I want to point out that this is not an 'HT-attack' blog. I learnt my trade for two years at 18-20 KG Marg and maybe because I owe the paper a lot of gratitude that I feel so pissed off at its decline, because there is a part of me which wants it to do well. My history with The Hindustan Times goes a lot deeper than just two years in a dark corner, those of you who know who I am will know what I am hinting at, but it suffices to say that for many years as a senior school student I used to walk down to the building and spend hours in the library there, it was only correct that I would want to work there.
That is not to say that there has been a palpable improvement in the Times of India over the past few years, HT's decline in Delhi, the western part of the city aside is extremely irritating to me. At every level the paper seems to screwing up. And this decline has happened thanks to ham-handed management from the top-down (starting with but not limited to the 'no-poaching agreeement with BCCL), stupid editorial decisions, not least of all having almost no stability at the top and not knowing what it wants to be, and at a level there is this sense of refusal by the paper to cut with the past.
Like an old lover who just holds on, unable to give up, some overhyped people have reained for years while a whole crop of young and talented young guys moved off to greener pastures, and many of them could have been retained if only a more sincere attempt was made. Heck, the paper dithered over signing my extension papers for so long and when they did gave me a decent hike, though my current employers (where I have stayed for the past five years now) had already made me a better offer and I had signed on by then. I would have continued at HT if only they had been a few months faster.
I work with several former-HT hands today, I am still close to several of my former colleagues at HT, all of them very good people, well most of them anyway, and all of them dfespair at the decline of the paper. Of course, it can be argued that the devline started around eight years ago, and the denial mode the paper went into when the first IRS report came out showing that ToI had overtaken it (I was there, I worked on the denial story) was telling.
That was however, the first of several reports - today, by all indications, HT is trounced by ToI in the NCR, even though in its bastion of West and Old Delhi the paper still leads comprehensively. The problem is in the 'newer' Delhi, the younger, hip Delhi/Gurgaon/Noida where HT loses out. Not because the product is bad, but because it lost crucial readers long ago (and because of godawful distribution). In fact, say what I will about editorial, HT's weakest link is management which has been awful for over twenty years. While BCCL has made a few mistakes (and Private Treaties is not one of them, despite the portfolio really not looking that pretty anymore) such as losing a young Times Music executive called Haresh Chawla a decade or so ago, it has managed to ramp up and take on all comers. Sure HT's gone public, but if BCCL goes public (and it might, maybe post-election) the valuation it will get will be so immense, that it probably afford to buy HT for around five-seven per cent of their stock (in an all-stock deal).
I do not believe that the paper is beyond redemption, but the steady decline of the paper in Delhi is reminiscent of the Indian Express' decline in Mumbai in the eighties. HT is more than just a Times wannabe, it is a great institution and the decline of the paper is a man-made decline. A decline that can be halted not by bringing foreign imports one after the other, but by level-headed management and some good young people at the helm. I wonder if anyone at HT management will ever read this post.
The question is, 'Will Madam B sell?' And this question has been getting louder and louder over the years. I have no clue, because I do not have an insight into the matter, but I would not. I so not believe HT is beyond redemption.