Wednesday, February 28, 2007
As the managing director of one large company told me, "Phus tha na? Aaj office mein rehna chahiye tha muje." But that said, wile the budget didn't do much for industry, it did have some decent ideas for the rural economy and healthcare. Not a bad budget, but essentially a non-event. I figure increasingly that policy pronouncements will be made through the year and not on 28.02 anymore. Nice day actually, the weather has turned again with it getting surprisingly cold, windy and wet.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Anyway, on other updates - it seems that God has been given a two-year extension as Group Editoral Boss at the place he runs and because of the upcoming UP Elections, the party and God seem to have kissed and made up, so there will not be a repeat of the events at last years 'big function', and from all indications this years big function will be bigger than ever. The other media related item (and listen I know I give these obtuse and sometimes vague names, but please understand my compulsions) is that this post I wrote last month is coming true. The grapevine has it that 'The V' has put in his papers at 18-20 KG Marg and now will leave CK to take that paper down into a burning heap of rubble by himself. There is an old saying... which would be inappropriate to repeat over here. 'The V' will head up 'The Groups' foray into entertainment which if Nita has her way will start off with a 24/7/365 Dandiya channel. Which wouldn't be so bad really!
In another piece of news, Loha Lady (version 2.1- new 'smiling version' when Railway Minister cracks jokes she can't understand) has launched her latest witch-hunt for the person who leaked out that rather salacious piece of news that Q had been caught and thus totally ruined Rahul Baba's chances in UP. Well, from early indications it seems that her treatment of Natwar Singh is going to backfire because from what I have heard it was a Natwar loyalist inside the MEA who leaked the story - and a very well executed leak, making sure that everybody got the juciest inside details. Touche!
On Thursday we shall see the first 'Big' showdown between Papermint and ET, after the rather insipid performance of the former following Tata-Corus and Vodafone-Hutch, I'm not expecting much, but then again, as Tony Bourdain says, it is when expectations are low that you get really surprised. One way or another!
EDIT : Bonatellis requests and I always please my readers, but the question remains why on earth have One, Two and Three been given the boot at BW? From what I have heard about the explosive happenings at the ABP company today morning - One was asked to choose between the magazine and his own business. The two Bengali's were moved off elsewhere and the China correspondent, not a patch on the best China correspondent of an Indian publication which would be Saibal at the Times has been appointed boss. This has meant that P will quit because he doesn't want to report to the Chinaman and B has been moved to a marketing function within the group. I don't understand why the sudden flurry of activity over there but it might have something to do with competition getting worse and a huge rush of people leaving the publication because Aveek Babu's pursestrings are way too tight. Anyway, this is what I know, I take no responsibility for factual accuracy whatsoever.
Monday, February 26, 2007
So the question is, why on earth I don't I jump out of the cake and take off the few shreds of anonymity I still have? Well, there are a couple of reasons actually. I've rather begun to like 'K', I've always been slightly schizo, but 'K' is the nice guy that I am not. And maybe, I think I have a soft spot for the guy, it would be unfair to kill him off. I know that regular updates are rarer nowadays, partially because I'm not as vela as I once was, I am genuinely working harder and secondly, I currently maintaining three blogs - one of which is actually a signed blog. And talking about signed blogs, I am fairly sure that in the coming months there will be a few more blogs where I won't be signing off as 'K' but using the entire name that my parents happened to bestow on me in a moment of serendipity.
So will this blog remain? Obviously it will. I mean where else can I post incongruous stories. Like the silly happenings over at Mid-Day, where well, TA just asked a person they recently hired last year (after his stint at EchTee, which ended in disaster) to move on - evidently because there was a major Editor-Reporter disconnect and from all indications there was a near mutiny. I don't want to speculate much beyond this, but my god, how the mighty have fallen. Someone once told me that it isn't a great idea to the top at the speed of light because if everybody knows that if that happens you would have sold your soul to the Devil, and the Devil is a hard taskmaster and you will go down and people will take a perverse pride in watching you go down in flames. Good enough reason to turn down a promotion? Doubt it, but it does make you think.
But K's blog will remain, no matter what people write about how 'unsigned anonymous' bloggers having no editorial control. No, I have complete editorial control over this blog, and this is not a bitchboard. I also realise that blogs, or rather Blogs and other Web 2.0 elements will dramatically alter the way people use and consume media and no matter how many Edit page middles you write, that is a pretty much undeniable fact. But yes, I will put in more effort into 'officially sanctioned' signed blogs, because that is what is going to be funding me.
Here's to you K, you changed my life. I think. Maybe. Whatever.
Like I need an excuse to get drunk.
EDIT : Didn't win the Indibloggies business, anyway I have a couple of thoughts on the 'awards', but I will not elucidate them right now because the opinions would seem in very poor (and 'sore loser') taste - even though I should know that an award is only an award unless it involves a free trip to America. But more on that later.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
After much goading I found myself at Turquoise Cottage on Friday night, as usual the place was filled with tone-deaf idiots - I've never figured out why people who claim to be DJ's can't maintain a tempo and maintain the same style of music through the night. Forget new music - you do not put Linkin Park and The Beatles back to back, you can certainly play them in the same set if you want to play around with the tempo and know what the hell you are doing. But back-to-back? Sheesh!
Anyway, back to the topic. Lately there has been a lot of gossip, but mainly concerning one channel, rather one network. A very senior editor/producer who was caught el flagrante with a senior anchor, you would say big deal. But, a few days ago I hear the same guy was asked to proceed on long leave after he propositioned (well, a version I heard had some elements of fondling in a lift - but I wouldn't know anything about that) a younger anchor. What is even more peculiar, is that this 'younger' anchor is supposedly 'famous' in the industry for all the wrong reasons. And people get upset when I shout obscenities at my delightfully slow computer at office. Anyway, all I do know is at this network all sorts of strange things have been happening - and I wouldn't say the network is imploding. No, unlike another network they don't have people who don't read the newspapers and carry four-month old news leading their more senior reporters holding their heads in their hands, but it is crazy. And evidence of that happened at the english channel a couple of months ago.
Coming back to news, this entire 'Q Business', I've been looking at coverage and I must say, coverage in The Hindu has been quite peculiar. Imagine how they must feel, because after all, that newspaper was the reason Bofors was brought into the public realm. Anyway, despite everything and my own right-leaning tendencies, I would the matter to be buried and forgotten. It happened in a different time and a different era, but every 12-18 months something happens and we hear of the story again. I guess some of you would think differently, but think of Bofors thing like an old flame we can't get over, you can't let it hold back your life - read Murakami's Norwegian Wood if old flames are your thing.
However, some things haven't changed. I know a lot of people who make their living selling arms and ammunition to the government and seeing how they live and party (rather their children/grandchildren). I don't think we have improved the arms buying and distribution system, there is still a lot of money to be made, even after the Tehelka expose. From what I believe, AK Anthony is 'clean' (now, with politicians this is always a relative term) but he tends to procrastinate. And middlemen still thrive and continue to make a lot of money and have gigantic parties in Chattarpur. Oh well!
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Back before the 1980's actually, back before 1991, the second-most powerful person in the country was the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission as we lived in our socialist utopia with a degree of controlled growth. Even though Maruti's sales were shooting through the roof, nobody could see (and this despite MUL being a government-owned concern back then) that there was a need for opening up the economy.
1991 changed that.
And for a decade after that budgets became sacred, but as the government decontrolled more and more of the economy and duties and taxes became more rationalised, the last few budgets have been rather boring. But don't tell the media that! half the budget reporting you will read is just hyperbole and even more hyperbole, to the extent that they make Elizabethan playwrights and poets look silly. However, that doesn't mean I will forget my first ever budget as a reporter, for one very particular reason - Godhra. I think the 2002 Budget was the first one that papers had to take a call on, and they took the right call.
From what I have heard, some dailies are reducing their coverage (not ET, because they are still in Papermint battle mode), because they've realised that it is Reddy's pronouncements at the RBI are inherently more important than Chidambaram's Tamil quotes. And that, is the way it should be. Now, if we could decontrol petroleum and we'll get somewhere!
Anyway, I've been pretty tied-up, but that should ease up in the coming few days, and you should see a few more posts. And anyway, for the first time in years, I don't have Budget duty! There is a good guy somewhere up there!
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Something fishy was up, this would not happen in the regular course of things, I mean to the best of my knowledge we had not transcended into a space-warp because Swapan was still at his eloquent right-wing best. So the world hadn't turned around and I hadn't drunk too much Bourbon on Saturday that had sent me into a parallel universe.
So I did what all good journalists do, I figured I would ask around, and I really didn't have to ask to much. It seems that Papermint, the paper with a hole, has more trouble than just a simple and complete lack of readable content and have even junior PR people laugh at it (more on that later). It seems, the Ministry has objections to WSJ content in mint. I don't know the exact details, but (and I won't be surprised if Times is playing a hand here) it is being argued that since mint, as a newspaper, and not a journal/general-interest magazine is not following prescribed Syndication norms and to top that there are also issues with putting WSJ on the masthead, which the Registrar Office of Newspapers for India (RNI) seems to have an issue with.
Now, according to some people, it seems that while sending official communiques to mint, PRDM has not been giving executives from the company run by his Congress parliamentary colleague any attention, refusing to meet them and going so far as to prevent his underlings from taking any decisions on the matter. Now, if party loyalties are not being followed in the first place, it isn't very difficult to break them isn't it?
I have no beef with the article, I think Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi is a person who should do his job and not try to police the media. I have said this before, Dasmunshi has allowed Indian football to fall to depths of hell, and even the Indian league is populated by has-been players from Nigeria and Brazil. At the same time, he wants to pass some extremely draconian laws controlling the media in India which even the Bush Administration would never do (but something more from the Putin book of media control - no, not quite that because that usually involves masked killers, but he is getting there). But as said, I was genuinely surprised by the tone of the article and the very fact it appeared and while some might argue that this is a very cynical reason why the article was written, in this industry it makes complete sense.
Sadly though, if this was the main problem for Papermint, one might understand, but yesterday I had a long chat with a colleague from Bombay and his one word reaction went 'Bakwaas', that paper has some serious repair work to do. Really!
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
I kinda hate competition, so I won't fall at my feet and plead that you vote for me, because in the 'Best Topical Indiblog' category there are blogs like Rashmi's YouthCurry nominated, which I genuinely find interesting, there are other blogs nominated which are bonafide members of the loony left or loony right, but entertaining and there are blogs like Greatbong's which are genuinely funny. But, as Penelope Cruz said on Jay Leno the other night, I'm flattered to have been nominated and best of luck to all the blogs out there. I really hope the best one wins and not the belonging to persons whose lives revolve around their 1001 friends on Orkut and its ilk (OK, so I voted for myself in my own category, but I won't admit anything else).
Regular programming resumes shortly!
Friday, February 09, 2007
But then again, when was the last time you actually put on Headlines Today on TV out of choice, or put it on even out of compulsion? Hmmm... Well, then again, the ad-free coverage of events like this does make it a lot more pleasant than the Hindi News channels which are interrupted baniyan adverts by film superstars, or the other high-brow English Channel (No, this does not include Times Now, which well is not the worst English channel only by default) which have high-brow advertisements which are made to win awards at the Abby's (and somehow always come out in late January!). Anyway, Flyboy is upset and I shall console him with some whiskey and talk of the 'Brotherhood'.
Anyway, since talk has been of Headlines Today, lets start the WTFROTD - which involves the same channel and the talk that TV Today is looking to dispose of it. Now, after the India Today Group rid itself of Red FM, brand and all, getting rid of this TV Channel laden with brand, is not implausible. But, my question is who on earth will buy it? Because, the biggest predator on the block, aka TV18, certainly won't, because the latest rumour surrounding them is that TV18 is looking at getting Cybermedia, but as friends from inside say, there is a new rumour everyday. Of course, the BS rumour has been squashed, but I'm still trying to figure out what will happen to BS if WSJ buys FT and then there is that little thing with Papermint and then Papermint and BS merge into this completely imcomprehensible product, while people continue to buy just ET. Anyway, I think I'm going a bit crazy, should have skipped the beer at lunch!
A couple of quick points - I'll be fairly busy all through next week, so I'll try and do some quick one-liners if I can, but don't bet on it. And do build up readership at the new blog - here is yet another link to it!
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
The launch of Metro Now, was the first in a slew of new tabloids coming to a city which has generally shunned tabloids. Of course, we have had Today for a while, but the less said about that the better, but then again, Today is re-launching in a 'bigger and better' launch. There is also the Swedish 'Metro' Free paper (Today's mainstay was free copies at Barista) coming in as well as a new Mid-Day with the Bombay Mid-day organisation running (Tariq Ansari) running the show. All these three will come in by the middle of the the year and the reason - the Delhi Metro.
The logic being that people want to read every morning/evening on the Metro while going home, and Metro usage will boom with the South Delhi-Gurgaon extension of the Yellow Line and the Mayur Vihar-Noida extension of the Blue Line. I already use the Metro on a daily basis, not too far, but because parking near my office is a pain and I can understand the logic. And that is why, I think despite whatever product they launch, the India Today Group has the upper hand. At Rajiv Chowk (CP) and Kashmiri Gate stations they have started out 'India Today Media Marts' (and they are proposing more of these stores down the new lines and other major stops and I believe an agreement with DMRC is already in place). The Media marts may make most of their money selling Nokia cellphones but they are actually nicely laid out magazine and newspaper stores, and while they do sell 'competing' magazines, Outlook, Femina, BusinessWorld etc are all available, there are no competing papers and I'm quite sure there will be no competing tabloids. You have hand it to these guys, they've tried to sew up the distribution game already.
Of course, they can be a twist in the tale, what if HT and ToI decide to distribute Metro Now along with the broadsheets in the morning, Mumbai Mirror style. After all, the main reason for the Mirror's success in Bombay was that it was free and its nice and easy layout made it ideal to take onto the train every morning. Now, that leaves the other two, and I'm still trying to figure out how they will do it. Other than CP, there are few 'vends' where you have people selling newspapers in the day, Delhi is quite unlike Bombay in that regard. It is not that people don't read, but 'how' they read - this is still a 'morninger' city.
However, that brings me back to the question I asked yesterday. Just how many papers can a person read every day and really how many tabloids do you want to read everyday, even if they were free? Of course, the converse logic to that is simple, according to media houses, the aspirational 'English speaking' audience is growing and they will like reading trashy tabloids and more trashy magazines. I still don't know if that will work, but my only question is where on earth will these guys find people to work for them?
Monday, February 05, 2007
What the in-house TV-reviewer says today - Channel's star shines with SRK (Page 8 Nation Page, Delhi Metro edition - the online link isn't functioning as yet, but I'll have it up the moment I can)
Sometimes the best stuff about newspapers doesn't need to be thought up in someone's mind, the politics comes out right in the open. Joys! But this happened in Delhi, I don't know if Poonam's story was carried in Bombay. Could have been since Gurbir is on a witch-hunt against some bloggers (and UndieTV is happily attacking bloggers too) - more about that on a later date, because that will require a fairly complex understanding on the new medium that is the internet and I want to write a long post on that.
Two new papers in seven days, quite a bit for most people to handle. But MetroNOW is virtual facsimilie of Today, only a hell of a lot better. But the problem there is that, it was a given. I mean, Times Now almost instantly became better than Headlines Today, it is pretty bleeping obvious. But has Times Now come anywhere close to dethroning the top two channels? Seriously, given a choice between DD and Times Now, even Krishi Darshan is more fun. But Metro Now is a well-designed product, relatively clean product, and I guess still finding its feet. However, after reading Mumbai Mirror fairly religiously during my time down in Bombay, I still feel that the Mirror is still (and despite the number of people leaving) the best small-format paper in the country just because it is so delightfully vapid (but still tells you what big idiots the BMC are!), I find the Mid-Day a bit too crowded and confusing to navigate.
But their team of reporters (almost all from Today mind you!) and some editors do have some amount of street cred, and as with Papermint, I still believe it is unfair to damn a product which will be a daily on Day 1, and I must admit Papermint has improved a bit, and is getting slightly more newsy, but nowhere near the amount it has to be to displace other papers from the #2 business daily slot.
Just ask yourself, just how many papers is it humanly possible for an John (or in India, Jai) Doe to read in a day, and if you are a journalist, don't think as one. One mainstream and maybe one financial and a tabloid as a long-shot - like in Bombay (but it must be said in some homes, a second daily is now taking hold)? Or because there has been a fairly noticable improvement in ToI, which still remains staple #1 newspaper, will someone take ToI plus a second (HT) and skip financial dailies altogether but take a tabloid - like the Delhi market (Financial papers are weaker in Delhi). Hmmm, questions to ponder about.
Friday, February 02, 2007
I'm sure many of the senior people have tons of experience working in New York and London, but the second lead today is not a weekday story. And Tata-Corus reportage is godawful for lack of another word, today for example they picked up HT's coverage and even mis-spelled the reporters name. Too much international coverage in prime real-estate and sadly for their advertising line, little clarity. I'm pretty sure the boffins over at Times House are now wondering why on earth they got worked up into a state of hysteria over this, but I really hope that ET doesn't revert back into its bad-old ways, because story-quality in that paper had improved of late (the supplements however could do with a pick-me-up!). Both on Day 1 and Day 2, I've not any news in Papermint! that I didn't know of earlier. I know that the paper's philosophy (as espoused on day 1) is not too carry too much news and concentrate on analysis - but after two days I doubt that will cut much ice. A newspaper is a newspaper and not a magazine.
And while their design is very neat and clean (helped tremendously by the format), the paper which is setting the standards in story selection and layout for the last few days - and I really like the front page layout in the Delhi edition yesterday - is the Times of India. But that is another story.
I still believe that I think Papermint! has hope yet, and I will not write it off, not because of any perverse loyalty, but because I'm sure someone in HT's HR department will realise that fancy resumes from abroad don't cut ice with readers. Because, I've met and had angry emails and comments from quite a few readers who aren't particularly happy with the product. The Pravasi hiring policy at the top will need to change, or is it too late? God knows. Anyway, a part of me still thinks the paper was rushed into production a few weeks too soon. Lets see how they pick up by the end of the month, closer to budget time.
Anyway, next week will see the launch of Delhi's second new paper in as many weeks - Metro Now - Delhi's version of the Mumbai Mirror and being launched to kill off an expected foray into the morning daily territory by the Living Media Group. More fun!
Thursday, February 01, 2007
But, to launch on a day where you are not staring down the barrel of a gun for stories - and you have the best possible stories possible, the coverage was poor. Really poor. ET and TOI had far better coverage of both Tata-Corus and RBI Policy - TOI had better coverage from a 'young people' angle - how the rate shift will impact you. Both had interviews with the man, possibly marking a friendly return to Tata ads in BCCL papers with the ugly Tata Finance fiasco now being put to rest.
To be honest, HT itself had better coverage of Tata-Corus. I know that Papermint is a young paper, but to fall flat of Day 1. But then again, maybe it is a better thing to begin slow and build up than to follow HT's rather spectacularly disasterous Mumbai launch which was to begin by using a rehashed story with a big bang and earn immense badwill in the entertainment industry (which is now being addressed by Khalid, the new boss of HT Cafe aka HT City in Mumbai for non-Mumbaikars). Fair enough, I had an overdose of Tata-Corus on TV yesterday, everybody doing it from the 'India' angle, even the business channels - too few negatives were covered - there are some quite obvious short-term negatives (but longer-term positives should outweigh the negatives).
Anyway, I really think it wasn't just front page content (awful anchor story on potty, not something you want to read in the morning) but even inside content which was nothing spectacular. I wouldn't say poor, but it did leave a bit to be desired. I don't understand the stocks pages (no indicators showing upwards and downwards movements of the scrips?) and a bit too much international content (including a pointless story about JV's in India which is rather old by now, maybe not for foreign audiences, but over here?). Four pages of international content is good, but story selection has to be bang on. If you addressing an 'Young' audience, don't feed them stuff that they can get off Feed Aggregators.
Anyway, it still looks good and hopefully because the team is solid on top they will be able to keep the look. I just wonder if the team is solid enough in the middle and junior levels to keep content coming in. But it still looks good! But not enough to make me give up ET just yet, I'm sure the team at Times isn't going to fret for a while.
And mint (I will however call it Papermint) is a lot better than Orange. A business paper called Orange, it is almost as unbelievable as Papermint! OK, this is where I add the mandatory :-P
But, time will tell how it turns out!