Archive for May, 2010

Anything ToI does, the competition can do worse

31 May 2010

Over the last two decades, The Times of India group has earned plenty of flak for its marketing and advertising gimmicks that have erased the difference between what constitutes editorial and what is supposed to be advertising.

But what about its glorious competitors?

On top is the front-page wraparound of Monday’s Hindustan Times, with a full-page advertisement of the German automaker Volkswagen.

In italics is the punchline, “Anything that’s specially crafted by hand…”

Clearly as part of the ad campaign, which includes a 16-column ad for the Phaeton on the centrespread of the newspaper, every headline on every multi-column story on every page of the 24-page main section of HT is specially crafted by hand in the same italics font that adorns the Volkswagen ad.

Innovation? Or intrusion?

Does the reader care? Should she?

Also read: A package deal that’s well worth a second look

External reading: Volkswagen India road block: blitzkreig

A health report male journos will agree with?

30 May 2010

Lies, lies and damn fags: Indian women journalists light up more often than ordinary Indian women.

That’s the finding of a month-long study (authored by a male doctor) spanning 1,500 mediapersons in 15 print, television and advertising companies on the occasion of World No-Tobacco Day.

While the national average of Indian women smoking is 1.5 per cent—meaning, out of every 100 women, between one and two women like to take a drag—the average among women journalists is between 5 per cent and 35 per cent, if your poison is The Hindustan Times.

Or has shot up from 5 per cent to 35 per cent if you believe The Indian Express. The comparable figures for men are not known.

The study was conducted by Ravikant Singh of the non-governmental organisation “Doctors for You“.

While women smoking has often been interpreted as an affirmation of their identity as a free and equal person and attributed to peer pressure, Singh reports that women journalists smoke excessively to “curb their hunger pangs”.

Verily, “You’ve come a long way, babies“.

Photograph: Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru helps a British envoy’s wife light up in a picture shot by India’s first woman photojournalist Homai Vyarawala

Wash it down: How well do you know your alphabet?

‘Vijaya Next’ gives ToI Crest a Kannada avatar

28 May 2010

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: The Times of India group has unveiled its latest product in Bangalore: Vijaya Next, a broadsheet, all-colour, Kannada weekly for the “upwardly mobile Kannadiga population“.

The 24-page Friday offering, priced at Rs 6, is a customised version of the Crest edition of The Times of India, complete with shades of its aquamarine colour.

And like Crest, the product offering has the usual “upmarket” mix of relationships, health, education, sex, travel, food, fitness, films, celebrities, automotive, gadgets, and sport.

The strategy behind the hurried launch of Vijaya Next, according to insiders, is essentially the same as ToI’s Crest: to slip it along with the group’s flagship Kannada daily Vijaya Karnataka every week and get more out of the customer’s monthly newspaper bill without increasing the cover price of Vijaya Karnataka.

Vijaya Next is edited by Deepak Thimaya, a well-known TV anchor with almost no newspaper journalism experience on his resume barring a few columns, and is produced by residual staff from the Kannada edition of The Times of India, which was shut down in early March at a day’s notice.

(The Kannada edition of ToI had itself been launched in quest of a similar “upwardly mobile” Kannadiga audience after shutting Usha Kirana, the Kannada newspaper that fell into the group’s lap when it bought Vijaya Karnataka and the now-defunct Vijay Times from BJP parliamentarian Vijay Sankeshwar.)

Vijaya Next has been grandly proclaimed in a full-page ad in today’s Times of India (Bangalore market) as the “first-ever Kannada weekly“, although what that means is unclear when full-fledged features weekly magazines such as Sudha from the Praja Vani group and Taranga from the Udaya Vani group, have been available for decades.

Also, there are innumerable Kannada weekly tabloids, part news, part features and part crime, such as Hi! Bangalore, Lankesh, Agni and so on. Most of them do not carry advertisements as a matter of policy and are priced at between Rs 12 and Rs 15 per copy, giving Vijaya Next a price advantage.

But there is little confusion on what the brand managers mean when they say that Vijaya Next will take an “entertaining look” at the world and stories and issues that matter to you.

“Now read all di stories that matter, nimmade bhasheyalli (now read all the stories that matter in your own language),” reads the copy of a half-Kannada, half-English, half-page ad that runs in Vijaya Karnataka, which has lost considerable ground to the Deccan Herald-owned Praja Vani in the last two rounds of the ABC.

If nothing else, Vijaya Next will muddy the waters before Rajeev Chandasekhar‘s Jupiter group begins ploughing in money into Kannada Prabha, in which he bought a stake recently. It will also perhaps prevent him from finding people to staff the paper. Many of the ToI Kannada staff were absorbed in Vijaya Karnataka as a preemptive measure.

Also read: The Times of India to shut down Kannada edition

9-month Express programme in journalism

27 May 2010

Express Institute of Media Studies, the journalism school of The Indian Express, is inviting applications for its 9-month programme. The last date to apply is July 3.

Visit the website: Express Institute of Media Studies

Also read: India’s ten best communications schools

Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach?

Times School of Journalism seeking applications

‘The PM did his job; it’s the media that didn’t’

27 May 2010

Manoj Joshi in Mail Today:

“The Prime Minister alone cannot be blamed for the lacklustre national press conference he held on Monday.

“True, he did not articulate an overarching vision for his government, nor for the country, for what is being touted as our decade of opportunity.

“The media in equal measure failed to extract that vision from him. It got distracted in trivial issues like his retirement or relations with Sonia Gandhi, things on which you are unlikely to get an honest answer through the medium of a press conference anyway, especially from a person who is notoriously reticent.

“By its very nature, the media has a short take on events and developments. Even so, in a national press conference, perhaps the third held by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, their viewers and readers deserved better. They needed to be informed about the government’s longerterm perspective on relations with China, the energy crisis, how the Right to Education or Food Security Bill would work, what would happen if the monsoon failed the second time around and so on.”

Also read: And who’s afraid of a face-to-face powwow?

Why Manmohan Singh Should talk to media more

Does Manmohan Singh not trust Indian media?

Times school of journalism seeking applications

26 May 2010

The Times of India‘s school of journalism is inviting applications from graduates under 27 years of age for its business journalism course. The last date to apply is June 10.

Visit the website: Times School of Journalism

Also read: India’s ten best communications schools

Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach?

‘Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose’*

25 May 2010

* Or the more it changes, the more it remains the same.

“Journalism in India was once a profession. It has now become a trade. It has no more function than the manufacture of soap. It does not regard itself as the responsible adviser of the public.

“To give the news uncoloured by any motive, to present a certain view of public policy which it believes to be for the good of the community, to correcçt and chastise without fear all those, no matter how high, who have chosen a wrong or barren path, is not regarded by journalism in India its first or foremost duty.

“To accept a hero and worship him has become its principal duty. Under it, news gives place to sensation, reasoned opinion to unreasoning passion, appeal to the minds of responsible people to appeal to the emotions of the irresponsible.”

The author? Dr B.R. Ambedkar.

The year? The year of the lord, 1943.

Why Manmohan should talk to the media more

24 May 2010

B.V. RAO writes from New Delhi: Today, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will address a press conference in New Delhi to unveil the report card of his government’s performance in its first year.

The press conference is going to be unlike any other before it.

It will not be limited to Delhi journalists. Reporters from Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Lucknow will be present by video to pose questions to the prime minister. Maybe a few questions will be taken from foreign capitals too.

According to Harish Khare, the information adviser to PM, about 250 news channels and 1,500 print journalists will cram Vigyan Bhawan, the venue.

Admittedly, to use a common television phrase, it doesn’t get bigger than this. This is quite the manna from heaven for any journalist, so why is it that you sense a lack of admiration or gratefulness in our mood?

Because this will be the first time in three long years and only the second in his six longer years in office that the prime minister will have deigned to subject himself to open scrutiny by the media. His interviews to Indian media have been few and far between while he has been generous with foreign media.

So we have effectively had a prime minister who is not only thought to be a puppet but a puppet on mute.

For a government that boasts of ushering in the Right to Information era in this country, that’s a dismal record.

World over heads of government have well established and structured interactions with their peoples through the media. The president of the United States talks every day to the nation through the White House spokesperson and comes on himself regularly to face the media.

These interactions only increase, not decrease, when in the midst of a national emergency, controversy or crucial debate.

These leaders talk to the media not to help it fill space but because it is their duty to reach the people on whose behalf they govern. We love to refer to the iron curtain of China, but ask any reporter assigned the PMO beat what opaqueness in administration means. For most part covering the prime minister means waiting out on the road outside his residence or office looking desperately for a byte like a hungry dog looks for a bone.

Of course, prime ministers are busy people and can’t be talking to the press all the time. That is why they have press advisors, mostly senior journalists from the print media. Their job is ordinarily understood as having to facilitate the media’s interaction with the prime minister or establish a routine for giving out information on his/her behalf.

On the contrary, they busy themselves exclusively with planting favourable stories in a media that is hungry for any crumbs from the PMO. The media advisors themselves become the great wall of China between the media and the prime minister. They think nothing of the instant metamorphosis from journalists seeking information to information advisors blocking information.

There are three people who matter most in the country and all three of them hardly speak. They do not allow themselves to be questioned on their beliefs, their core concerns, their crucial decisions, how and why they arrived at those decisions, etc.

Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are politicians and can at least claim they talk to people directly and don’t need the media as middleman. But the prime minister is duty-bound to tell the nation why, for example, he decided to sack Shashi Tharoor or decided not to sack Jairam Ramesh or why he dare not touch A. Raja or reprimand Mamata Banerjee. Or why in three years his government has not written to the Swiss authorities asking for the details of the billions of billions of slush money stashed away there.

In the absence of first hand information from his office, all reportage of his work and thinking is hearsay. Right to Information does not mean the people of this country come in with their RTI queries only after the event is dead and done with.

A crucial component of right to information is the duty to reveal, duty to be answerable, sometimes even as things are unfolding.

So when on Monday and later you are told that this government has done something out of the ordinary by presenting its report card, don’t be swayed. Accountability is not a once-in-three-years media jamboree. It is being open every day of every year in office.

Sorry prime minister, we cannot be grateful for the crumbs that you throw at us.

Please talk to us more, prime minister.

Talk to us a damned lot more.

B.V. Rao is the editor of Governance Now, where this column originally appeared

Also read: Does Manmohan Singh not trust the Indian media?

Sailing with the doves, supping with the hawks?

23 May 2010

Kanchan Gupta, associate editor of The Pioneer and a part of Atal Bihari Vajpayee‘s PMO, kicks where it hurts most in the matter of the tainted Pakistani TV journalist, Hamid Mir.

The Geo TV anchor, who has interviewed Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden thrice, now stands accused in the court of public opinion of instigating the murder of a kidnapped hostage at the hands of the Taliban.

“Geo TV belongs to Independent Media Corporation, which owns the Jang group of newspapers. And as we all know, the Jang group is the Pakistani partner of a well-known Indian group of newspapers in a joint venture called ‘Aman ki Asha’ which aims to promote cross-border harmony and peace.

“It would be perfectly in order to ask how can a media group that has die-hard Islamists with links to terrorist organisations vehemently opposed to peace with India in senior positions be a trans-border peace partner.

“It would also serve some purpose if we were to be told as to why the Jang group was selected over other newspaper groups or independent dailies like the Daily Times, which has played a leading role in exposing and outing Hamid Mir.

“Chinese whispers are not exactly reliable. But there could be some truth to the story doing the rounds that it was neither aman nor asha that prompted the partnership between the two media groups.”

Read the full article: The secret diary of Hamid Mir

Also read: When journo bites journo, it’s a ‘Super Exclusive’

Can newspapers bring peace between India, Pakistan?

‘The Lone Ranger of Loony Hindutva’ versus…

Do “anonymous people” not count for media?

23 May 2010

Death—ordinary, unglamourous, “smalltown” death—increasingly catches the glitzy, big-city English media on the wrong foot.

Unlike the “26/11″ siege of Bombay, in which almost as many people were killed as in the Mangalore air crash, you do not find TV and print journalists falling over each other to catch the “first flight” to the spot.

Or, crawling on all fours to shoot a piece to camera, or to provide what used to be known simply as copy but is now fancifully called “narrative”.

As if death by any cause other than “terror” is no death.

As if death in any city other than Bombay and Delhi is no death.

As if death outside of a five-star hotel or two is no death.

The wisecrack of the day comes from Pritish Nandy, former editor of the now-defunct The Illustrated Weekly of India, as if the media did “anonymous people” a favour by giving them airtime on a day like 22 May 2010. Otherwise, they might as well not have existed as far as the media was concerned.

As if, otherwise, the media’s mandate is to merely bring home celebrities and “people like us”? PLUs like the food writer killed in 26/11? The banking executive who had a narrow escape? The board of directors who were smuggled out of the chimney?

Is making people “famous”—manufacturing fame—the media’s sole business?

Also read: ToI food writer Sabina Sehgal Saikia is dead: RIP

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