Posts Tagged ‘Economic Times’

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

A pre-Google ‘Bomb Mama’ of nuclear prolificity

3 February 2011

The passing away of K. Subrahmanyam, the bureaucrat turned strategic affairs expert and journalist, at the age of 82 after a valiant battle with cancer, has provoked a flurry of warm tributes in newspapers.

The former Economic Times editor Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, who brought “Subbu” into ET, recalls Subrahmanyam’s prolificity:

“Many journalists have trouble coming out with even two column ideas in a week, but Subrahmanyam wanted to write almost every day, so wide was his repertoire and so deep his enthusiasm.

“I once asked how he came up with so many ideas. He replied, ‘It’s easy. I just have to watch CNN or BBC and I get so angry that I have several things to say!'”

In The Times of India, which “Mr Subs” joined as a consulting editor after his retirement from the IAS in 1987, Jug Suraiya writes of the seniormost member of the edit page who earned the nickname “Bomb Mama”—an affectionate portmanteau encapsulating the Tamil Brahmin‘s hawkish advocacy of a nuclear India.

“Nuclear weapons are anti-life, and I believe in the sanctity of human life, I told Mr Subs once.

“‘Why do you restrict yourself to human life? Why not the sanctity of all life?” replied Mr Subs, who is a strict vegetarian, while I’m a peacenik carnivore with a queasy conscience.

“”Touche,” I said, ceding the intellectual and moral high ground to him.

Subrahmanyam, however, wrote in 2008 of the irony of The Times of India not taking up his offer to write the editorial the day India went nuclear in 1998:

“My colleagues, including the editor in charge of the editorial page, declined my offer. They told me that they were anti-nuclear and, therefore, the editorial would disapprove of the test. They knew I was in favour of India acquiring nuclear weapons and, therefore, I could not write the edit.

“I was amused at the irony of the situation. The same paper had provided me a powerful platform in the eighties to campaign for the nuclear option and in the nineties against India acceding to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Now when India conducted the tests and finally brought about the fulfilment of my three-decade-old campaign, I could not write the edit about the subject.

“Fortunately, at that stage I had a call from H. K. Dua, who was functioning as the editor of the paper. He not only asked me to write an article but also offered to feature it on the front page of the paper.”

In the Indian Express, the veteran political commentator and the former editor of The Times of India in Delhi, Inder Malhotra, writes of Subrahmanyam’s encyclopaedic knowledge:

“He was blessed with a phenomenal memory and an equally prodigious capacity for work. Whenever in doubt about any fact, I rang him up and, as a kind and gracious friend, he gave me the information I needed in a jiffy.”

The ToI tribute in the print edition quotes colleagues who worked with him as saying that, before Google, the one-stop information kiosk was Subbu:

“We joked about sending him to Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) and sharing his spoils. He would say, ‘But I will get stuck on film questions.’ You can always use phone-a-friend to call us, he was told.”

In The Hindu, Siddharth Varadarajan writes on the essence of Subrahmanyam, fast vanishing in modern-day journalism:

“For one who worked in government for many years, Subrahmanyam prized his independence which he saw as the key to his integrity. I have had three careers, he once said when asked why he had turned down the offer of a Padma Vibhushan — as a civil servant, a strategic analyst and a journalist.

“’The awards should be given by the concerned groups, not the Government. If there is an award for sports, it should be given by sportspersons, and if it’s for an artists, by artists.’ The state, he believed, was not qualified to judge different aspects of human endeavour.”

For one who was at the centre of many of India’s biggest events, “Bomb Mama” found himself become a bargaining chip for hijackers in 1984, an incident the Hindustan Times recalls:

“His reputation was such that in the 1984 hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight to Lahore, the hijackers tried to argue during their trial that Subrahmanyam’s presence on the aircraft proved New Delhi had engineered the whole thing so he could “examine Pakistan’s nuclear installations.”

External reading: B.G. Verghese on K. Subrahmanyam

Everybody loves a good car, not a good filter

10 December 2009

The announcement of the launch of Tata Nano, the small car produced by the Tatas, saw the media falling over itself heralding the arrival of the “People’s Car”.

The fact that the car was priced at Rs 100,000 was enough to result in long front-page stories; glowing feature articles on Indian engineering and enterprise; breathless test drives; and fawning editorials and interviews with the man behind the car, Ratan Tata.

So, how does the same media treat the launch of Tata Swach, the water filter/ purifier that is priced at Rs 749 and Rs 999, and in a country like India is likely to reach more people and change more lives, and launched by the same man.

In alphabetical order:

AFP (news agency): 540 words

Associated Press:  772 words

BBC: 245 words

Business Standard: 381 words

DNA: 308 words

Press Trust of India: 477 words

Economic Times: 400 words

Indian Express: 415 words

Hindu Businessline: 461 words

Hindustan Times: 162 words on the filter, 333 words of an interview

The Times of India: 202 words

Copenhagen, anybody?

Carbon intensity?

Photograph: courtesy Paul Noronha/ The Hindu Businessline

Also read: And Ratan Tata sang, PR kiya tho darna kya?

If we can get a car for Rs 1 lakh, why can’t we…?

There’s nothing lost if the Nano isn’t produced

‘What Henry Ford did then, Ratan Tata has now’

Can India survive the Nano?

Tata, turtles and corporate social responsibility

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Tatas scrap the Nano?

Sucheta Dalal in public row on private treaties

29 June 2008

The true depth of an employer-employee relationship is never quite revealed during the course of the latter’s employment, generally speaking. It is only after the two have parted ways, when the two parties take their gloves off and shadow-box each other, does it become clear whether it was good cohabitation or a charade.

India’s bestknown business investigative journalist, Sucheta Dalal, left India’s largest English daily, The Times of India, several years ago, after a nine-year stint during which she also played a stellar role in unravelling the securities scam involving the now deceased Harshad Mehta.

Since her departure from the paper, Dalal has moved to other things, writing columns and books, setting up a magazine. In recent times, she has played an important role in exposing the “private treaties” of her former employer that has eaten into the vitals of media ethics in boom-time.

Now, ToI has hit back, below the belt.

In an interview with Nikhil Pahwa‘s newly launched medianama, S. Sivakumar, the CEO-designate of ToI’s private treaties division, is asked about a November 2007 letter from Economic Times editor Rahul Joshi that Dalal quoted in an article, that firmly established how the private treaties were casting a dark shadow over the group’s editorial sanctity.

Sivakumar’s response:

“Because you have an agenda. You know Sucheta was working with us… I don’t know whether you know it or not, but she was working with us and I didn’t want to talk abot the Harshad Mehta scam, since you are recording, I didn’t want to go on aboUt that. There’s a lot of background, and under what circumstances she left the organisation.” (emphasis added)

The defamatory insinuation has justly got Dalal (who was given the Femina Woman of Substance award for the expose) fuming.

In response, she writes back:

“I have a letter from the company to say “we treasure” your association with us when I left the Times of India. Do they hand out such letters to all and sundry? It may also interest people to know that Ashok Jain, the late Chairman of the Times Group, had asked me to draft a Code of Ethics for journalists—maybe that too was part of their poor judgement.”

Warned of “recourse”, Sivakumar has sent a clarification:

“As a policy we never comment on any of our employees either currently  working with us or had worked with us in the past…. We as an organisation respect all journalists.”

Sivakumar’s offensive comments have been struck through, and comments disallowed for the piece.

Read the full exchange: ‘There are two currencies for advertising: cash and treaties’

Also read: Forget the news, you can’t trust the ads either

‘The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility’

‘Indian media in deeply murky ethical territory’

All the business news that’s fit to be printed

24 May 2008

Existing business papers are launching Hindi editions (Economic Times, Business Standard). Existing English dailies are launching business papers (Finance Chronicle from Deccan Chronicle). Hindi dailies are launching English papers (DNA from Dainik Bhaskar). New papers are selling their business sections as separate papers (DNA Money). Hindi dailies are planning Hindi business dailies (Dainik Jagran with Network 18). Foreign groups are planning Indian editions (Financial Times from Pearson, Forbes, Fortune).

It’s all happening in India. Reasons: the economic boom, growing literacy, a burgeoning market.

“The overall globalization, the growing interest in India, and the sheer size of the India market is driving the foreign media interest in India. This is no different from players from any other industry. What all the global publications are probably looking for is to get an increasing mind share of the large Indian middle class, which is becoming [more and more] global,” Ravi Bapna, a professor and executive director of the Centre for Information Technology and the Networked Economy at the Hyderabad-based Indian School of Business, tells Knowledge@Wharton.

Read the full story: Where Print still makes sense

‘The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility’

28 January 2008

The Times of India group’s decision to make strategic investments in mid-level companies, in return for guaranteed advertising and editorial exposure in the group’s publications and media vehicles, through the quaintly named “Private Treaties“, has had several other media houses following suit.

Hindustan Times is said to be well on its way to establishing a similar division. Television majors like NDTV and CNBC are following suit. And as if to show that language publications are not lagging behind, influential Hindi groups like Dainik Bhaskar and Dainik Jagran are also off the blocks.

SALIL TRIPATHI, the London-based journalist, formerly with India Today and The Indian Post, and whose work has appeared in Wall Street Journal, Far Eastern Economic Review, and International Herald Tribune, among other publications, writes of the damage these wheels-within-wheels deals cause.

***

By SALIL TRIPATHI in London

Most serious and professional newspapers recognize the need to separate editorial and advertising. The Wall Street Journal goes further, separating fact and opinion. So do other major US newspapers, but WSJ‘s distinctness stems from separate management structures for both.

At the convention of the South Asian Journalists’ Association (SAJA), New York Times editor Bill Keller said that the management structure of the edit page and news pages at the NYT, too, were separate. Which is how it should be, but all newspapers don’t have the luxury of such a roster of writers and management structures.

When editorial and advertising blend, the first casualty is credibility. A reader simply cannot know if a particular company, product, or an idea being promoted is because there’s a mass base of support for it, or because some experts like it, or is it because of financial considerations.

The Times of India‘s new business concept, Private Treaties, is audacious, innovative, and breathtaking. And incredibly underwhelming. It trades advertising for equity in companies.

As described in its poorly-designed, shoddily-edited, and jargon-filled website, it creates intangible value for companies in which the TOI group has a stake, by highlighting its intangible qualities, through the medium of TOI‘s publications.

If all that it means is a promotion restricted to discounted rates for advertising in the TOI, that would be simple enough, and acceptable to most purists in journalism. But with the Times you are never sure. In the past, it has encouraged its reporters to go on junkets to tourist resorts, and not always revealed the nature of the hospitality received.

When the Times group has launched its own businesses such as music, entertainment and so on, using prominent Indian performers, the newspaper’s page 1 has to give way to stories about that event, as though it is the most talked about event in town, if not the only event in town.

I recall in the mid-1990s, there were days of reporting on a modern ballet called Yes!, being staged under the choreography of my classmate from college in Bombay, the gifted dancer Shiamak Davar. The editor-in-chief would call senior Times editors to get hold of writers who’d say nice things about Yes!

A tax raid on TOI‘s owners in the 1980s got barely a mention in the newspaper.

When things got tough, the Jain family’s tax battles with the Indian government were cast as a human rights issue. A writer on the TOI edit page went on a junket with a European pharmaceutical company, and wrote an edit page piece extolling the medicine. Nothing wrong with a story about health on the TOI‘s edit page, but something was rotten in the state of Bori Bunder, if such a story appeared out of the blue, and no rival brand got similar coverage, or even comparison in that piece.

Then, the Times went the whole hog, with features like Impact and Spotlight, when news articles appeared on news pages, which were essentially advertisements.

When a plucky blog, Mediaah! ridiculed some of the practices at the Old Lady of Bori Bunder, the Times‘s legal eagles threatened to sue the website. Pradyuman Maheshwari, the spirited journalist who kept it going, decided to close shop. It is, therefore, refreshing to see Times‘s Gautam Adhikari writing that his paper believes in publish-and-be-damned liberalism.

It is against this background that the Private Treaties are highly suspect.

However much the Times might claim that it keeps editorial and advertising separate – when we know that’s not really the case—there will be an impact. A reporter chasing a story against a company in which the Times group has an equity stake will feel obliged to go softly. A reporter chasing a scandal involving a film star whose music is marketed by the Times group, will view the release of the CD differently.

It is so obvious, that it does not even need stating.

A property scandal, or a scam, involving a company that advertises in the newspaper may be problematic for some editors; how much more complicated it can get when the Times group has an equity stake in that company? And wouldn’t the negative story drive down the value of the investment?

There are sound reasons why across the world, editors try to keep editorial and advertising separate, to enhance the credibility of the editorial matter. When I worked with a US-owned magazine (Far Eastern Economic Review) and wrote an extensive piece on conflict of interest within some leading US investment banks, even though those banks were prominent advertisers in my magazine, at no stage did any editor tell me to go easy on that story.

At the Dow Jones group, reporters cannot own stocks in companies they write about. Other major US papers have similar codes.

In my reporting days in Bombay in the 1980s, I’ve seen, with great dismay, financial reporters of several leading Indian dailies rushing out of a press conference where a company has declared its results, to make phone calls to their brokers to buy or sell shares (there were no cell phones then).

Mint, the new business daily launched by the Hindustan Times group, has transparently placed its code of conduct on the web. It also recently declared to its readers how it would publish advertorials, and how they would be distinct from edit pages, and how edit staff would not be involved in preparing them. (The International Herald Tribune and other American publications do likewise).

Unless the Times institutes similar safeguards, it would seem that Private Treaties marks another step in the journey the Times—“the leader [that] guards the reader”—has taken, transforming the nature of journalism.

In the late 1980s, the Times group had begun distributing promotional products in a plastic bag, together with the magazine, Illustrated Weekly of India, which the Times used to publish. We used to throw those products away, preferring to read the magazine. Now the magazine is gone; the toothpaste remains.

Hopefully, the Times, in its drive to enhance the value of companies it invests in through this innovative mechanism, will also attach some value to its readers.

Disclosure: I write frequently for Mint, and the Wall Street Journal‘s international editions; often for the International Herald Tribune, and on rare occasions for the Times of India. But this is not a case of sour grapes.

Photograph: courtesy saliltripathi.com

Also read: SUCHETA DALAL: Forget the news, you can’t trust the ads either

Forget the news, you can’t believe the ads either

9 January 2008

The selling of the news columns in Indian newspapers, a pernicious practice that deliberately blurs the distinction between independently generated news and paid advertisements, has assumed pandemic proportions with language publications unabashedly apeing the market-leader The Times of India, which pioneered the move.

But, it now turns out that even paid advertisements are no longer what they seem in the Times group. Very often, they are tied to the group’s investments in select companies. The news and advertising exposure these companies get in its publications, boosts their stock prices, that swells the bottomline of the investing company.

It’s a win-win but guess who loses?

SUCHETA DALAL, India’s numero uno business investigative journalist who cracked open the Harshad Mehta case, and who now runs the personal finance magazine MoneyLIFE, throws light on a new strategy of the group that “tears down every shred of the wall between editorial, advertising and public relations”, and takes readers and investors for a royal ride.

***

By SUCHETA DALAL

If you are an investor who depends on India’s largest-selling economic newspaper for unbiased news, then you must know and understand the concept of “private treaties” (PT). Since The Times of India (TOI) far outsells every other English newspaper and The Economic Times is by far the market leader in the economic news category, the concept is of universal interest.

Although PTs sound like agreements between two sovereign nations, they are, in fact, pacts between the Times of India group and approximately 100-odd companies, under which TOI buys shares of small and fast-growing companies. The list is expanding rapidly.

In an article for India-Seminar on “The changing Indian media scene“, T.N. Ninan, editor of Business Standard, described PTs as “basically the transfer of shares in return for advertising.” He said, Bennett Coleman & Co, which owns the Times of India group of publications, “invests in usually mid-rung companies that are keen to jump into the big league but are perhaps without the big bucks to spend on marketing. The share purchase money is immediately taken back against the promise of guaranteed advertising in Bennett publications—to build the investee company’s brand(s). Part of the deal is even said to be editorial coverage, though this remains unconfirmed.”

Ninan goes on to say, “If true, by definition, this will have to be positive coverage” because “the brands have to be built up, so that the shares bought by Bennett gain in value and can be sold.”

Well, reports of guaranteed editorial coverage are no longer “unconfirmed”, as Ninan put it.

MoneyLIFE has in its possession a document to prove that journalists are being designated as “champions” for PT clients to tailor editorial coverage to enhance the value of these companies and TOI‘s investment.

An e-mail by The Economic Times editor Rahul Joshi (dated 29 November 2007) says:

“At ET, we are carving out a separate team to look into the needs of Private Treaty clients. Every large centre will have a senior editorial person to interface with Treaty clients. In turn, the senior edit person will be responsible, along with the existing team, for edit delivery. This team will have regional champions along with one or two reporters for help—but more importantly, they will liaise with REs (Resident Editors) and help in integrating the content into the different sections of the paper. In this way, we will be able to incorporate PT into the editorial mainstream, rather than it looking like a series of press releases appearing in vanilla form in the paper.”

Joshi then goes on to name the PT “champions” for each region, who will “advise” the regional editorial chief to carry ‘stories’ about PT clients. He also designates “trouble shooters” in each region, probably to ensure that no PT client is offended with negative coverage.

While this kind of support for advertisers in the editorial pages is extraordinary anywhere in the world, it is important to remember that there is nothing clandestine about what TOI is doing. The PT arrangement, along with all the “benefits” that would accrue to those who sign up, along with testimonials from successful PT customers such as Nirmal Jain of India Infoline and others is on two group websites. These are www.privatetreaties.com and timesprivatetreaties.com.

In the past two years, TOI has invested over $500 million (approximately Rs 2,000 crore) in 114-odd companies in diverse businesses. It is a private equity firm.

TOI claims that when these companies are mentioned editorially, its investment in them is mentioned. Indeed, one occasionally notes such a mention, but how many investors understand what PT stands for or the relationship that is implied? Moreover, while such a disclaimer may work when a press release is published, will it be followed when journalist “champions” work hard to “integrate the content” to ensure that it does not look like “vanilla” press releases?

Typically, the Times group buys a 5%-10% stake in mid-sized companies that are planning to go public or looking for private equity. The investment can vary from Rs 10 crore to Rs 100 crore. The company agrees to invest an equal amount in advertising in Times publications over a three-to-five-year period at a steep discount to the normal advertising rates.

Most companies that sign PTs are those planning public issues, selling expensive realty projects or looking for private equity. All of them are looking for publicity and an assurance of positive editorial coverage. For the Times, it is usually a double bonanza: significant capital appreciation and tax-free income (since there is no long-term capital gains tax)—on the other hand, advertising revenue is fully taxed.

Investors must know the exact list of Times PT clients (which is available on their website for easy reference) because you are least likely to hear any bad news about these companies. They include:

# Deccan Aviation
# Sobha Builders
# India Infoline
# Emaar MGF
# Celebrity Fashion Ltd
# The Home Store
# Amity Education
# Media Video Ltd
# Vishal Retail Pvt Ltd
# Zicom
# Ezeegol.com
# Avesthagen
# Bartronics Ltd
# Paramount Airways
# Almondz
# Archies
# Future Group
# Thyrocare
# Raja Rani Travels
# Sahara One
# Percept Pictures, etc.

It offers “advertising support, branding support and corporate image development.”

PT’s vision is stated as follows:

# We dare to go where no one has dreamt of venturing before.
# We seek advertising clients that no one wants.
# We look for value that no one sees.
# We co-create wealth that no one imagines.

All this is fine from the business perspective of the Times. Where does the group’s “win-win relationship” with PT customers leave the readers/investors? They clearly do not figure in the equation at all. The group indeed tests the limits in what passes off as news, but in the cut-throat fight for the advertising buck, what exactly is an “advertising client that no one wants”? Surely, not India Infoline?

The PT website lists every press release issued on behalf of PT clients. The headlines alone reveal the slant. For instance:

# ‘Skyscrapers all set to change Noida skyline’ (TOI)
# ‘Milk & Honey Towns’ (ET)
# ‘Companies rake in big moolah serving NRIs’
# ‘Sai Info to come up with 18 e-malls by March’
# ‘Airline mergers is bad news for consumers’ (for Paramount Airlines)
# ‘What you get is exactly what you have paid for’ (for Gitanjali)
# ‘Parajia has ability to swing big deals’ (for India Infoline)
# ‘Gitanjali Lifestyle to ride high on luxury’
# ‘Reason to Smile’ (for GTL, earlier Global Telesystems)
# ‘Pantaloons rolls out the red carpet to woo the last minute Durga Puja shopper in Kolkata’
# ‘Bajaj bros resume legal battle over empire’ (this one for Bajaj Hindusthan is particularly interesting) and finally check this one for Osian—‘India’s brush with soccer is all set for a change. History is being re-written on a new canvas and the view looks optimistic’.

This unique “win-win” situation indeed works wonderfully well in a monster bull run. While companies and the publishing group are the real winners, the investors are losing nothing at the moment. But remember this is a two-year-old concept and the implications of tearing down every shred of the wall between editorial, advertising and PR will be evident only when things look less sunny for the markets and the economy.

Photograph: courtesy suchetadalal.com

***

Crossposted on churumuri.com

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