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?