Tuesday, September 30, 2008
I know Conde Nast wants to launch Wired in India next, and the best thing they can do is not to launch an Indian edition. The government has allowed for Indian-ad carrying facsimilie editions, and that is what Conde Nast should do if they don't want their local magazines just to be another magazine on a rack.
On other notes, last night following a call by a friend to watch CNBC, I enjoyed Maria Bartiromo's histrionics against politicians and the entire Wall Street Main Street thing. Must admit, at times it felt like the old girl was losing the plot. Given Udayan's new zen-like demeanour on the India market show, maybe Maria could pick something up from him. And by the way, I would invest in anyone who starts a company speacialising in crowd management systems. We have had 5,000 years of practice and we still can't manage crowds. Methinks I will take it easy during Durga Puja this year, because I have a bad feeling about Chitto Park. I just do and it really does feel very claustrophobic there.
In media news, three out of India's four large business magazines will have fresh editors. High levels of employee churn are impacting business publications, particularly thanks to business television and the lack of fresh blood entering this stream. Which is rather strange really, because it is a lot of fun, a lot more fun than running around with a camera and a mike for one bite!
Saturday, September 27, 2008
I also found ToI's second lead about Manmohan's proclamation about 'Indians' being in love with George W Bush hilarious (and disturbing). I love lots of Americans such as Scarlett Johanssen, but GWB? Why? I don't want to know about MMS and GWB's man love, but don't get me involved, ugh! Surprising that the other papers didn't play this up. Maybe after the government has said that man-love is still illegal (and will not squash the colonial legacy of Section 377), they don't want to play it up. So does MMS have a perverse mind also?
And while many of you hate my political ponderings, all my hopes of Delhi being removed from under the yoke of Aunty Shiela, the BJP has gone and nominated the most ineffectual VK Malhotra (Can't speak, can't hear and can barely see) as the candidate for Chief Minister of Delhi. I would rather vote for the Communists than have Malhotra lead Delhi. Why does the BJP always manage to shoot itself sqare in the ass? Not in the foot, but they take a shotgun and fire it up their ass, it seems difficult but decisions like these have led me to this conclusion. What next? Sushma as Prime Minister?
And there are more bombs in Delhi. The night I plan to have a party. And if Pakistan is led by this, I'm scared. But then again, maybe he won't know how to aim the warheads!
Friday, September 26, 2008
This is particularly pertinent in light of the recent encounter in Jamia Nagar. I am no bleeding heart nor do I sympathise with Jihadi supporting elements of the media which refuse to accept that Islamic terror is a problem this country faces. But I do think that all questions about an encounter have to be answered. The Delhi Police, like all other state police forces in the country have a history of dubious encounters none more shocking than the CP shootout. I am no fan of Mushirul Hasan, and I think he has let radical elements run free in Jamia, but I also believe in the premise that people should have access to justice. If they are guilty, hang them, but prove they are guilty first.
Now, the problem I want to get to is the role of the media here. I don’t have any idea why we are taking the word of the authorities, especially investigating agencies as the gospel truth. ‘Sting Journalism’ is not a substitute for investigative journalism and the TV channels in particular, partially in their desire to rush news on air are not doing the basic facts of cross-checking details. A press release is treated as the gospel truth, as if the responsibility for the checking lies with the PR type who wrote the release. I want to give a slightly off-beat example, yesterday the Delhi Airport issued a release saying the first commercial flight that landed on the new runway was a British Airways Boeing 777-300. But BA doesn’t have any Boeing 777-300’s, I know this is anal but BA operates 777-200ER aircraft and I know this because I track the sector as well but I also have more than a passing interest in aviation. Every paper and TV channel went ahead with the 777-300 without cross-checking.
I remember the journalists of the 1980’s and 1990’s, during the political crises’ that faced the country from Bofors and Mandal. There was a level of cynicism, maybe one can argue that some of those guys were too cynical. I also believe that on the whole, both in terms of quality of stories and writing, print has definitely improved at several levels since then. But the increasing commercialisation of news has also taken its toll. Journalists today are far, far, far more efficient than journalists of yesteryear, but given that I don’t have two months to write a magnum opus, and if I did, I would do a brilliant job, things have changed. I have two days to write a four-page 1500-word feature – I can’t go to Press Club at six in the evening to have a few drinks. I work hard and I party hard, a bit too hard on both fronts sometimes, but everybody does. But I also take the time to do a bit of research. Tight deadlines do not mean you submit sloppy work.
The problem is that in certain cases they have become rather bad. Like on television where kids with no understanding of the issues after doing an unrecognised mass-communications course from a media house think that they are experts. No, just because you have a pretty face, straight hair and big boobs and can do a PTC doesn’t make you an expert. So for God’s Sake, go out and find one. You know, we do live in the age of Google and the mobile phone – and now mobile Google too! I know I’m rather irritating but twice or thrice in the recent past I‘ve actually fired off a Google search in the middle of an interview because I think somebody is trying to bullshit me.
But most people listen to the bullshit that is served up to them dress it up a bit and give it to a pretty waitress to serve up as bullshit salad! And you know, that is why this profession is getting more and more discredited. Just like some of us are painting large swathes of people with the same brush, the better ones among us are being discredited by the illiterate PYT’s and idiotic editors in some TV channels coupled with some clowns in print. It hurts.
On another note – I hope ITC Hotels can defeat the Health Dictator!
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Anyway, I am not quitting but to make a definitive statement such as ‘I will never quit’ is downright silly and I will never make it. I enjoy my current job and I think that my career path is fairly steady and the money is pretty good and right now I’m looking at something new but that would be a new car now that I’ve paid off my old car loan. Don’t know what I’ll buy as yet – veering towards a Swift or Fabia but if I get a good deal on a larger car might go in for that as well.
Tomorrow I enter the fourth decade of my life and I’m really not looking forward to that. Same old, same old. I need a holiday and I need to buy myself something nice. Like a flat panel televsion.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
As for Outlook Business, I knew that Sonal Sachdev is going to Undie Profit. What can you say - frying pan to fire or rock to hard place? I don't know which analogy fits better. And as for one comment, about how Mint resembles Apple - great looking product but lacking substance - I liked that actually. But just look at the great top of mind recall of Apple and the fact that the all the 'cool' people use Apple. That said, I would like to point out that Apple PR in India borders between the horrendous and the abysmal.
In fact, BS could well still be ahead of Mint in circulation and readership, but among the people who matter, Mint is slowly but surely building up tremendous equity. Just shows you what a little bit of patience and some decent marketing can bring about. For a previous example, just look at the way the Times decimated Deccan Herald in Bangalore and riding roughshod over HT in Delhi. The latter example is quite dramatic, it was a slow and steady erosion for years and then the 'flip' happened. I worked in HT those days and people screamed and shouted that 'HT had better editorial content' and other yada yada, while The V started a personal crusade against Medianet (though since then, paid placements have ripped through Indian journalism, everyone is guilty). But today, ToI is a strong #1 in Delhi, and strangely enough has improved its editorial ever since it took over pole position. Again, some of you might read far too much into this, but I'm just saying it as it is. Lessons have been learnt, but defensive strategies can also be formulated, and it would be interesting to see the phalanx that BCCL develops (and be assured they will) and maybe the new TV channel is a start.
And someone is desperate for me to cover NewsX and UTVi, and I'll be brutally honest - I'm sorry I just don't watch either channel. I've switched a lot of English viewing over to Times Now - and there are two (male) anchors on X whom I just can't stand (one can't speak) and UTVi somehow just doesn't seem to enthuse me. Neither channel does, you know, and there is no compelling reason to watch them. Sounds silly, but really, that is the way I feel.
Monday, September 22, 2008
The fact that Sonia wanted Mr Patil to become Mr President shows that it was not so much the home ministry that was on her mind as it was Shivraj himself. This is what this column, after much intense brain-racking and silent meditation, has finally deduced: That the reason Sonia chose Shivraj for North Block is because the two of them are deeply in love.
I was a bit puzzled by the rather virulent reaction by the assorted 'Human Rights' guys on the Jamia Nagar incident who didn't shut up even after a cop went down - and that is how these guys manage to antagonise the general population even more. Yes, there are some holes in the police theory, but going on UndieTV and claiming persecution due to religion is not a good argument when the cops are livid. I've got a bad feeling about Delhi Police reaction over the next few days, but that is just a bad feeling.
Nope, what really pisses me off in life are the stupid TV anchor bimbettes with un-naturally straight hair and too much make-up. I don't know about you, but those girls try their darndest to look like cheap Thai hookers, and I've got a feeling that cheap Thai hookers possibly are more intelligent. Sometimes watching news television is the the most unbearable torture that you can put yourself through in the day. Anyway, I must also compliment UndieTV though in this post for their Sunday Documentary. Good idea and they show some rather decent stuff every Sunday afternoon. Oh, and I played Spore for so long this weekend I couldn't sleep too much and ended up with a monitor induced headache.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
I still maintain that Mint is beating all other papers hands-down on their financial markets meltdown coverage - tight focussed, no mad large point size headlines but decent, rational coverage. I guess I'm part of a small (but gradually increasing) minority, but as a business journalist I have switched over to Mint as my first business paper. I still read Times of India first - the loo read, but Mint is now the tea read. Don't get me wrong, ET still has a hell of a lot of news, much, much more news than Mint, but you can do a quick scan and get everything. . Other than the political pages of ET, which are dangerously right-wing and quite entertaining (in language terms, but I won't get bitchy now).
Not reading ET in the morning is still heresy, whereas not reading the other papers is quite acceptable - think about it, everybody has a finite amount of time. So two general papers (ToI and EchTee) and two business papers (ET and Papermint) plus Mail Today for sheer entertainment and drama value. I completely agree with Sandip on the point that Mint has taken a massive lead over the others in brand-recall terms. And for that, they have to be congratulated, but I really do not feel there is sufficient space for yet another paper right now. Sure there might be if you consider that a paper is nothing but a billboard printed on paper, but I would rather spend my time doing something more productive than reading ten newspaper.
That said, Mint's on-again, off-again TV venture might never take off if ET TV manages to position their heavy artillery correctly. Though, if I understand correctly from some folks who have shifted there, there is an idea to to have some sort of integration between the supplements and the TV channel. So you'll see Brand Equity and Corporate Dossier on TV. Which given the current state of those two supplements may not be the best idea, they both need a dose of Viagra. Maybe TV will be that Viagra, who knows?
Plus, while Outlook is on the verge of launching a man's magazine, the group could be shutting one of its three business magazines, and given that Outlook Money is a market leader in a very small market, I'm not so sure what that holds for the other two. This at a time when rumours of Outlook's long-term prospects are being bandied about, especially since there is very likely going to be an ownership change. Plus, is the Sakaal Times dream finally over, with one bunch of contracts town up?
Also, the slowdown has meant that some plans of launching additional channels by several groups, including a couple of real-estate companies might be put on hold. Inflation is up, and provional numbers are usually a little off. I don't know if the hold-out will be till the state elections in a few months. Talking about elections, Madam Shiela of the crazy bus project is looking less and less likely to win. When a senior BJP leader whose name has been bandied about as a potential CM of Delhi (but he claims he is better off as a BJP strategist) jokingly says that the "BRT Corridor is imposing economic sanctions on those who live on it", (in context of him missing a couple of court appearances, despite leaving well on time) I have hopes that the project will finally be shown the door.
Only a couple of months to go for the nightmare that two mad professor's placed in South Delhi to be over! Long live democracy! And I'm opening my edition of Spore tonight, so if I disppear for a few days, I'll be on my home PC on a lot of Red Bull.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Anyway, Mint and CNBC-TV18's coverage of the global meltdown yesterday was far superior to that of the competition simply because they happened to have the 'alliances' in place. I think CNBC-TV18 did the smartest thing by switching over to US markets coverage instead of boring the world with their evening schedule and Mint's coverage today was brilliant. Though, I do think that it was a particularly unfortunate day for Morgan Stanley to place a front-page advert in both ET and Mint. Though, personally, my favourite story in Mint today was buried deep inside. Great feature and with the general interest news-magazines obsessed with Bollywood and Lifestyle, I guess the papers will take over the highly readable social interest features space.
I don't know why, but Mint is slowly becoming great lazy afternoon reading - still doesn't quite fit into the essential morning read category for me, but definately a paper to chew over - and it freshens your breath as well.
As for the comment that seeing pictures of death and devastation will help us grow balls, I don't think so. Here is the problem, thanks to mass media pictures of death and devastation has made many of us immune to pictures of suffering, we all live with thirty-second attention spans. Heck, I don't know what I started writing this post on - "Oh shit, people dead... Damn Liverpool is winning over Man U... She slept with whom?" Those are our lives, we mourn if we have to mourn, but the rest of the world carries on.
I just think that some channels went overboard on Saturday, they added to the panic and confusion - created scrums at Hospitals blocking entrances for medical personnel and blast victims and generally were a nuisance. Maybe something good will happen out of the market meltdown, meybe some investors will start pulling out - maybe we'll see 400 channels instead of 500.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Of course, our Home Minister will hum and haw all over again and the gang of SIMI-lovers will be very quiet all of a sudden. I found it particularly entertaining that one channel went after the Police Commissioner asking him why the blasts weren't stopped. Thesad thing remains that in this mass of humanity that you can't prevent low-intensity blasts like this, though with ten dead, the blasts can't have been low intensity?
Again, I'm sure the idiots behind the blasts wanted to target the Metro but I would believe that the great work by the CISF prevented that. And it is infuriating when politicians like Mayawati throw tantrums when her people are frisked by CISF at airports.
You can't get scared at this, you have to suck it in and carry on. I was scared on July 11 though. This is India, shit like this will continue to happen until and unless our politicians grow balls. I hope all you guys sitting in Delhi are fine. God bless!
Friday, September 12, 2008
Let me elucidate. YouTube is up shit creek, not just with the Viacom lawsuit but also with T-Series suing them in the Delhi HC for copyright violations. The fact of the matter is that much of the content on YouTube or on other video sharing sites is copyrighted. I do not believe the argument I believe NDTV might use if sued "But we found it on YouTube" holds any weight. They are a media company and probably understand the nuances of copyright better than most. Secondly, I have uploaded videos to YouTube - for no commercial return and I'm quite happy to put those videos up for people to watch on YouTube. Like some images I have on Flickr, I'm happy to put some of those videos under the 'Non Commercial Creative Commons' license. But isn't News Net a commercial show? By which I mean, does NDTV make money from the show? The video is copyrighted to me, so if someone else is making money, no matter what amount by showing the video aren't they supposed to part with some money. Some of the videos they've shown have are watermarked with a 'blurred' channel's logo - serious copyright violations in my book.
Newspapers and magazines across the country treat material on the internet, images and text as 'free' content. It isn't and I'm surprised NDTV went down the same path. These guys a large and supposedly 'respectable' media company even though they have attrocious HR practices and extremely egoistical people in positions of influence. I'm just waiting for the lawsuit(s).
The second point is regarding ESPN's SportsCenter - which is a highly opinionated sports news show - it is not just a highlights reel but a full-on news show and apparently the4y hate the powers-that-be in cricket. I don't believe that the I&B ministry has classified 'Sports News' as a separate category. Aren't news channels limited to just 26% FDI and doesn't ESPN have 74% FDI.
Just points to ponder!
Thursday, September 11, 2008
In case you have any questions, just read Wired's article on the LHC.
Instead I’ll talk about a Laptop Lollypop. For the uninitiated, this is the worst cocktail ever made, but if you find yourself in Hotel Swosti in Bhubneshwar do pick up a menu at the bar. I kid you not. And the other drinks are true too - though I think 'Cream Between L' was supposed to write 'Cream Between Legs' until the copywriter maybe realised that it was a bit kinky. Seriously, Sex on the Beach sounds tame after these amazing concoctions. And I really didn't want to try 'Kiss My Ass'. And this was one of the best bars in the city.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
I publish most comments rather freely, but some do cross the line and frankly I do get rather bored on certain issues - like bitching out XYZ, though I'll carry on bitching out the BRT and now the Ministry of External Affairs and any government department which insist that you need to have an account in a nationalised bank to get any other government documentation. WTF? Don't all banks have the same KYC norms, so why on earth insist that I need a State Bank account to verify my address. Pricks!
OK, so I spent half a day at the Regional Passport Office for no rhyme or reason today and couldn't get my work of getting a passport renewal with a new address. I'm frikking exhausted and with work adding to the pressure, things like today morning don't help.
And to explain why I hate ecomentalists - see a decade ago those guys were going on about how Nuclear power will be the end of the world and forced several governments to stop work on civilian Nuclear plants. And today we have a delightful CO2 crisis created by the coal-fired plants that came up instead and the mentalists will now hug lumps of U-235 if they had to, but they deprived many countries across the world of two decades or more of CO2 free power. Not that Nuclear energy is clean. No energy is clean, but if the world wants to make a difference to global warming, they should take it easy on eating cows.
The same with the BRT, the amount of pollution the BRT has added by increasing wait times (and don't expect people to switch off engines in summer - AC's don't work when the engine is off) pales in comparison to the 'benefits' of better public transport. I agree that deaths on the BRT would have happened anyway - jaywalkers and mad motorcycle drivers will always find ways of dying. Anyway, to ease the pain of those who think I'm the only blogger railing against the BRT (and I don't stay in GK-1 E,M,N,S and W Blocks whose roads are crumbling due to the loads put on them by traffic diverting away from the BRT) do a search for 'BRT Delhi' on Google Blogsearch.
Anyway, I will carry on about travels et al., until I move away from this blog to a new home online which is coming, albeit I will add the term 'shortly' which could mean anywhere between the next three-four months. It is kind of like the Tata Nano. Y'know, a car that is coming soon? I know a newspaper or TV channel can't say it, but I've been covering the automotive sector for a while yet, and I have a conspiracy theory running in my head. I saw the Tata plant in Singur about three weeks ago and it did not look like a plant that was "80% ready" by any stretch of imagination. I don't believe that Mr Tata's 'Dream' is ready or anywhere near completion as yet. Yes, some photographs have been taken, but Tata Motors reaction is strangely calm. Maybe I've just read far too many Internet conspiracy theories, and please do call me mad, but I don't think the Nano is ready.
And if the car gets delayed (whether the plant moves from Singur or not), what are the bets that Ratan Tata will price it for Rs 1.2 lakhs and blame the excess Rs 20,000 on Mamata Banerjee?
Don't get me wrong, I want the Nano to be made, despite my doubts about safety - because if we can allow a car as patently unsafe as the Reva to be sold (that's an idea allow Reva's on the BRT lanes to be crushed by DTC buses - I'm a genius!) in India, the Nano can't be any worse. In fact, it can only be better. But, the Tata's have a habit of making horrible first versions - the Estate, Sierra, Safari and Indica all come to mind and I just have a feeling that they don't want to cock-up here. So they don't want to rush a launch and Mamata conveniently helped them (also ref my point above on price). As a fellow-Bong journo a bit older than me, and far better versed on Bong culture said - maybe Tata Motors learnt from a classic Satyajit Ray movie.
But I do have one comment to make on media coverage about the Nano, until the national media got in on the act, the coverage coming from Calcutta felt awfully politically tinged. And as the ToI stringer in Singur, a great chap called Falguni explained to me, there has been a hell of a lot of bad and often wrong reportage. Reporters sitting in Calcutta used to get SMSes from 'sources' in Singur block and write stuff rather blindly. The 'bombs' thrown at the plant were a few Diwali crackers tied together. There was no 'Flag planting' or 'Wall Damage', and until recently the voices of the majority were being drowned out by the mad woman's shrieks.
I'll be honest, the parochial Bong in me wants the Tata Nano to work out, so conspiracy theories aside, I do want the Nano to do well and I do want West Bengal to do well again. I have no love lost for the Communist movement in India because they are hipocrites but they refuse to realise that fact, but I think that in a dogfight between Mamata Banerjee and the Communists, I'd support the Communists.
And to clarify a point - Arnab hates the BJP as much as all people who learnt their trade on the knee of Prannoy Roy. But unlike the other channels, and this is why Times Now got a 'threat', the channel doesn't pander slavishly to the minorities. Sure urbane, liberal tendencies make them do that as well, but not to the extent on other channels where I sometimes think some presenters and anchors are rather embarrassed of their religion. Pity, actually since belief isn't such a bad thing. maybe they should watch the 'Story of India'.
Monday, September 08, 2008
ET TV seems to have hit critical mass with their recruits, they've got some very solid guys on board, and I doubt BCCL will look at the long gestation period that was required with Times Now, which despite the histrionics is neatest and cleanest, albeit very right-of-centre channel. But then again, I think that is very smart positioning given the other two channels. Toppling CNBC from the top might be quite a challenge, but I think they will give ita strong try. And I feel sorry for Undie Profit.
I can't quite get the arguments lauid by the two big papers that how Sanjeev Nanda's punishment is unfair because he is 'Rich'. The Times' argument that hundreds of Bluel;ine bus drivers still drive around after killing people is a bit shallow. First, simply because I have a bit of sympathy for some bus drivers who have to deal with zipping motorcyclists and jaywalkers with little regard for the law. Sure Nanda probably had to deal with an unlit police check-post, though I don't recall that being made a defence argument. Yes, the law should be equal for everybody and sure if I died in a road-side accident run over by some drunk and stoned twat I would want to guy to hang from the depths of hell. But I also believe that people, that is the middle classes need affirmation that the rich and powerful can't always subjugate the law. There is a sense among the geneeral populace that judges are corrupt and can be bought. The Chief Justice of the country and the Law Ministry have not done anything to change that perception. While jailing a South Delhi brat will give some idea that the legal system can't be twisted, we still believe in our heart of hearts that it can.
The problem is that the media has made only half-hearted attempts to deal with this perception of the justice system in India, true or not. Anyway, that is a debate for another day.
I really don’t think Google is that bad as a tool. Sometimes when I have to find numbers and the government of India for one usually puts out their numbers in some hidden table somewhere on the world wide web, Google is a boon. Or for finding out email addresses or mobile phone numbers. Popping a simple search string into Google can save you the headache of asking around for numbers.
Especially since we might work with colleagues who treat their phone books as a state secret. I’m lucky that I don’t work with such people, but some of you in the profession know exactly what I’m talking about – heck, I’ve heard cases of journalists actually calling up their contacts and insisting that they don’t speak with the new kid. Google has been an equaliser in those respects.
Sure, some of those on the ‘Free Tibet’ side of things argue about Google’s ethics when it comes to China, but then again India’s ethics with China are equally bad, even though we now have proof that they tried to sabotage things at Vienna. Of course, our diplomacy with certain states is suspect, particularly given our own vibrant and positively chaotic democracy, but that isn’t the point.
The point I’m trying to make is that I don’t think I would have been able to do a lot of the stories that I have done over the years without the amazing search engine or the internet for that matter. Sure, it has spawned a whole generation of extremely lazy folks who take Google and its search results as the absolute truth. When I say we can’t trust what we read sometimes it is because people have copied passages verbatim from Wikipedia via Google or film critics have taken entire passages after searching for ‘(Insert Movie Name) review’. And worse!
But Google has also given a voice to the dispossessed and downtrodden as well as those who disagree with the general point of view laid out by pretty PR types.
Sure, I don’t particularly like Chrome. I’m far too used to needing a toolbar, and despite claims of propriety, using a Google browser gives me the heebie-jeebies when it comes to privacy concerns. Not that Google couldn’t know what I did once I logged into a service provided by the big G, such as Gmail or Google Reader.
But on the whole, I think Google has helped Journalism, particularly in a time of shortening deadlines and the battle for sound-bytes you could always fire up your computer and find a nice familiar web-page. Google. Heck, I’m switching back to Firefox and I continue to love Windows and MSN Live Search isn’t that bad. But Google is like this good friend online (though pagerank manipulators still exist – though they’re called Search Engine Optimisation companies) which usually tells you what you need to know.
Friday, September 05, 2008
Anyway, I've been incommunicado for the last few days since I've been a tad busy with work, well, more than a tad really. Change is a good thing, and sometimes working for a new boss can mean that you suddenly discover facets about yourself that you didn't know existed before. In my case, I've been surprised by my own ability to work my ass off. I'm enjoying this, but something I'm not enjoying is suddenly being the centre of attention at events because everybody and their uncle thinks I'm quitting. Well, I don't think I'm quitting and though I will never say never, leaving now would be plain stupid. Sure, you guys who read this blog can hold me up to my words in case I do, and as I've always admitted I'm a grade-A hipocrite (which makes me human).
The only reason I have for quitting right now is the computer admin chap's insane decision to block YouTube. The bastards, how will I survive without my daily dose of stupid home videos from hell. And are you using Chrome? I'm still a bit iffy about Chrome - or least this beta version of it.