Archive for October, 2012

‘Every big story in last 3 years broken by TOI’

15 October 2012

The front-page of the launch edition of Ei Samay, the new Bengali newspaper launched by The Times of India group, in Calcutta, on Mahalaya, the first day of Dasara 2012.

The first day’s issue comprises a 32-page main broadsheet section, a 32-page supplement, and an 8-page tabloid section titled O Samay.

The main section has an eight-page wrapper before the actual newspaper (above) begins. The front page of the paper carries the tagline “Dugga, Dugga” (colloquial for ‘Durga, Durga’, a traditional invocation when embarking on a new endeavour) with the kicker at the bottom reading: opening the window to a new world.

Pages 2 and 3 carry an introduction by Ei Samay editor Suman Chattapodhyay, against the backdrop of a giant cartoon. Chhattopadhyay’s interview with West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee gets crossmedia play in The Times of India.

TOI’s Calcutta edition has an introduction titled ‘A Second Homecoming” penned by its editorial director, Jaideep Bose:

Ei Samay will open the windows to brave new thoughts and trends from around the globe even as it celebrates the best of Bengal. It will be intelligent, enlightened and insightful without being dense or inaccessible. It will probe beyond the pedestrian ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘what’ to ask ‘why’ and ‘how’. It will bring alive the drama and excitement of social, economic and political life by providing context and perspective, nuance and texture. It will track a society in transition and anticipate critical inflection points so that its readers are better prepared for tomorrow’s world today.

“It will not sugarcoat the truth, however bitter – almost every big story that has grabbed national headlines in the last three years has been broken by The Times of India. But it will also shine the light on tales of hope and heroism, because there is an army of remarkable people out there doing wonderful deeds to change the lives of the less-privileged, often without any expectation of gain or recognition.”

The launch of a Bengali paper pits the Times group in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with market-leader, Ananda Bazaar Patrika, which recently launched a tabloid newspaper titled Ei Bela to protect the flagship newspaper. The two groups are already engaged in a battle for the English market through ToI and The Telegraph.

Images: courtesy The Times of India

Read the full introduction: A second homecoming

Also read: The grandmother of all newspaper battles

Buy our newpaper: get a Harley-Davidson free!

Times, Telegraph and the Bengali paper wars

The new kid on the block announces an eclipse

V.N. Subba Rao: a ‘shishya’ remembers his Guru

12 October 2012

There are few more misleading terms in Indian journalism than the phrase “national media”.

Only those who flit around in the rarefied circles of Delhi and Bombay, rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty, qualify; everyone else is “upcountry”. Only the bold-faced names from big English media houses are supposed to be national; everyone else is smalltime, moffusil—even “downmarket”.

In reality, our media is richer because of the sweat and toil of hundreds of fine journalists in far corners, who carry on manfully for years, if not decades, without reward or recognition and often times without the expectation of both. Here, a veteran  journalist remembers his first “Chief” who hired him 41 years ago; a guru who would have been a “national” name if only he didn’t suffer from the fear of flying.

***

By A. SURYA PRAKASH

Indian journalism lost a giant earlier this week with the passing of V.N. Subba Rao, a top-notch political analyst, a prolific writer and a guru who trained hundreds of journalists in a career that spanned six decades.

Subba Rao’s interests were catholic.

He was arguably the best-informed political journalist in Karnataka in his hey day; a lover of cinema with an authoritative grip on the history and art of film making and a film critic of repute; a lover of art and culture; and an authority on Kannada literature.

VNSR, as he was affectionately known, also had other qualities which put him way ahead of his peers in the world of journalism. He was a brilliant teacher and a builder of teams and, given his varied interests, a man who could boast of friends in every walk of life.

***

VNSR was also a lover of words and produced eminently readable copy at a pace unmatched by anyone in his time. His day would begin early and he would walk into the office of the Indian Express on Queen’s Road, Bangalore, around 9 pm with more than a couple of news stories under his belt.

He would order some tea, set paper to typewriter and get down to doing the story of the day. From then on, all one heard was the clatter of the typewriter, with the peon walking in every ten minutes to take the typed sheet, which VNSR would yank out of the machine, to the desk, which would be waiting anxiously for what would invariably be the lead story in the paper next morning.

But, VNSR’s output for the day would not end with this important political copy.

He would have other things to write about—a film review, an interview, or even a routine announcement of a theatre or film festival from a press conference he had attended.

He was equally prolific in Kannada.

So, after a hard day’s work, VNSR and many of us who were just hanging around, waiting for “The Chief” to finish, would hop into what we called “the sheep van” or “the dog van” – those rowdy, robust mid-sized trucks in which newspapers were dispatched past midnight to various destinations in the state – and get dropped at our homes.

Given this routine, some of us were late risers, but for VNSR, his phone would start ringing from seven in the morning. Often the first caller would be the Chief Minister of the day: D. Devaraj Urs, R. Gundu Rao, Ramakrishna Hegde et al.

The caller would invariably praise VNSR for his deep insight into the political games the ministers were playing behind his back. This would be followed by phone calls from ministers offering fresh inputs or from the director and the stars of the movie which he had reviewed.

Everybody loved reading him because when VNSR had something good to say about a person or his work, the person written about would love to cut and frame Subba Rao’s piece.

***

I first met VNSR in 1971 when I walked into the Express office wanting a job.

VNSR made a simple offer. He said he would give me assignments for a week. If he felt I would fit into his team, he would hire me. “I need to see if you have news sense and if you can write clean copy” he said.

A few days down the line he said “you are hired!”

That decision of VNSR changed the course of my life. Since then, it has been a roller-coaster ride for me and has taken me from print to television to media teaching and scholarship and to my current status as a columnist and author.

By the mid-1970s VSNR had a bureau in Bangalore which was the envy of every other newspaper. Since he kept a punishing 14-16 hour work schedule,that became the norm for all his “boys” and so, most of us would hang around till the late hours and plan stories and features.

VNSR hired and trained hundreds of journalists and it’s impossible to remember all of them.

K.S. Sachidananda Murthy, currently resident editor, The Week; Prakash Belawadi, national award-winning film director; Chidananda Rajghatta, foreign editor, Times of India; Anita Pratap, former South Asia bureau chief, CNN and former correspondent, Time; Ramakrishna Upadhya, political editor, Deccan Herald; E. Raghavan, former resident editor, Economic Times, Bangalore and Girish Nikam, anchor, Rajya Sabha TV are a few names that immediately come to mind.

Apart from those whom he hired and trained, he was the Guru to hundreds of journalists from other print and television establishments who sought him out each day for a better understanding of events and personalities. Among those who belonged to this extended Shisyavarga of VNSR was Kestur Vasuki, a seasoned television and print journalist, who is currently with The Pioneer and many young television journalists who would catch up with him at his favourite watering hole– The Bangalore Press Club.

He demanded nothing but complete commitment to work and had his own unobtrusive way of teaching us. That is why, on his passing the Samyukta Karnataka described him as “The Dronacharya of Journalism”.

VNSR was also a builder of teams and encouraged team work and this produced excellent results when big events happened in the state. One event that is often remembered in the Indian Express family is our coverage of the landmark Chickmagalur by-election in November 1975 1978 (in which Indira Gandhi contested against Veerendra Patil) that attracted global attention.

The Express’ coverage of Chickmagalur was unmatched.

VNSR held many senior editorial positions in several newspapers and wrote for many more. Kannada Prabha, Samyukta Karnataka, Deccan Herald, Vijaya Karnataka, Newstime, Mid-Day and the Kannada political weekly Naave Neevu and film magazine Tara Loka of which he was the founder-editor. But, he gave much of his blood and sweat to The Indian Express and was the pillar of the Bangalore Edition of that newspaper during the days when the fiery Ramnath Goenka ruled the roost.

In VNSR’s departure, I have lost my Guru and Indian media has lost a consummate journalist and a legend.

(A. Surya Prakash is former chief of bureau, Indian Express, New Delhi; former executive editor, The Pioneer, and former editor, Zee News)

External reading: Goodbye, my mentor

Also read: V.N. Subba Rao, an Express legend, is no more

An Angry Young Man gets good media @ 70

11 October 2012

Amitabh Bachchan, the BBC’s “star of the millennium”, peers through a front-page of the Europe edition of The Wall Street Journal, in photographer Daboo Ratnani‘s calendar for October 2012.

Libran Mr Bachchan, who has had a stormy relationship with the Indian media, turns 70 today.

Also read: Amitabh Bachchan versus the Mumbai Mirror

Look, who wants to be a journo (after rebirth)

Sting camera that Amitabh Bachchan didn’t see

Jug Suraiya takes on the mighty Big Bachchan

When Prabhu Chawla called up Amar Singh

From the desk of hon’ble Member of Parliament…

10 October 2012

In which Vijay Darda, member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) and chairman of Lokmat Media Limited shoots off an appeal  to advertisers on his letterhead seeking advertisements for the special Deepotsav and Deepbhav issues of Lokmat (Marathi) and Lokmat Samachar (Hindi).

V.N. Subba Rao, an Express legend, no more

9 October 2012

sans serif records with regret the passing away of V.N. Subba Rao, the former chief reporter and chief of bureau of the undivided Indian Express—and a guru and mentor to hundreds of young journalists—in Bangalore, on Tuesday morning. He was 81 years old and had been ailing for a few months.

VNSR, as he was known to his myriad friends and colleagues, was brilliantly bilingual, churning out thousands of words each week in English and Kannada at frightening speed, from the intricacies of Karnataka politics, most of whose practitioners he knew on first-name terms, to the shenanigans of the Kannada film industry.

He wrote his weekly political commentary column “In Passing” on a typewriter with barely a mistake in the copy, the rhythmic sound of the carriage making music across the corridor of No. 1, Queen’s Road where the Express was nestled in its glory days. That column shifted to Deccan Herald, where he worked briefly.

Upon his retirement, VNSR launched a tabloid political weekly and a film weekly, both of which folded in quick time. Unlike modern-day political commentators, Subba Rao proudly wrote Kannada movie reviews with the zeal of an intern and attended every press conference without fail.

The New Delhi-based political commentator, A. Surya Prakash, who got his first job with the Express in Bangalore under VNSR in 1971, said: “The net value of all the journalists who learnt their craft under Subba Rao must run into a few hundred crore rupees.”

K.S. Sachidananda Murthy, the resident editor of The Week in New Delhi, who too worked under VNSR, sent this message to friends: “Let us remember his great leadership, quest for exclusive news, soaring prose, unquenchable curiosity and grooming of many of today’s stars of journalism. A life fit for celebration.”

For one who dealt with the high and mighty of Karnataka politics, VNSR had the unique ability to be surprised even by a small fire. His trademark reaction to every story and tip-off, big or small, was a simple “Howdaa?” (Is it so?) followed by a noisy hands-free swipe of the nose which seemed to suffer from a perpetual cold.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Alfred D’ Cruz: The Times of India‘s first Indian sub

Tarun Sehrwat, 22 and killed in the line of duty

Chari, a lens legend at The Hindu

Harishchandra Lachke: A pioneering cartoonist

T.N. Shanbag: Man who educated Bombay journos

Rajan Bala: cricket writer of cricket writers

Jyoti Sanyal: The language terrorist and teacher

Russy Karanjia: The bulldog of an editor

Sabina Sehgal Saikia: The resident food writer

M.G. Moinuddin: The self-taught newspaper designer

Naresh Chandra Rajkhowa: Journo who broke Dalai Lama story

J. Dey: When eagles are silent, parrots jabber

E. Raghavan: Ex-ET, TOI, Vijaya Karnataka editor

Prakash Kardaley: When god cries when the best arrive

Pratima Puri: India’s first TV news reader passes away

Tejeshwar Singh: A baritone falls silent watching the cacophony

N.S. Jagannathan: Ex-editor of Indian Express

K.M. Mathew: chief of editor of Malayala Manorama

Amita Malik: the ‘first lady of Indian media’

***

K.R. Prahlad: In the end, death becomes a one-liner

M.R. Shivanna: A 24×7 journalist is no more

C.P. Chinnappa: A song for an unsung hero

Brajesh Mishra, Outlook, Indian Express and DD

8 October 2012

The passing away of the former national security advisor and former foreign service officer Brajesh Mishra last week has resulted in a welter of tributes, many very mushy, a few critical, but almost all of them throwing light on the uncomfortable influence that the Vajpayee aide held over the media—and the chummy friendship that some in the media shared with the high official in the PMO.

***

In his diary in Outlook*, Vinod Mehta recounts the role played by Mishra in ordering raids on the magazine’s proprietor after Outlook had exposed the wheeleing-dealing of Vajpayee’s “son-in-law” Ranjan Bhattacharya:

“I know one does not speak ill of the dead but try as hard as I might, I cannot think of anything nice or complimentary to say about Brajesh Mishra. All my exchanges with him were thoroughly unpleasant. Once after a few whiskies at vice-president Hamid Ansari’s house, he asked me why I had turned against Atal Behari Vajpayee.

“I responded by asking him why he had ordered the I-T raids on my proprietor’s residence in Mumbai and why he threatened me over the phone, denying a story given to us by the Vajpayee household, of how much Vajpayee disliked Arun Jaitley.”

In his National Interest column in the Indian Express, editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta writes:

“There was, however, one time when I saw him ruffled. And let me make a clean breast of it, even if it concerned The Indian Express. This was when the paper had carried a series of exposes embarrassing the Vajpayee government: the petrol pump scam, the scam on allotment of institutional lands to Sangh Parivar front organisations, and the Satyendra Dubey (the IIT engineer murdered while working for the NHAI by the mafia in Bihar) case.

“A top official in the State Bank of India, for decades this company’s bankers, told me — with a great deal of surprise and dismay — that he had got a call from “somebody” in the PMO to give the Express trouble. He said when he told the person the Express Group had “impeccably” clean accounts he was asked if he could somehow still give it grief. The banker was an old Express reader, loved the paper, and was aghast.

“I sought time with Vajpayee, and the tea had just been served when I said to him, “Suna hai, aajkal aap ne PMO se dadagiri shuru kar di hai.” I told him the story. And I must say Vajpayee looked genuinely shocked and swore he had not given any such instructions.

“Next day I was invited to Mishra’s office. “Arrey bhai, aisi baat thi toh… why didn’t you tell me first? Where was the need to go to boss? He has never pulled me up like this, and I am not used to it,” he said, now more rattled than annoyed. He promised that it was all “freelance” activity by a Sangh Parivar “busybody” who hung around in the PMO, “misusing” people’s phones, and that the “mischief” had been nipped.”

In his Sunday Sentiments column in the Hindustan Times, the TV anchor Karan Thapar writes of an interview he did with the Pakistani president Parvez Musharraf for Doordarshan six months after the Kargil war and three months after he had staged a coup, in the year 2000:

“When I got back from Islamabad I sent him a VHS of the interview. When I rang the next morning to ask what he thought of it he said he hadn’t seen it but his tone and manner suggested he had. What followed convinced me I was right.

“‘Have you told the press about this interview?’ he asked. The question surprised me because broadcast had not been cleared and I had no assurance it would be. Doordarshan, after all, is government controlled. ‘Yes, yes, I know that,’ Mr Mishra interrupted. ‘If I were you I’d let people know.’ Then, after a pause, he added sotto voce: ‘And tell them when it will be shown.’

“Now I was certain Mr Mishra was steering me. He was suggesting a strategy that would make it awkward, even difficult, to deny broadcast but without in anyway saying it would be cleared.

“Naturally, I followed his advice. PTI put out a small story that the interview would be broadcast the next day. The Indian Express front paged it. And then the drama began. A battle waged within the government over whether it should be shown. Various ministers — and the Army Chief — asked to see it. I assumed they all had a say in whether it would be cleared.

“At 7 in the evening I rang Mr Mishra. I could tell he was chuckling when he came on the line. ‘I know you’ve rung to ask if I’ve seen the interview. I haven’t but I’ll catch it tonight on TV.’”

* Disclosures apply

Photograph: courtesy Tribhuvan Tiwari/ Outlook

Rs 50 crore? Rs 100 crore? It’s all in the business

8 October 2012

The coal scam claims its first journalistic victim: Zee Business from Subhash Chandra‘s Zee Network.

The Indian Express reports a Rs 50 crore extortion claim from member of Parliament Naveen Jindal’s company for not doing a story. The Times of India pegs it at Rs 100 crore. Zee Business head Sudhir Chaudhary denies the charge in both newspapers.

Images: courtesy The Times of India (top) and The Indian Express

There’s nothing like a bad deal at TimesDeal

4 October 2012

Last Friday, business pages of The Times of India carried single-column item on the supposedly “accidental” travails of Times Deal,  when a promo code being tested internally was reportedly leaked. The report quoted Satyan Gajwani, the newly appointed CEO of Times internet limited and son-in-law of the group’s bossman, Samir Jain.

Today, TOI‘s business page has a two-column “follow-up“.

Images: courtesy The Times of India

When the Gang of Four meets in IIC, it’s news

3 October 2012

An item appearing in Raisina Tattle, the gossip column of Mail Today, the tabloid from the India Today group.

Also read: Who are the journos “running and ruining” the BJP?

For the BJP, pen is mightier than the trishul?

Don’t laugh: do journalists make good politicians?

The lone-ranger of loony Hindutva versus…?

Samir Jain, Vineet Jain & TOI in The New Yorker

1 October 2012

The October 8 issue of The New Yorker carries a nine-page article on The Times of India by its renowned media critic Ken Auletta in the clearest indication yet that the Times group is bracing for an IPO.

Titled “Citizens Jain”, after the brothers Samir Jain and Vineet Jain, the piece examines why India’s newspaper industry is thriving. (Orson WellesCitizen Kane was a salute to the megalomania of William Randolph Hearst)

A nine-word caption at the bottom of the first page of the article provides the answer: “Their success is a product of an unorthodox philosophy.”

***

Auletta who spent several days in Bombay and Delhi in July reporting the story*, writes that Vineet’s older brother Samir reached out to him two years ago in New York.

“He told me about the unusual ad-sales strategies he had implemented and of his newspapers’ vibrant growth. If I visited India, I asked, would he talk with me about his business?

“He said he would.

“He didn’t. Although Vineet and Times executives generously cooperated, Samir declined to meet.

”The reason he probably doesn’t give interviews is because he doesn’t want the fame,’ Vineet told me. ‘It doesn’t drive him. He doesn’t want to be covered in newspapers and talked about. He’d rather be humble’.”

***

The New Yorker piece is peppered with anecdotes on Samir Jain narrated by media professionals and Times staffers.

# Namita Gokhale recounts sitting next to Samir Jain at a dinner. Jain tells Gokhale, ‘I think history doesn’t exist and if I were Prime Minister I would ban the study of history.’ When Gokhale responds that she would give him two tight slaps and a kick and if he didn’t remember, she would agree there was no history, Samir slips away and ignores her the rest of the evening.

# Shekhar Gupta, the editor-in-chief of the Indian Express, says that whenever he meets Samir Jain, he usually hands him underlined copies of Hindu scriptures and “affectionately” admonishes him that his publication is too dark.

# The inspiration for Samir Jain’s innovative pricing strategies was the zoo in Calcutta, his hometown. As he walked by on a Monday, normally a slow day after a busy weekened, he was surprised to see a long line. To boost attendance, the zoo had lowered its admission price for the day, he learned, which gave him an idea: one day a week, on Wednesdays, he would halve the price of the paper.

# Times CEO Ravi Dhariwal says the first filter Samir Jain uses in any decision is, ‘Will this be spiritually OK? Will I be able to go to my guru? He discusses a lot with his guru. And if his guru doesn’t bless it, I think he just drops it.’

***

In contrast, the more outgoing Vineet is all first-person.

# “Both of us think out of the box,” Vineet Jain told me on a recent afternoon. “We don’t go by the traditional way of doing business. We’re not in the newspaper business, we are in the advertising business…. If I say I am in the news business, then you’ll not do shampoo. If I say I’m in the news business, then you won’t do entertainment supplements. If you are editorial minded, you will make all the wrong decisions.”

# Although the brothers insist they do not determine content, Vineed tells Auletta, ‘I am the content architect.’ Vineett takes credit for the idea of running small, boxed editorials, under the rubric Times View, alongside some front-page stories, as a way of proposing a solution, he said, and because ‘the editorial page is only read by five per cent of readers.”

# When President Barack Obama visited India, Vineet declined an invitation for a state dinner. “What’ll I do?” he said to me. “It’s just meeting somebody, shaking hands. What’s the point?” Besides, he added, “the closer I get to politicians, the more they’ll interfere.”

# “I think of one hundred small ideas, he (Samir) thinks of three big ideas,” Vineet said. Sometimes Samir imparts fatherly advice: ‘He would say, ‘Relax. Work less. Have a good balance. What are you chasing money for?” But Vineet said, “for me, it’s not work. I love creating something. It’s so much fun—I hardly take holidays. For me, this is a holiday.”

The New Yorker profile provides sufficient indication that the Times group is poised for its long-promised Initial Public Offering, probably on NASDAQ, and Vineet Jain goes on record.

“In the long run, we might go public and use the funds to acquire TV stations,” Vineet said. “We don’t need money to grow publishing, but we do to grow television and Internet.”

* Disclosures apply

Also read: When Samir Jain served a thali

Jug Suraiya on Samir Jain among others

What Raghav Bahl could learn from Samir Jain

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