Posts Tagged ‘The Washington Post’

WaPo, Amazon, HT, and the Reliance-TV18 deal

6 August 2013

There was plenty of buzz about the Washington Post building being sold to shore up the books. But when the paper’s staff was convened for a meeting on the afternoon of August 5, they were in for a shock: the family-owned newspaper itself was being sold.

The sale, to Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, has made global headlines, not least because of the paper’s iconic place in modern journalism, thanks to its Watergate investigation.

Not least because a digital titan was the “white knight” riding in to save a dead-tree medium.

The low value of the sale has also set alarm bells ringing of the mortality of the print medium, as indeed has the ease with which the Katherine Graham family has parted with a one-town, one-industry paper they had so affectionately, so assiduously nurtured into a global brand.

Here, Anant Goenka, the scion of the family-owned Indian Express group, analyses the sale and its aftermath in the Indian context.

***

anantgoenka

by ANANT GOENKA

“Comparing WaPo’s price to Tumblr & Instagram is stupid. Guess what? Great journalism is a worse business than social networking! Who cares?” A tweet from the Atlantic’s Andrew Golis.

Here’s why he’s wrong.

The Washington Post brand—a role model for journalism around the democratic world, and an aspiration in countries that don’t enjoy free press like Singapore and China—once considered priceless, now has a value.

Even the Hindustan Times, a thinly traded stock, has a value of Rs. 2,250 crore today that is based only on their profit and loss, and doesn’t factor in real estate or the brand.

WashPo’s value at Rs. 61 to the US dollar is Rs 1,550 crore.

This is relevant as it marks a shift in the way news media companies are valued.

Newscorp, Disney and New York Times didn’t value Wall Street Journal, ABC (and ESPN) or the International Herald Tribune like PE funds at 25 times profit after tax.

They believed they were bidding for the brand.

Twenty years ago, when the New York Times bought over Boston Globe, they valued it based on current revenues, expected future revenues from joint ad selling, cost efficiencies from scale, and, importantly, value of the Globe’s brand: possibly calculated by assigning a certain dollar value to each paid subscriber.

World over, news companies weren’t just valued by their business success, but for intangibles such as ability to influence public perception, discussion and political agenda, and the brand recall as well. And for good reason.

It’s no small feat for a brand to be recognized by every household in America.

McDonalds, Ford, Elvis Presley during his time, these are brands every American has heard of. Washington Post, New York Times, ABC, CBS, and other media companies, with a fraction of the turnover of McDonalds or Ford, are names known to every American.

How do you assign a value to that?

Similarly, Red Sox owner’s purchase of the Boston Globe at a value of 70 million dollars three days ago puts a pretty low value to a brand that is known to every citizen in Massachusetts.

Aside from the fact that the sale shows that proprietors are willing to exit without assigning any major value to the brand, it also shows that proprietors have given up, maybe without trying enough, finding ways to monetize a brand either by innovative brand extensions or franchise operations beyond the core product.

You can’t blame them. Experiments world over have shown that audiences are sticky to the first medium and don’t transfer across.

The most commercially successful radio channels, TV stations and magazines were started by a team of people dedicated to their platform and didn’t have much to do with the core business.

Take Time Out for instance, present in every major city, owned by very autonomous franchises. There isn’t any city where the destination city happenings/blog site is TimeOut.com.

Not Bangalore, London, Mumbai, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Prague or St. Petersburg.

It’s too soon to tell if the sale of Washington Post is good for journalism or not.

It’ll depend on the maturity and seriousness with which the new owner decides to run the paper with.

The trend of billionaires owning newspapers will only benefit journalism if they are as ruthless with the bottom lines of their news companies as they would be of any other company they have a stake in.

Because for any industry to flourish, bad business models and poorly run companies in the industry must perish quickly.

Companies that do journalism the world over will benefit only when Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos and other billionaire owners use their wealth of knowledge, experience in their areas of specialization and deep pockets to experiment with the goal of creating a business model that sustains itself.

This is why I believe Network 18’s sale to Reliance was a disservice to the news industry in India – it allowed a business that was far too expensively run to survive longer.

And the sale, now in its second year, will only help the industry when, with Reliance’s business acumen, the Network 18 group can find a way to be profitable (inclusive of interest cost).

Sure, it’s legitimate strategy to bleed the competition if you can sustain your loss, but to have a sugar daddy reinforcing poor business will soon lead India to an environment with only vested interest business media owners.

Incidentally, the Indian Express and its owners have no other business interests. The Hindu and Ananda Bazaar Patrika are other such companies.

In the fields of education, healthcare and news media, being purely “for-profit” has always seemed to be a little bit of a conflict of interest. But it is at times like these that we remind ourselves that a self-sustaining business model is the most important trait of a company that wants to be consistent in its impact on society

Also read: RIL has no direct stake in media companies

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

Manmohan, Washington Post & The Caravan

6 September 2012

20120906-012855.jpg

The Washington Post article on prime minister Manmohan Singh, by its India bureau chief Simon Denyer, has stirred up yet another media tsunami, after Time magazine’s “Underachiever” cover.

The government’s media handlers have gone into a tailspin, demanding an “apology” from the Post, even labelling it “yellow journalism”, while the government’s detractors are celebrating another ‘new low’ for a government that plumbs new depths on an hourly basis.

The 9pm TV shows went ballistic on Wednesday and Simon Denyer appeared on several of them, forcefully arguing his case.

But there is a developing sideshow as well. Many readers have suggested some similarities in the Post report with a long profile of Manmohan in the monthly magazine The Caravan in October 2011 written by the magazine’s editor, Vinod K. Jose.

Now, one of the people “quoted” in the story, former media advisor to the PM, Sanjaya Baru, has “protested” on his Facebook account (below) that the WaPo reporter had lifted his statement from Caravan.

“Simon Denyer quotes me in WashPo without talking to me. He has merely rehashed what I told Caravan last year,” wrote Baru.

20120906-014038.jpg

The prime minister’s media advisor Pankaj Pachauri too has broached the issue of rehashing Baru’s quotes in a letter to the Post.

Simon Denyer offers this response on Twitter (top):

“I spoke to Dr Baru personally on the telephone during the reporting for the story. He confirmed that these sentiments were accurate.”

One other worthy quoted in the WaPo article apparently allowed the reporter to use his Caravan quotes, but there is no suggestion in the Post article that the quotes had appeared elsewhere.

So, are the Indian intellectuals protesting too much, post-facto?

Or, is there more to the WaPo piece than meets the eye?

***

EXHIBIT A

The Caravan: The prominent historian Ramachandra Guha, who has described the current administration as “inept and incompetent beyond words”, told me that he now regards Singh “increasingly as a tragic figure”.

“He’s intelligent, upright, and possesses all this vast experience of working in the government for over four decades,” Guha said. “But the timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty will make him a tragic figure in our history.”

Washington Post: “More and more, he has become a tragic figure in our history,” said political historian Ramachandra Guha, describing a man fatally handicapped by his “timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty.”

***
EXHIBIT B

The Caravan: “He is facing the worst situation in his life,” said Sanjaya Baru, a business journalist who served as Singh’s media adviser from 2004 to 2008. “In politics, it’s alright to be loved or hated, but you should never be ridiculed. And his problem today is that he has become an object of ridicule.”

Washington Post: “In the process, he transformed himself from an object of respect to one of ridicule and endured the worst period in his life, said Sanjaya Baru, Singh’s media adviser during his first term.”

***

EXHIBIT C

The Caravan: “In a 2006 interview with the American talk-show host Charlie Rose, Manmohan Singh described himself, with ostentatious modesty, as a small person put in this big chair.”

Washington Post: “I’m a small person put in this big chair,” Singh told broadcaster Charlie Rose in 2006. “I have to do my duty, whatever task is allotted of me.”

So, lazy journalism, oversight, or is OK?

***

Update: The Washington Post has posted this correction after the sans serif piece:

Correction: An earlier version of this article failed to credit the Caravan, an Indian magazine, for two statements that it originally published in 2011. The assertion by Sanjaya Baru, a former media adviser, that Singh had become an object of ridicule and endured the worst period in his life first appeared in the Caravan, as did an assertion by Ramachandra Guha, a political historian, that Singh was handicapped by his “timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty.” While both men told The Post that the assertions could accurately be attributed to them, the article should have credited the Caravan when it used or paraphrased the remarks. The article has been updated.

Also read: Is slamming govt “yellow journalism”?

External reading: Why is India so touchy?

Hu, Wen and why China scorns Indian media

22 January 2011

When the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao visited India in December 2010, he was critical of the Indian media, saying it repeatedly sensationalised the border situation, causing damage to bilateral ties. He even lectured a group of editors to play a more active role in enhancing friendship between the two countries.

However, when the Chinese president Hu Jintao faced aggressive questioning at a joint press conference with his US counterpart Barack Obama in Washington D.C. last week, he couldn’t muster the courage to castigate the American media. He was defensive, evasive , even conciliatory.

Why did Wen not bother with the diplomatic niceties that his president employed?

The veteran columnist Sunanda K. Datta-Ray in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“One reason is that no Indian publication is any longer taken seriously as an interlocutor like the Post and Journal in the US…..

“National papers of record have become vehicles of private interest. Some are trivial, some project a borrowed ideology, others are obsessed with what are called ‘Page Three people’….

“Wen is dismissive about media freedom and contemptuous about its “sensationalizing” because he knows his diplomats can buy favourable coverage by extending hospitality to leading commentators and doling out what passes for exclusive titbits of information.”

Read the full article: A study in contrasts

Also read: Censorship in the name of ‘national interest’

If a report isn’t ‘wrong’, surely it must be ‘right’?

Chinese hackers break into The Times of India

Never believe anything until it’s officially denied

One paper’s 40% threat is another’s 60% dud

‘Complacent US media can learn from India’

27 December 2010

S. Mitra Kalita, the US-born Indian-American who did a two-year stint at the business daily Mint before returning to the Wall Street Journal, has just done a book on her Indian experience, titled My Two Indias.

In an interview with Aseem Chhabra of India Abroad, the “daughter of Assam”, shares her thoughts on Indian journalism:

What was your experience with journalists in India?

“The challenge in India is that it is so competitive, cutting corners becomes a way of doing things….”

As compared to the journalists you met at The Washington Post and the WSJ, how would you rate Indian reporters?

“Indian journalists have a whole lot of heart and hustle. Every morning I wold get those nine newspapers at my doorstep and they were a reminder of what those reporters were up against.

“The complacency that has set in American journalism was pretty absent in Indian journalism.

“In the US, I could be working on a feature story for three or four days. In India if you have a great idea, you have to do it right away, because everybody else may also have the same idea.

“When I went back to the Journal, it was redefining itself as a more general newsy paper. So I could apply the lessons I learnt in India. It is interesting because once upon a time your Indian journalism experience counted for nothing….

“I still think that a lot of the downall of the newspapers in US—yes, some of it was caused by the internet, but some of it, in other industries too, was driven by complacency. In India, you just can’t be complacent. From the time you wake up and turn on the faucet—and there’s no guarantee that you will get water—there is no room for complacency in India.”

‘Talking’ ads in The Hindu and The Times of India

21 September 2010

Two leading Indian newspapers—The Hindu and The Times of India—have notched up a global first of sorts by carrying a “talking advertisement” two days in a row.

The pathbreaking ad, which first featured in the Madras edition of yesterday’s Hindu, now finds space in today’s ToI in its Bangalore, Bombay, Poona and Delhi markets.

***

Today’s 36-page edition of ToI (Delhi market) is split into two sections: a 26-page news section, and a 10-page wraparound.

The opening page of the wraparound carries this announcement:

The Times of India and Volkswagen have created four pages of content as part of a special media innovation. Don’t miss reading and listening to this ‘speaking newspaper’.”

On the last page of the wraparound is a full-page Volkswagen ad for its new model Vento.

As the page is opened a light-sensitive speaker—yes, a light-sensitive speaker— weighing no more than a mere 10-15 grams and stuck on the extreme left panel in the advertisement (above), belts out the line in a loop:

“Best in class German engineering is here. The new Volkswagen Vento. Built with great care and highly innovative features. Perhaps that’s why it breaks the hearts of our engineers to watch it drive away.

“The new Volkswagen Vento.  Crafted with so much passion, it’s hard to let it go.

“Volkswagen. Das Auto.”

The same Volkswagen ad runs in other papers without the audio.

This is the second Volkswagen innovation in ToI after the German auto major “road-blocked” all advertisers in November 2009 by running 12 pages of  Volkswagen ads on its pages.

Talking advertisements have been done before. Even moving advertisements.  (Esquire magazine created a moving cover to mark its 75th anniversary in September 2008.)

However, this must be the first time daily newspapers of the size and reach of ToI and Hindu have done it at a time when American newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post are just about coming to terms with the reality of advertisements on the front page.

(This story which initially mentioned only ToI has been updated following tipoffs from alert readers, reflected in the first two comments)

Also read: Anything ToI does, the competition can do worse

When editor makes way for editor, gracefully

12 January 2010

The change of editorship at Indian publications is (usually) a graceless cloak-and-dagger affair, done in the dead of night after the janitors have left the building. Media consumers are rarely ever told why the helmsman has left or why a new one has come in, especially when there is a cloud shrouding the midnight operation.

At the crack of the new year, however, the business daily Business Standard had a more civilised change of captaincy. Here, the veteran editor and wordsmith T.J.S. George, founder-editor of Asiaweek magazine and a longtime editorial advisor of The Indian Express group, offers his salute.

***

By T.J.S. GEORGE

Appointments inside a newspaper are usually of no concern to the general public. But what happened in Business Standard last week should interest every citizen.

For it was a re-assertion of values we all hold dear and yet are vanishing almost unnoticed by us.

Outwardly it was a simple matter of re-styling. The editor of the paper was made chairman of the company and a new editor appointed in his place. But the significance of the move is wide-ranging for a variety of reasons—its rarity, the quality of the players involved, the importance of the values they represent, and the universality of stake-holders in this field.

Editor turning chairman is a rare phenomenon anywhere in the world. In India it has never happened before outside family-run newspapers.

In Britain it happened when Denis Hamilton, editor-in-chief of The Times was made chairman as well. In the US, Peter Kann who was covering Asia for the Wall Street Journal from Hong Kong was recalled and made publisher  in 1988 and, four years later, chairman of the Dow Jones Company.

What is noteworthy here is that only papers that had achieved high public confidence through their editorial excellence entrusted the company itself to the editors who had helped attain that excellence.

In the news business there is no greater asset than credibility.

In many other cases also credibility was gained when the owner/chairman allowed the editor to rule unfettered. The Washington Post and The Guardian are examples. In the latter case, owner John Taylor willed that the paper be sold to editor C.P.Scott.

That’s where the quality of players, both owner and editor, comes in.

Hamilton, the most innovative editor in England at the time, became chairman when the owner was Roy Thomson, a man of inherent  virtue who respected the high traditions of The Times. When the company was sold to Rupert Murdoch, a man of inherent faith in his own virtues, Hamilton left and became chairman of Reuters.

T.N. Ninan became editor of Economic Times (1988) when it was a staid, uninteresting paper. He completely re-invented it, gave it variety, liveliness and freshness. This approach of comprehensiveness was to become the template for other financial dailies.

In that sense, Ninan can be called the Father of Business Journalism in India.

He is effective because of his non-projection of himself, his habit of delegating powers and his knack of picking top-notch team mates. His choice for the chair he vacated at BS was Sanjaya Baru, perhaps the most accomplished scholar-academic-administrator-analyst in the newspaper business.

Unfortunately for Ninan, there was no Roy Thomson in Economic Times. Worse, the ghost of Rupert Murdoch lurked in every corridor. Ninan moved to Business Standard where owner Aveek Sarkar was conducting the Ananda Bazaar Patrika group rather like the Sulzburger family was conducting the New York Times company. He revamped BS on Ninan’s advice, but eventually sold the title.

Uday Kotak, the new majority shareholder, is said to have decided on investing only after getting an assurance from Ninan that he would mind the company as well. The chairmanship now conferred on Ninan is thus the culmination of  a philosophy already in place.

It is important that this philosophy  succeeds. Journalism has already sunk to unacceptable levels in our country.

How unethical this socially responsible profession has become  was demonstrated last year when the greatest newspaper scandal in the democratic world hit India. Several leading newspapers took money from politicians to publish reports praising them at election time. This was disguised as news—a clear case of cheating readers.

Is that the journalism India wants?

BS has progressed from  8000 copies to 185,000. But it is said to be facing problems typical of these uncertain times. In publications where values are upheld even when times are hard, every citizen is a stake-holder.

If honourable publications suffer, we all suffer.

If they succeed, we all succeed.

Photographs: courtesy Business Standard

Also read: It’s all official about the return of Sanjaya Baru

Sauce for a paper ain’t sauce for a TV station?

Conflict of interest and an interest in conflict

The ‘troubling nexus’ doesn’t trouble too many

1 December 2009

Several Indian newspapers which have tie-ups with the New York Times have re-run Heather Timmons‘ piece on people of Indian origin returning to the United States because they find it difficult to work in the motherland.

Surprise, surprise—or perhaps no surprise, no surprise—almost all of them have excised former Mint editor, currently Washington Post managing editor, Raju Narisetti‘s damning quote on “the troubling nexus of business, politics and publishing“.

No mention of Narisetti or the “troubling nexus” in 624 words of The Economic Times re-run.

No mention of Narisetti or the “troubling nexus” in 306 words of The Indian Express re-run.

No mention of Narisetti or the “troubling nexus” in 821 words of The Telegraph, re-run.

There is a mention of Narisetti and the “troubling nexus” in 1,293 words in the online edition of The Times of India, but not the print edition.

One of the few newspapers that does carry Narisetti on the “troubling nexus” is the Bangalore-based Deccan Herald.

Why did the editor cross Kasturba Gandhi Marg?

29 November 2009

So, why did Raju Narisetti suddenly leave Mint, the business Berliner launched by the Hindustan Times group, in December 2008, less than two years after the newspaper’s launch, and return to the United States?

***

# Was it because he was opposed to staff and salary cuts as proposed by the management, as insiders claimed?

# Was it because he had carried out his mandate of launching a credible newspaper and was ready to move on, as the management claimed?

# Was it because he had a tempting offer as one of the managing editors of The Washington Post?

# Was it because his wife was finding living in India more and more difficult?

# Or was it because an pesudonymous open letter to the prime minister by a serving IAS officer published by Mint had not gone down well with the HT management (whose vice-chairman Shobhana Bharatiya is a Rajya Sabha member nominated by the Congress), as the market speculation was (which Narisetti denied)?

There has never been a clear picture, but an indication that Narisetti and HT had parted reasonably amicably came recently when his name resurfaced on the paper’s tombstone as “Founder-Editor”.

Now, Narisetti has revealed a bit more of the circumstances surrounding his exit in a New York Times story by Heather Timmons on people of Indian origin who find it difficult to work in the country of their birth and then return home to the United States:

“Some very simple practices that you often take for granted, such as being ethical in day to day situations, or believing in the rule of law in everyday behavior, are surprisingly absent in many situations,” said Narisetti, who was born in Hyderabad and returned to India in 2006 to found Mint….

He said he left earlier than he expected because of a troubling nexus of business, politics and publishing that he called draining on body and soul.

Also read: Pseudonymous author spelt finis to Mint editor?

Shashi Tharoor isn’t the only Tweetiya in town

‘Good journalists, poor journalism, zero standards’

Shashi Tharoor ain’t the only Tweetiya in town

7 October 2009

Indian minister Shashi Tharoor isn’t the only one getting into trouble with his Twitter updates.

Indian-born journalist Raju Narisetti too is.

The former editor of the business daily Mint, now a managing editor at The Washington Post looking after features and its website, has fallen foul of the paper’s ombudsman Andrew Alexander for his tweets about the US health care debate and an age limit on politicians (he is in favour of both).

Result: Narisetti made a decision to stop tweeting and shut down his Twitter account.

“He now realises that his tweets, although intended for a private audience of about 90 friends and associates, were unwise.”

One more result: The Post issued new guidelines for its employees on social media which, net-net, said it was problematic for an editor to be seen to have an opinion, in case it gave “ammunition” to those who believe the Post to be biased.

Read the full story: Clipping the wings of journo tweeters

Watch your mouth

Also read: ‘Good journalists, poor journalism, zero standards’

Pseudonymous author spells finis to Mint editor?

Will journalism soon be Twitterature in a hurry?

21 May 2009

Monica Hesse of The Washington Post has gleaned some advice from authors of forthcoming books on Twitter how to get the best out of 140 characters allowed in each Tweet:

# Make It Participatory: Use discussion and self-reflecting, philosophical questions, rather than simple questions like “What are you doing?”

# Make it Art: Each Tweet should contain personality, creating a Twitter persona that people want to follow.

# Make It Universal: Avoid using Tweets with specific contexts, because they will be vague to users who do not have personal knowledge about you.

Link via Knight Center at the University of Texas at Austin

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