment both the Times and The Pioneer for brilliant 1857 packages, quite interesting, and I loved Neelabh's illustration of 1857 Delhi in this city's edition of the Sunday Times. What is particularly interesting to note that in the 150 years since the bloody uprising where quite a few sins were committed by both sides, and the concept of encounter killings didn't exist, see both the Mutineers and the Brits committed quite a few atrocities that would make even some of the stuff that happens in Sub-Saharan Africa nowadays seem pale by comparison.
So some of you might argue that the Hindu doesn't operate like that. Heck, the problem is that some people in the group want to operate that place like that therefore The Hindu is today a battleground that isn't making much money. Better than the Deccan Herald where factional fighting is going insane according to friends from Bangalore. But, a paper has to make money, because for god's sake, as journalists you need money, right? You want a cushy life, not the salary of a government clerk. To achieve that your organisation has to sell more papers and more ads, vicious loop isn't it?
It really isn't that bad, it really isn't that advertisers can call and dictate terms. No, they don't call and ask journalists to be fired or transferred, and corporates don't call every day asking for certain stories to be done. They work through PR agencies usually for those things to happen, but yes, ever so often you do hear of a story about something bad happening to somebody. Heck, I had a former colleague in EchTee who when transferred to Chandigarh was convinced Mukesh Ambani had him moved. Nobody had the heart to tell the poor chap that his sheer incompetence was responsible, but anyway.
Of course, there is a subtle dichotomy here, what happens when the newspaper buys a stake in the advertiser, like Bennett has been doing. Can Bennett technically even write a negative story about Kishore Biyani, or paramount Airways or any of the other companies they own. That is a problem I have, I mean it isn't Times writing a story saying that Timesjobs in #1, at least on that front, the story copy has Indiatimes in the copy, and most people know that Times owns Indiatimes. But, its the other bits I find peculiar, though I haven't seen a Future Group story in a while, will either ToI or ET have the 'Disclaimer' line in the copy.
Anyway, I've been ranting too long. I should get going now!


Shashikant said...

I had
written about Times morphing into an Private Equity firm with dozens of media outlets to boot. That, I would say, is really scary as people might lose hard-earned money due to "tainted" news items.

Consumer said...

YOur rantings against sales and marketing is realy dissapointing, to say the least. The fact of the matter is that just three years back, you could have looked back and observed that there had been less than 5 english newspapers launch in the past 20 years. That sort of stagnancy was bound to breed complacency, and an exodus of the really good people from writing careers in any case. Compare that with the situation since then, ie, for the past 3 years, and you see the chickens come home to roost. Suddenly there is a huge shortage of talent, and because of that, shitty content is also 'acceptable'. Sales and marketing gets into the vicious loop of not only selling shitty content, but also increasingly tougher buyers who challenge them to prove that the content they are paying for is worth it. Making them go back and dmand even more compromises, and more shitty content....

For all the crap it earns in the community, the TOI does manage to do on a consistent basis, some good stories too.Just as Mint, the new paper from HT, has finally started making an impact now, after an admittedly shaky start.

Anonymous said...

On that Times/Timesjobs note, do take a look at how the WSJ is reporting on Murdoch's ... it should be a lesson to all on what impartial journalism can be !!

- Bona