Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cheer up, it hasn't been all that bad!

Look at the bright side - Lewis Hamilton won the F1 Championship and the Big O won the US Presidency. OK, Arsenal is still making it a habit of shooting their foot, but Rafael Nadal won a great Wimbledon and Spain a great Euro 2008. They've been some great movies this year, even though my best movie of 2008 was the last one I watched in a movie hall - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Quite a few nice albums this year - even though I'm a mainstream music sucker - and I'm currently enraptured by The Killers' (again?) new album Day and Age.
It has been a fun year hasn’t it? Until the first half of the year the mad rush for ill-planned launches continues along with shoddy, ill-informed and often inexcusable journalism by all and sundry. And then the house of cards collapsed and well, it is still collapsing. I really don't know who or what will go under in 2009, but I certainly expect some channels and publications to fail and at the cost of sounding callous, I won't feel sorry.
If you are a student in a media school (other than the very best) and hoped to make it big in journalism in 2009, I’ve got bad news for you. Go do a better degree and improve your job prospects. Of course, even better there were hundreds of delicious conspiracies fuelled by maniacal egos and tons of money and in some cases several cases of Champagne.
But I digress, I honestly hoped when that when 2008 that I would manage to wind down this blog and move bag and baggage somewhere saner where I could sign of with something a bit less cryptic than K, even though as the year comes to a close, my identity has become a bad open secret and this blog itself has made me a discussion topic over dinner tables. Last year, I could maintain a smug smile when people discussed the blog in front of me – the quiet satisfaction being, “Little do you know, you f***ers.” But this year it is more like, “You should write about X, Y or Z”, or worse still, “I want to write on your blog.” Dang!
But that said, pageviews touched some pretty incredible levels this year and I must admit that did take me by surprise. I think I needed my recent two weeks away from blogging because I needed a couple of weeks away from the internet in general. Heck, I even gave up my favourite web-comics. Even Google Adsense paid out this year, and though it would ridiculous to suggest that I am making anything resembling ‘good’ money out of this blog, I can see how the business model can work. Now, how on earth can I monetise my Twitter stream?
On a personal note, not much to note really other than getting a lot of nice new stamps on my passport. Oh, and I rolled a car over, and got a grand total of one scratch. But then I rode on the X2 coaster at Magic Mountain and though three seconds when you suddenly think you might die is a lot worse than 90 seconds in a ‘safe’ roller coaster, the coaster was scarier. But this was a rather adrenalin filled year, a Launch Control start in a 911 Turbo, a maniacal take-off in a LearJet. The discovery that I can knock down twenty Martini’s in a night (I didn’t drive back) and that life doesn’t have to be half bad.
Life can be quite good actually. Have a great 2009 everyone, and don’t drink and drive!

The 'Athreya' issue

There has been speculation that higher-up's at HT succumbed to political pressure from higher-up's in the same political party to have RN removed after the publication of this article. Knowing the vindictive nature of some of our top politicians in the government, it is impossible to rule out the theory, but that said, I would sincerely hope that this was not the case. As it is, the person who looks after the opinion pieces in Mint is now the Managing Editor. I still believe that Raju Narisetti had made up his mind long ago, and after some other SAJA-imports thankfully spared us their columns, he was also going to go. You don't exactly land a top job overnight, or have one in the bag. I'm sure that I'll land a job if I get the boot, but in less than a week?

Listen, several journalists, and I have worked with one old fogey, like to believe that higher powers had them fired - the Ambani's are a popular target. While I am sure some journalists have been burned by higher powers - both political and business - the number that claim to have been fired is mind-bogglingly large. For some, to claim that you got fired because Mukesh and/or Anil didn't like your article is silly, because the article could still have been held back. And to be fair, while most media owners are beholden to some political force or another (and they do an awful job of disclosures) they don't usually acquiese to heavy handed demands. I still believe the time that bennett and Coleman held to its guns in the murky Tata Finance affair was commendable. Blaming someone else for your own incompetence sounds nice, and in the above mentioned case blaming someone else lends an air of conspiracy. I love conspiracies as much as every other Indian and this country is full of murky conspiracies, but let us not get ahead of outrselves. Some things do have far easier explanations - like a potholed path to profitability.

I'll write another post before India moves into 2009 to recount what a nice year it has been for this blog. And well, a so-so year for me, though it has been a good year as far as travel is concerned.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hello, I'm back...

Miss Me?
Apparently, quite a few people did. I didn't shut down the blog, but I did take some time off-line, no Internet and the phone number was a new AT&T number and since in the US they charge you for the 'privilege' of getting a text message, I got the news about Mint at a considerable cost to myself. The US is an insane telecom market, and a pretty crazy media market too. But nothing can come close to the Middle East, I was stuck with a bunch of Arabs and Lebanese (including a diva who will make some of our telly Diva's tantrums look ordinary) who could only talk about a shoe. Or the lack of one.
Anyway, back to the media. One person is heading back to the US and two others have run away to Rio. I have previously on this blog admitted that I like Mint, and I maintain that Mint is a great way to catch two-three day old WSJ features for cheap and Mint itself does some pretty good features, but the paper has a startling lack of news nowadays. Which is strange considering the Wall Street Journal carries one hell of a lot of 'news', even though in the US the 'economy' is the big news. Along with a shoe, that is. In my two weeks in the States, I got inundated with shoe references. But that is besides the point really.
Why did Raju N run away? Well, he does get a nice India reference on the resume, but in a way the end of the SAJA-era in Mint will not be mourned by many. Raju, by all indications has been wanting to leave for a while. And that should also help Mint bring down its costs. Suku is a great guy, even though he has a scary fetish with Alan Moore, though that is a hell of a lot better than the fetishes some editors have. But, seeing the 'new' Mint of late, and while it still looks good, it is being hollow on straight news by a suddenly improved Business Standard.
And as one person I spoke to pointed out, the success or failure of an editor should not be judged whether they launched a 'good' product or a 'well-designed' product, but whether the product is profitable or at least has a clear path to profitability. Mint, and to be fair, it is not alone, does not have one. Some predicted that Mint would have a purge, and such a thing might be good for the newspaper. Periodic purges help media organisation just as much as they help political parties (so in that case, why hasn't there been one in ET, the other horribly bloated and rapidly degrading media outlet there? My logic does not always hold true). A leaner, meaner Mint might be good for everyone involved, including HT Media's bottom line. Mint still does some good features, but with the agreement with WSJ going to run out sooner or later, the paper needs to stand on its own two feet, and right now it is barely able to crawl.
And page counts are taking a terrible hit aren't they? The era of 28 pages seems to have come and gone. And as for the couple in Rio, evidently Brazil does not have a extradition treaty with Singapore, but I'm not quite sure of that. Anyway, it also appears that the number of suitors for the network in question now involves every media house there is, but with holes being found during the audit trail, things aren't good. Let me get back up to speed and I'll ply you with more info.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What me worry?

It has been a veritable rumour fest since the morning, if I do my math properly every single job in the Indian media industry will be wiped out by the middle of next week. Sure, we've seen a lock-out and we are all getting strange indications that things are wrongs - like suggestions to cut down on colour prints, reductions in evening and night drops or cutting out the evening snacks.
Different offices, different solutions. Personally, I'm really not that worried for my job, but I do know of some people who are, I knew people who got locked out at Sakaal, and I'm pretty sure that Sakaal won't be the end of the bad news. You know how bad news, the really bad news usually begins with something a lot smaller - Bear Stearns for the financial markets, Sakaal in Indian media. I hear that things at a couple of television channels are so bad that operating cash is running dangerously low and there may not be enough money to pay salaries in 2009. At least five recently launched publications are on the verge of being throttled back, maybe even shut down. It is very bad it appears. How bad is it going to get?
Well, I don't know and I despite my dire predictions a couple of lines previously I really don't think it is going to get that bad, but I do know this much - if you are a student in a media institute, this is not going to be a good year for placements anywhere. And you know what, I really do feel sorry for the kids who spent lakhs. But these 'schools' were churning out brainless zombies and maybe this will make them change as well. In fact, media institutes are a bit more screwed that the escort girl, sorry, air hostess training schools. That said, newsprint prices are falling on the commodities markets...
And maybe this is a good thing, you know during the boom a lot of shit gets buried under the carpet and talentless hacks can become superstars. But as they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Which is why I watch Dexter every evening. Man, the stuff we miss out on in India is really not funny. Instead we get to watch wife-beaters non-anonymous on Big Boss. If you haven't caught Michael C.Hall as Dexter Morgan as yet, you're missing out on a great series!

Today's rant...

I was surprised to hear that NR Narayana Murthy praise a particular reporter. Well he does sit on the board of that company incidentally. But so what, after all there are no regulations for them to disclose such things? But, today during Parliament telly channels were slammed by all and sundry, of course by then most channels had stopped broadcasting, but I think the channel’s ‘defence’ of ‘No Rules’ is getting a bit hackneyed right now. Very hackneyed in fact!
India’s TV News Channels have proven incapable of self-regulation. They spread canards and lies – IndiaTV is a horrible case in point. I’m not speaking as a snobbish well-educated upper middle class prick, but if we make fun of the US State of Kansas for wanting to teach creation, after watching some of the stories on television, even on the English channels I’m pretty scared about the average intelligence of this country.
But Government regulation is not the answer either, politicians love controlling information and that should not happen. The answer I believe will be a Broadcast Regulator. One with teeth, and a clear and defined set of rules. ‘No Tits till 11 PM on Movie Channels’ should mean that a channel that shows a flash of boob at 10.59PM must be fined. ‘No coverage of counter-insurgency missions live’ should mean that, and if that rule is breached the editor of the offending channel should be charged with sedition. This is not writing about the dubious antecedents of a Police Chief, this is sedition, any which way you look at it. Of course, there should also be a clearly defined rule for fake emotions, any anchor suspected of using glycerine or giving away Army Positions… well I can’t think of a punishment for this.
Now, the Broadcast Media have to involved in the framing of these rules and said regular should be accessible to the public. Members of the public should have the right to complain, and while this is likely to be abused by old retired busy-bodies with nothing better to do than complain every time they see a Rhianna video. But some things can really be offensive to some people, but the regulator should have the brains to realise that some things despite being offensive are in the public good.
You know, the genesis on my complaint about the media comes down to the same point I’ve raised before. The media boom might have meant that a lot of dumb twenty-somethings got jobs, but it also meant and mediocre and sometimes very bad forty-somethings became editors. These people have no sense of right or wrong let alone ethics. Every journalist in this country, actually most journalists across the world have some ethics issues, but many journalists across channels, newspapers and magazines did not have opinions. And worse still they didn’t have basic common sense.
The media boomed, but reportage died. Faking emotions can make you big after all. But, that said, thankfully I do know a lot of peers, my age, who are brilliant reporters and whose stories I like reading and watching. I think I’ve become a bit too cynical for my own good of late, but I’ve become a better reporter than I was a few years ago I would think. Sure, I still like the good life, which is why I keep one finger in the lifestyle pie still, but I enjoy that.
You know, some channels and columns carried on about how politicians need to introspect, I maintain that we in the media need to do the same thing. And today, in Parliament despite the pathetic turnout (even though one died last night and our telecom inister was missing in action) our politicians did put up a decent show. We in the media should do too.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hilarity

Google just sent over a press release on their India Zeitgeist for 2008, at least the first eleven months of the year. Anyway, other than discovering that Google sanitises their Zeitgeist before sending it out - compare Katrina Kaif and Sex on Google Trends (also I'm worried that Mallu's think so much about sex). Even the most popular search term for the year according to Google which is Orkut, loses out to 'Sex' (It is however, ahead of 'Porn'). Of course, Google would like you to believe that Kat Kaif is more popular than sex in India. You know, not all journalists are that dumb, sure a hell of a lot of us are (and some of us know that there is a helpful Google service called 'Trends'), like the anchor who said that Sheila Dikshit was the FIRST Chief Minister to be elected three times in a row. Well, she wasn't Bong so she forgot that Jyoti Basu's path to ruination was endorsed four times by the voters of West Bengal. Thankfully, her boss corrected her. Anyway, I found this part of the Zeitgeist the funniest though - the Top 10 'How To' searches in India.
Top 10 “How to” do stuff
1. How to reduce weight
2. How to kiss
3. How to earn money
4. How to get pregnant
5. How to learn English
6. How to gain weight
7. How to play guitar
8. How to create a website
9. How to impress a girl
10. How to tie a tie
Well, sometimes this country does not fail to amaze me...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Just wondering

Sam Zell’s Tribune empire went under and declared bankruptcy and somehow it started me thinking about the state of the industry. In a weird sort of way it shows how Craigslist and Ebay have changed the American media landscape. I won’t say the internet as a whole and definitely will not say ‘blogging’ or the horribly hyped up ‘citizen journalism’, but things are changing. And in that lies a lesson for news
And they are changing here as well and that is evident in the strategies that media companies are employing. I have known Sanjeev Bikhchandani of InfoEdge for years, even before I became a journalist and I have seen the growth of Naukri for a simple listings firm to something so much more is an amazing one. And that is why, despite the horrible Indiatimes mucking up both ToI and ET websites, Times Internet is so important to times. Especially the Jobs and Matrimonials site – heck, they’ve desperately tried to re-brand both. I do feel that the Matri site rebranded as an 'urban' site - 'metro monial' they call it is doomed to failure but I elucidate below. And HT Media, bless them, not so long ago started Shine, their new jobs site, which well, sucks.
But the jobs listings business model has changed, even though Times Ascent remains a tremendously powerful product.
Marriage listings in papers still remain, but even those are changing thanks to the emergence of so many matrimonial websites, however, there is a part of me which thinks that as India changes demographically and culturally, ‘marriage sites’ will also have to evolve. I can’t predict if they will become ‘dating’ sites or something worse, but paper matrimonials are doomed sooner or later. If you think I'm talking bunkum, let me explain with silly anecdotal evidence. I stopped at a In&Out convenio recently to buy a Diet Coke and was amazed at the number, actually the variety of condoms you could buy. I mean, we are getting to Thailand levels of choice.
The iPill, despite slightly dubious health issues seems to have empowered women - though someone should please explain that you can still get an STD even if you can't get pregnant and that overuse is a bad thing. And since I read the India Today Sex Survey for some strange reason, usually to find whacked out survey results - I saw an ad for a paan flavoured condom in it. No really. Now that is seriously f***ed up. So back to the point, the new urban Indian couple is getting friskier and well, while I do not believe that 'arranged marriages' will die out, there will be fewer and fewer.
Unless of course, someone can design an easily searchable mobile site or app. I mean, think about it, the bored mother on a Metro back from shopping can find her son or daughter a match straight from her mobile. But that is for now. Later on, you could adopt some sort of hook-up sortv of app on the phone, ecven though chances are there will be 99 guys for every girl. So maybe, I'm being a bit too crazy, but the matri app could work just now. I’m a genius, though my big mobile application idea, you know the one that will allow me to buy a house in Beverly Hills and retire involves breasts. But that is still illegal in this country. Which is peculiar in a way. TV Networks can show live images of counter-insurgency operations and can get away with it but get banned if they show a sexy Axe commercial, let alone a hint of tit. Sometimes, I’ll never understand ‘Bharatiya Mariyada’.
I don’t know about you, but there is something to holding a paper and sitting on the commode every morning. I love reading a paper during my alone time, and while I must admit that I have experimented with a laptop while on the crapper. It really isn’t the same.
However, on a more optimistic note, I was reading an Edelweiss report which indicates that newsprint prices should head downward in FY10 and already there is a mismatch (in a good way) between spot and contract prices for international newsprint. With international newsprint comprising 75 per cent of buys for several of the larger groups, this is a great sign. However, this does not mean that there will still be some major cost cutting requirements ahead as advertising will still decline.
I am still pretty sure that a newspaper, or least an edition or two, will shut shop sooner rather than later. Anyways, I have stories to file and antibiotics to have.

As I remember











Readers of this blog, OK, really, really old readers of this blog will know that I worked for a year in Mumbai in 2005-06. It was a crazy year. Freakish work hours and drinking habits aside, I loved the city. Yes, despite crossing Mahim creek hanging out of a local sometimes. And despite not being warned about getting onto a Virar local, and learning that the hard way! None of these are good pictures, but I just felt like posting them. No reasons actually, so spare me the angst filled comments on how bad a photographer I am, I never claimed to be good.

Newfound addiction

I have realised that painkillers, well popping them, quite a lot of them in fact, does nothing towards making me a better writer. So much for that theory and I will have to move back to the earlier shit. Well, the truth of the matter is that I actually have been way laid by a bad nail, and until recently did not quite understand the meaning of pain. Though, my mother, bless her, told me that this is nothing compared to a mislaid wisdom tooth. And I'm going to go meet my dentist the moment I'm off antibiotics.
Anyway, during the past three days of intense pain, none of it because of VK Malhotra's spectacular implosion in the Delhi elections, I've been watching the first season of Dexter and trying to put down, on a MS Word file at least, my back story. You know, strange escapades to Manali and with strange Israeli's. I'm yet to get to the time when I decided that I wanted to be part of the Arabian Sea, but that is not stuff for this blog given that this is not about titillation at all, is it?
But anyway, so what now? What in the aftermath of yesterday's vote? Honestly, I have no fucking clue, but then again I don't pretend to have a clue like some people on TV, even the highly paid ones talking through their asses. Which is why I watched Dexter all through the afternoon, catching seat updates every hour or so. All, I do know and I wrote yesterday is that the BJP should get jolted after this, jolted enough to make sure that they can storm back in 2009. And step one is making sure that a lot of people shut up. Six months to go before the big one, so let the campaigning begin.
And enough of the Combiflam already. I need my espresso back!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Democracy.. Strange ain't it?

I'm still rather amazed how the BJP managed to lose Delhi but I'm not horrified. I won't say 'I told you so', but I alluded to the possibility in this post. Rajasthan, according to some in BJP was a foregone conclusion and some people in the BJP think they did better than they hoped. But at the end of the day, it will come down to Delhi and only Delhi, how the BJP managed to lose this city will be study of several post-mortem's for days to come. 
Simple answer - they f***ed up BJP style, that is taking a double-barrell shotgun and aiming for the foot - not just choosing VK Malhotra but also not having much of a plank other than being 'anti' Congress. Hey, the 'anti' factor worked for Obama, but there really wasn't that kind of seething rage. Well, I really wouldn't read too much into these polls just yet, if history is any indicator, this set of polls does not mean anything for the next year - 2003's results made the BJP cocksure. maybe the loss of Delhi will jolt them and Mr Jaitley might just lay off the 'sugar free' sweets. And maybe they will learn not to keep on shooting their foot off. Any which way, good fun ahead. As well as more silly BRT projects. Shucks. I wonder if Malhotra will do the respectable thing and resign or will he need to be dragged out Khurana-style. But note to the BJP - Delhi isn't a Punjabi trading outpost anymore, it is India's most cosmopolitan city whose economy is based completely on services. Good for Auntyji though.
My finger still hurts though. Oh, and I watched CNN-IBN all morning, more fun than the other channels. Arnab was a bit irritating on Times Now. And the smaller channels need help, someone please put them out of their misery. 

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Time passes by...

The 'gunshots' at Delhi's airport were surprising - the news organisation that refuses to call terrorists terrorists killed six people. Another famous journalist on a leading network, desperate to repair her reputation latched onto the story and made it a hundred times worse than it is. Today, people say that nothing happened and I'm paranoid that the cops can't chase down a frikking Toyota Qualis. 
It was a Qualis for God's sake! A unstable, old car that Toyota sold to us for years thinking we would not notice that it was a relic from the 1970's. It worked well to transport call centre hamsters, but please it is by no stretch of imagination a 'performance machine'. That fills me with one hell of a lot of confidence. Sure, the police were chasing the 'terrorists' in a Qualis themselves, but to get outgunned by a Qualis! Whoa, I don't know what to say? Ineptitude or sheer Lewis-style driving. The Italian Police get Lamborghini's, our chaps get 30-year old technology. And they use the vehicles to skulk behind bushes with a radar gun. 
Anyway, it has been sixteen years since the subcontinent was changed forever. Weird anniversary right, all sorts of stuff was supposed to happen today, but nothing did. My friends still took flights to all over the place. We can't get scared.
You know, I've noticed something funny, a lot of the rich and famous are out protesting about the attacks. 'Get the politicians out!', they're screaming. And in that context, democracy has delivered an answer, people have voted in huge numbers. I know some anchors plugged into this anger, but people are still voting. But then what happens, the Deputy CM of Maharashtra is a man who has all but been convicted of defrauding the Indian state. And then, another guy goes nuts for being ignored. Sometimes, I wonder what we were thinking when we chose democracy. But then again, I love it and I am looking forward with bated breath to the 8th. 
Sorry for not posting for a few days, I've got hangnail on the middle finger of my right hand and I'm hopped up on Combiflam. It hurts. A lot. And next week I'm off to the US for a couple of weeks. To the bankrupt state of California, (where a man and a man cannot get married) but I'm sure my rupees will be welcome. But I promise to keep on posting.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

In the name of Fair and Balanced

Just to prove that I'm not Fox News - Barkha gave an interview to Mint earlier today and I disagree with the main thread, the media is the fourth estate and like any other 'estate' int is fallible and it is answerable to those who watch and read it. Targeting the media is being done by whom right now? The public, and Ms. Dutt they have the right to target you as much as they have the right to target me. You are a higher profile journalist and therefore get more criticism than most, but to argue that you (or 'the media' at large) doesn't deserve criticism is juvenile. Barkha has also written a massively long monologue on the NDTV website, best of luck if you can finish reading it, but still did not answer a few questions about her coverage, but anyway... Actually I'm hungry right now and need something to eat.
PS: NDTV's stock is one of the highest climbers on the NSE today, climbing 28.3% - it is still trading at under a quarter of its peak value, but something is cooking. Is there actually a deal in place to dispose of the Entertainment business or was HT's defence of NDTV a sign that something really spicy is cooking there. Bad move for both if you ask me personally from an editorial point of view (not just given the links with CNN-IBN) but strategically it does make sense - print needs TV and TV needs print and dot-coms suck any which way. That said, seeing more junk from NDTV Profit in Mint would be sad!

EDIT: Some of the posts on the aforementioned Facebook group wall make for bad reading for UndieTV. Actually, I would be worried that this group is getting larger and larger and people who would otherwise be sympathetic to the channel are joining up. As someone I know told me just now about my epithet for the channel - 'Is barr toh chaddi utar gayi!'

Don't get me wrong by the way, I am not some right-wing loony railing against NDTV. One of my dearest friends is a senior reporter there and I dispassionately believe that he is one of the best reporters in what he covers. There are several brilliant reporters and journalists who work in that organisation. But, anger, and particularly this sort of post-mortem anger comes for a reason and that is the reason I'm banging away about the profession needing to take last week's event as an excuse for some serious introspection. And that could start by NDTV stopping to 'censor' comments on Barkha's reply immaturely. Listen, I put a hell of a lot of comments that are rather rude to me up here. It is called taking the rough with the smooth, maybe taking things with a more rational bent would do you guys some good.

And while I won't link back lest I reveal my identity, but a shout-out to RS! Thanks, but do I really rant that much?


EchTee responds to the Navy

Yesterday, one of the funnier banners I saw at the impotent protest marches read 'Thank you to the Media', which somehow came up over and over on CNN-IBN. I do not agree with a couple of mails doing the rounds that the English news media ignored CST - the attacks were ongoing at Taj and the Oberoi, but the Hindi channels which mind you, a bulk of the country watched did a far better job. Anyway, regarding this post and this follow-up the attack on the Navy Chief, who not so long ago was getting plaudits for going after the Somali pirates is being led by no less than The V himself. Somehow, the defence reads like 'How dare you attack us!'
Of course, one can be completely cynical and argue that it reads more like 'How dare you attack one of MY friends!' (and we could go on about that) But, despite the denials and the argument that the Admiral was not based on 'fact'. But then again, nor are fake emotions and stupid questions. That group I spoke about in my last post now has close to 2400 members and that should be worrying to some people in that channel (not even counting the several SMSes about her that are doing the rounds), because while there will be people who will dismiss the Internet as some new-age fad, these were former 'core viewers' and losing them is a problem. Yes, the Navy Chief should be in deep water for what should be dinner-table conversation, but the very fact that this incident (true or not, and I will not take General Ved Malik's word as the gospel truth, there is a shitload of stuff on Bharat-Rakshak that the establishment will deny, but is in all probability true), has been brought out into the open displays that some parts of the establishment are angry with televised media and one smug channel in particular. That NDTV is in trouble is not too difficult for someone to see, and I mean that from a completely financial point of view, but letting out the attack dogs in defence of the channel will not help. There needs to be serious introspection both by the journalist involved and the channel. There is a palpable sense of grievance that the general population, OK, the middle classes feel towards the English media, address that concern instead of closing ranks. Why on earth are people pissed off, and why did everybody switch over to watching a rabid Arnab on Times Now? Why on earth did Sreenivasan Jain, who was by far and away the best reporter out of Mumbai for the network in question (and actually, when you think about it, the best overall) not get enough airtime?
And really, with our current defence minister pussy-footing with the Defence Budget, rather the Naval budget over the past three years, why on earth are we going after the Navy? Like the rest of the incompetent and impotent UPA administration, A K Anthony has done nothing. The Naval Chief was indiscreet and maybe he needed to check facts, but maybe the facts are right. Filing for defamation may not be a great idea because skeletons might start pouring out from hidden closets. Skeletons such as the contrived coverage of the Kashmir earthquake from nowhere near the real site.
Listen, I am going to go back to what I said earlier. Introspection is the order of the day - in India's security apparatus too used to protecting politicians sell out the country, and by those politicians as well. But also for the televised English media. Otherwise we will no better than the Pakistani media. And my god, those guys are from a different planet.

Someone did report...

I should have caught this earlier, but I was too busy reading the blog style unreferenced posts on some of the stories on one of the city's largest papers. Worse, on its front page. I mean, what I write on my blog might be a stream of consciousness sort of thing, but I do believe that I have some sort of standards - you know a bit of basic facts, maybe a couple of examples or five or a quote of some sort when I do a story with my byline.
Anyway, referring to this post of mine - here is what The Hindu had to say (and kudos for carrying the story, most other papers shied away). Little wonder then that blank expressions are the order of the day in a particular South Delhi office. And this little group on Facebook had over 2100 members and counting when I last saw it (which is 1400 more than her 'fan club' on the same site). I must clarify that I am not a member, though I am on Facebook, and I may not agree with all the sentiments expressed by members of the group (though some I do wholeheartedly agree with but those are probably political inclinations if nothing else). Somehow I think it will be unbecoming to join the group.
Anyway, on another note, there is an Indo-Pak journalists forum in Singapore in a few days, some senior journo's who were scheduled to attend have cancelled, but one senior journalist, the political editor of a leading daily, a man who recently made the former home minister of the country look like a super-star in an interview is still attending. Not surprising. Not surprising at all!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Return of 'The V'

Read this interview, the last few questions of it. Given that Rajeev Chandrashekhar is a drinking buddy of the man and all this talk of his triumphant return to News X suddenly doing the rounds. In the furore of the past few days, a lot of this got buried, just like VP Singh's quietly unnoticed death. Has the deal already happened? And what does this mean for the several people who quit News X or in one high-profile case were physically removed from News X? I mean, that is, if the news is correct. And given Rajeev Chandrashekhar's tie-up with Star recently, would this, in some form or the other mean that Star might suddenly have an English news channel in India, albeit one with a slightly different ownership from the MCCS-controlled Star News (though 'The V' is very close to Aveek-babu also). It is all seeming very peculiar, but after the traumatic events of early-2008 (actually just read the entire January archive of posts), I cannot rule out anything. And after the hatchet job on Mike yesterday, Bunty and Babli are next in line for the Man. You read it here first!
Though, I still have my original question? Do we need yet another English news channel?

MKN

I was a bit puzzled by The V's stinging rebuke of MKN yesterday. Puzzled not because MKN is admittedly a twat and should be held responsible, but the fact that all three HT Group papers gave the story the same treatment. I suddenly remembered that a few years ago, Sunday HT had done a brilliant piece damning MKN - the piece had been done by Aditya Sinha if I recall correctly and all hell broke loose after that piece. But I was just wondering how much was yesterday about settling scores and about finger pointing. As I said, I still maintain that MKN is a twat, and according to some telco officials he is also a corrupt twat but I have only anecdotal evidence  from colleagues and peers of that. 
Now, was there an intelligence failure that led to the Mumbai attacks? Yes. So why is RAW going around telling that they warned everybody. Yesterday the Navy Chief at his presser did mention something about 'general intelligence' and 'actionable intelligence'. You know that is like saying - 'You will die eventually' or 'You have Cancer and could die soon'. The former is a general statement of truth - like saying that the Pakistani media makes the Indian media look good, I mean lying bastards those guys are. So much so that a former colleague who was an unabashed Paki-lover, and I mean unabashed to the extent that wanted to strangulate him during a cricket match is saying this is time for Indian military action. Anyway, back to the point, do we know that there are training camps in Pakistan? Yes we do, but nothing can be done until we know when they send doped up assholes armed to the teeth across the border.
Reading between the lines and talking to a few other senior journalists, a theory occurred. This is the blame game starting. Someone is trying to protect his skin. Given the hard-handed way this petty government could react, we won't write about fraternal ties. But the fact of the matter is, several people are trying to protect their skins right now, and not just Vilasrao Deshmukh and a couple of media organisations that fell behind with the news. Anyway, I still beieve more heads will roll in the coming months, quite a few more heads will roll. Though, given the commies hold in Kerala, VS's head will not. But I have a bad feeling that the clip will be played over and over during the 2009 elections in that state. He had his 'Macaca' moment.
Also I haven't had the time to say a word of how good the major Hindi News Channels were, I found India TV's 'interview' a bit distasteful, but technically, it is good journalism. Biased, one-sided intellectual debates indulged in by one channel in particular, where Simi Garewal, of all people, spoke the way several people are feeling and got booed by the crowd (talk about audience management) was not at all good journalism. And that is seeming to reflect on the ratings where Times Now despite Arnab's occasional rants against politicians (yes I know Politicians are scum, but let us fix democracy and not talk about Army Rule as evidently some people were being goaded to do) has gained tremendously. We'll see if these gains are short-term or long-term gains and how advertisers react, since a lot of budgets are in for re-negotiation in a few weeks at the year flips over. Would Times Now's actions actually helped ET-TV it's soon-to-be launched sister channel? Hmmm... Questions to ponder.
And talking about ET, I feel sorry for the guys. The ET Awards were supposed to happen the next day 27/11 and in this crisis they have been indefinitely postponed. Bad luck there, but I don't think this is the time to do anything. I guess they will re-sched it, but that will be a nightmare of times and dates. And there is this perceptible feeling that things seem to have slowed down here as well. Anyway, I should get to work now...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Erm...

The Naval Chief had a presser today before the start of Navy Week. That in itself wasn't surprising nor was the public admonishment of two TV channel reporters for breaking an embargo (CNN-IBN and Headlines Today) but the way heNavy Chief recounted events surrounding a senior female journalist in Kargil.
No really! The man recounted the incident blow-by-blow, and if anyone of you attended please send in details. And some channels carried this live. This is the same reporter who is facing hell for her pro-Jihadi reportage in Mumbai. I'm sure the print guys will be a bit circumspect with the news, but then again, I didn't say anything, Admiral Mehta did.
In other news, Rajeev Chandrashekhar has been offered the Mukerjea stake in News X, and this is only supposed news. What is also 'supposed' is that he refused to buy at the price quoted, which apparently was Rs 200 crore for half the channel. Athere might be some details regarding UndieTV disposing some of its entertainment channels very soon, despite a convoluted ownership structure. Watch this space.

Utter crap...

Sometimes on the Internet and the papers you can find gems - like Priyanka Vadra admitting that Indira Gandhi would have acted differently. Erm, her mother runs this government - and despite all the Congress' attempts to prove otherwise, if her mom wanted to act differently she would have no matter what Laloo and Paswan say or do. So Priyanka implied that her mommy is no match to her nan! Wow! Gandhi family politics. Of course, at least she said something her brother was out partying. Maybe doing the same shit the terrorists were on. Sure, this is marriage season, but this single action will haunt the fourth generation scion of this family for years. I know NDTV wants to project him as our future PM, but I don't know about you and yes, I know life has gone on and blah, blah, but this is not what a future PM of this country does. Shame on you, Mr Gandhi, your father and your uncle would have acted differently.
But this post isn't directed at the Gandhi family. People will argue that I am a Sangh-apologist and will forgive anything the BJP does, no I still maintain Narendra Modi's presence in Mumbai was not needed and his announcement of a Rs 1 crore compensation to Karkare was over the top. John Kerry got called a flip-flopper in the 2004 US Presidential election? Americans don't know what flip-flopping is until they come to India. See Indian politicians in actions, like the disgusting commie who runs Kerala. Sir, all the Mallu's I know are bloody proud one of their own died, but not this man. Well sir, fuck you and your fucking party. I know that Prakash Karat at the end of the day is a spineless bastard who will not fire you but hopefully The Malayalee's who will vote in the 2009 election will vote you and your corrupt, land-grabbing party out.
No, the reason I started this post was because of this gem.
"Had they airdropped me from a helicopter in their rescue operation, I would have danced in skimpy clothes and seduced all the terrorist inside and would have killed them one-by-one. I know, eventually they will also kill me, but I do not mind dying for my country."
- Rakhi Sawant
I think being at a loss for words here is an understatement. No Rakhi, they would have not been fucking seduced by you, you talentless twat. They would have aimed at your fucking silicon enhanced appendages and blown them up. Which might have saved your life, which honestly seems to be a pity. Please, Rakhi shut up. Honestly. Many of us will happily say that we will give up our lives for this country, but right now, I am bloody scared and angry and I don't want to see things like this on the Internet. I am seriously at a loss for words!
EDIT: And the BJP has people like Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. I'm pretty sure a majority of Indian male politicians are misogynistic, but for it to come out like this is insane. Listen guys, the 'intelligensia' - you know - the formerly NDTV-watching classes (now pissed off by Barkha) will vote for you in 2009, but please, please STFU!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Sakaal Times lockout

Y'know I'll be honest, when I first heard the plans of Sakaal Times, I found the plans a bit bombastic. Mind you, the media boom was still going on and products were still being launched left, right and centre. Newsprint prices had climbed to ridiculous levels but that really didn't stop anyone.
In the midst of this, the plans for creating this western India behemoth - in an arc stretching from Delhi through Jaipur and Ahmedabad and other Gujarati cities through all of the smaller cities in Western half of Maharashtra all the way to Bombay. Several editions were planned, launching in quick succession, starting with Goa and Pune. But just as they launched the market began to show signs of distress, the fact they launched at all was a miracle given the fact that a Delhi bureau brought out the paper. However, this was bound to create problems given that journalists have fragile egos and are more territorial than a bitch in heat.
Anyway, lets not do too much post facto analysis, we're doing too much of that with regards to HT already today and the surgical takedown of UndieTV's woeful coverage will be done later this week. The fact remained that Sakaal was just not sustainable and while Sharad Pawar and his family have undoubtedly become rich on Maharashtra and India's back, the family, and for this you must laud some of the chaps at Sakaal Times. They managed to rip off the Pawar's - an unheard of achievement.
But back to the point, the guys at Sakaal were decent, hard working chaps who deserved better than to be locked out. Are they the best people in the business? Maybe not but in hindsight, you can say that the paper was a doomed project from Day 1 and some of us who were a bit more pessimistic even earlier. But still they deserved better. Anyway, these 61 are talking of taking legal action. But I believe that talks are underway, and the guys might settle for five-six months of salary at the talks and I wish them the best. But given the times, getting new jobs might be nearly impossible for many of them, especially those in their late-30's and older given that a lot of places have a senior level hiring freeze on. But I will keep you posted though given the cash resources of the Pawar's and how the NCP 'claims' they got naresh G to take back the Jet employees this stinks of hypocrisy. But then again, these guys are politicians and the NCP is a party which thinks of things like this as small incidents akin to a few Bihari's being bashed!

What a time to be away

When I set off on Thursday morning for a break through Rajasthan little did I know that things would get so bad in Mumbai. Evidently, the Hindustan Times thought the same way. This is a picture of the front pages of the Delhi editions of the two leading papers. I don't know if they made a running change, but we all somehow seemed to get the ToI 'War' edition and no-one I know got a second HT edition. This is a Barkha Dutt style screw-up. And whatever I have said about Arnab and Times Now in the past, my god they did a fantastic job as did Sreenivasan Jain of Undie. The rest of Undie.. well they were worse than RajdeepTV and lets be honest it was RajdeepTV, and the bits of Sagarika were irritating. Bhupen and Anubha were decent though. Anyway, I do not want to dwell too much on what happened, other than to say that this shook me to my core. I have spent whole afternoons having leisurely lunch meetings at the Sea Lounge and the Belvedere, gazed at the Gateway from Wasabi, had lunch at Tiffin and Kandahar and I knew quite a few people other SSS. I saw a lot of my rich South Delhi friends with ink stains on their fingers, and though I did not vote as I was not in town, I think the BJP (despite Narendra Modi of all people becoming the latest victim of pointing a gun at foot and pulling the trigger) will win landslide victories in these state polls. However, I do think that Arundhati Roy will shut up for a long, long time now and that really isn't a bad thing.
God bless this country though it is really bad that we will have to endure at least five more months of the UPA. Chiddu as Home Minister, well he might be better than that joke and for god's sake remove MK Narayanan, because that man has failed at his job. This is a time for bi-partisanship and not silly speeches. People are angry with our politicians and if they care for this country instead of power and making money they should use this time to inspire. Why has India's political heritage been frittered away?

PS: I will write a post on the Sakal Times debacle later, but to cut a long story short, the paper suddenly shut its Delhi bureau throwing 57 people out of a job.

EDIT: I got my hands on a collectors edition copy of HT which made some parts of the city. I believe the second edition had a limited run but made it. However, it appears that Times cancelled their first edition and carried just one. Just as a note, India Today which goes to sleep on Wednesday-Thursday night managed to re-do the entire edition on time to catch the press, but to be fair, they were helped immensely by the fact that their editor happened to be in Bombay and reverted to being a reporter and he was a good one and sometimes, despite everything, the stories are great. The cover story does not carry his byline, but that's PC's story all right. And Nag's blog has something about a silly mail, which I have a feeling has been written by the Ponytail's minions because the language is similar to what the minions write in their horrible magazine. If that man is ready to carry on losing a bomb on newsprint, he can carry on but the fact is that newsprint costs money.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Poor, poor Outlook...

Lets not get into the details of just how horribly broke you guys are, but for Christ's sake, when you do a bloody technology and gadget special please check, double-check and triple check that an image of a gadget you use actually exits. Like the gadget you claim is a PSP. It has iPhone logos, a sliding QWERTY keyboard and a Cybershot logo. I've never been a major fan of the PSP, but something like this pssing under the radar. I mean Apple and Sony working together. Of course, Outlook also had a piece on internet hoaxes in the same issue. Makes perfect sense now. But guys you just lost all your gadget cred if you got undone by a photoshopped gadget. It had clues giving it away. For the record, the 'PSP-iPhone-Sidekick' is pictured below and originally came from here.

Stuff you never see...




Rajnath Singh meets his puppet at an election rally in Delhi. Pics sent by V, who happened to be covering the event! I wonder what the conversation centered on? Maybe they discussed comb overs? No wait, that is Arun Shourie's speciality. Possibly they debated temple designs. Or something like that.
Anyway, what are your predictions for the elections? Like a responsible citizen I will not be voting in my assembly constituency this time, primarily because I haven't gotten my vote shifted from one assembly segment to another. And also because I will be travelling that weekend through rajasthan, where I believe the Congress is putting up a mighty fight.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Apologies

Sorry for going AWOL over the past week, I told myself that I would not be a cynical bastard online and write only nice things over here. Oh, that and I've been hoofing around a bit. In Pune. And interviewing business tycoons till three in the morning (only one man in India will do that, so guess who he was). Last week will go down as one of the strangest weeks I've had in a while and it ended on a sour note for a variety of reasons.
Back to the media, the gossip about one channel being bought over or not being bought is carrying on, but here is what we're hearing - the valuations being asked by the promoter are far too high, and the buyer might wait for a total collapse in the advertising market before any purchase is made. But it is print where all the fun is happening of late, it seems that a couple of publications which went nuts adding subscribers over the past couple of years are actually cutting back circulation. Not only are pages being cut (the 32-28 move) but one paper believes that to be #2 it needs to cross just 20,000 not touch 40,000, and with high-paid editors to feed, they're halving their print run to that they can stay minty fresh!
Another couple of media groups are bleeding so much that subsidiary publications have been shut down but another group which launched several foreign publications (two actually) has been forced to re-look at those deals. However getting out of the deals will be nearly impossible without a penalty.
So is the age of the 100-page paper over? Actually with the price of newsprint where it is, don't be surprised if the massive supplements start shrinking and some of them actually shut down. As for all those great plans of starting new editions - such as DNA Bangalore, I guess those are on hold. The question is not if we are in bad times, which we are. But, whether we have seen the golden era of print in India and when the media upswing comes will the Internet play a bigger role, which I think it will. Anyway, I promise not to disappear again for a while.

Friday, November 14, 2008

On the prowl

While major cost audits are being conducted in several television channels, news comes across that in such dismal times Rajeev Chandrashekhar is sniffing around for a deal. He has supposedly already signed a deal with Star to establish a bunch of new southern General Entertainment channels (Star Jupiter?) but more interestingly, he is sniffing around for a news channel. There has been much speculation on this front, much of that has surrounded whether it is a smart time to buy a channel and which channels (UTVi and Headlines Today are the channels in question supposedly) or not, but RC is a clever operator, I think he is planning to pick up a low rated channel for a song, and build up a credible media empire. Which is why there is also speculation that RC might buy a newspaper - Deccan Herald is the name most often dropped.
After a few weeks of doom and gloom and media executives crying that a party is over, maybe there is life left in the beast as yet. Or have the carrion eaters arrived to pick from the bone and fatten themselves up. Still, we live in interesting times and timesv will only get more interesting going forward.

Temporary?

Well, we all knew things aren't that great, but here is a story that puts it down in words. Many of these supplements are also being cut because advertisers have dried up. Nwspapers have also started slimming down slowly but surely, editions that were bursting at the 32-page limit with an obscene ad-edit ratio have suddenly been chopped to 28 pages and talk has already started of 24 page editions. While the occasional 32 page edition slips through, the sudden drop in the size of the papers is indication enough that things are not too good. The impact on television will be a bit muted right now, but I personally believe that if things do not improve by the first quarter of next year, and I'm willing to bet twenty bucks that they will not, budgets might be slashed. Not mildly cut, but slashed. the only safe haven I can think of right now is cricket but then we have to keep playing the way we have been playing.
More today evening...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Speculation

Sitting in office on a day the rest of the civilised world can get stoned at home, I am hearing more and more speculation that a big budget media deal will take place within the next few weeks. I would think that it would be a horrible time to invest in the media right now, but things are afoot. Please email any rumours to - presstalk (at) gmail (dot) com - we can only speculate can't we?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Boom...

Shyam sent this link across, and this got me wondering - Bombay-based English news channel. The only one I know of (Times Now, by the way - quick bit of advice there, if you're doing phone-in's with ToI correspondents, which is really great incidentally, ask them to provide decent pics. Watching Saibal's pic yesterday on a large screen TV was horrible. Times Now isn't an ugly channel, but things like that are scary) isn't up for sale since Bennett is possibly the only media group in this country flush with cash and Times Now is doing decently well methinks.
I can possibly speculate on a couple of contenders (a lot of speculation surrounds NewsX) - but I find Rajeev Chandrashekhar's move a bit peculiar. There was buzz when Uncle M came down that there might be a tie-up, but entering the news media space today seems a bit silly. I'm sure once advertising budgets start getting 're-aligned' starting 2009, things will just get worse. Anyway, just a couple of paise late in the afternoon. Or evening. You can't really tell given Delhi's abysmal air quality.
As usual, your comments are welcome, but try to avoid the personal promotion comments with a hyperlink added on. I should really switch platforms from Blogger soon. But that is a longer term project...

PS: Should GM be saved? I mean we will still get re-badged Daewoo cars, but the Corvette should not pass into history. Jim Cramer thinks they have to be saved beacuse not saving GM will tip the world into a Great Depression. But really running ads with elephants (and Saif Ali Khan) won't help them in India and personally I think that Obama won't really care too much about Indian operations, so I wouldn't buy anything GM right now.

And why did Baba Gandhi's trip back to college become a media event? Was yesterday such a slow news day?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Crazy people...

I find the righteous indignation that one of Obama’s advisor’s happens to also be close to Narendra Modi to be bizarre. I’ve met Sonal Shah in her role as advisor for Google’s philanthropic arm google.org when she was in India earlier this year, and she really seemed like a nice person. I can’t understand why some people just can’t get over Narendra Modi,
I’m not saying that we exorcise the demons of 2002, we can’t exorcise any demons in India, some clown will bring up old demons from somewhere all the time in a fit of righteous indignation, but stretching connections and making them flyers really doesn’t work. Which is why I also agree with Vir’s contention this Sunday that we will never have an ‘Obama’ moment in India, because being a member of the ‘persecuted’ identifies our politicians. Heck, the guy who is trying to raise money for the DMK, our dear telecom minister should be fired, but guess what he will soon claim that he was persecuted, just like Salman Khan suddenly discovers Islam after spending a night in the lock-up.
I’m surprised at how little has been written about how Google.org is funding organisations that do the government’s job for them. But no, going after Modi raises the heckles of everyone, after all since Modi=Evil according to some increasingly broke sections of the media. I just find this childish and inane. Slow news day, sure, but for crying out loud.
PS: I wonder what Babu Alva is making of his mother’s impassioned plea for him. All to get a LS ticket from now. I would just like to remind Nivedith of the fantastic success his brilliant campaign had in 1999 back in college. Including the delightful bhaiyya gag that a bunch of drunk weirdos pulled at one at night. Yes, that was fun.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Hmmm...

I watched a first day movie yesterday after ages, and I must admit I felt a bit iffy after Quantum of Solace. Brilliantly executed action scenes but the first 30 minutes seems like this endless action sequence. Daniel Craig betrays no emotion and does a brilliant job, I mean the guy is a fantastic actor. But, it is as if, 007 has to be more intense than anything before and my god the scenes are intense, its just that the movie feels like a blur of action at times. This is a great movie to watch again, but on a nice home theatre. But it felt good to go to a movie hall again, it really did. Watching the Arsenal beating Manchester United right now, but given our recent form I just hope we can hold on.
I drove the Audi R8 today, smoked the tyres a bit and had an absolute blast, and before that ran about with the new Maruti A-star, which wasn't bad at all. I'm wondering if I should go down to the Renault F1 run down Rajpath tomorrow morning. Plus, if any event guys are watching this, please, please skip the dancing girls at events. Getting a team of badly dressed hookers to dance does not make your event a success. Enjoy your weekend, and if you haven't been reading Newsweek's insider account of the US Elections you're missing something.
Just one last thought, now that Barack Obama has won what happens to Newsweek's resident twat - Fareed Zakaria? I've heard rumours that he might get an administrative post doing the rounds of Delhi journo circles, which is scary. But the man writes badly and is extremely irritating, but anyway...
Ten minutes to go and the Arsenal still lead!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I'm No.1... no wait...

I will not comment on how both large dailies in Delhi today went a bit over the top with Obama coverage, HT even replaced its City pages with Obama coverage. While American papers did fill up their front pages, their inside pages tended to talk of other electoral issues. Anyway, I still think we went overboard with coverage considering that most coverage was agency copy, save a couple of pieces here and there. Again Chidanand's writing was by far and away the best, but anyway, I won't carry on about Obama because the fun part was below the fold in the anchor pieces - both HT and ToI claimed their 'Number 1' in Delhi, HT celebrated the fact and starting tooting its horn yesterday which puzzled people in BSZ Marg who were poring over the numbers, and were not even looking at Delhi while in HT House cakes were being cut to celebrate the re-taking of Delhi.
But it became like Al Gore's win in 2000, someone at HT didn't exactly look at the numbers properly because it seemed that the IRS had changed its methodology, and since ToI's piece wasn't self-congratulatory (or an attempt to get onto the honours list) and after talking to the smarter stats folks, there was all-round sniggering. People at BSZ Marg, are still trying to figure out where the numbers came from. But, don't expect the last of this today, there will a bit of back and forth.
PS: Have you noticed how the papers have begun to get thinner and ad-edit ratios have begun to change. The collapse of the realty market in the NCR is showing - the days of 32 page editions might be over pretty soon and maybe by early 2009 the major papers will revert to 24 page editions.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Congratulations America

Heck, Barack Obama might be a once in a generation orator, but for any Western country, or any country for that matter to elect a member of the minority (yes, yes, he is half-white) as their leader is a tremendous achievement. Yes, he might have been helped by the tanking economy, but this was a comprehensive victory in all respects. Is he good for India or bad for India? Well, I'm sure there will be way too much analysis on that topic for a while on the TV channels, but he has some things to fix in America first. Of course, we didn't exactly help our case when our (unelected) Prime Minister told George W that we all 'love him'. I don't know how good or bad Barack Obama will be as a President of the United States, but I'm jealous of Americans today that they got a chance to vote for inclusion. We on the other hand in 2009 will have hardly any choice... a prince annointed against his will whose rural image doesn't quite gel with the hard spending man at Wasabi, a man with half a foot in his grave and another one in his mouth (the BJP's simple strategy for the 2009 elections should be keeping quiet) and a woman surviving on divisiviness and others whose politics is that of poverty, that is keeping people there.

NYT has a great piece on the Obama campaign.

Monday, November 03, 2008

What are the odds...

OK, so my favourite football team has managed to get themselves in a bit of a funk of late, but Lewis Hamilton did leave it rather late last night. I mean rather, rather late. I know the Brazilian papers will all be talking about the Timo Glock conspiracy theories but I think Karun Chandok called the race brilliantly on Star Sports last night. Karun might be India's first viable driver in F1, and if he didn't he will make a brilliant commentator. Man, Steve Slater is quite a twat, but the look of disbelief on Massa's father's face and then to see Nicole jumping up and down (LH doesn't wish his girlfriend was hot as her, since he has her) was quite a sight. What a race!
But two hours of madness came to a dramatic end and what are the chances of another black man, albeit one who doesn't wear lipstick (instead his lips show the signs of long-term tobacco abuse) winning a big event. I mean two years ago no-one had heard of him outside a few select circles, and now Barack Obama might take the big prize. I don't know if he will be a good president, but my god he is an awesome speaker. The problem for America is that the world wants Obama to win and if Obama loses, the US will lose so much credibility with the rest of the world, no matter what they do it will take them a long time to recover it. If Obama wins he will have quite a honeymoon period with the rest of the world, and supposedly 'equal' countries in Europe will wonder why they haven't elected minority leaders to top positions.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Hmmm...

October has ended, or is about to end in a few hours any which way and it has been a rather surreal month. To quote my fellow Lewis-fan Shyam from his Twitter feed (yes, I'm a social media junkie too) - "If you were to short life, you would invest in a failed relationship using borrowed emotions." But then again, you can argue that we're constantly short-trading on life!
The problem is that one can't really short a media business, especially if you have invested a ton of money in 'license' rights which actually means that if you have bought the India rights to something, you will have to pay a ton of money to walk out. Unless you set up your own show, like Conde Nast India, but then, like General Motors, you might get fried because your main revenue-generating operation is sinking. And here we were hearing rumours that Portfolio was on the anvil in India. But seriously, a lot of plans are on hold - after the entire drama earlier this year with people leaving and no leaving, it seems the FT-18 venture might be on 'pause' as well as could 'Money Mantra'.
Accha, the organisations I spoke about in my last post are both up for sale, which rules out Bennett, HT Media and India Today Group and also DNA, which, despite putting off some launches and supposed simmering issues between Zee and Bhaskar is not on the block as yet. However, some new launches by even the healthier groups could be in trouble, because the chaos of the past two years had driven salaries to insanely high levels, particularly for loss making products.
I'm being pessimistic because of this, and organisations would rather hang onto their Rockstar's and Diva's rather than asking them to take 10 per cent cuts (and these are guys who recently got massive salary hikes) which means the 20-somethings will be out of jobs. And why am I being so pessimistic, because even though NDTV is profligate in its expenses, its results were shocking to say the least (OK, launches aside, but still - anyway, the markets have pummelled the scrip, down over 80 per cent from its highs, though TV18 has lost 86 per cent of its value and both scrips have sunk further while the markets have climbed today, is that indicative of something?) and the situation is as bad in several other places even though the losses might have been papered over with smart accounting. Some commodity prices have fallen, but distribution costs for TV channels and newsprint costs for newspapers and magazines haven't. There is an AIG type hole in the Indian media scene.
Wait and watch, this winter ain't gonna be fun.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Looking for buyers?

At least two large English-language led publishing houses are on the block, several more regional language publishers and television channels are having serious problems raising funds which are also drying up for large broadcasters - one of whom I believe has only six months worth of cash left in the bank. Despite Chiddu's statements and the Congress protecting those who are close to them (and have historically been close to them), some bailouts might be very difficult to push through. And even if a bailout package is well designed, banks will still charge usurious rates though not the 25-odd per cent they're charging realty firms. Yes, funds will be found for the big players, but lets not beat around the bush, things are bad. Organisations which splurged on launching new products are regretting the investments and I really won't be surprised if you see a big-name casualty before the end of the year. Even if it is claimed to be a pause.
Nothing of course is as terrible as the stuff that is masquerading as US Election coverage in ET - which is absolutely pointless, but I have to admit US coverage by correspondents based there - including Chidanand Rajghatta, who is a pretty good writer and has made sure that ToI has a clear lead in US coverage, has been very poor in this an election year.
Too much agency copy, no feel to the reportage. I know the chips are down, but it would have been nice to send a seasoned Indian political reporting veteran over to the US - say a battleground state like Ohio, Virginia or Florida. US Election coverage, and lets not kid ourselves, the next US President will impact all our lives immensely, would have made for interesting reportage. And election reportage is always best written. I mean here we are heading into an election ourselves where we can vote out the most incompetent government in decades, maybe we could learn how the Americans are going about doing the same thing. Even coverage in the news channels has been mediocre to say the least, though UndieTV (which might soon lose its undies) has been decent.
I went to watch Russell Peters perform at Siri Fort last night, and despite the crappy traffic and ratty seats (though my friend who got the tickets ended up with some pretty awesome seats) the show was great fun. Well, unless you happened to the Uncle and Aunty with the two hot daughters sitting in the front row. Other than the fact that the uncle happened to be Pawan Munjal of Hero Honda, it was pretty good, but to be fair to Munjal, when he left the auditorium his face was as deadpan as it always is (and he got ribbed worse than Vineet Jain at last years show). Great show, I haven't had so much fun in a while.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Be worried

Forget the run on banks on the markets the last few years have seen some very unviable investments in the media business. One of the largest media organisations in the country – NDTV –has declared several consecutive quarters of abysmal results abnd the situation isn’t better elsewhere. Even though several print media organisations have managed to keep costs in check – the current meltdown hasn’t seen newsprint prices collapse – as yet, but I am worried about the precarious state of health of certain overleveraged print firms (one magazine publisher desperately looking for a buyer in particular). And we’re not talking about Bennett here, which remains India’s richest media company (can’t be so sure about the entire Private Treaties bit now - but that applies to everyone who got into that bed, and those who got in later got shafted the most), but I’m seeing thinner and thinner issues. Advertising is yet to collapse, but I’ve got a bad feeling about this winter.
And I’m not talking of 20-something’s losing their jobs, we’re talking of 40-something’s with families losing their jobs (as happened at the ill-fated Sakal Times). Unless and until you have demonstrated value, or at least measurable value, to your organisation, be scared, very scared. I’m not scared for my job, but I’m worried for a lot of folks I know. The stories are getting more and more frightening, one recently founded media company which we wrote about a lot earlier this year is not able to meet its second round commitments and with investors cutting their taps to PE firms (the benami way of owning media firms) the troubles will only get worse in 2009. There are already unofficial hiring freezes in place in all major organisations and while the good journalist will still get a job, even those opportunities will dry up.
Remember one thing – an ‘Offer Letter’ and an ‘Appointment Letter’ are two different things altogether. Hey, if you think I’m being a pessimist, I just looked out my balcony and the Delhi skyline is unnaturally clear. And today is chotte Diwali. I think we all need a drink. The good times are over, if you work in a company whose revenue model is flimsy (lifestyle advertising based for example and there are several - backed by realty money then forget it) or still cash-flow negative, you should be worried. Forget new launches (Forbes, Fortune and DNA Bangalore), even recently launched products and channels should worried – hell if you made a statement like this you should be frightened. The recent slience during the various 'Fashion Week's' was an indication that 'Lifestyle' is not a business plan.
Sorry to sound so down on the day before Diwali, maybe because I’m listening a lot more rock – even though I didn’t care much for Death Magnetic, I seemed to like Black Ice. And if you believe this article in The Guardian, if AC/DC are #1 again, times are really bad. And you must try and listen to the new Oasis album.
So go home (I wrote ‘how gone’ there – I’m now convinced I’m dyslexic), open a bottle of nice wine and drink yourself silly (and downturn or not, this is the season for interesting things to flow down from the northern hills) – or just go play cards somewhere. Call a crazy variation like that silly ‘Waterfall with Acid’ (which I still don’t get) that a friend made me play.
Listen, if you know me or meet me, you know that I'm a fairly optimistic person on most things other than my own personal life, which is a frikkin' minefield, but I made my own bed there. Hell, I still believe that Arsenal can win the English Premier League and that Lerwis Hamilton will not mess up at Interlagos. I believed that Nadal could win Wimbledon, but this time last year I realised that things just didn't add up (I wrote this post three years ago). While the media dissed cocaine users (only Delhi reporters mind you, some Bombay reporters knew better for reasons best left unsaid), a lot of the madness can only be explained if it is attributed to crazed cokeheads, because only on coke can you get yourself into such doo-doo (GWB might have given up the bottle, but I'm not sure he gave up the powder). No I'm serious, the last four years saw an explosion in cocaine usage in India - it became the drug of choice, even in media firms.
And see what happened!
Anyway, Happy Diwali folks, and sorry for the negativity. Take care!
-K

Saturday, October 25, 2008

And before I sign off for the weekend...

Just thought I would bring something to every one's notice, though I'm a bit late to the party.
Raju says that Sunita is a 'thief' (or at least employs thieves). (would this be called Copyright 'Infringemint' in this case?)
SpicyIP's take on the issue - (this is a great blog for anyone who tracks IP matters in India).
Such fun! Stay tuned for more and wait until Sunita's 'dear friend' Suhel wades into the issue.
PS: Anyone else planning a trip down to watch Russell Peters in Delhi? And Vodafone please stop sending me twenty SMS's a day with messages that I can win money and women by calling a special number.

EDIT: I've been sitting in office waiting for playbacks and generally surfing around - found a fantastic blog which a sure sign of the times!

Nice article

I've always found Scott Carney's articles in Wired very informative, surprising that the international media often covers India better than we cover ourselves. Of course, they don't need to face political masters or advertisers in the same way that we do (though very often some articles seem to have a surprising lilt to the left and use far too many cliches, but not all of them), but as I was reading this month's magazine, I found this article on the land mafia in Bangalore very good. However, if you're reading this Scott, my favourite article of yours was this one last year.
After attending a rather insane cards party last night, and though I was priced out of playing, I am not so sure the economy is as bad as I thought it was. Or maybe it was the last hurrah before things get really bad. The TiE conference at the Maurya was one large denial session though some at the dinner pointed out that this would be of the last 'free daaru' parties for a while. Though I doubt we'll drink less Scotch! That said, I believe that some networks are looking at cutting back 'subsidiary' channels that they had started over the past few months. Some networks, including one funded by real estate isn't even taking off. I feel really sorry for the chaps who quit for huge sums of money... Anyway, I won't badger a former target but their 'Government' page a few days ago was horrific - advertising in the guise of editorial content. Ouch! Can't really reclaim the bastion like that.
PS: Note to Vogue India - Victoria Beckham??? Why? If you had to do a WAG - why not Cheryl Cole or Louise Redknapp.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sorry...

I realised on Monday that this was going to be a bad week, as schedules have been brought forward and work has to be done faster than usual. Worse still, for me, my prior commitments meant that I had to show up at certain places bang in the middle of the day. As it is, I'm charged up on far too much sugar thanks to the Diwali gifts that we can accept - such as chocolate - so I've really not thought much of working till late and then finding a nice card party to go to so that I can win some cash and drink myself silly. Well, don't give me a moral lecture, because I'm like this only. Right now, I could do with a drink, a really stiff one and one without some of the insects that have decided to make Delhi their home over the past few days.
We live in interesting times and after today's markets and the continued denial of anything being wrong by the powers that be, I don't really think that we're headed into good times. Already certain channels are slipping back on payments and the recent events at Sakal Times which launched and is now quickly trying to un-launch itself is just an indication of what is going to happen. Even larger, fairly profitable organisations are putting informal hiring freezes in place and peripheral operations - such as supplements are going to see budgets slashed. Already, some realty supplements are under pressure, and this is just print. Television will see far, far worse. The reporters who were reporting on the Jet fiasco will face a fiasco of their own and I really think some channels will shut down fairly soon if they don't start letting people go.
I'm not being a fear monger, but one reason I've been slogging my ass off is because I know things aren't good. But that doesn't mean that you should not pick up a nice glass of Scotch and down it. Cheers!

Monday, October 20, 2008

One of those days...

When you just want to go home, pour yourself a big drink and pass out with something completely inane playing on the telly. But then again, I had the entire weekend to prep for a bad week - you know the time when you see a big painted Tata truck driving on the wrong side of the road screaming towards you, but you still don't take evasive action, because this is India after all. But then again, my day could not have possibly been a tenth as bad as Ricky Ponting's. I'm actually thinking of running off to catch a few days of the Test in Delhi next week, though the city's smoggy overhang, particularly after Diwali will make for interesting air quality to say the least and I wouldn't want to hang around a place not protected by air filters, i.e: the open.
OK, now to get home.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thank God for iPod's!

Really, because I was too tired to go out last night - I can't believe I'm writing such things but honestly, after a long time, I didn't get a second wind of energy at nine at night. I even passed out with NDTV India running - surprising how insane the the Hindi arms of NDTV and IBN are, in fact IBN7 is positively scary at times with a combination of half-truths and fear, really, they make India TV look intelligent. NDTV India is often an ideological counterweight to NDTV 24x7, which makes more interesting to watch sometimes.
I am taken aback everytime I travel out of Delhi about how insane the 'media boom' has become in this country - there seem to be nearly 50 Telegu channels. That is one hell of a lot and while I understand that AP is a rich state, 50 channels does seem like a bit much. Just like we have a few airlines too many, across the country I think we have about 500 channels too many. I just have a bad feeling that like aviation which came crashing down to the ground this week, the media gold-rush could see a lot of sullen faces rather soon. I wonder if the launch plans of the channels that we were supposed to see will carry through. I guess ET-TV will, because Bennett is not running short on cash, but the others - the ones funded by the real estate boom for example. I just wonder if some Audi's and Merc's will have homes anymore!
Anyway, the new Kings of Leon album is really, really nice, and I really suggest that if you like good old style rock, that you should listen to it. The first single is nice, but the rest of the album is also pretty good, excellent in fact.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Shit+Fan = A stinking bloody mess

Not an impossible equation to work out really - but yesterday at Hyderabad mallya was answering in platitudes and slagged me off for not knowing type ratings (when I asked about the fact that there is virtually no commonality in his and Jet's fleets) and how to run an airline. Obviously forgetting the simple fact that evidently nor does he. To be fair to Naresh Goyal, at least the chap has slept on the floor at one time in hisd life and actually sounded apologetic about firing people. Anyway, I don't want to make this an aviation post, but I really think that government money should not be handed out to rich mofo's who can't run their businesses properly. And since I believe that at least ten per cent of any bail-out package will fund the NCP, well that pisses me off further. By the way, India's favourite son-in-law (and I don't mean Dr. Tankha) was at the air-show today looking up private jets, Mummy-ji is making noises against the 'statuesque' Mayawati but Robert is already looking for a plane to fly out of India if things get hairy in April. Hmmm...
Plus, how on earth do people in Hyderabad read such tripe,, between them ToI Hyderabad and Deccan Chronicle have next to no news. ToI Hyderabad seemed to have missed the firing story concentrating more on the fact that there was an airshow where the Minister spoke - instead of the Laurel and Hardy act of NG and VJM (And I will get hell for what I just wrote)... but anyways. Oh and DC is well, horrible is maybe too harsh a term, but thank god for the internet. More when I get back to the city - tonight is Biryani night!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Going slow...

I will not be at home base over the next few days and while I have set my desktop to download as much Sasha Grey as is possible, along with some music thrown it for good measure - and talking of music, do listen to Kings of Leon's new album. Anyway, as usual I digress, I hear people writing in saying that letter was an answer to sanctimonious twits and yada, yada. Anyway, I'm, in Hyderabad for the aviation summit, so I'll see you later people.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Contrarian View

Yes, I like reading Mint and no I'm not angling for a job there - even though Mint pays bucket loads of cash, even if you barely have enough experience. But, let us not go there. I got this rather angry email from a reader who wanted this printed - this isn't defamatory or scurrilous sadly, but to the guys at Mint who read this blog, pass the contents of the post below on to RN, since it is addressed to him (this blog is only the notepad).
PS: Before the post, I hear that our Sonia's Goebbels is on his death-bed? I have no love lost for Priya Ranjan, but the guy supposedly has a collapsed left ventricle. I doubt there will be dramatic changes in media policy if PRDM were to go now, but he did a fantastic job herding the masses during the Nuclear vote. As for Indian football, well we languish in the 120's now, but there have been flickering signs of life lately.
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Dear Mr. Narisetti,
I'm a believer like you are. I believe in the transformative force of journalism, and the written word in particular. That's why I've braved low salaries, professional humiliation, inflated egos {"I'm as good as Henry Luce, if not better," proclaimed one editor in a closed door "knowledge" (I hate to use the franchise-contracting, vernacular expression "gyaan") durbar he loved to hold}, and virtual ostracisation from my community in one little corner of the country that your paper loves to homogeneously lump as "south of the Vindhyas".
I believe that human beings—artistes, politicians, writers, bureaucrats, entrepreneurs, and even journalists—are at their creative and innovative best when they set out to create wealth. There's no greater joy and excitement in this world than chronicling that process of wealth creation. Business journalism gives you that vantage point. I shared your belief about the crying need for "lighthouse" journalism as opposed to the "lamppost" journalism being practiced in much of the mainstream media in India. It sounded like a line from one of your SAJA convention speeches, but on face value, it did sound most noble.
Looking at the rather eclectic collection of bylines in your paper, it appears you don't have time of the day for anyone who hasn't been a general assignment reporter, or at least an office help at Smyrna Post or such like. I'm not so sure if you'd take someone who's hardly crossed the shores of this country inhabited by the great unwashed, too seriously, but here's my two paise worth anyways.
I read you blog "Kudos to The Economic Times" dated September 28, 2008 where you manifest your elation at the business news market leader The Economic Times waking up to the fundamentals of good journalism. Maybe it's my blinkered worldview, but I'm not so sure if it befits the editor (who in private circles claims to run the only world class print product in India) to reproduce the internal memos written by a rival editor. This when you can't even be 100 per cent sure of the letter's provenance and veracity. I clicked on the top right corner of your website to check if the Mint "Code of Ethics" has any clues. "Editors, by virtue of their positions of authority, must be ethical role models for all employees. An important part of an editor's leadership responsibility is to exhibit the highest standards of integrity in all dealings with employees, customers and the world at large. Editors must avoid even implicit or unspoken approval of any actions that may be damaging to the reputation of HT Media, and must always exercise sound business judgment in the performance of their duties," says para VII. If it is transparency and the readers'-right-to-know that you put above everything else, wouldn't your paper have served such interests better by explicitly naming the trouble besieged private bank that was borrowing short-term funds at a scary 20 per cent-plus interest rate? Surely, sir, the goings on at a bank that has safe keeps the hard-earned monies of millions of Indians is more important than the internal machinations of a paper you and your closest colleagues loathe.
Mint's coverage of the media as any other business sector was a refreshing change. In an environment where proprietor interests made it virtually impossible for journalists to write objectively about rival media houses, Mint's reportage was praiseworthy till you undid all the good work by putting out a biased and self-congratulatory audit of news reports soon after Budget 2008. Mint not surprisingly came out smelling of roses having got nearly every Budget related story right whereas, you primary rival ET, according to your painstaking research put out just about 10 accurate stories out of 15 in the run up to the annual February end exercise that one of your most important lieutenants had consigned to the dustbins not so long ago. You claim to know little about ET's editor Rahul Joshi. Neither do I (I've only heard about his legendary ambidextrous prowess with the Blackberry, and his ability to text at the speed of light) nor do I hold a brief for the paper he edits. But as a reader, I'm certain ET carried more than the 15 Budget stories you cared give it credit for in you audit. On the matter of reproducing the letter (and not for the first time in your paper) in question, do I detect a voyeuristic pleasure? You claim that "the reason to applaud ET is not to make this a back-handed compliment". A few sentences later you quote your deputy's bottomline. "Let's continue to focus on what we do and need to do and not on what others don't do." Well if that wasn't a back-handed compliment, show me another.
Actually, your deputy is right. You'd do well focus on what you should do. For a start, give the readers news, and stop pretending to be WSJ's facsimile edition. All this "unbiased and clear-minded chronicling of the Indian dream" appears quite like the "discovery of India" trips undertaken by the green horn heir apparent of the country leading political party. Just as he discovered the plight of Vidarbha cotton farmers last year, one of your editors too woke up to pleasures of hailing a radio taxi in our metros, a good two years after some of these happy chappies made their crores in this business. And in the latest (beer sodden) issue of your much acclaimed weekend magazine Lounge, you told us about the abundant supplies of craft beer in India (or was it Gurgaon?). Helpful tip: It helps to get out of your gated Delhi colonies, and swanky condos to look for a story.
Sir, honourable practitioners of this profession did exist (the owner of this blog, for example) before you decided play the knight-in-the-shining-armour. And this was by no means a Mickey Mouse journalism league, for you, and your fellow brown sahibs to come rescue. Get off your high horses, stop the grandstanding (this country can't handle two N Ram's for gods sake), and remember it's not the White Man's Burden anymore. As businesses discover everywhere in the world, arrogance towards the local market is the highway to Erehwon (Kellogs found that out, and maybe in the course of time you too will).
Your friend Lefley in Cincinnati won't disagree.
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