Monthly Archives: April 2007

Do Time magazine’s lists mean anything at all?

Time magazine is compiling its list of the 100 most influential people of the year—and it wants YOU to do all the hard work. It has ten Indians on the list. The American Idol contestant Sanjay Malakar, Manmohan Singh, social worker Anna Hazare, Sonia Gandhi, Pepsi chief Indra Nooyi, the prince who said he was gay Manvendra Singh Gohil, Aishwarya Rai, Laxmi Mittal, Nandan Nilekani and Kiran Desai. At last count, Malakar with 9,703 votes was ahead of all the rest put together.

Vote here: Time 100: Are they worthy? 

Read Gawker‘s take

Also read: Sauce for the goose isn’t sauce for the gander

Coming: Google vs The Newspapers of the World

YouTube has already got into trouble with Viacom, which owns MTV, for allowing users to put up content over which it (YouTube) has no proprietory control. Is a similar battle looming between YouTube’s owner Google and the newspapers of the world?

As things stand, the content of newspapers is freely available on Google and Google News, which then monetises it through advertising, sharing a portion of it with newspapers. But will newspaper owners, already feeling the pinch of falling circulation and advertising revenue, allow this one-way traffic to go on much longer to its detriment?

Sam Zell, the Chicago millionaire who has bought the Tribune Co which Los Angeles Times, has fired the first salvo.

“We have a situation today where effectively the content is being paid for by the newspapers and stolen by Google, etcetera. That can last for a short time, but it can’t last forever. I think Google and the boys understand that. We’re going to see new deals and new formulas in the media space that reflect the reality of cost benefit,” Zell said at a lecture at Stanford University

Read the full article: Sam Zell to turn against Google

Will this man be the next US Secretary of State?

When Indian journalists like M.J. Akbar, Arun Shourie, Chandan Mitra, Sudheendra Kulkarni et al cosy up to politicians, tout a particular ideological line, stand for elections, grab non-journalistic posts, negotiate deals, etc, we look at them with a slight degree of circumspection.

Are they, you wonder, misusing their editorial positions and platforms to advance a personal, political end?

But no such critical examination seems to be in store for Fareed Zakaria, the Indian-born editor of Newsweek International, who is once again being spoken of as a probable candidate for the post of Secretary of State in the next US administration.

The subject came up four years ago when New York magazine profiled him in a piece entitled “Man of the World.” A writer for New York erroneously quoted Zakaria as saying his friends thought he was going to be secretary of state someday. (In fact, it was the writer saying that.)

The ghee-whiz, awshucks possibility of an Indian holding the high office continues unabated four years later.

In an interview to Jon Friedman of Marketwatch, Zakaria, 43—son of the late scholar-politician Rafiq Zakaria and Illustrated Weekly journalist Fatma Zakaria—says speculation about his occupying a cabinet post is “one of the strange burdens” of having such a prestigious reputation.

“I’m flattered, I suppose. But I’m not a ‘party man,’ and you usually have to demonstrate that kind of loyalty to be chosen for government office.”

I asked him bluntly if he would go to Washington. “I won’t be coy with you. I’ll give you an honest answer,” he began. “I’d always be intrigued. But again, it’s unlikely and I’ll die happily if I never have a White House pass.”

Ultimately, Zakaria said: “If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t bet on this.”

Read the full article here: “President Obama? Meet Secretary Zakaria”

Photograph by Sigrid Estrada

The birth of a newspaper: live and in colour

How is a new newspaper put out? What goes into the making of a newspaper office? What kind of carpet do they have? Where do the editors sit? How do the dummy issues look? Why did they choose a particular font or design? Why do newspapers do what they do?

Most times the reader is never really in the know.

But in an interesting experiment, Ray Hartley, the editor of The Times, a soon-to-be-launched daily in South Africa, is maintaining a blog of all that is going on behind the scenes before the paper hits the stands in June. And, hopefully like the new paper, it makes for interesting reading.

Check it out: The wild frontier

Link via Editors’ Weblog

Indian newspapers: about to take off or crash?

The state of Indian newspapers and its future is the flavour of the season. The launch of a new newspaper, the addition of an edition or a dozen, the creation of new supplements,… all  seem to produce oodles of purple prose, in Indian as well as western publications.

Unlike in the United States and more recently in the UK, circulation is growing (or said to be growing) in India. And if the proof of the pudding is in the stock market, it shows: Deccan Chronicle‘s stock has surged 81 per cent from its issue price of Rs 165, Hindustan Times‘ has rallied 66 per cent from Rs 430, and Dainik Jagran is up 56 per cent from Rs 325.

But what is the truth? Is Indian media really so hot? Or is it a bubble about to burst?

The obvious pro view comes from those in whose interest it is to paint a rosy picture: investment bankers.

“The growth prospects of India’s newspaper publishing industry are phenomenal, especially when one considers the rising trend in disposable incomes and the direct bearing that will have on readership,” says Naresh Kumar Garg, who manages $49 million, including shares of Jagran Prakashan, at Sahara Asset Management Co. in Mumbai. “Higher disposable incomes mean more advertising.”

A Bloomberg story says Deccan Chronicle‘s advertising rates will rise 30 percent in May. Earnings in the last three months of 2006 rose 52 per cent. Profit at both HT Media, and Jagran, the largest producer of regional-language newspapers, more than doubled.

The contrarian view comes from Round 1 of the results of the 2007 Indian Readership Survey (IRS), which show readership declining for the first time in a decade.

The survey, coming just months after a National Readership Survey showed a six million jump in readership from 216 million to 222 million, shows a fall in readership of most English newspapers, vernacular language dailies and magazines.

The 2nd round of NRS results later this year will prove whether the fall in readership is an aberration or a trend. But is the IRS finding the first sign of the Indian media bubble burst, asks Anupam Mukerji?

The survey doesn’t provide any answers why the decline has come. But, it’s possible that TV news could be one of the reasons behind the drop in newspaper reading.

“TV news in India has exploded in the last few years. If I count on my fingers, there are 4 national English news channels, 4 national business news channels, at least 6 national Hindi news channels, and innumerable news channels in vernacular languages providing 24-hr news to Indian viewers. Other than instant news, they provide entertainment, gossip and much more.

“Importantly, they have stolen a march over print media in investigative journalism with a slew of so-called sting operations exposing corruption among the high and mighty. Despite the 400 million TV viewers in India, even the TV news industry looks ripe for a shakeout.”

So, what’s the truth? As usual, somewhere between the gung-ho view and the gone-with-the-wind view.

David Halberstam: Rest in peace

David Halberstam, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Powers That Be, the definitive biography of the American media, died in a car accident in the Bay Area in San Francisco yesterday. He was 73. Halberstam had come to Berkeley to give a talk on ‘Turning Journalism Into History’.

“A writer should be like a playwright — putting people on stage, putting ideas on stage, making the reader become the audience,” Halberstam, who wrote 15 bestsellers, told an interviewer recently.

Halberstam wrote with equal felicity on America’s military failings in Vietnam, the deaths of firefighters at the World Trade Center and the high-pressure world of professional basketball, and usually alternated his serious work with what is considered less-weighty stuff, usually sport, but employed the same reportorial rigour.

Halberstam, who famously said “being a reporter is at the very core of a democracy, being a free person in a free society,” summed up his approach to work by quoting a basketball player.

“There’s a great quote by Julius Erving that went, ‘Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them’.”

Halberstam graduated from Harvard University, where he excelled as editor of the school newspaper, the Crimsom. But in a 1993 interview with the San Jose Mercury News, he admitted he didn’t do nearly as well in the classroom.

“I was a terrible student,” Halberstam said. “Sometimes when I talk to students now, I ask, ‘Who here is in the bottom third of the class?’ When they raise their hands, I say, ‘Well, you are being addressed by another one’.”

Related links: Tributes

Halberstam turned journalism into history

Author who uncloaked Vietnam blunders




Podcast interview



Photo courtesy: Mark Lennihan/ The Associated Press

‘Cho Ramaswamy’s behaviour isn’t bizarre’

A clarification in The Hindu on April 20, 2007:

The heading of a box item accompanying a story —on the shootings at Virginia Tech University, U.S. (“Embassy staff meet Indian students”, April 19, 2007, page 1)—was “Cho’s behaviour was bizarre”. Though it was a box in an item on the killings in the U.S and had a Blacksburg dateline, a number of readers thought it was about journalist and editor Cho Ramaswamy. They felt that the heading could have been different and say “Gunman’s behaviour was bizarre” would have been more apt. The heading has to be seen in relation to the content and the dateline.

The base-five calendars of our magazines

Magazines, and increasingly newspapers too, love producing thick, fat anniversary issues with the “Best of” stamp on them. But does the reader care for such “shamelss self-regard”, asks Jack Shafer.

Publishers love the self-valentines because they make the anniversary issue a “destination” for advertisers—much easier to sell than the crap that’s published the rest of the year. Editors love the “looking back on our rich history”-quality of milestone mags because nobody can say no to onanism.

Read the full article here: Auto-editorial stimulation

Samyukta Karnataka fete in a controversy

MARK BRADSHAW” writes from Hubli: The Vice President of India Bhairon Singh Shekawat is all set to commit a faux pas of propriety when he visits Hubli  on Sunday to participate in a function being organised  to celebrate the platinum jubilee of Samyukta Karnataka, the leading Kannada daily of the state published by the Loka Shikshana Trust.

Reason: the venue of the function, Gokul Garden in Hubli, one of the favourite venues for major functions in Hubli, has no valid licence from the Hubli-Dharwad Municipal Corporation as required under the present rules.

The legal infirmity about the venue has been brought to public notice in the form of a quarter-page advertisement given on page 3 in the very issue in the very paper, where the Commissioner has warned the users about booking the venue for function.

However the advertisement does not make any mention about Sunday’s function.

The corporation authorities are quick to deny any coincidence in the publication of the advertisement and the impending function on Sunday. The authorities maintain that after the ISO -9000 certificate has been secured by the municipal corporation, the whole process has been streamlined and there is less scope for subjective decision.

The notification has come to be issued irrespective of the venue being booked by many of the big wigs, the corporation officials say. But they are determined to shut it down after giving two weeks’ notice.

It is not clear whether the organisers,  the State Government or the office of the Vice President are  aware of the legal infirmity involved. But the district administration which is aware of the same remains unfazed and has been going ahead with the preparations for the function.