Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Blame the government

In the days before the model code of conduct comes into the picture and various ministries will be barred from putting up pictures of Sonia, Rahul and MMS in their adverts, the ads are roaring in. Today in a 32-page edition of the Times of India, Delhi there were 32x8 columns (the count being done as eight columns across the page). Now that works out to 256 columns of total space in the paper.
But today's ToI only had 84 columns of editorial material by my reckoning (yes, I counted). Even the Op-Ed page was sacrificed to the Power Ministry. That is an Ad-Edit ratio of 67-33 and almost totally government ads and even if you include the ads for 'Massage Services' in the classifieds, which are a regular feature, this is insane!
Here is the funny thing, newspapers are obliged to carry DAVP adverts and the UPA's gift to the newspaper propritors with a 15 per cent hike in DAVP rates means that on average DAVP ads are not going at 60-70 per cent discounts to rack rates but only around 40 per cent, similar discounts to what an Airtel or Nokia would get.
The Government then, or rather its publicity hungry ministers are keeping the flames alight at the newspapers and also the chartered airline business. But these guys are having a direct impact on the dissemination of news. Yesterday was particularly bad, after Slumdog and these ads just about ten per cent of the paper survived to become regular news.
But that said, I have to compliment ToI for highlighting the Aravali issue (nice story today), and I'm surprised that other media houses haven't picked it up. The rampant destruction of the Aravali's will lead to massive water depletion in Delhi and Gurgaon. I can understand that some papers don't have reporters intelligent enough to cover the issue but it is a story that is right ion front of you.
The rush for 'Exclusives' or 'Specials' to narrate the ills of Narendra Modi (and the BJP in general, and I must admit with characters like Muthalik around they do become easy prey) does not mean that papers should roll over and play dead when it comes to news in their backyard. News, that unlike Narendra Modi's actions almost a decade ago can actually impact their readers lives. But some people get gongs and RS seats, so well, who cares about a couple of hills being blasted away.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Previously Dileep

Regarding the headline - it was a great name someone gave AR Rehman yesterday, I don't quite remember who it was mentioned it, but anyway, now for my daily rant...
I was complaining to a couple of senior editors about the massive reams of newsprint wasted on Slumdog coverage, even The Hindu went mad, possibly because Previously Dileep is from Chennai. Three of the eight Oscars the movie won are coming back to India and that is great. But the movie is a British movie created admittedly by a lot of great, highly professional technicians and film crew in India. The acting is rather ordinary, but I still believe that Danny Boyle takes on Bollywood quite well by using total unknowns instead of the sons and daughters brigade.
Back to the story, one editor told me that if relevance to India was a concern then rural poverty and agriculture would be on the front pages all the time. The sad thing is, he noted that the middle classes probably don't give a shit. Though we will when we get saddled with the casteist idjits that will be voted in shortly and we will ask why even though few of us will vote and because we wouldn't have read about the crisis we won't know why they voted the way they did. Anyway, I guess the Slumdog hype is partially because the movie was made in India using Indian crews and also because it is a happy story. And that story is made even happier in a time when the middle classes are getting hit. We don't care about the problems of the rural poor and rarely did even in the good times, but Slumdog coverage is like Bollywood. A state of denial. Something good has happened, lets report about that rather than the constant stream of bad news.
The media, print and television is for the large part taking the tried and tested method of Pakistani politicians - dig your head completely in the sand, and because you don't hear anything nothing is happening. Honestly, things aren't that rosy, and I'm not fear mongering. Good on Slumdog Millionaire, but the coverage today was far too over the top in times when I would want to know what else can go wrong.

Monday, February 23, 2009


According to ContentSutra this is the new look of the Hindustan Times done by Mario Garcia. Very Guardian-esque play of colours there (what next- a Communist Red web page?) - frankly whatever little we can figure out this looks pretty good, even though the business section stinks of Mint - maybe that is because according to one story, Mint will be doing the business section for HT. Makes sense if you ask me. Anyway the question is not whether the redesign looks good, but whether they'll be able to stick to through thick and thin. The folks at Mint, and there are some very good people at the top there to make sure the design isn't broken, have ensured that. Will they be able to be so rigourous several floors below?
EDIT: According to a couple of senior folks down at HT, this is a red herring. Well, that is a pity then, but according to ContentSutra the sources are solid. Hmmm....
EDIT 2: On the 'Let There Be Light' campaign somebody mentioned - my post from August 2005.

Hai Jo!

Good on AR Rehman, Airtel will take out massive adverts in the papers tomorrow acknowledging his success. And he deserves it, he is one of the most gifted music writers of his generation, and the music and soundtrack to Slumdog was brilliant. Did it deserve the Best Movie and Best Director awards? Well, Danny Boyle is a great director, and while I've admitted that I am still iffy about the movie on the whole, I am not on the Academy's list of voters. That said, a movie like this could only be made by a foreigner looking into India rather than an India - not because of the money or the script but because our movies are mainly about denial and have always been, this movie takes on Bollywood at a level and with these awards shows essentially - 'See what you CAN do if you only tried.'
Congrats to my friends AB and RVP who worked on the movie, I don't know what you did but having Slumdog on your resume will help immensely.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Taking bets?

last night I had a bowl of soup with an old friend, a full-time techie, one-time journalist and a veteran blogger who has done the rounds of several media groups. In his inimitable self, he spoke about the mistakes that several groups - but two large television groups in particular have made - especially regarding their insane online strategies. the massive portal strategy of one group is sinking and the other group has hired two has-beens with horrible track records to run their online operation - which is on a Yahoo-esque spree of launching inane sites!
Anyway, it would be a lie to say that there is no cash out there - there is a lot of cash out there - it is just that people are holding onto it for dear life. And this means that quite a few TV channels are finding it rather difficult to survive. The only people in any position of power - the dominant players in the language media papers and magazines.
So if teh bad times continue for a another six-eight months will any TV channel shut down? Do you think they will? Comments welcome.

Casualties of War

Kunal Dasgupta was let go by Sony Entertainment TV today, at least one person who told me this news said it with a triumphant flourish, "The Bongs are out, first from TV entertainment and then also from TV news soon!"
And I could not quite get the vitriol, but a heady mix of power, entertainment, cricket, sex and money has taken its first victim, even though I expected the first victim of the IPL to be the Rajasthan Royals. Lalit Modi will have his revenge on the RCA, and the Ahmedabad something or the other - name suggestions in the comments thread please - I've already got Ahmedabad Rioters (let go of the riots please!) and Ahmedabad Veggies. But how will the hard drinking, hard smoking captain (and others) of the Royals deal with the 'enforced' morality of Hindutva central? I know that there is more booze than orange juice in A'bad - heck, in IIM-A alone there is more booze than your typical Punjabi village. And there is possibly more sex in Ahmedabad than in Jaipur. But, there is this morality thing and all.
After all, how much can be done under the table. Or in the case of the powder, even on the table. Anyway, I digress. It appears that at least two promoters of news channels have supposedly approached RC for funds. It is a good time to have funds during these times, everybody and their long-lost cousin, twice removed loves you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Best served cold?

I don't get the IPL connection in the story and let me assure you not too many people bought tickets to watch IPL games - at least I bought none, but still watched five of seven games in Delhi. And believe me, I was not alone. Anyway, this is a Sidewinder missile at 9X, makes for entertaining reading though. Won't get into the financial plans of General Entertainment Channels though, because I don't watch them and therefore have no frikkin' clue!
But to add to the point, the IPL is more than just ticket sales - I was told by an extremely reliable source, who cannot be named because of Ramadoss - that while the Royal Challengers Bangalore were godawful last year, sales of RC climbed some 30 per cent afterwards. C'mon even KKR dropped off after their amazing start, but because SRK managed to sell KKR as a Bong team rather than a 'Kolkata' team, it got the entire diaspora excited. Sales of other stuff certainly increased and the teams made money from selling lounges and general gobbledegook. But then again, in reality only Kolkata, Punjab and Rajasthan made any money last year. And while the first season was a ratings success and I'm sure that season 2 will be a ratings success, it remains to be seen if the IPL will make 'money'. Money does not guarantee success of more money - just look at Chelsea Football Club.
So how successful has the IPL really been? Maybe, we'll answer that once the elections are over. What will be really interesting this time is that the IPL and the General Elections, or least the campaigning will definitely coincide, and that should lead to interesting news bulletins. So for eight weeks, half the paper will be politics and half the paper cricket. But newspapers can still run larger editions, can you imagine the chaos in the news channels. Nobody will watch the news because everyone will be busy watching cricket. Dang, what an absolutely brilliant move by Lalit Modi!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Would this work in India?

Just found this while trawling through Twitter - I use Twhirl as my desktop twitter application at work. Interesting concept, and slightly different than what Mutiny tried (though Mutiny's model did have some specific copyright issues I believe) and it takes citizen journalism to another level. Now, I agree with what Vir argued on Sunday, the newspaper or magazine ain't gonna die - because you would still like to have something to read while you're on the shitter or hanging onto a Mumbai local with one hand.
But that said, on a plane with the rise and rise of personal in-flight entertainment options (Emirates ICE system is amazing on their new planes) and now even Wi-Fi access on board, you don't have to read the trashy airport thriller you bought or even the newspaper. I'll take myself as an example, I surf the net from my mobile - usually just links from Twitter everytime I'm an airport lounge or security hold. I can't be bothered to read most papers, usually because I can't see the point in reading the same news over and over again.
Which brings me back to the point with which I started - the concept above is rather unique - apply a bit of 'editorial judgement' on a bunch of blog posts and then create a PDF which anybody can download and print.
A sort of best of the web in print - from the guys who wrote it rather than some lazy-ass twat rewriting it as happens over and over again. Some of us do track Wired and BoingBoing y'know, on Twitter. Put in local advertising - at a low rate, the ads can be generated by a IP address mechanism - so the adverts can be hyper-localised (IP tracking in India can get slightly better but you get my point).
The best thing about this is that it is all unique content - not the same Associated Press story and picture across ten newspapers or a stolen report from another paper with 'Bureau' slapped on the byline. Sure, many of the bloggers won't have access, but something like this might just work.
On another point, really, I'm amazed so few journalists are on Twitter in India. Surprising actually!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Alternative Careers II

We started this out in this post. Now we move on and read the story of a freelance writer who joined retail. Unlike the earlier idea this could actually be viable for some mediapersons in India, the only problem I see is the following - some 'mediapersons' are actually dumber than the average sales help in large retail chains - if you don't believe me please attend your average press conference.
Well, there is another problem, you know the one about the retail industry in India falling off a precipice. Those massive plans that we would walk, talk and shop Reliance remain plans thankfully - and after seeing the massive Reliance stores at Ambiance Mall I'm rather glad that they are only plans. If you have any other suggestions for what laid-off journalists should consider - as long as it does not involve kinky sex and/or blogging (or becoming a social media expert) - please write in or post your comments.

Paper, paper everywhere...

I don't know if The V reads this blog, but after reading Counterpoint this Sunday I have a sneaky suspicion that he does. I posted the link to the Time article but the piece was also in the print edition and I also made fun of the bailout. You know where our media bosses got a handout from the government.
Though, and really a three - five per cent excise isn't really that much, so the argument that the government will continue to tax the living daylights out of everything is relatively untrue - though I'm sure given a chance Chiddu would have imposed a service tax on journalism as well. The big announcement was the 15 per cent hike in DAVP rates.
With the real estate sector, the cornerstone of print media advertising (along with the Ponytail, a master of the hire then fire school of thought - makes the placements look good) in a tailspin (though the Ponytail obviously carries on undaunted), the papers needed new advertisers. After all the bills of the senior marketing chaps had to be paid.
With business journalists, the ones who brought in the adverts over the past decade being no good anymore, they rolled out the political bureaus. The 15 per cent rise in DAVP rates is also a great way for the 'Hand' to buy positive political coverage. But given that one proprietor is a sitting 'Hand' MP and another was just given a gong, coverage wouldn't have too bad any which way. Well, it will neutralise Jaitley's implants across the media - papers would be loathe to lose the little assured advertising that they have. After all even the herbal quacks who promised that they've cured Cancer/AIDS/Virginity have stopped advertising.
Did the newspaper industry need a bailout in the first place? Well, in a weird sort of way they are just reaping what they have sown. Think about it, there was no logical reason for papers to be priced at the levels they have been priced. Even before newsprint prices climbed through the roof, the advent of the 120-page daily spectacular (in Mumbai - Times of India + Mumbai Mirror + Bombay Times + Local Supplement + Sponsored Supplement + Classifieds easily crossed 120 pages on a regular basis) meant that printing prices were going through the roof.
The concept of the free flanking product meant that prices spiralled further out of control. The cheaper ad rates in the 'flanking products' often meant that the main paper/magazine lost out on revenue. These pricing decisions were decided not by editorial folks, but those in management. Sure, there was wildly irrational hiring, lazy bums got paid huge amounts of money just to make sure they didn't join another 'proposed' paper. And fair enough, staff costs have to be cut. But will paper owners bite the bullets and raise daily prices to more sustainable levels? A copy of the NYT still costs $1 (Rs 50) and that is not an inconsiderable sum of money. But should a daily - loaded newspaper in India continue to cost Rs 2 - 2.50? I have a feeling that the Rs 5 newspaper isn't very far away.
Oh, and about the Internet - the sites of every major paper in India are so horrible, that they all need a rebuild. Save DNA perhaps.

So will you read this either?

Bobby Jindal is a darling of the Indian press - as is any desi who makes it big abroad let alone the fact that they surrendered their passport. Anyhow, the man believes in creationism (you know, the blah that God created everything with a twhirl of his finger) - just read this.

Damp Squib

Yes there was the build-up, the telly channels and the newspapers were all excited. ToI even did a massive fluff piece on Mukherjee - comparing India today with Indira Gandhi's India. But what did everyone expect - a vote on account is just an exercise to keep things running till the elections happen. The elections are the big thing and that was made clear by the last couple of sentences of Mukherjee's speech...

"I have no doubt that when the time comes, our people will recognize the hand that made it all possible. The hand that alone can help our nation on the road to peace and prosperity. "

Imagine if the Indian National Congress still used its original symbol - "...the cow that made it all possible..." would have been a riot - but that said only the Congress really has an election symbol that lends it to this turn of speech.
About this post on the 'secular' Commies cozying up to Islamo-facists - yes, I was as surprised as any to discover that The Statesman still survives and the silence by the liberal Delhi news channels - the saviours of the secular identity of this country is mind-blowing.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


One of the rather horrible side-effects of the media explosion is that it has somehow made India far more intolerant by giving rise to a media-obsessed bunch of loonies. But I never expected this in Kolkata. A great article by Deeptanil Ray over at The Hoot. And the article that 'sparked outrage'. Sometimes I wonder if our lurch towards the 21st century hasn't made us more tribal.

And why is it wrong to criticise Islam?

Think about it, virtually all our lives, across the world have been determined by terror committed by Islamic terror. I know it is not fair to tar an entire religion because of the actions of some loonies, even though elements of the Indian media like nothing better to lump the entire right as the 'Sangh' and generally poke fun at them. Sure, they do things that deserve to poked fun at - Cow Urine - after the fiasco of the $10 laptop did we really need the gora's making fun of us again.
Anyway back to the pointm why is it wrong to criticise Islam? If one even dare question the religion in India they are dubbed 'anti secular' or 'communal'. What? Democracy allows me the right to question something? Sure outlaw imflammatory comments -flamebait in internet speak (sorry for the net analogies) - that is the more resposible blogs have 'comment moderation', but that said this utter intolerance will spark more Muthalik's and Togadia's people who support them. If your inner liberal shudders at that thought, you might be facilitating it because you're the intolerant one.
By arresting the Editor and the Publisher of The Statesman, the commies of India have again exposed themselves as Grade-A hipocrites. But what else did you expect in Commie-dom! While Chinese Commies sup on the opium of money, Bong Commies grow fat on Religion. Didn't all Commie philosophy question both of those things?


So do you think Moninder Singh Pandher deserves to die? I know the blood lust of some television channels was satisfied last night, but I actually tend to agree with the ToI's opinion that this is a case of judicial over-reach (and their spectacularly bad website means as usual you can't find the piece). HT has an interesting quote from the guy's wife (talking about call girls, etc, I will try and find the link) and the case stretches circumstantial evidence a bit too much. And as for confessions I would suggest you guys see the American series Dexter's first season. The conviction will be overturned, but the blood lust has been satisfied, the lynch mob will probably not be around in the HC. Oh well...


Erm, this is a shout out to the guy who keeps complaining that he finds this blog tough on his eyes. Changing styles on the Blogger platform is not easy, if I had to do such a change I might as well move over to WordPress, and honestly I don't have the time to move bag and baggage. I have made some initial progress towards making this a 'bigger' project, but give me some time.
As I said, this isn't my day job, so while a post can be fired off in a couple of minutes a shift is a bit more complicated and I don't wish to change templates. If you want to read this slightly bigger (and I appreciate that on certain resolutions, font size is an issue) you can do one of several things - first re-adjust your screen settings or increase the font size through your browser. But ideally, I would seriously suggest subscribing to the feed and read it through Google Reader. Gives you more flexibility.
I know I write posts here just like I file copy and, single space between paragraphs, and automated systems take care of spacing. I don't think blogs are about style - double spacing et. al. It is a blog after all.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Alternative careers after journalism...

The first part in what might well become an increasingly frequent series - and none of them will have the option of setting up an online business or become (like Rick Redfern of Doonesbury) a 'blogger'. Let me assure you, there is little money to be made in 'blogging' and 'social media' on the whole is extremely hyped up. Take that for someone who actually understands what the f*** 'social media' means and does not claim to be a social media expert on 'Twitter'. I'm quite happy with my day job.
OK, back to the point, and I don't know how viable an option this is in India - you know with fringe lunatics such at Muthalik, but more on that later.
Become the manager of a Strip Joint. You know I'm pretty sure you could even hire PYT's in some channels as the girls. (Listen, don't flood me with self-righteous comments, I know where you download your porn from!)
Back to the Shri Ram Sene - which as I remember the Ramayana was a bunch of monkeys. Hey, how is this for an idea - if the BJP wants to prove that the Ram Sethu is man-made, send all these monkeys to build a bridge across the Palk Straits, even though given the current situation, the Sri Lankan Army will cross right over!
You know something, I hold some of the media responsible for creating mofo's like this - just like they created Praveen Togadia. Take away the attention and they will wither away. Note to the BJP - instead of running the Advani adverts everywhere - why don't you bring out a proper web post condemning such behavior if as one of their senior leaders shouted at me on the phone. This is a guy who hasn't screamed at me for a very long time. It is all about PR and the Congress is pitching Rahul G as 'change' when all he will do is more of same old sh*t. The website is nice, but you have to understand that Indian demographics are changing dramatically and by first nominating an old man, you aren't helping yourselves with the youth vote - and running a blog isn't a sign of youthfulness.
I'm not saying become like the British Conservatives, who are the most pussy-footed conservative organisation in the world. In a country where 13-year olds become fathers. The other extreme is Israel where the centrists are rightists- a country which produces hotties like this - hmmm - I could do the job described rather well methinks. Pity, Indian journalism doesn't have too many lookers left!
Oh well...

Thursday, February 12, 2009


There is a thing about other people's letters, but before I post the latest letter/post/rant of 2009 with which I have no connection, it seems that the print media industry has caught one break. It seems the trip to Anand Sharma worked in more ways than one as DAVP rates also climbed 15 percent. Just before elections too, which will see a flurry of Bharat Nirman adverts. But, this below is classic, you know and I know that not much will happen and this isn't half as entertaining as people having an anger fit at the Press Club in the heart of the capital, but what the hell...
It will be a sight to see journalists unionise again, but given the rampant socialism on display nowadays, it won't be surprising. I'm wondering, maybe that is why Communism is the most effective civic in Civilzation IV. Anyway, I wonder who drafted the mail and in an aside I have to admit that journalism on the whole has benefted from the scrapping of the wage board which has a major element in the rise of salaries over the past five years. Yes, it reduces job security, but it allows good journalists to be paid decent sums of money.
Anyway, this letter is being sent to a guy who is a closet Commie at heart and loves employee power. Especially those ones who are murderous goons.
By the way, remember this shindig from a year ago.
EDIT: While a letter was sent, a friend told me that Amin, who is a firebrand trade-unionist always ready to jump on an anti-industrialist bandwagon claims that no such letter was written. Taking back the claim or are some of those who were let go stoking the fire?
Letter to Labour Minister

Dear Shri Fernandes,

I am writing to you on a serious matter which requires your immediate attention and urgent action.
Newspapers all over India have launched a massive dismissal of journalists and other employees, giving the excuse of the recession hitting theirr evenue. Topping all these newspapers is the Hindustan Times Group that has removed more than 100 journalists and other employees in just one fortnight in January. The Hindustan Times Group has a long historyof the anti-labour practices that peaked about six years ago when over 350 non-journalists and some 50 journalists were thrown out of job overnight. The matter was raised in Parliament and is now pending in the Court.
From the same time, the management is forcing all journalists and non-journalists in regular employment on wage board pay-scales to resign and accept contract employment. Those who opposed were sacked, creating an atmosphere of terror and uncertainty that frightened many to surrender to the whims and fancies of the management.
The Hindustan Times Group is indulging in the same type of malpractices forwhich Satyam is in the news these days. It has been forming companies after companies and shifting employees from one company to another without obtaining their consent or completing the legal formalities, so as to indulge in fudging of accounts and escape the statutory obligations. The malpractice of shifting the regular employees as contract labour that is now not limited to only Hindustan Times and Times of India groups but it has also spread across the newspaper industry as a tool to scuttle the statutory Wage Board awards.
The latest instance of removal of senior journalists from Hindustan and Hindustan Times was the most shocking violation of the trade union and human rights. Most of these journalists were physically thrown out of their offices and that too in less than a month or two of renewal of their contracts for three years. The management has been putting two letters on table - sign the resignation letter and take three months' salary or get dismissed with just two months' basic salary. Most of the victims had no option to sign the resignation to get a little more money as they were not even allowed to think before taking the decision.
One employee in Lucknow suffered heart attack while senior lady journalistS hailbala, who had been serving Hindustan for more than three decades, was manhandled, molested and physically pushed out of office by a senior resident editor, after forcing her to sign on the resignation letter. She has lodged a complaint with Police, but no action has been initiated so far. Among those humiliated, sacked and not even allowed to collect his belongings from the office is Vinod Varshney, the Bureau Chief with 37 years of standing in Hindustan. Those thrown out along with him include Shripal Jain, senior assistant editor, Subodh Mishra, senior news editor, Ira Jha, news editor as also special correspondents and reporters Anil Verma,Rajiv Ranjan Nag, Vivek Shukla, Sandeep Thakur, and Virendra Mehta. Similar incident of sacking of the senior journalists and other reporters is going on in various centers of Hindustan like Lucknow, Patna, Dehradun, Ranchi, Banaras, Muzaffarpur, Meerut, Kanpur and Agra. Those victimized in this manner include 15 from Patna, five each from Lucknow and Kanpur, six from Dehradun, three in Banaras, two each in Ranchi, Muzaffarpur and Agra.Similar malpractices are being followed in the group's two other newspapers - Hindustan Times and Mint. The latest to be thrown out are Rathin Das, special correspondent in Ahmedabad who was asked to fly to Delhi for an official meeting and forced to resign as soon as he arrived, while a very senior journalist of Mint, was similarly rendered jobless.
I therefore request you to kindly look into the matter and take necessary action at the earliest.
With regards,
Yours sincerely,
General Secretary,
Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha)
NOTE: As written above, Amin claims he had nothing to do with this letter.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pet Peeves

Everyone has a pet peeve, and journalists have pet peeves about certain things. For some people in a particular pink paper, it is economy class travel. For others it is not being served Scotch. For me, it is the overwhelming majority of technology coverage in most newspapers. And the reason I am constipated today, and thus I’m really bugged, is the anchors of both the leading dailies. The first is ToI not knowing how Google Adsense works – it is called IP tracking I do it too via Google Analytics and that is how the adverts you see on the side are customised.
So instead of reading ToI’s very good Page 2, which looked at the rampant destruction of the Aravalis – and what is surprising here is that NDTV despite winning an award for a show on illegal mining in the Aravalis and doing a ‘Greenathon’ is not following up. And the second thing that bugged me in the morning was HT’s HDTV anchor which kind of loses the ‘How?’ part. Of course, with the little bit calling HD 16 times better than standard def making me wonder how the math was done (1080 lines of resolution is somehow not 16 times 480 lines) and the rest of the story was classic Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD).
And the story was slightly old. DD has to record and telecast the games in HD (and might lose the rights unless it does - dated December 2007). Instead of talking about whether your TV is HDTV compatible – regular tube TV (negative) and the difference beween HD-ready and Full-HD and the slight matter of India’s total broadcast and transmission system being analog – no DTH system has the bandwidth for HDTV – the only way I can figure HDTV broadcasts being made are through either DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcast – terrestrial) or Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) networks but for God’s sake - and the story has the classic 'not authorised to speak to the media' official. These have a funny way of turning up very so often.
many, many years ago, when I was a little boy, in a matter of speaking at least, rather when was a greenhorn, I was thrust into doing subsidiary work on Reliance's backdoor entry into telecom. And one of my friend's fathers asked me to explain what on earth was going on, because most of the copy, in each of the papers was full of jargon which went above most people's heads - WLL, CDMA, GSM, TDMA yada, yada... Explaining your story, even if you have 300 words can be easy. But for that you have to be completely clued in to what you are writing. A free byline does not mean you can write crap.
It is bad enough that journalists played their role, along with bureaucrats from the HRD ministry on the $10 laptop fiasco, just try not to make it worse you know.
PS: Vir's latest post is quite interesting. Fashion magazines in India, the home of horribly, botched photoshop jobs, making every woman's face featureless and adding the mysterious 'enlogated thumb' or 'third hand' (I'll post examples of these). Here is the strange thing, these places are incredibly cheap to advertise in. Seriously, if you were a Gigolo, you could probably get an advert there for cheaper than what the massage services (hah!) pay HT and ToI. No seriously. In one 'leading' magazine, a full-page colour advert can be placed for Rs 15,000. That just about covers printing costs, anyway I won't make this post too long. I need to take a dump.
EDIT: ContentSutra has an interesting story on Bennett's foray into the UK market.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

For God's Sake

You know what bugs me, is people sending me requests for links. I appreciate that you've worked very hard on your link sharing site and how nice it is, but for crying out loud, I don't have the time or the patience to do your SEO work for you - and spam comments are worse. But sickly sweet emails talking about how someone did something and essentially tried to copy Digg/Facebook or Twitter is useless. How come I'm not surprised that ever since the slowdown there is less and less news of people setting up social networking sites. Why should someone (this this case Undie TV) spend hordes of cash setting up a video-sharing site when YouTube is already there (and you work with them). The idea of the internet is not about re-inventing the wheel or building a new road - the wheel was invested (probably with Indian and Chinese help) in the US, the highways already exist. But car companies are all going bankrupt but guess who is making money - parking lots! Make sure your parking lot is better than the others and not some crappy SEO-optimised site which when Google's spiders get smart will go all the way back down. Anyway, most crappy SEO stuff is now about 'online reputation enhancement' - make sure all the crappy stories that have your name don't come up in Google's first page by creating fake stories about yourself and then cross-linking a bunch of PR3 or PR4 sites. Anyway, just ranting.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Beyond the headlines

A delegation of print media bosses went crying to the I&B Ministry asking for a bailout. Mind you one of them was at Davos a couple of weeks ago talking up the Indian print media industry. Evidently, things are not that hunky dory - but you can see that in basic page-counts nowadays. But here is my question - those three went, but look at who didn't go - the biggest newspaper group in India and the biggest magazine group in India. Which leads me to one rather obvious question, are things worse at some places than in others? One of my friends in the plastics industry told me a sobering truth of meltdowns - they actually look forward to some players dying out. That is a nice and pragmatic way to deal with a slowdown - the other buggers are shutting down.
Then again, the print medium anmd actually television for that matter have become gloried ad-delivery mechanisms and maybe all people were asking of the I&B Ministry was to dole out more 'Bharat Nirman' adverts. Or maybe, they were promising to bend over backwards for Rahul Baba - you know since he represents 'change' and all - fifth generation of family - generational changeover et al. Sigh! At least, they do have some 'younger' leaders, the BJP's idea of youthful are a bunch of 60 and 70-year olds and guys whose idea of 'Indian-ness' is purdah! I sometimes wonder if people actually read religious texts or even interpretations of religious texts. One of the more fascinating books on Hindu myth and legends (and true to the shastras) I have read is by an Italian.
Did anyone survive Undie's 'Greenathon' bore-a-thon? I wonder how many diesel generators were used on location? Mind you, DG's don't have to conform to any pollution norms. But, I'm being my usual cynical self.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

In the line of fire!

The International Federation of Journalists says that 107 journalists were killed while out on work last year. That marks a significant decline from the 175 killed in 2007, but what is shocking is that far too many journalists die on duty in this country and most people can't be bothered about it. Soth Asia remains an extremely dangerous place for media rights. Those of us who are lucky enough to be in mainline publications and with access to high-level connections often do not realise how lucky we are. To read the report, please click here (PDF).

Friday, February 06, 2009

Late night

I was sleepy a couple of hours ago, but I rode through the 'sleepy hump' and now I'm wide awake chomping down on Classic Milds and staring at inane stories linked through my Twitter feed. I'm probably numb in the brain - that kind of reflects on the music playing - I've circulated Death Cab for Cutie, Pink Floyd, Led Zep and have somehow ended up with ABBA. I think my current low-carb diet has something to do with this, I swear all I've had to drink are two glasses of Australian Shiraz. Anyway I'm too bored to comment on the state of the Indian media and write long, boring lumps of text on the internet, and I'm sorry if this makes no sense, because I can't be bothered right now about making sense. 
Anyway, Time's Walter Issacson argues that micropayments are the future of the newspaper industry. Er... I don't think so. Not because of the fact that newspapers are not even the worth the paper they are printed on. Really. Currently, with existing newsprint prices, it costs between 5-10x the stand price currently. Blame that on the futures contracts that some of the highly paid managers took out - but then again even the master hedgers at Southwest Airlines, Ryanair and even Reliance got caught out with falling commodity prices. Other than some people I know who bet on gold in October 2008 and are now worth a lot more than they were. 
Anyway back to the point, the price wars that started in the early-90's in Delhi when Times' began its assault on Delhi are hitting hard now. True, no-one wants to pay to read the same story twice, thrice or even four times. Heck, even on television I don't quite get the point of ten channels telling me the same thing. But subscription-only websites that deliver what you want and then you pay for it through a decent micro-payment mechanism such as an SMS won't quite work here (though there have been rather cool experiments with text messaging and micro payments in India). Because a premium SMS costs more than a newspaper. Not just that, while you could contemplate paying a decent sum of money to read something you wish to read, will you do that?
You would pay decent money to read a novel, but even three rupees for a 800-word article? The problem is that news has become so devalued thanks to the fact it costs next to nothing every morning and Rs 10 to get a bunch of channels you never watch every day. The unholy nexus between advertising and editorial exists because of this, and while some bloggers would like nothing better than to expose that, it would be impossible for a daily to raise its price to Rs 5 let alone Rs 10 to cover newsprint cost. Such a product could become a 'thinking man's/woman's' paper but would not survive. Maybe I'm being too cynical. 
Really I should get some sleep. And before that, read Valleywag's retort to the Time article. See you the other side of sunrise IST.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Robot Chicken

I don't know about you but India ODI's are losing their watchability - we're pulverizing Sri Lanka. Last matchViru and Yuvi and this time Dhoni and Gauti (great to see both the Delhi boys do well though - Go Daredevils)  Almost as badly as they're pulverizing their Tamilian citizens in the north.
Though their most famous Tamilian set another record today. We're treating their bowlers like their government treats their domestic press. I don't know about you, but cricket diplomacy as practiced by India is a bit strange - terminating the contracts of the Pakistani players even if they didn't do drugs. It will be sad to see Akmal and Tanvir go from Warne's team (they do have a loophole for those two and Misbah - but why Shilpa Shetty ugh!). Anyway, I spent a lot of time watching Robot Chicken of late and I'm pretty bugged that no network shows Adult Swim in India. Dang!

A spot of good news!

Mining in the Aravali's have been temporarily stopped. Refer this post and the fact that ToI carried the same pic in the front pages of the Delhi and Chandigarh editions today (I had sent the pic to someone there, though I carried the image here well before that). Hopefully, the destruction of the hill range has come to a stop. Plus, to answer a constant cribber, yes I didn't publish that comment, but that said several people close to the owners were removed. They had a 'Pets' vertical run by a 'cousin' (or relative) which was shuttered and several people close and even related to the portals management were let go.
I don't think sentimentality played a role in those mass layoffs nor should it in any layoffs. Recently, a rather successful publisher in a media group, a guy who turned around a dying publication a couple of years ago was let go. Anyway, soon after the layoffs I went to Shillong on a holiday and upon returning joined a proper newspaper. Sure, people will say I parachuted in there too, but for crying out loud, I'm no JC, so use what you got! Anyway, thanks for reading the story though, glad to know some people do!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


There was a time, before the country went broke and Narshima Rao sort of had to open India up much to the consternation of Rahul Bajaj that we used Vanaspati to cook. I really don't know how many middle-class English language newspaper reading people really use Vanaspati any more. I'm sure there are some households where the 'cheap' oil is used as well as the place where you buy your samosa's - but the general betterment of our lives since 1991 has meant that most homes use decent cooking oil. Even poor ones. So the headlines in both HT and ToI today morning puzzled me to say the least. There is a difference between cooking oil and Vanaspati and while I agree that food safety standards are next to zero in India and that eating food cooked in Vanaspati is a sure-fire way to need an angioplasty, crazy misleading headlines are dangerous to your health as well.
And there is that little story of the $10 laptop. Now it is called an extremely low-cost 'Access-cum-Computing' (I do not understand the fascination with 'cum' in product names and designations in India) device. A laptop it is not. Even if you connect this to a TV and even if you use a low-cost ARM processor in a Ti or Qualcomm chipset Rs 500 is a ridiculous price even when you do the sum of parts. Kapil Sibal should remember the lesson of the Simputer from a decade ago. What killed it? The mobile phone - investing money on a more capable mobile device or software that can run on a mobile device over next-generation 3G networks giving access to more people in rural India is far more sensible. What we have crerated is a glorified pen-drive with a Wi-Fi antenna and a really low-end processor (I hope it is a 32-bit processor). Anyway these are just my two cents.

A lesson from history.

This is a story, maybe it is not, maybe it is a work of fiction. Or it is a true story embellished with incidents that might or might not have happened sometimetime in the past or bits from other stories that have been internalised by me. Anyway, I have seen a downturn before, many, many years ago and I've survived lay-offs before. This story is from that distant past, a time before the 'War on Terror' and when everybody was more innocent. Again, to send tales of virtue and vice over to the debauch writer of this blog you can either leave a comment (not everything will pass through the filter) or email to presstalk (at) gmail (dot) com. By the way before that, please take some time to appreciate this picture, I'm still ROFL.
In 2000 after graduating from college, my mother who was genuinely sick and tired of finding my stash every second day insisted I get a job. I ended up at a large dot-com that for reasons best understood to me must remain un-named (they still survive and still are run by a bunch of idjits). It was a job. A good job at that! I was a twenty-year old who although he had been using the internet for four years only understood the true meaning of high-speed internet at my place of employment. This was 2000, well before Torrents but we had Napster, and my god, after the sex and the drugs, Napster gave me all the Rock n’ Roll (and weird Japanese porn/anime) I could ever want.
The pity was that the HP CD-R’s (the old 16x blue and white ones, remember those young ‘uns?) cost Rs 40 a piece and when you earned Rs 5K a month, and even accounting for the fact that Malana cost a hell of a lot less those days, that very fact meant that even buying a few blanks every month was a strain on my resources. Anyway, I won’t carry on about how I got addicted to internet porn and every evening after 6, we used to plan eight player racing on NFS: Porsche Unlimited. That remains the only NFS I have ever finished.
Anyway, the afore-mentioned dot-com had an insane hiring policy. They hired and hired madly. New project needing a new engineer, so what if we have one lying around doing nothing, we’ll hire a new one. Better still, the place had a legion of vapid pretty girls entering data, maybe once a week. Not that it mattered, lots of cute girls are better than none. And they had me who understood just about passable amounts of code and could bedazzle most people with stoned philosophy. In an aside, the recent events surrounding Michael Phelps prove that potheads can do whatever they want to – from extreme athletic achievement to becoming President of the US. I get the munchies just saying that!
Anyway, to repeat this was 2000, well it was 2001 by then. There must have been around one million internet subscribers in India and my organisation had over 500 employees or one for every 2000 internet users in India and trust me that job made me an aggressive, rather a maniacal internet user, which I am to this date.
Anyway back to the story, dang, I can’t maintain a straight thread. Suddenly in the middle of the year, just as summer started, a rumour about layoffs began to spread. The dot-com bust had happened in the US and its effects were being felt in India. The Internet was not this magic rainbow with a pot of gold at the end of it and well, the price had to be paid. We were all summoned in batches where the girls got really teary eyed on being told that there would be layoffs. The guys were not stoic at all there was all-round panic, especially the potheads worried about how the next run to Kasaul would get funded. We were told to wait for emails announcing the cuts.
I began burning tons of CD’s, started to wipe the servers clean where I had hosted random stuff and in the process I wiped out the homepage for one hour or something – no access logs were kept those days, but not out of malice. Unlike one guy who removed all the RAM modules from about 50 computers. Someone else put a logic bomb in the server which disabled the site for a day, other guys defaced the home page. I said something about panic and anger earlier, methinks?
I didn’t get an email. Many people I know did. I am not saying I deserved one, I did do my job well and was definitely more productive than 90 per cent of the office, and I’m pretty sure I was smarter than 99 per cent of the office, but still… I mean I didn’t exactly hide and smoke, heck I didn’t hide and roll. Then again, despite my abysmal attendance in third year I never got held back. I just rode my luck very well, but what do they say of making your own luck.
Anyway, over half the people were laid off. It was very awkward being a survivor. I’m not saying (well I just did but, you know what I mean) that I was much better than the rest, but the guys who were laid off felt a resentment. Upset that most potheads had retained their jobs (again refer above to M.Phelps and B.H.Obama) while the good boys and girls had been asked to move on. It was an Internet company after all – there is no place for ‘clean’ people but many of the cute girls also lost their jobs. That was quite sad, really sad.
I don’t think there are any lessons to be learnt in this tale. Well, other than the fact that potheads are achievers, but that is a moot point in Indian journalism. At least in some of the more responsible parts of the English media in India today. Anyway, jobs are being cut, protests are happening screens are being smashed – though LCD’s don’t exactly smash as well as good ol’ CRT’s. There is no proper way to fire people but rational hiring practices could help. By the way, the organisation I spoke of laid off people again! So much for learning about layoffs.
Anyway, the organisation I work for currently has been shedding ad-sales strength rapidly. Mind you, these were the ad-sales people going for south-east Asian tours every few months when the times were good. There have been a lot of tears shed, but the end result is that there is a lot of space that has suddenly opened up in the parking lot. How much longer before editorial gets hit?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Indian of the Year

Sorry, this is my Tuesday rant, powered by a Wengers pastry and the accompanying sugar high. I really should go easy on the sugar though.
Everybody has an award nowadays, nice marketing gimmick. Get some sucker corporate chap to sponsor it, get clowns to vote on premium messaging services. Have a nice big show with lots of cheap scotch, keep lots of politicians and corporates happy and then claim that you have to let go of several interns because of ‘cost’ issues. Anyway, I don’t want to rant too much in this post. Primarily because I have a lot of work. But here is my ‘Indian of the Year’ 2008 – wait for it – The silent victim of terror attacks. All of them, from the migrant worker who collects the garbage to the executive who was just eating dinner.
You know, the Bombay train blasts of 2006 (one, two, three) were the first terror attacks that actually scared me. I used to travel in those trains everyday and even though I've probably left office that early once or twice in my life, I could have been on those trains. I’m not an overly religious person, but a few days after the blasts I happened to be in Kolkata and dragged my father to Kalighat (peculiarly enough for the first time in his life).
You know something, every single time I get inside my car and drive through Delhi I know that some jackass at a roundabout might scrunch me, even though the likelihood of me running over an idiot Pulsar biker is far higher. I have had more than my fair share of accidents and serious ones at that but (touch-wood) other than a concussion or two nothing major. Heck, I drive quite knowingly on Indian highways and have stared down enough Tata trucks.
I even survived one week of driving on Kerala roads – and those guys are by far and away the maddest bus drivers in all of India. On a plane, and I watch far too much of National Geographic’s Air Crash Investigation to know that every once in a while a plane will fall out of the sky (though like AI 182 often because people want to make a political point). Marna hai to marna hai, Boss. I know I share this manic fatalism of many of my countrymen, but really I live in a country where every office commute is an adventure.
Well, the fact of the matter is that I can die anytime. But I don’t want to die because of someone else trying to make a political point. Whether it is the lunatic wing of the Sangh or crazy Islamic terrorists from UP or illiterate cocaine-fuelled commandos from across the border. That is not the way I want to die, or for that mater that is not the way anybody should die. From business executives doing dinner at an hotel in Mumbai, to Bihari immigrants waiting on a station platform, to lovers walking in a park in Delhi, to women shopping for the festive season in Jaipur or people offering prayers in a mosque in Malegaon.
No blast is bigger than another, no form of terror is bigger than another. Politicians obfuscate the truth. They proclaim something to be the ‘Real India’ (Rahul Gandhi’s Sarah Palin moment - remember her 'Real America' rant, but that is another post for another time) but there is one India and all of it is ‘Real’. And the people who die are also quite real. Celebrate the achievements of the year – we did put a satellite on the moon, we did not come back with no medals from Beijing and we gave the rest of the cricketing world a big middle finger. But far too many of us died because of terror. And let us not forget that, or in rush towards the next eleven months of 2009 forget all their memories.
And as for the Karl Marx quote on the header, and if you get this on a feed...
"Owners of capital will stimulate the working class to buy more and more of expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to bankruptcy of banks, which will have to be nationalized, and the State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism" Karl Marx, Das Kapital. EDIT: It appears I've been hoaxed. As repentance I will now quote from Donald Rumsfeld.
I put that up because it sounds prescient but also because I agree with a line that Newsweek I think carried - to understand how capitalism failed maybe you should study its greatest critic. I don't think capitalism is dead, someone has made a lot of money in this downturn and is keeping very quiet about it, but capitalism as we know it will have to change.

EDIT: ContentSutra's post on Times Internet has some really interesting comments 

Monday, February 02, 2009


Not me, but I hear that the proverbial 'Pink Slip' is going out over the coming week in a couple of large media groups to quite a few employees in the form of machine generated emails. Angry mails from senior editors are doing the rounds (great way to build up morale) and employees have all been told to buckle up - well, shape up. In several language channels, you know the way that some of them expanded there are hundreds of 'silent' lay-offs.
How bad is the scene? By some estimations between 1500-2000 jobs in the media sector in India have already vanished, but that includes ad-sales and marketing which make up two-thirds of job-losses by conservatiive estimates. And these numbers do not include 'internet' operations of media firms such as Firefly or Times Business Solutions which have been cutting back as well.
This is a small note, if you have been laid off or think your job is under threat because you don't work enough and spend the day reading crap like this, just know your rights if you're asked to go. The economy is down and the PR escape route isn't there anymore and don't think that 'Blogging' is quite an exciting way to make money either because this is a popular blog - I was amazed when I consolidated my feeds into one just to discover I have over 500 subscribers (yes, that is why I put ads onto the feeds) - but money... well, bits and pieces. Sure, it would be possible for me to consolidate and get something going if I wanted to because I have an established base, but then again that won't exactly mint money. I blog because I like the noise my fingers make when the bang on the keyboard. No seriously. I'm addicted to tappity-tap. Well, it is a better addiction than stuffing your nose.
Anyway, the comments and the email line are open if you hear of lay-offs please let me know and please vent if you want to. How was the procedure handled, were your resignation letters on your desk when you arrived, a la (unnamed company) SEZ employees? Or were you told that times are bad, or that you're a worthless gorm? Do you think your media masters are spending large sums of money on 'consultants' or on launching a television channel that is sucking up resources? Tell the world.
In the meantime, the rest of you, get back to work!