Wednesday, December 31, 2008
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!
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
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
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!
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
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
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.
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
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Thursday, December 04, 2008
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?
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.
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
Though, I still have my original question? Do we need yet another English news channel?
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
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.
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
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!
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.