Archive for February, 2007

Just short of a good length

24 February 2007

Any fool can write a story over 800 pages—and most do. But what if the canvas is infinitely smaller? Esquire magazine sent 250 napkins to writers across America to try their hand at telling a tale. One hundred of the napkins came back with stories on them; the result ranges from the “lush to spare, hilarious to terrifying”.

Read the stories here: The napkin fiction project

Why all journalists must blog

24 February 2007

Cyber Journalist has an interesting comment attributed to Chris Cobbler, publisher of greelytrib.com:

“Blogging helps you better understand your audience. The hallmark of any blog is the ability for readers to post comments to what you write. By having this regular conversation with readers, you learn what hits and what misses.

“For newspapers that are rapidly becoming irrelevant to a growing number of people, this is a huge issue. If you write post after post that garners no response, then it ought to be telling you something. In print, we’ve been able to kid ourselves for decades that every reader is savoring every word of our prose. Online, it’s painfully clear what readers do and don’t care about.”

Howard Owens had made a similar appeal to student journalists not too long ago. Read the full article here: What J-schools and students should do 

Wider and wider, expanding always expanding

24 February 2007

A graybeard once told Tunku Varadarajan that a cultured man should have very few friends, and very many books. As the Wall Street Journal‘s new assistant managing editor prepares to move into a new but smaller office, a new question stares him in the face. What books to take home, what books to leave behind? And Joseph Brody‘s line springs to mind: “There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”

Read the full article here: Hardback mountain 

SHAM LAL: Rest In Peace

23 February 2007

sans serif records with deep regret the passing away of Sham Lal, a 22-carat man of letters, on Friday, 23 February 2007. He was 95 years old.

Born in 1912, Sham Lal took a master’s degree in English literature in 1933, joined the Hindustan Times in 1934 and worked there for 12 years. After a three-year stint at the now-defunct Indian News Chronicle, he joined The Times of India and was its editor from 1967 to 1978.

His weekly literary column ‘Life and Letters’ was the first to introduce many Indian writers to scores of writers and thinkers who left their mark on post-war literature and social thought.

“The brilliant Sham Lal was as deeply read in modern Western thought as in the philosophical traditions of India,” Octavio Paz said of Sham Lal.

***

In 2005, Sugata Srinivasaraju interviewed Sham Lal for the 10th anniversary special issue of Outlook magazine.

Do you think our media has become frivolous because it has started focusing on a wider and younger audience?

There is nothing wrong in catering to a wider public with a short attention span and which is not interested in understanding difficult issues related to foreign or economic policy. Nor is there anything wrong in papers supporting one political party or the other. This inevitably reflects divisions in our society. But the papers also have a duty to address those interested in public affairs or those involved in shaping policy. It is important for them to be well-informed of not only big changes at home but also the forces that are bringing about a global transformation. The trouble with Indian media is that by reading papers or watching the coverage of events on TV, one just doesn’t get a proper idea of the event or the deeper changes the society is undergoing.

Read the full interview here: “Why can’t we invest to gain expertise on, say, China?”

Is freedom of the press a cover for anything?

23 February 2007

GIRISH NIKAM writes from New Delhi: “Freedom of the press is the cornerstone of any democracy,” is a well-worn cliché though it has stood the test of time as a universal truth. No one in a functional democracy like ours can deny the importance of the freedom of the press. It is also a fact that this freedom has not come about easily.

People in authority have a tendency to undermine this freedom, whenever it comes in their way. And therefore eternal vigilance of the people and the media is an essential requirement to maintain this freedom. And to protect our democracy.

It is also a fact that many a time this freedom boils down to freedom of the proprietor, more than the freedom of the journalist. And this is a subject which attracts very passionate debates within the media circles.

No wonder when distinguished media persons like N. Ram of The Hindu and H.K. Dua of The Tribune, intervened on behalf of the Eenadu newspaper group, the other day during the seminar on the relationship between the legislature and the media, in the Parliament Library complex, the issue became a hot topic of debate.

The two editors, one a proprietor-editor (Ram) and the other editor of a group run by a unique trust (Dua), pitched for Ramoji Rao and his newspaper, and sought to make out a case against the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajashekara Reddy for trampling on the freedom of the press. The two warned the journalists that these attempts should be fought as they spell danger for the entire media.

These passionate appeals in the normal circumstances would have had the desired response as Indian media have by and large stood up against any assault on the freedom of the press.

The facts and circumstances of the present “war” between the Eenadu group and the Andhra Pradesh government however has a different dimension, which needs to be understood, before any hasty conclusions are drawn.

The tussle started when a Congress MP from Andhra Pradesh revealed that Margadarsi Financiers (not Margadarsi Chit Funds) had started dilly-dallying about repaying its depositors, after the deposit period had expired.

He also came out with its balance sheet which clearly showed that till 2005, deposits of Rs. 2, 200 crore had been collected, on which a loss of Rs 1,100 incurred had been incurred.

Moreover, the MP established that Margadarsi Financiers was a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) company, of which the karta was Ramoji Rao, the owner of the Eenadu Group.

The RBI laws strictly disallow any HUF from collecting deposits from the public, and it has listed out 21 relatives from whom deposits can be collected. Margadarsi Financiers had however collected Rs.2, 200 crore from lakhs of depositors.

The performance of this company as well as how these funds are being used is entirely another matter.

What is pertinent here is that the collection of deposits from the public is illegal. It is quite possible that the public deposited their funds, thinking that they were doing it in Margadarsi Chit Funds, which has a good reputation for decades. However, Margadars Financiers is a different entity and not as old as the Margadarsi Chit Fund.

When this issue was raised, Ramoji Rao used all the might of his TV channels and the vastly circulated newspaper, Eenadu, to refute these charges—not convincingly is another matter—and charged the Government of launching a witch-hunt.

He also made out a case of freedom of press being under attack.

It is no secret that Ramoji Rao has openly taken an anti-Congress stand in his newspapers for years and is also seen as a friend, philosopher and guide of the Telugu Desam party chief, Chandrababu Naidu, having been close to his late father-in-law and TDP founder N. T. Rama Rao.

It is also no secret that the present chief minister and Ramoji Rao have no love lost for each other, considering the years of targeting both have done of each other.

It is also no secret that what began as an exposure of Ramoji Rao’s “dubious” financial company activities, has now been expanded to his “dubious” land deals involving hundreds of acres of prime land in and around his dream project, Ramoji Film City.

YSR’s decision to give notice to Ramoji about his lands, led to YSR himself being exposed with his excess assigned lands. In a fit of over-smart thinking, he surrendered the lands, only to face the allegation that he had kept the holdings under wrap all this time.

Be that as it may, Andhra Pradesh is now undergoing convulsions with every other big politician, industrialist, newspaper baron, among others getting exposed and charged with holding illegal lands.

Coming back to the issue of freedom of the press, now would we be fair in defending Ramoji Rao for all the acts of commission and omission in his other business activities, which have nothing to do with his newspaper or the news TV channels?

#Should the conflicts with law and its violations by the media magnates in their other business activities be treated with kid gloves, just because they control media?

# Should any Government take action or dare to take action, legitimate of course, if there is a prima facie case of illegality on the part of these media barons in their other businesses?

# And should such legitimate actions be dubbed as an assault on the freedom of the press?

In the Ramoji Rao vs YSR battle, which we are witnessing, does Eenadu or ETV figure in any of the Government’s actions? Has any journalist of these outfits faced any difficulty in performing his legitimate duty, and has any government machinery been used to come in his way?

While all these questions need careful scrutiny and answers before we jump to any conclusions, one also needs to look at the dangers of any blind support to cries of “assault on the freedom of the press”.

It is no secret that dozens if not hundreds of fly-by-night operators and businessmen with dubious track records start media organisations, only as a cover for their illegal activities.

Ramoji Rao does not come under this category as he has displayed stamina, strength and commitment in running his newspaper for over three decades and his TV channels for nearly a decade.

Yet, can he claim clemency for any illegal or illegitimate actions in his other businesses, on the ground that he has been a committed media man?

Is this an assault on the freedom of the press?

It is for each one of us to judge, before we scream, “there is an attack on the freedom of the press”.

First published in Sunday Vijay Times, Bangalore

cross-posted on the churumuri

SUBRATA CHAKRAVARTY on business journalism

22 February 2007

For long, the highest-ranked Indian journalist outside India, former Forbes managing editor Subrata N. Chakravarty offers compelling tips to sans serif readers on business journalism. Objectivity, he says, is overrated. Objectivity, he says, is overstated. Don’t be afraid of taking a contrarian stand. And don’t be afraid of taking a risk.

“If you’ve never been wrong on a story, you never took a risk. To lead the pack in analytical journalism you must sometimes stretch out on a limb.

Click on the SUBRATA N. CHAKRAVARTY page on the left of the screen for the full text

EXCLUSIVE: Sun TV eyeing stake in The Hindu

21 February 2007

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: Is The Hindu‘s uneasy relationship with the government of the day in Tamil Nadu rearing its head once again?

First, Jayalalithaa‘s decision to clamp down on the paper created a national furore. Now, comes hot speculation that a section of the ruling Karunanidhi family may be trying to pick up a stake in the Mount Road Mahavishnu.

The Sun conglomerate, which started out with a single Tamil channel has steadily branched out into various other media ventures over the past decade. It picked up Kungumam, a weekly magazine, and then bought and turned around Dinakaran, a Tamil daily.

Two years ago, before the Hyderabad-based Deccan Chronicle set foot on Tamil soil, there were rumours, substantiated by Kalanidhi Maran himself, that the group was planning an English newspaper, to occupy the No. 2 slot, between The Hindu and The New Indian Express.

But the success of Sun’s Initial Public Offering (IPO), which has spurred its promoters into the league of the superrich, and the reported success of Chronicle in building up a 200,000 circulation in less than two years, has reportedly spurred a change of plans.

Media circles are abuzz that influential representatives of the Maran family have already sent feelers to Editor-in-Chief N. Ram for a stake-sale in The Hindu. (For the record, Sun is flush with money. Its scrip issued at Rs 875 through the book-building process is now hovering around the Rs 1,700 mark.)

Well placed sources say Sun’s initial overtures have been grandly rebuffed by the family owned newspaper. But given the manner in which the group muscled its way into the cable TV market with Sumangali, and the impunity with which it used Dayanidhi Maran‘s position as Union Information Technology minister to obstruct the Tata DTH project (because the Tatas refused to give a stake to Sun), observers say the last word on the subject has not been said.

It is difficult to see The Hindu doing business with the Sun group. There will be the caste factor at play. For all its progressive pap, The Hindu is still an I-Iyer-Iyengar fiefdom. More importantly, if The Hindu needs funds for growth and expansion, it has the reputation to go for an IPO itself or to sell a stake to a more solid and credible partner, maybe even a foreign player, than Sun.

Already, there are murmurs over the delay in the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the formation of The Hindu union. Those who put one and one together and end up with eleven, believe the two events—the stake bid and the delay—may not be unconnected.

The Hindu union has traditionally owed its allegiance with the ruling DMK, and the grapevine is that Karunanidhi wants a full fledged DMK man at the helm of the union before the goodies are distributed to the employees.

Also see: Under N. Ram, Hindu becomes a ‘sorry’ paper

The Hindu responds to Churumuri, we do too

Cross-posted on churumuri

If this is the state of The Economist…

20 February 2007

The Economist, London, has a story on India’s newspaper boom. And the small story—which is but a thinly disguised PR piece for the Hindustan Times‘ business paper Mint—offers a big reality-check on the fact-checking that is allegedly the weekly magazine’s forte.

1) It calls Metro Now Delhi’s first tabloid; Mid-Day has been around for decades.

2) It spells Mid-Day as Midday; it says Mid-Day has launched a bikini-clad mate on the lines of British papers, although Mid-Day Mate has been a feature of the tabloid ever since its launch 30 years ago.

3) It condescendingly terms most of India’s 300 big newspapers as “rags” without offering any substantiation for this ridiculous insult.

4) It blindly swallows the claim that Mint prebooked 55,000 copies at Rs 299 per year.

5) It says Times of India offered a combo with Economic Times for slightly more than the price of one paper, although the offer for the latter was barely Rs 100 per year in Mumbai.

Read the full article here: Let 1,000 titles boom

So many channels, and so little to watch

20 February 2007

Robert Alder, the man who invented the television remote control, has died at age 93. Toby Harnden has a neat post on the man who gave us something else to hold while watching television. But, strangely, Alder was no couch potato; hiking and skiing were his passion. “I hardly ever turn the TV on,” he said in a 1996 interview. “And I certainly never channel surf.”

EXCLUSIVE: Inside story of Deccan Herald coup

19 February 2007

Newspapers are vital public institutions. They are the soul of a State, the conscience of the people, in a manner in which no other medium is—or can ever hope to be. Yet, the key decisions in our newspapers are opaque operations that would put a Machiavelli to shame.

The removal of K.N. Shanth Kumar as editor of Deccan Herald and Praja Vani, with effect from February 15, and his replacement by elder brother K.N. Tilak Kumar, has caught the staff in the two papers completely unawares.

The outside world too has been in the dark as to why the change was effected at a time when Deccan Chronicle is threatening to enter Bangalore, and Times of India is preparing to flex its muscle (marketing) once again.

And the hapless reader, unless she pores over the imprintline, hasn’t even been extended the courtesy of being told that such a vital decision, which affects her every morning, has been made.

S.S. KARNADSHA and PALINI R. SWAMY piece together the inside story on the palace coup in Bangalore’s oldest newspaper group.

***

1. The DH-PV putsch was not an overnight development. It was in the air for quite a while between the three brothers—K.N. Hari Kumar (KNH), K.N. Tilak Kumar (KNT) and K.N. Shanth Kumar (KNS)—and had gained steam in the last three months, especially after rumours gained ground that one of the three was planning to sell his share to Deccan Chronicle.

2. Like earlier, two brothers came together to overthrow the third. When KNH was displaced, KNT and KNS had ganged up. This time around, it was KNH and KNT who got together to ease out KNS. The only surprise for insiders is that KNH and KNT joined hands despite the long-festering animosity that existed between the two.

However, unlike in l’affaire Hari Kumar, who was overthrown by a unanimous decision of the board of directors of The Printers (Mysore) Limited, the move to replace Shanth Kumar with Tilak Kumar, was a byzantine family affair, arrived after old foes turned friends; the board, which has such worthies as Kuldip Nayar on it, wasn’t in the picture through much of the intrigues.

3. Since he is already Chairman and Joint Managing Director of The Printers (Mysore) Limited, the holding company, KNT reportedly did not want to be editor after KNS. (In fact, it was on this precise point, that he had grabbed all the key posts of Chairman, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, that Hari Kumar was pushed out.)

Wary of the precedent, KNT is said to have offered the editorship to KNH’s wife Parul Shah (PS) as a quid pro quo for the support KNH had extended in dislodging KNS. But Parul, a non-journalist, reportedly did not seem inclined to take it up at this juncture.

PS has represented KNH on the board as he has decided to stay away and is present in all decision-making meetings, including recruitment interviews. In a recent set of interviews, PS and KNT sat close to each other, with KNS at the far end, almost showing who was where in the divided Netkalappa house.

4. After the palace coup had been effected, both KNT and PS addressed the senior editorial staff. They said what was being published in DH-PV was a cheap replica of The Times of India and that they wanted to strive to retain the publications’ identity, integrity and its tradition of political neutrality.

There was also vague talk of “improving” the products although it was under KNH, in the first flush of liberalisation, that the group was at its soporific best. Deccan Herald was caught napping by TOI and then Praja Vani was caught in the same supine position by Vijaya Karnataka, which had photocopied TOI’s tactics to instant success.

5. The indication that something big was in the offing had come exactly the day before the coup, when KNT made it blindingly clear in the PV newsroom that he was unhappy with the way the papers were coming out under KNS, and that what was being published was eroding the credibility of the publications.

Although the three brothers have never been seeing eye to eye for years, never had they allowed their family squabbles to spill out in the open, and never had such a damning analysis been delivered in the open.

6. Another surprising indicator of the change ahead in DH-PV had come at least a week before it actually happened in faraway Dubai. There, a Hyderabad media tycoon who is eyeing an entry into Bangalore and who was attending the Asian Racing Federation events asked a prominent Bangalorean, a member of the Bangalore Turf Club, if the change of guard had already taken place.

The Bangalorean had no clue as what the publisher was hinting at and was plain stupefied, only to return home and find that the two papers now had a new editor.

7. It is said that a detailed chargesheet was prepared before KNS was asked to go. The KNH-KNT camp contends that the “dismissal” was signed by Chairman KNT and the newsroom fax machine was used to send it across. In other words, the dismissal was in partial public view.

On the other hand, the KNS camp avers that there was no dismissal. Just a simple office circular stating that from February 15, 2007, KNT would be the editor of DH-PV, Sudha and Mayura.

Also, there was no fax communicating the order.

The two associate editors in charge of the papers (A.V.S. Namboodri in the case of DH, and R.P. Jagadeesh in the case of PV) were both called and hand-delivered the circular. And, as is the norm in any organisation, the two associate editors were required to sign in acknowledgement that they had received the circular.

The two associate editors were then told that they would take directions from KNT hereafter.

8. However, KNS, on the other hand, is said to have responded to the circular replacing him with a fax to the newsroom fax machine, in which he contended that he had been appointed by the board and only the board could unseat him.

In turn, KNT is believed to have replied to the same fax machine, simply and directly, that the board would endorse the decision in due course. Apparently, the majority of the board members had been taken into confidence before KNT dared to move against his younger brother.

9. What the chargesheet contained is difficult to reveal at this point but in essence it describes in detail the alleged indiscretions of KNS, especially his growing proximity to people in power, his ascension to the apex of the Audit Bureau of Circulations, his association with the publishing body IFRA, his captainship of the Bangalore Golf Course, his membership of the Turf Club, and so on, all of which allegedly imperilled the editorial quality of the publications.

Watch this space.

10. The talk in the KNH-KNT camp is that KNS had become arrogant and authoritarian and did not care for his brothers or the board. He is also said to have displayed pettiness at times (especially with regard to his eldest brother, whom he had replaced).

In one particularly gnawing case, when the maintenance staff of the newspapers were used to have a portion of KNH’s residence painted, the company reportedly contemplated serving him a bill of Rs 15,000 for services rendered, till wiser counsel prevailed.

However, the KNS camp contends that this is hogwash: “When there was no meeting, no talking between the eldest and the youngest brother, where is the question of being petty?”

11. The big charge, implicit more than explicit, is that KNS had used his position to allegedly cut “deals” with the H D Kumaraswamy government. Some say that he had also developed political ambitions.

The KNH-KNT camp believes that no previous Chief Minister of Karnataka had had the power to consume or even jolt the editor of such an influential and respected newspaper group, but Kumaraswamy managed to break fresh ground here too.

KNH-KNT camp followers say KNS was fully in his spell and H.B. Dinesh, the former Praja Vani man who is now media co-ordinator to the CM, was the go-between. Within the newsroom, key PV personnel are said to have come in handy to the political establishment.

When Kumaraswamy came to DH-PV to meet senior editors of the staff, KNS reportedly insisted on serving water himself by uncorking a mineral water bottle. The KNH-KNT camp also claims that Chairman KNT was not kept informed about the CM’s visit.

When KNH was editor for 25 long years, no politician dared to engage him in small talk. Many a time he did not even take calls from the high and mighty. But KNS is accused of bringing the dignity of the paper to the streets and giving free access to powerful political lobbies.

But the KNS camp contends that KNT had been informed of Kumaraswamy’s visit, but that KNH and KNT practised a strange madivantike that they should not meet politicians socially or have dinner with them. And this although chief ministers of all colour and hue, including R. Gundu Rao, had visited the Netkallappa bungalow in Basavangudi and fallen at the feet of and broken bread with K.N. Guruswamy, the late grandfather of the three brothers.

The KNS camp claims the charge of political proximity with Kumaraswamy is a convenient alibi for what was in effect a fait accompli. “KNH believes that nobody but him has the intellectual wherewithal to edit a newspaper. And what is there is to show that KNS benefited from his proximity with the chief minister but shallow, empty rhetoric?”

12. There was a growing resentment within DH-PV that KNS was increasingly falling prey to the Brahmin-RSS-BJP lobby. Some recent appointments in DH and PV are pointed out as examples. With the change of leadership, power centres in the newsroom are likely to shift.

KNH is said to have taken particular exception to the column of Sudheendra Kulkarni, a former advisor to Atal Behari Vajpayee who later became advisor of L K Advani, being reprinted from Indian Express, North, in Praja Vani by KNS. The objection was to the fact that Kulkarni, an IIT-Bombay product, was a politician (read BJP).

But, neither the fact that Kulkarni was a Kannadiga and a former journalist in his own right who wrote an engaging column, nor the fact that Ashok Mitra, the CPI(M) ideologue and economist, had been given a column for more than a decade by KNH was sufficient to disabuse him of the idea that KNS’ decision to give Kulkarni space was only in the fitness of good journalism.

Also read: New editor for Deccan Herald

See: Tilak Kumar appointed Editor-in-Chief

Cross-posted on churumuri

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