Friday, February 29, 2008

Extra Day!

Don't you love the fact that Leap Years have an extra day and you figure out a great way to spend them, which does not involve work. Maybe, since it is still February, the sun isn't that strong and the days are still pleasant. I wish I could go laze on an easy chair and not work today. It is an extra day after all, it should logically be a holiday. Instead I get to go to CII to hear Chiddu deliver what will hopefully be his last ever Boojet!
The only good news is that we are definately heading for General Elections by the end of the year. And we will see the end of those vile Commies! Now excuse moi as I go back to brainless budget work.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Useful tip!

On how to deal with journalists who do the "Do you know who I am?" and are obviously not well-known enough. Recently, the proprietor of a popular eatery in South Delhi was confronted by a big, aggressive woman who asked for something which seemed implausible. We do not know what exactly, but what followed was rather interesting, when challenged by the "Do you know who I am?" line and various threats, the gentleman sourced the number of her (incidentally former, since the woman was 'let go' recently) boss and made a call/sent a text and did that with the #2 boss as well.
One must applaud this guy for doing what he did! If you piss someone off (usually this is because something - a meeting or an exclusive was promised and there were 'delivery issues') then yes, you (PR chap, yada yada) get a shellacking. But when an unusual favour is asked, then well, you have all the right in the world to escalte the issue.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Regional Spread

One of the more unique things a small paper like The Pioneer has done was to spread out to smaller cities. The paper today has editions in places like Rand Bhuwaneshwar, not exactly places where you would expect larger papers to reach out to. Maybe a 'Dak' edition with a stringer or two, but as someone pointed out maybe my view of the media is very Delhi-Mumbai centric, and that is a fair point, so am I missing out the story of the rise of the smaller Indian paper? Not exactly. I know The Pioneer story well for reasons that are rather obvious, but I also do not believe that the vanguard of Indian journalism will come from smaller cities.
I have not missed the Jagran and Bhaskar story (though I should have mentioned it in the last post), in fact I have interacted with Girish Aggarwal of the Bhaskar Group quite a few times. Jagran and Bhaskar have done well for a very simple reason, which I believe was by sparking energy into a moribund segment, which included better salries for journalists and bringing in aggressive ad-sales teams into the language media. Both groups are also at the forefront of online language content, Jagran's website which is a tie-up with Yahoo is possibly one of the better Hindi portals out there, though I do like Josh18 also.
Back to the point I was making, whih is that I think smaller towns will drive the English print media in the next few years. Rather incremental growth for large established papers will not come from major cities, other than the Times' Chennai edition which launches next month, and the possibility that Hindustan Times might sort out internal politics long enough to launch a couple of editions in the south, most of the growth will come from the Bhuwaneshwar's and Guwahati's of the world. There are several reasons I think this will happen, the first of course is demographics, more young people who speak English coming from smaller towns. And the second is the rising income levels in smaller cities. Technically speaking, most 'small' Indian cities would be classified as large cities everywhere else in the world (bar China), and these cities are growing rapidly.
The unfortunate thing is that the English media scene will become far more homogenous. And that will be tragic. If the small English newspaper is to survive, and they should survive, because smaller newspapers are an essential part of the media landscape, they will have to spread out their reach beyond their home turf. Look at Kolkata's Telegraph for example, there was a time when that paper could have spread out of the city, instead it got locked in and as the Times of India closed in, not just in Kolkata, but now in the North-East as well with a Guwahati edition, the paper has gotten marginalised, but then again so has alsmot everything in the ABP Group. What is the betting, despite some rather silly 'Open Letter's' that the Times won't decimate local competition in Goa.
Anyway, don't you think that the Budget brouhaha has been a bit more 'sedate' this year! And to continue my argument that the inetrnet is a challenge the Indian media will have to face up to, check out this excerpt from Wired Ed-in-Chief Chris Anderson's new book.

Friday, February 22, 2008


"Have you read the Hindi Business Standard or Economic Times?" a colleague asked me.
I replied in the negative, "These papers are not aimed at me."
"English brat!"
Yeah, but I am an English brat. I don't pretend to be one, I am a bona-fide fourth (I think possibly even fifth) generation speaker of the mother tongue. My knowledge of Indian languages is dismal to say the least. I can work my way around Hindi and Bengali and I did pass Hindi in Class X (I got a 60 even, so there!) and managed to get through Delhi University's Hindi-B subsi at the very first attempt. OK, so the paper leak from a friendly area college did help immensely in passing, but I did take tuition to pass that exam.
But at least I'm being honest, Hindi papers have never been argeted at me and nor is the Hindi interweb. I think it is fantastic that there is Hindi content online, and driving more language content will dramatically expand the relevance of the internet in India. Look at Google, they have the Hindi transliteration tool on Blogger, they take Hindi (and other languages) advertising on AdSense and you talk to lots of people who carry on and on about the languages.
You can argue all sorts of stuff about English being the only unifying langauge and all that sort of stuff, but I also believe that having language editions is a great thing. There is only one problem, language papers don't get too much advertising. Strangely enough the situation is reversed on TV but the internet will propobably go the way of print. Because, the internet's business model is advertsing, advertsing can only be successful if people buy stuff. Preferably online. Credit Card penetration in India is still primarily to a certain set of people. You can see where I'm headed. I also don't believe that this will be the case forever, things are changing, but then again more and more people are speaking English.
I don't know why so many Hindi business dailies have come out so soon, because they are in essence translated versions of the English papers. I don't know if ET and BS were pre-empting TV18's venture into the world of newspapers. I do know for a fact that the two national newsmagazines actually 'de-sell' their Hindi editions so as to not lose money.
To understand the economics of a newspaper or any print publication, I'll do a quick primer again. Your average Times or HT in a city like Delhi will have between 40-50 pages. If you estimate the cost of newsprint, ink and the depreciation of the hugely expensive printing machines cost around 10 paise a page, the average paper costs around Rs4-5 per issue. Factor in costs of fat-cat editors (some who have the undies laundered from five star hotels) , other plebs on the newsroom, peons, print employees and the thousands of litres of sugar juice masquerading as chai, each single paper would cost between Rs8-10. You pay Rs 2.50 at best, the money has to be made up somewhere, which is where the advertising comes in. Now, to those who crib and cry about the quality of editorial and how newspapers are glorified billboards, now you know. Again!
Here is the flip side, say you have a print run of 100,000 copies of a 32-page paper and on average you sell 95,000 copies a day. Your costs are about Rs 10 lakh a day (smaller print runs actually cost more factoring in depreciation), you make back Rs 2,37,500, but because the newspaper vendor gets to keep a buck, you actually make back Rs 1,42,500, and this is assuming that you don't give away 50,000 copies every morning at the domestic terminal. You have to sell Rs 8,57,500 in adverts everyday so as not to make a loss. This means you have to employ really expensive people on your ad-sales team, which adds to costs, but we won't factor that in right now. In an English paper you can make back your money by going to fancy brands with high margins willing to put in ads. Hindi is a rather different thing altogether, many of the brands you go to would rather advertise on TV because they want to reach out to housewives or more consumers and the guys who do advertise are generally low-margin companies.
Now, you could argue that most language content, particularly in Hindi was so poor therefore nobody read them. Hindi papers, whenever I have read them - taxis, trains etc are more conservative on social views (which is why Hindi or language news TV is sometimes so delightfully perverse, the medium has been restrained for so long) and 'socialist' (for lack of another word) in their economic and business views. More Hindi papers leads to diverse set of opinions, which would help, but in this case it is mainly opinions of writers who thought in English being translated into Hindi. I don't think news always translates very well, so therefore you have a desk. And then you realise that there are fewer people left on Hindi print desks than they are in English, because the TV channels is where it is at!
So will these papers survive? Spoilers have seemed to survive for quite a while, particularly from the Times Group, everybody said Mumbai Mirror would have a lifespan of a year, but here it is doing quite well. And you never know, with all this 'Long Tail' blah doing the rounds, if there is actually an expanding market among the bulk of language news readers and not just viewers?
Anyway, these are just my thoughts, if you guys have any let me know. Anyway, I am thinking of approaching a few senior editors as well as reporters whom I know over the next few weeks and asking them to contribute 'signed' articles on this blog on the evolution of the media in the age of the internet. I don't know who I will ask to write, I do have a few ideas. I can't afford to pay anyone but I can always afford to buy people a beer. If you would like to write you know my email address, but remember these will be signed articles.
As always thanks for reading my rants! If you want to read something more substantial, please read this passage from Salman Rushdie's new book The Enchantress of Florence which was printed in The New Yorker. Beautiful piece and with all the noise surrounding a particular movie all the more apt. (Thanks to S!)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Outlook Heart Facebook

When you thought people were sick and tired of Facebook, Outlook does this. I'm still wondering if a cover story fell through at the last minute, because rarely have I seen a story that is so shoddy and for a design perspective has more white space than this blog. Of course, since it appears that all our celebrities are also idiots, which is fine given most of their brain sizes, they have the weirdest Privacy Settings. But, really, carrying a huge full-page picture of Sania Mirza and telling me that she has 115 friends, which we are then informed is a 'huge friends circle' is fucking lunatic. Not as lunatic as telling us that Harbhajan Singh's friends list has several women on it. Big effing deal! This story is lunacy, I mean this is more lunatic than carrying Arundhati Roy's insane research-free ramblings.
Well, this is Outlook, if research can be done in two clicks - as is evident in this story, what can I say! Guys, this is 2008, Facebook was 2007 and early 2007 at that. If you have good reporters you can do good-ish last-minute six page stories, not cover tripe. Somewhere in India Today, someone must be sniggering! This is a online special story, or a two-pager at best, how this made the cover is remarkable. One thing my editor hollers while taking out his diamond encrusted Uzi and shooting down the paper airplane that was made using a print-out of my story idea is "Why this, why now?" and "Does the reader give a flying fuck?"
Anyway, I was hearing that Deccan Chronicle has gone on overdrive to recruit a bunch of fallen angels for their new business paper. Said people are glad that they can carry on wheeling and dealing. Also heard a couple of remarkable stories about people in the middle-ranks at large business papers who organised their own junkets and disappeared without informing their editos. All I can think of is what my editor would have done to me with said dismond-encrusted Uzi in case I had done something similar. Anyway, I must move on to batter out a few stories on my keyboard, so till later...

Saturday, February 16, 2008


The last week or so has been very hectic for me, I've gone onto work overdrive, which isn't a bad thing. So obviously I needed a break and I gave myself one last by getting me to 6-Month Story at Chattarpur. I don't quite recall the chain of events after my third very-watered down drink. Anyway, the past week has also seen a lot of publicity for this blog, one writer called me a 'PC revolutionary' (Guess the piece, its on Page 11) and the blog being full of angst and bravado. Well, bravado, maybe, angst at bad writing, what's wrong in that? I've also been called an 'Internet joker', for spreading the 'Teri Maa Ki' theory which the Indian cricket team actually used in their defence of surdie and inspired this article. Which I'm still trying to understand. But, because I'm a joker, I must be too dumb to understand.
Of course, there are those off-the-cuff remarks, 'infamous', 'stupid', 'vapid' yada yada yada, but then again at least that gets attention to this blog. I mean ever since I put up a statcounter in mid-2005, we have crossed 250,000 pageviews, average daily pageviews currently are between 400-600 a day, which isn't bad actually considering several hundred more people subscribe to various feeds of this blog. But first an explanation, I did not deliberately try to get caught up in the NewsX fiasco, it just happened, the entire episode happened to play out on the web and this blog became the battlefield. But when you are onto something would you really stop, especially when you consider that every single blogger is a traffic whore. And the ones who claim to rise above it all and pontificate on things that are way beyond their comprehension are also whores, because they all have Google Adsense. Heck, I am actually going to get my first cheque from Google soon. Not that this blog hasn't made me money before through some randowm writing assignments, a couple of paid for ads and now I am informed that Nokia wants me to join their 'Soul of the Night' blogging bandwagon, whereby I take happening pictures of Delhi's happening 'nightlife'. That should be interesting. Anyway, the coming week should not be as maddening as the week that whizzed by, so more posts then!

Thursday, February 14, 2008


After firing off a post a day for the first week of the month, I've hardly posted this week. To cut a long story short, this is not because I was cornered and beaten up goons or journalists with a penchant for cheap booze, rather this is more like punishment from the boss, who went like, "I can see you've been writing a lot, so why don't you write for the f***ing place that pays you", and proceeded to dump a ten-pager on me. That coupled with the fact that my chest is weighed down by a few tons of phlegm is the reason that I've been out of action. But fear not, hardy readers, I shall be back.. I guess. By the way, The V is not rejoining EchTee as some have said, since his pay-out from INX was 'substantial' (because he was also bought out of NewsX where he had a ten percent stake) he has enough money to buy an island and retire to a life of Foie Gras with Truffle oil as someone told me. Dang! But, the NewsX news is 'still' not over, the tree is still shedding leaves and some people have come out of the picture hating all the egos involved and I couldn't blame them because they didn't get the three-month severance pay packet.
It also appears that Deccan Chronicle and MJ Akbar have fallen out finally, and another journalist from ABP's erstwhile 'golden' era has been put out to pasture. Not that nobody has made significant amounts of money in the process. And that is what everybody has been doing, making money at the altar of truth. The problem is that all indications suggest that four-years of misrule are beginning to show on the economy and one of the first sectors that will feel the heat will be the media. Let teh fun and games begin.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

More peeves among infamy...

One of my colleagues was recently told by stupid peer, "Oh, so you work with K, who writes that infamous blog." Said colleague, a fairly senior one who has known of the existance of this online piece of tripe for a while was failry horrified. "Why infamous?", he asked stupid peer, "Don't you have to do shit to become infamous, all that bugger does is sleep."
Well, in my defence, unlike many other bloggers I do have a fairly decently paying day job, which could pay me more, but, well I guess I would need serious plastic surgery for that. But that said, infamy is not something I aspire towards, many 'reports' on this blog were made by commenters, correctly or incorectly. Yes, I have an opinion, I think some people who have lofty egos should be brought down to earth, and no I am not jealous of a person whose honeymoon was funded by taxpayer money and we ain't talking about Sarkozy and his beautiful wife (be warned, the link has boobies) here.
Now, moving on, I have to go for an interview today and the PR rep called up sometime late last night and said, "Your article on XYZ was fantastic." It well might have been, though it could also have been written in a deadline-beating, stream-of-consciousness ten minute burst, which is rather more likely. But, that compliment rang hollow, as most of these usually do. I don't know why this happens so often, PR chaps think they can win brownie points with journalists if they give them praise. I very often get, "You won an award, you must be very good." The award was six frikkin years ago, it is just a trophy that sits fornlornly somewhere in my house. The problem is that giving these compliments is not going to win you brownie points with me, or a lot of other journalists for that matter. If you want to massage my ego, there are other things to. But one of those does not include telling me, "Your blog is fantastic/infamous/vile" either.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Happy belated birthdays!

To Papermint (Mint, for the rest of you) and MetroNow (in Delhi), both papers have surprised some by their very survival and I must admit, it has been a steep learning curve. can't really do a year in review, since I cannot claim to have read the papers on a very regular basis, but lets start. MetroNow's biggest story of the year was the Gitanjali Nagpal aka 'Babe on the streets case', this was the year's highlight which the rest of the media picked up. But nothing else that metroNow really did was spectacular. Yes, it reprints some stuff that comes out in Mumbai Mirror, but somehow it seems to lack the irreverance of the Mumbaikar. MM is bindass, like the city, MetroNow is, well... Sadly, the paper suffers because of its rather weird parentage (where Bennett and HT Media both have 50 per cent stakes in an attempt to make sure the India Today-dail Mail paper didn't do too well) - so weird in fact that Metro Now does not have a website which works (two internet organisations with equally clueless plans). Not in the sense of paid or free, there is nothing beyond a billboard.
And you can't really have that criticism about Papermint, their website is fantastic and now registration free. Pity, EchTee's website is still irritating, given that they are in the same group and all. But, what about the paper itself? Like the size, like some of the stories and Papermint has the penchant for nice soft stories, even though the one they launched - shit on the railway tracks or something was pathetic then and it still is - it is as if these guys want to out-Express the Express. But, somehow Papermint is, as a rather famous dot-com entreprenuer who is a fan of the paper told me, 'A great way to read WSJ content for the low price of two bucks.' But when it comes to great news content, while Papermint is a not bad, it still is the 'Mint with a hole' as they might say.
However, there is also 'Lounge', Mint's saturday section, which is very interesting to read at times, not always, but definately at times it is fantastic to read. Pity that they have a sanctimonious old man who keeps on trying to tell us that the Beatles and Led Zepplin rocked. Yes, they did, but get off the pot man! Oh wait, he never did pot - as was admitted in a sanctimonious food article written sometime ago! But, it isn't just this one column in Lounge, while I like most of the columnists in Mint, some of them are truly batty and out of the planet. Anyway, these are just my thoughts on these papers, if you work here, don't take anything to heart and get offended and throw eggs at me while shouting racial obscenities, I mean what can you say, "Bong's are all pricks." Thanks but I already know that.
Back, to everybody's favourite topic on this blog, NewsX. Well, Arup Ghosh has joined them as Newsroom Head, and there have been rumours linking Karan Thapar, Vasu, Rahul Srivastava, Bhupen Chaubey and G-Ban. Strange! In other news, it appears that people have already started to dig through the channels sources of funds and in the coming days, certain nwspapers may print details of this. Keep in mind, that Peter is a British citizen, so ownership issues could be very muddled here. Comment moderation stayed enabled for the time being, though most comments do get cleared and moderation just keeps everything relatively clean.

Monday, February 04, 2008


According to some sources it appears that The V, for lack of anything to do is going back to EchTee, and not only am I surprisied at the decision, I'm surprised EchTee is allowing this. In the last six-eight months the paper had managed to pick up some of the pieces after the Times consistently trashed it in Delhi both on readership and circulation. From all indications, the coteries in the newsroom had been broken (weakened in any case) and the place began to finally resemble a somewhat professional place.
What will happen now is unclear, but I am pretty sure that the people over at The Times of India are rather happy. EchTee had finally stopped using the line that, "Our editorial content is better", because over the past two years, it was evident that it wasn't. There is still a lot of deadwood in EchTee that needs seriously cleaning up. In the early 200's, the paper lost a lot of capable young twenty-somethings (including myself) to both television and rival papers, and there was no concerted effort to hold onto these people. When efforts were made, they were so half-hearted, that really no-one cared. Most of these young things have gone on to do fairly well wherever they joined, the Times of India in many cases.
Don't get me wrong, I still am very grateful to that newspaper and I still think that the The V is a great writer. But I'm not sure getting him back in an controlling position editorially is a terribly good idea. This also leaves the question of what will happen to those who went off with The V to join him at NewsX, will they all be accomodated back in HT? Some of these people burned all the bridges they have at the paper, and getting them back might lead to an open revolt among some of the people who have joined the paper since they left. So EchTee, which has been in a state of flux editorially for the last three years will stay that way. I have a bad feeling that a concerted effort by another paper could see them topple EchTee from the #2 position too, if they decide to strike now.
Also, on the NewsX front, it seems that Arup Ghosh, who happens to still be around, is joining them as Newsroom chief. Weirder things have happened.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Enough aleady...

Let me be completely dispassionate about the entire NewsX/INX affair, neither party is going to end up smelling like roses over here. The events at the channel where the management went after people seemed something a paranoid management scared of losing control would do. However, as the point has been raised, people who were fine about the ownership pattern (no matter how dubious) of NewsX were quiet until now. getting vindictive, and trust me, the amount of emails doing the rounds about a person at NewsX who has been promoted following the events and also about AS are crazy. And even though I would like to draw a line on the affair, I doubt it has played out completely.
sadly, given the people and the monies involved, I also believe that a lot of reputations - of managers and journalists both will be ripped asunder, if they haven't been already. Also, before I get accused of bias, let me be very clear, I think what the management did was unprecedented for a major media company in the spotlight, though these sort of incidents do often take place across the country in many language news channels. Nobody raises a noise about the way the media in Andhra Pradesh is treated for example, not even our 'Dear Minister'.
Also, I do not think very highly of all the journalists involved, one in particular who is being deified does not exactly make it to my list of 'best' or even for that matter 'decent' journalists - we all know the Champions Trophy which England won according to The Hindustan Times once upon a time. Were the London and Paris bills obscene? Yes, but c'mon for god's sake.
But that said, was what happened correct? I don't think so. Should the minister get involved? No. But in case financial irregularities have taken place, the finance ministry should get involved, but a witch-hunt, which this government is very capable of doing will only sully the name of self-styled food critics.
Many people had a bad feeling about this news channel, but nobody expected it to go down in a flaming pile of crap. Because that is what this is. And for now, we must move on, so the next post will look at one year of Papermint. Something I personally find a lot more interesting than this.

Friday, February 01, 2008


Yes, the epic story of NewsX does not end just yet, after getting rid of The V, it seems that the the rival faction has decided to get rid of The V's people. With the help of a person described as a 'snake in the grass', a theory I can concur with with knowing how said snake treated his ex-girlfriend who is a close friend. Anyway, the sequence of events according to a source, which has been corroborated by several other people, went with a meeting being called by wife with several anchors. The snake (not Snakeman, UPDATE : READ THE LETTER ATTACHED AT THE END OF THE POST mind you who also was targeted by the wife) suggested several names who have to be removed, including Avirook and Arunda.
Later on, the wife sent an army of acolytes and security guards to take away Avirook's computer, at which point all hell broke loose in the newsroom. Supposedly names were called and some people were roughed up in the newsroom, and the party ended with not just a few bruised egos, but some bruises. Anyway, the day ended with five people being fired and a further nine quitting. More people were fired today morning and according to one person over fifty people have quit after organising jobs at other channels. Members of the newsroom are wearing black armbands and are looking for jobs.
This has gone from being a televised drama to full-fledged Bollywood tear-jerker. Given the incestuous and friend nature of the media,. events at INX Media are the talking point of every media office today morning and will be for a while. Further updates to come through the day and comments by those who witnessed the events, from 'either' side are welcome to comment.

UPDATE : We have the text of Nag's resignation letter which I have cut-and-pasted from his website.

My Resignation Letter
from: Narendra Nag to: Vynsley Fernandes cc: nick pollard, saubhik chakrabarti, Dhruva Sen, Indrani Mukerjea, Peter Mukerjea date Feb 1, 2008 12:49 PMsubject My dismissal
Dear Vynsley,
In a meeting with anchors on Thursday, January 31, 2008, NewsX chairperson Indrani Mukerjea told some of my colleagues that I, along with others like Executive Editor Avirook Sen, Head of Domestic News Rajesh Sundaram and Editorial Adviser Nick Pollard would be asked to leave NewsX "very soon". My email was blocked soon after -- around 6.30 Thursday evening.
That I had to find out my services are no longer required in this manner has left me shocked and disappointed -- especially, considering the email you sent me just last week praising my good work since I joined here April 1, 2007. In the same email you told me I was up for a raise.
As you may appreciate, these events have made my position here untenable. That you would not know about my dismissal -- as you and Dhruva indicated in our conversation late Thursday evening when I returned the laptop issued to me -- is difficult for me to believe.
In recent times I have seen, with increasing dismay, the manner in which this organisation has been run: the scant regard for journalists is only the tip of the iceberg -- the manner in which senior management has chosen to operate leaves me with the firm conviction that professionalism is a word to be bandied about but disregarded in every activity -- that respect and dignity are alien concepts -- that NewsX has become an organisation few would want to work for and almost no one would hold as an example of how a world class news channel should be created, or run. You may, of course, choose to disagree.
As one of the first few employees of this place, it pains me greatly that I have been summarily dismissed in so cavalier a fashion -- I can only hope for the sake of those people who continue to work at NewsX that Thursday's dismissals -- Avirook Sen, Arun Roy Chowdhury, Kailash Menon, Rajesh Sundaram and myself -- are exceptions rather than the rule.
I am writing in protest against the complete lack of professionalism of Mrs Indrani Mukerjea and the way she has ridden rough shod over all journalistic ethics. The last straw was the mistreatment of the channel's Executive Editor by a band of security guards and junior managers acting at the behest of the top management Thursday evening.
Such an incident is unparalleled in the history of Indian journalism. Not only do I question Mrs Indrani Mukerjea's credentials to run a channel, I am also perturbed by questions about the source of her funds. She has told the press that she owns over 60 per cent of NewsX. Is this her own money, or is she fronting for somebody? I believe an investigation is called for.
Please let me know my earliest date of release as per the terms of my contract.
Warm regards,
Narendra Nag