Monthly Archives: April 2008

Thankfully, the world’s flat or else he would’ve…

New York Times‘ foreign affairs columnist, Thomas L. Friedman, went to Brown University to talk about how “Green is the new Red White and Blue”, i.e. how corporate environmentalism can restore America to its “natural place in the global order.”

Instead, the author of The World is Flat tasted a piece of pie. The protestors said Friedman deserved it:

# for his “sickeningly cheery applaud for free market capitalism’s conquest of the planet”.

# for telling the world that the free market and techno fixes can save us from climate change.

# for helping turn environmentalism into a fake plastic consumer product for the privileged.

# for his long-standing support for the US Occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

# for his pure arrogance.

‘Anybody here been raped and speaks English?’

Who is the best judge of a foreign correspondent? The readers, editors and bosses of the foreign correspondent? Or the residents (and critics) of the places the foreign correspondent is reporting from?

Surprising as it may sound, Amit Varma contends that it is the latter, and offers by way of evidence a Washington Post report on the cheer leaders of the Washington Redskins turning up for the Bangalore Royal Challengers in the Indian Premier League.

Varma calls the report by Emily Wax, “a piece of lazy journalism”, “sloppy hackwork”, in which she gets the basic facts of the game wrong (“Twenty20 cricket condenses nearly a week of match play into three hours, with shorter “overs”), and piles on all the usual cliches and preconceived notions that have become the bane of reporting from the subcontinent.

“In my view, the best judges of that are not peers or bosses, but the residents of the places you are reporting from. To someone who does not know India, this piece of hers must seem full of insight and telling detail, instead of the sloppy hackwork that it is. But who cares what the natives think?”

Read the full article: Of shorter overs and billowing swimwear

Also read: The land of a thousand bad newspaper articles

If our reporters are sloppy, what about theirs?

Photograph: courtesy Washington Redskins

‘Hindu had a discernible pro-China line on Tibet’

Tibet is in India’s backyard. Tibetans have been amidst us for decades. The Olympic torch issue has turned a dormant issue into political hot-button with diplomatic ramifications. So how did India’s major English newspapers cover the uprising in Lhasa?

Sevanti Ninan, Shayoni Sarkar and Tenzin Paldon of The Hoot have done a qualitative analysis of four leading newspapers to see “how multi-dimensional and extensive the coverage was”, and they have a story to tell:

“The Times of India and the Hindustan Times offered both extensive and balanced coverage, HT providing a wider gamut of perspectives, and ToI more voluminous coverage.

“The Hindu and the Indian Express were narrower in their breadth of coverage and less inclined to give all sides of the story. Express, as is its wont, had feisty headlines a fairly strong pro-Tibet line, and fewer stories overall because it did not waste newsprint on other dimensions of the story.

“The Hindu was reticent, it had less than 50 per cent of the number of items on this story found in ToI. It was also the only paper not to have a story on Tibet every single day in the three weeks covered. There were three days when it had no coverage at all. It was the only paper with a discernible pro-China line.”

Read the full study here: Are they telling it like it is?

Also read: When my newspaper is no longer my newspaper

Neena Gopal to edit Deccan Chronicle, Bangalore

Neena Gopal, the former foreign editor of the Dubai-based Gulf News who was in conversation with Rajiv Gandhi just minutes before he was blown up by a suicide bomber in 1991, is to be the editor of the Deccan Chronicle edition from Bangalore.

A DC edition in India’s most crowded newspaper market has been on the cards for sometime now, but the plans have taken flight only in recent weeks.

Office space has been bought on Brigade Road, the presses have been installed in Electronic City, the editor is in, and recruitments are on with DC Hyderabad editor A.T. Jayanti meeting dozens of journalists to put together the staff for the paper.

The Bangalore edition is expected to roll off before the elections to the Karnataka assembly slated to begin on May 10. Some sources say the new edition could come as early as this month-end. The current Asian Age edition from Bangalore will cease publication with the arrival of Deccan Chronicle. (Age and Chronicle are owned by the same company.)

With a Bangalore edition, Deccan Chronicle (whose television tagline is “Face of the South”) will have presence in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. Neena Gopal was rumoured to be in the running for the editorship of Khaleej Times before she took the DC offer.

Neena Gopal and Barbara Crossette of The New York Times had accompanied Rajiv Gandhi in the back seat of his Ambassador car as he sped from Madras to Sriperumbudur for an election rally. Minutes later, just yards from them, he had been reduced to a shattered mass of flesh.

Barbara Crossette wrote in NYT:

“For this rally, Mr. Gandhi’s car stopped about 25 yards short of the platform erected on an open meadow. As Mrs. Gopal and I paused to talk to Suman Dubey, Mr. Gandhi’s campaign press adviser, about whether we had had enough time with the former prime minister, and would make way for other reporters, Mr. Gandhi went on ahead toward the stairs to the platform.

“As Mrs. Gopal and I followed there was a sudden burst of what sounded like firecrackers and then a large boom, an explosion and a cloud of smoke that scattered people all around. It was over in a matter of seconds. The crowd at first froze and then began to stampede.”

Eerily, Neena Gopal was to have accompanied Benazir Bhutto on her (wapasi) return from exile to Pakistan in October 2007, which culminated in a failed suicide attempt.

Neena Gopal wrote of that incident in Outlook:

“Seventy-five minutes before Benazir Bhutto’s flight took off from Dubai airport for Karachi, her security advisor Rahman Malik called and said, “Are you packed? Your visa for Pakistan is ready. I didn’t make that flight. But I did get on the next one, landing straight into the bloody reception that most people had predicted was lined up for Benazir.”

Read the full NYT article: Assassination in India

Read the Outlook diary: The castle entered

Photograph: Neena Gopal at a farewell party hosted by the Indian ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Talmiz Ahmed, for her and her husband Veenu Gopal, in Dubai, in October 2007.

Why JoJo might want to leave The Times of India

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Well-placed sources in command central of The Times of India group confirm that the paper’s executive editor, Jaideep Bose aka JoJo, has indeed put in his papers as has been rumoured for the last couple of days, but not even editors who have his ear are in a position to say if this means the end of his long association with the Old Lady of Bori Bunder.

The buzz over JoJo’s exit turned into a blaze this morning when Mint, the business daily owned by Hindustan Times, put out a story that he was on his way out, possibly to head the Indian edition of Financial Times that is slated to come out of the stable of Network 18, which owns CNBC-TV18 and has major plans in the print space including a Hindi business daily and a slew of magazines starting with Forbes.

For the record, Bose delivered a “no-comment” to Mint:

“I have just come back from Chennai after successfully launching the paper (The Times of India). I am very much with the Times. I have no comments (on the buzz on my departure)”.

To give the JoJo-is-not-leaving version its due, there has been no outward sign of his wanting to quit The Times group, where he served as editor of The Economic Times before being summoned by Samir Jain nearly four years years ago to take over as executive editor of The Times of India.

JoJo was present at the inauguration of the Times School of Journalism on April 7 where he said “We are all set to launch four new editions in the coming months and our appetite for journalists is insatiable”. He was there at the launch of the Madras edition on April 14 and stationed himself there all through the launch week. And he has disregarded a small mountain of resignation letters that had accumulated on his table when he returned to Bombay on April 18.

“If he wanted to leave, he would have let his trusted aides go, too, to flex his editorial muscle in a manner of speaking,” says one Times editor.

However, PR companies have been circulating a long list of Times staffers who are leaving for various editorially greener pastures (including Charles Assisi national business editor who is leaving to join Forbes). National features editor Manu Joseph, too, is watching the exit sign over the newsroom floor afer putting in his papers, possibly to join a new magazine coming out of the RPG group.

One blogger, who recently called JoJo the best editor of his generation, is emphatic that Samir Jain is in no danger of losing his top editorial staff since there is some “unfinished business” at The Times.

However, to give the JoJo-is-leaving version its due, there are many in The Times who say that JoJo, who is seen to have earned the trust of Samir Jain with his low profile and strong work ethic, would not have let word about his possible exit to leak out, if there was no truth to it or if he didn’t want to send some signals. In other words, there is a spark behind the smoke.

So if it is not posturing, what could be the reasons for JoJo to leave?

1) More money: The word in the Times‘ building is that Network 18 has offered him a Rs 3 crore per annum package, with generous stock options, which could add another Rs 25-30 crore to his bank balance over five years.

2) More control: Times insiders say JoJo has been angling for greater editorial control over group’s publications and products, including Economic Times and the Times Now channel, but there has been some resistance within the group, especially from the marketing men who run the paper, who believe journalists shouldn’t get too big for their boots.

3) General fatigue: JoJo has been there, done that, and bought the lousy tee-shirt too many times. Having helped take The Times of India national, there might not be too much fun in cracking the egg again and again for him. In other words, it’s time to do something new, even if it is small, over which he can claim proprietorship.

4) Content is king: Regardless of Times‘ perceived editorial successes, the marketing men walk away with all the glory. For instance, despite JoJo’s presence, brand director Rahul Kansal did all the talking on the Madras edition. So the desire “to do something on my own” “where the editor is respected” could be a motivating factor.

However, there could be two other small but key reasons for word leaking out that JoJo is on his way out.

The first might be to tell the Jains that he cannot be taken for granted. When Hindustan Times and DNA were being launched in Bombay three years ago, The Times‘ marketing mavens gave sufficient legroom for editorial under JoJo to retain domination of the Times‘ place of birth. It was seen by many to have made The Times a much, improved paper that no longer thought its readers to be frivolous fools.

But with the threat posed by HT petering out and with DNA settling down comfortably enough not to rattle the motherhen, there is a feeling among the Times‘ journalists that the marketing men are running haywire once again, leaving editorial credibility in tatters.

The “private equity treaties“, by which the group invests in companies in return for guaranteed advertising, is seen by many journalists in The Times as a killer blow in a group where the distinction between news and advertisement has almost completely been obliterated. In Delhi, many journalists say that the marketing intrusions have gotten even more brazen in recent times.

An equally key reason could be a signficant realignment of stars within the Times‘ planet.

For long, after bossman Ashok Jain’s death, his widow Indu Jain was chairman of the company, with sons Samir and Vineet Jain being vice-chairmen and managing directors. But there are indications that the reclusive older brother Samir may have made way for his younger sibling, to avoid the kind of intra-family squabbles that have consumed family-owned papers like The Hindu and Deccan Herald.

Businessweek suggests that Vineet may now be completely in charge of Bennett, Coleman & Co as chairman and managing director. In fact, it no longer lists Samir Jain among the key executives of the organisation or on the board of directors. If that report is accurate, it means JoJo, who was seen to be close to Samir, may not share the same vibes with Vineet, who himself might want somebody else for the job.

Rumour and speculation, yes, but the only other option is reading tea leaves.

Besides the Financial Times venture with Network 18, the buzz on the Times‘ newsroom floor in Bombay is that JoJo might be looking at a possible entry of Rupert Murdoch‘s Star group in the print media space, in collaboration with the Ananda Bazar Patrika group, where JoJo served earlier in The Telegraph.

But with Network 18 and Star all cut from the same Bennett, Coleman loincloth that has run Indian media credibility into the ground in boom time, will the softspoken but quietly assertive JoJo, who edited a large newspaper without once sounding like Dileep Padgaonkar (who called it “the second most important job in the country“) want to jump from the third floor into the fire?

Watch the cubicle next to R.K. Laxman‘s.

This is the second time in four years that JoJo’s exit has been the subject of media speculation. In May 2005, when the launch of DNA was in the air, it was rumoured that JoJo would be joining the small mob of his colleagues that had joined the paper. JoJo admitted as much to close friends. But he was wooed back by the Jains. Will they do so again? Or is it one time too many?

Is anything OK if it can fetch a few dollars?

The Indian Premier League, the marriage between two of India’s greatest fixations, cricket and cinema, will be consummated at 8 pm in Bangalore today. On test is not just the durability of the shotgun wedding but the limits to which the shortest version of the game can be monetised by big business.

There are eight teams in the fray, and in what can only be read as yet another sign of the complete breakdown of the wall between church and state, the IBN network—comprising CNN-IBN, IBN7, IBN Lokmat, and—has tied up with the Calcutta Knight Riders.

Can an independent news provider really tie up with one team, even if it is only for contests, puff interviews, and such like, without attracting charges of partisanship? Or is it OK because it is a game really?

For the record, the Deccan Chronicle group owns the Hyderabad franchise of the IPL.

‘Buy-sell-save-spend. Live rich. Enjoy.’

The monsoon is still a couple of months away but it’s raining newspapers in southern India.

Last Friday, the new New Indian Express hit the stands. On Monday, The Times of India launched in Madras. And on Wednesday, Financial Chronicle, the business daily from the Deccan Chronicle group, arrived in Hyderabad and Madras.

In photograph is the cover page of the second day’s e-paper (registration required).

Editor Shubhrangshu Roy writes:

“So why are we here? Because the market demands us, in clean and credible white, untainted by agendas, to tell the story of India’s growing prosperity the way it ought to be told. We are here to break free from the clutter and jargon that have become the hallmark of business reporting. We are here to tell you in simple words what business is all about and in the way all of us want to know it. For business, as we understand it, is all about an uncomplicated six-letter word: dhanda or transaction. Which is why our brand of journalism is founded on the bedrock of four simple words—buy-sell-save-spend—imprinted at top left of this page.

“We are here to reflect and build on the aspirations of NewGen India.

“We are here to Live Rich! So, enjoy.”

Freedom, at last, for an AP photographer

Bilal Hussein, the Associated Press photographer held in Iraq for two years by the US army without having formal charges filed against him, has been released today, 16 April 2008.

In this AP photograph, Hussein, 36, holds flowers while wearing a traditional Iraqi robe.

Hussein, a member of the AP team that won a Pulitzer Prize for photography in 2005, was held on suspicion of links with Iraqi insurgents. His detention drew protests from rights groups and press freedom advocates.

“I cannot describe my happiness at seeing him again,” said his brother, Yassir Hussein, a 35-year-old university professor in Baghdad. “The family has been going through a hard time over the past two years, but now we thank God that we will have some rest.”

Photograph: Petr David Josek/ AP

Read the full story of the release: AP photographer freed

Links courtesy Bhanu Prakash Chandra

‘Even a newspaper of record is mortal’

For the first time in 64 years, Le Monde has not appeared this afternoon, as staff at the French paper of record protest the move to axe 130 jobs—two-thirds of them in editorial, one-third in administration.

In 1995, the paper produced a 40-page edition with 220 staff, today, it brings out a 30-page edition with 150. But the losses are mounting. Last year, the paper lost 20 million euros, and 150 million euros in debt.

Eric Fottorino, the chief executive of the group, and a former reporter, editorialist and editor-in-chief, says there are no magic solutions:

Le Monde’s existence is not anchored in France’s constitution. It’s a company and as such mortal.

Read the full interview: It’s a matter of survival

Muh mein Ram, Ram. Bagal mein R.K. Laxman?!

On the day The Times of India launched in Madras, Bellur Ramakrishna steps across the ‘Laxman rekha‘ to see what the “prim, proper, orthodox, conservative, enlightened” reader of The Hindu is peering at.

Also read: The right paper—no political pun intended