Archive for February, 2009

Man who educated Bombay journalists is dead

28 February 2009

sans serif records the demise of T.N. Shanbhag, the founder of Bombay’s legendary book store, Strand Book Stall, in Bombay on Friday morning. He was 84.

Mr Shanbhag, who was once so poor that he couldn’t afford 75 paise to buy a paperback, built his enterprise, now happily expanded to Bangalore and Mysore, on the motto that no young person should walk out of his store without a book in hand.

For his rigours, he was awarded the nation’s third highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri.

Strand’s location in the busy “Fort” area of India’s commercial capital, also made it a chattering hole for journalists working in nearby addresses.

Writes Namita Devidayal in The Times of India:

“There was a time when the senior editors of The Times of India would go to Strand after lunch, browse and catch up with Shanbhag, and then stroll back through the arched arcades of Dadabhoy Naoroji Road, as part of their daily constitutional.

“‘Sham Lal’s wife hated me because he spent all his time and money on books,’ Mr Shanbhag used to joke about the former Times editor. The writer Khushwant Singh [former editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India published by The Times group] once declared, on a BBC show, that Strand was the only ‘personal bookshop’ in India.”

Read the full obituary: He spent a lifetime serving the written word

DNA obituary: End of an era for book lovers

Also read: Khushwant Singh on his last day at The Illustrated Weekly

Vinod Mehta on Sham Lal: Editors are only as good as their papers

How a slumdweller became a Newsweek reporter

25 February 2009

The demographic profile of journalists worldwide has undergone a radical transformation in recent years.

Whether it has actually made journalism better is a question readers, viewers and listeners answer every day and night with their remote controls and subscription renewals.

Once the lowliest of low professions—the last hope for lazy bums, the dregs of society with “no real knowledge or skill set” who could get into no other profession—journalism is now populated by sharply sculpted careerists with deep pockets and heavy accents, whose reputations are preceded and defined by those of their parents, spouses and their alma mater, usually Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia, St. Stephen’s or Presidency.

Rare is a “Slumdog Millionaire” kind of story of a poor boy or girl, who rose from the margins to the top of the pile.

Rarer still is the journalist with the humility to remember, or the courage to tell the world where he or she came from.

Take a bow, Sudip Mazumdar.

Mazumdar has done a first-person piece in the March 2 issue of the magazine on his progress from the slums of Tangra in Calcutta where “scrawny men sat outside shacks, chewing tobacco and spitting into the dirt. Naked children defecated in the open,” to eventually become the India correspondent of Newsweek magazine.

Mazumdar writes with admirable candour about his sister being born in a rat-infested hut in Patna; about a family of eight living in a  single rented room; about running with a local gang in the teens; about stealing from shopkeepers and farmers, and extorting money from truckers before fleeing to Ranchi.

So, how did Mazumdar end up becoming the correspondent of a major American newsmagazine in India?

“I started hanging around the offices of an English weekly newspaper in Ranchi. Its publisher and editor, an idealistic lawyer-cum-journalist named N. N. Sengupta, hired me as a copy boy and proofreader for the equivalent of about $4 a month.

“It was there that I met Dilip Ganguly, a dogged and ambitious reporter who was visiting from New Delhi. He came to know that I was living in a slum, suffering from duodenal ulcers. One night he dropped by the office after work and found me visibly ill. He invited me to New Delhi.

“I said goodbye to my slum friends the next day and headed for the city with him.

“In New Delhi I practiced my English on anyone who would listen. I eventually landed an unpaid internship at a small English-language daily. I was delirious with joy. I spent all my waking hours at the paper, and after six months I got a paying job. I moved up from there to bigger newspapers and better assignments. While touring America on a fellowship, I dropped in at NEWSWEEK and soon was hired. That was 25 years ago.”

Mazumdar now lives in a “modest rented apartment in a gated community in Delhi”.

“I try to keep in touch with friends from the past. Some are dead; others are alcoholics, and a few have even made good lives for themselves. Still, most slumdwellers never escape, But no one wants to watch a movie about that.”

Read the full article: Man bites ‘ Slumdog’

What a headstart of 1,562 months doesn’t give

24 February 2009

In an interview with Sruthijit K.K. of contentsutra, N. Ram, editor-in-chief of The Hindu, talks of how things have changed for the “Mount Road Mahavishnu” after the entry of The Times of India in Madras:

“It’s good, we welcome competition. The Times of India is a major newspaper…. I never put down The Times of India. I learn a lot from them. There are other papers that are non-serious, but not ToI. I not only respect it, I read it with a great deal of interest.

“There is a lot of criticism out there (against ToI) but it’s a serious newspaper. You may not agree with some of the views, some of the things, and they may not like what we do also. But it’s a major newspaper.”

Wiser, more honest, words have probably not been spoken.

The Times of India (established 1838), which is 10 months old in Madras, has 9 full broadsheet pages (inclusive of the advertisements on those pages), plus two edit page pieces, devoted to local-boy A.R. Rahman “breaking the sound barrier” at Slumdog Millionaire‘s Oscar sweep, and other stories.

The Hindu (established 1878), whose home has been Madras for 1,572 months—giving it a headstart of 1,472 (!)  1,562 months in the east coast City over The Old Lady of Bori Bunder—leads with the story on page 1, has a four-column story on page 12, a four-column story on page 16, a full page on the last page of the main edition, and on the first page of the metro supplement, besides an editorial.

What is “over”, what is “sober”?

Should newspapers really mourn young readers turning away?

Amen.

Also read: When the Old Lady takes on the Mahavishnu

How an Oscar winner ushered in a newspaper

23 February 2009

Last year, when The Times of India made its big move to Madras to take on The Hindu, it used music composer A.R. Rahman, who won two Academy Awards today for the best original song and best score for the movie Slumdog Millionaire, as its vehicle of change with this slick television commercial.

Also read: When the Old Lady takes on the Mahavishnu

Any number will do when the game is of numbers

The 11 habits of India’s most powerful media pros

22 February 2009

Eleven media professionals—editors, publishers, promoters, proprietors—figure in the Indian Express list of the 100 most powerful Indians in 2009.

Eight of them have a presence in newspapers, three in television, only one is from the magazine sphere. Four of the 11 are from the language press.

The IE ranking also lists the quirks and kinks of the bold faced names, including those of the media pros.

# 50: Vineet Jain and Samir Jain, owners, The Times of India group: “Vineet likes going to discos, Samir often visits a spiritual retreat close to Haridwar.”

# 58: N. Ram, editor-in-chief, The Hindu: “He has an air-conditioned aviary at home. He is crazy about tennis and cricket.”

# 61: Prannoy Roy, co-founder, New Delhi Television (NDTV): “Accompanies his 85-year-old father to India’s cricket matches, this week in New Zealand.”

# 70: Raghav Bahl, managing director, Network 18: “The figure 18 in the company’s title is a lucky charm.”

#71: Prabhu Chawla, editor, India Today: “A sharp dresser, he has a tie fetish and possesses a wide range of designer ties.”

# 73: Shobhana Bhartia, vice-chairman, The Hindustan Times group: “Her friends swear by her. She is known to be the most loyal of friends.”

# 76: Mahendra Mohan Gupta, CMD, and Sanjay Gupta, CEO and editor, Dainik Jagran: “M.M. Gupta hangs out at a chaiwala‘s when in Kanpur. Sanjay likes the colour blue.”

# 77: Aveek Sarkar, editor-in-chief, Anand Bazaar Patrika group: “He is always impeccably turned out in a white starched dhoti at social dos.”

# 88: Ramesh Chandra Agarwal, chairman, Dainik Bhaskar group: “He loves eating chaat in Bhopal’s Chowk area. He is good at number crunching.”

Also read: Forbes can name India’s second richest woman

Is this man the next media mogul of India?

Amita Malik, the ‘first lady of Indian media’, RIP

20 February 2009

sans serif records with regret the passing away of Amita Malik, the radio journalist who grew to be one of India’s leading film and media critics, in New Delhi, on Friday. She was 86 years old.

Often referred to as “the first lady of Indian media“, Ms Malik conducted path-breaking interviews with luminaries like Satyajit Ray, Marlon Brando and David Niven before the airwaves were opened up. “Her columns on TV and film were both heeded and feared.”

In a recent column for The Tribune, Chandigarh, she wrote on an NDTV anchor…

“…who reads like a drone and sounds like a tanpura from the next room. With no change of facial or audio expression, she reads so fast that even an expert lip-reader like shall fail to understand what she is saying.”

In October last, Ms Malik spoke to Omair Ahmad of Outlook for the magazine’s 13th anniversary on radio in its 13th year after India’s independence:

“In 1960, All India Radio was the only truly national organisation that reached and touched everybody. Pandit Ravi Shankar even composed the signature tune for AIR. The national programmes produced great concerts by great musicians. Every other Saturday, Hindustani and Carnatic musicians would play jugalbandis, bridging a gap that had existed for many long years.

“The then IB minister, B.V. Keskar, restricted the playing of Hindi film music on AIR, so then Radio Ceylon swamped the airwaves with Binaca Geetmala—a hit parade of film songs—broadcast by Hameed and Ameen Sayani. Keskar had to allow film music back and the Vividh Bharati channel was created. TV was some years away—although the first experimental broadcast of Doordarshan took place in 1959, regular service only started by 1965. By 1967, TV was important enough that I hosted a show on it with Marlon Brando and Satyajit Ray.”

Catty in a delightful sort of way, Ms Malik mourned the demise of Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni‘s tresses in a TV column two years ago in The Pioneer, Delhi:

“There was for me, the sad spectacle of Dhoni shedding his locks for a crew cut. We all remember that famous occasion in Pakistan when president Pervez Musharraf complemented Dhoni on his hairstyle and advised him not to cut his hair. His long locks have long been Dhoni’s own special identity and I was as hurt as his fans to find him unrecognisable with his crew cut.

“The rumour goes that one of the actresses, on whom he has a crush, asked him to trim his long locks. If this is true, all that I can say is: ‘Silly girl’.”

Ms Malik was 84 when she wrote that.

Photograph: courtesy Outlook

Also read: India’s first TV newsreader passes away

A baritone falls silent watching the cacophony

Why the great Indian media dream crashed

18 February 2009

Rs 60 crore for hoardings to promote the launch of a television channel; Rs 1 crore per day for programming.

Hindustan Times editorial director Vir Sanghvi on why the great Indian media dream came crashing down:

“Many publishing houses ventured into businesses and products they had no understanding of, believing that the revenue from their existing cash cows would increase so dramatically that they could subsidize losses in the new businesses.

“That dream is now dead. That’s why some publications are closing down and others are certain to follow.

“In the TV space, the situation is even worse. Two years ago, venture capitalists believed that the boom would last forever. Not only would ad budgets keep rising but the stock market would sustain absurdly high valuations for media companies.

“Much of the expansion of the last two years has been based on these mistaken calculations. TV companies have spent so much money that it is hard to see how it can ever be recouped.”

Read the full blog: Why media suffers, while movies, IPL prosper?

K.N. Shanth Kumar back as editor of Praja Vani

17 February 2009

Exactly two years to the day after he was ejected as editor of the Bangalore-based newspapers Deccan Herald and Praja Vani, K.N. Shanth Kumar (in picture) has been reinstated on the hot seat of the preeminent Kannada daily published by the family-owned The Printers (Mysore) Limited group.

Shanth Kumar took over from elder brother K.N. Tilak Kumar, who had replaced him at the editorial helm of the two papers in a midnight putsch on 14 February 2007. (The removal had been challenged in the courts and later withdrawn.)

Tilak Kumar, however, continues to remain editor of Deccan Herald.

The return of Shanth Kumar marks a clear but happy division of labour in the warring Netkalappa family. Deccan Herald lost its status of market leader to The Times of India in the late 1990s, and in recent years has had to face stiff competition from newer players like Deccan Chronicle and DNA.

Praja Vani, on the other hand, has managed to claw its way back to the top of the discerning Kannada reader’s mind, although Vijaya Karnataka (now part of the Times Group) continues to be ahead in the numbers game. But there is talk of fresh competition in the form of a Kannada daily from the stable of Rajeev Chandrashekhar of Jupiter Communications, which already has a presence in Karnataka through the Suvarna and Suvarna News Kannada channels.

Photograph: courtesy Facebook

Also read: The inside story of the Deccan Herald coup

The sad and pathetic decline of Arun Shourie

16 February 2009

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Arun Shourie is one of the strangest cases on the Indian intellectual landscape if not its most disappointing. A living, walking, moving advertisement of how rabid ideology can addle even the most riveting of minds, stripping it of all its nuance and pretence; its very soul and humanity.

***

Once a fiery critic of Reliance Industries as editor of the Indian Express, he was happy to deliver a eulogy at Dhirubhai Ambani‘s first death anniversary; even changing the law as minister to benefit Reliance Industries, as alleged by the son of Girilal Jain, the former Times of India editor who held shares in the company, no less.

Once a symbol of middle-class integrity and probity for various scams unearthed his watch, his stint as disinvestment minister was pockmarked with allegation after allegation (although an unattributed Wikipedia entry claims he was ranked “the most outstanding minister of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government” by 100 CEOs).

A slow, scholarly, Chaplinesque demeanour hides a cold, clinical mind that piles the rhetoric and the stereotypes on the poor, the marginalised and the disenfranchised while taking up high faluting positions on terrorism, governance, internal security and such like, through long, meandering essays whose opacity could put cub journalists to shame.

And, as always, selectively twisting and turning the facts to fit his preconceived conclusion, and hoping no one will notice.

To paraphrase Ramachandra Guha, Shourie has become the Arundhati Roy of the right:

“The super-patriot and the anti-patriot use much the same methods. Both think exclusively in black and white. Both choose to use a 100 words when 10 will do. Both arrogate to themselves the right to hand out moral certificates. Those who criticise Shourie are characterised as anti-national, those who dare take on Roy are made out to be agents of the State. In either case, an excess of emotion and indignation drowns out the facts.”

But what should disappoint even his most ardent fans, and there are many young journalists, is how easily and effortlessly a pacifist penman has regressed from “a concerned citizen employing his pen as an effective adversary of corruption, inequality and injustice” (as his Magsaysay Award citation read) to a hate-spewing ideological warrior with fire blazing through his nostrils.

A son of a Gandhian who now openly advocates “two eyes for an eye and a whole jaw for one tooth” with barely any qualms.

***

At a series of lectures in Ahmedabad on Saturday, Shourie bared his fangs some more:

“India is still a passive country when it comes to taking a stand against terrorism….

It should, in fact, take an extremist stance and must prove that it can also create a Kashmir-like situation in Pakistan.

There are many places like Baluchistan, where a Kashmir-like situation can be created but, “hum abhi bhi Panchsheel ke pujari hain (We still worship the tenets of Panchsheel)”….

“Pakistan has been successfully carrying out destruction in India for the last two decades and has still managed to escape problems, while India on every occasion has failed to present a unified response to terrorism and has suffered as a consequence….”

Really?

An eye for an eye? Two eyes for an eye? A jaw for a tooth?

In the name of Vivekananda, should India do unto Pakistan what Pakistan has done to us? Is this a sign of vision on the part of a man who some believe should be the next prime minister, or tunnel vision?

Is such barely disguised hatred and vengeance, hiding behind vedas and upanishads, going to make the subcontinent a better place to live in? Should the people of Pakistan, the poor, the marginalised, the disenfranchised, pay the price for the sins of the generals?

Should a great, ancient civilisation become a cheap, third-rate, neighbourhood bully?

Has Arun Shourie lost more than his soul and humanity?

Has Arun Shourie just lost it?

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu Business Line

Also read: How Shilpa Shetty halted the Chinese incursions

Crossposted on churumuri

Biggest Corporate Fraud is now Biggest Coverup

13 February 2009

From a media perspective, the fraud at India’s “fourth largest Information Technology company” has been remarkable for two things.

One, the failure of the business media in catching a whiff of what was cooking in the accounting kitchens of the disgraced Hyderabad company not just one year, but for seven years.

If that failure is understandable because none of the overseeing institutions did so either, it is remarkable how easily an even larger media circus has allowed “India’s Biggest Corporate Fraud” to slip into “India’s Biggest Coverup” in one month flat.

After the initial flurry when B. Ramalinga Raju fessed up to the fraud on January 7, there has been a stunning reluctance to ask the big, hard-hitting, politically incorrect questions. Instead, the media have happily allowed themselves to be diverted and distracted with safety-first stenography that even Satyam’s public relations men (and women) would have envied.

As if protecting the reputation of a city or its leading IT brand is the duty of the media, not serving the interests of readers.

R. Jagannathan, the managing editor of DNA, has been one of the few business journalists who has managed to retain his eye on the ball and stick his neck out. In an edit page column, he writes of the curious convergence of political, regional and business interests that is conspiring to derail the probe.

He writes of the Bihar connection that has found little or no mention in the rest of the media:

“The prime minister does not want Satyam to sink as it might dent India’s global IT image. The UPA’s political leadership cannot let a corruption scandal damage Andhra chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) in an election year. With him goes the Congress party’s hope of returning to power as head of the next coalition.

“Turfed out of Bihar by the NDA, the political interests of the Lalu Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) mesh well with those of the Congress. It partly explains the Andhra-Bihar nexus in the Satyam probe.

“The man at the centre of it all, company affairs minister Prem Chand Gupta, is from the RJD. The Andhra Pradesh DGP is a Yadav from Bihar, S.S.P. Yadav. The policeman handling the Andhra CID probe is inspector-general of police V.S.K. Kaumudi. When he was with the CBI some years back, Kaumudi probed Lalu’s fodder scam. He obviously knows a thing or two about Lalu’s secrets. Lalu and the Andhra CM, thus, have an interest in helping each other out….

“It is obvious who is really being protected: the Andhra chief minister. The Satyam scandal was essentially about the misuse of corporate funds for private purposes, including the purchase of benami land and wangling lucrative contracts from the Andhra government. It is impossible for land deals to be done in the state without the chief minister’s nod.”

Read the full article: The Bihar Connection

Also read: How come media didn’t spot Satyam fraud

Why Andhra is epicentre of biggest scam

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