Monthly Archives: April 2008

‘Media can’t be in a state of permanent war’

“There is nothing called ‘fiercely independent’ or ‘tamely independent’. You are either independent or you are not independent. I don’t believe in media as a crusade. I believe media is for disseminating truth. That’s our job. It’s not our job to go into a permanent war with somebody. I am not interested in a permanent war with anyone, and certainly not with my government.”

M.J. Akbar, former editor-in-chief of The Asian Age, in an interview with Mehre Alam of Khaleej Times

Read the full interview here: ‘It’s not for media to crusade’

Also read: ‘Never let your head stoop as a journalist’

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JoJo says he wants to leave The Times of India

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi:The Times of India‘s executive editor Jaideep Bose says he wants to go. JoJo, as the affable editor is known, made the announcement on Friday afternoon at a retreat where editors of the paper had convened with brand executives over the weekend.

With tears in his eyes, JoJo is reported to have told his colleagues that what they were hearing in the past week was true. As the first SMSes bearing the bad news flew into Delhi, top bosses of Bennett, Coleman & Co went into a huddle to decide the next course of action.

Bose is slated to head the Indian edition of Financial Times that is to be published by Raghav Bahl‘s Network 18 in collaboration with Pearson, although there could be other print plans as well from the group which has set a scorching pace with its television, online, film and other moves.

But there is no confirmation of his possible destination.

JoJo’s sudden decision to leave the Times, less than a fortnight after the launch of the Madras edition of the paper, has sent shock waves in Times House, given his long and fruitful proximity with Samir Jain who runs India’s biggest newspaper group with his brother Vineet Jain.

The two questions many are asking today is: Will there be an exodus from the Economic Times newsroom, where JoJo was editor before he moved to ToI, for the new paper? (After the FT rumours broke last weekend, the group dipped into its deep pockets to blunt the possibility of further poaching. Senior Economic Times staff have received hikes, some to the extent of 50 per cent this week.)

An even bigger question confronting the Times group is, will the exit of JoJo make it even more difficult for the group, for all its size, reach and prosperity, to attract and retain serious journalists when larger, transnational players start dangling giant cheques?

One source claims that JoJo met the Brothers Jain on Monday to clarify his position after the quit reports surfaced last weekend. The brothers, it appeared, made JoJo a counteroffer and convinced him to stay on. JoJo for his part was listed to attend the World Newspaper Congress in Sweden in early June as scheduled, along with other top executives.

But, in private, JoJo himself had been characteristically non-committal. To some in his charmed circle in Delhi, he is reported to have confirmed that it is not a question of if but when, a view coming out of Network 18 too. But to some others in Bombay, he had offered an opposite indication.

In fact, some senior staffers who had put in their papers were told by JoJo this week to stay in the paper. He even offered one of them a larger, more clearly defined role for him. But when asked if he would stay, JoJo is reported to have said he would let them know early next week, presumably after the editors’ retreat ended.

But news of the resignation seems to have come earlier than that. In an organisation that wants its editors to maintain a low profile, the swirling rumours—even the slim suggestion that a journalist was running circles around the marketing mavens—was proving to be embarrassing.

While it was clear that the Jains could match any offer Network 18 or anybody could make to retain JoJo & Co if they wished, the persistent talk of a 10-17 per cent stake in the new paper for the editor probably took the debate into a completely non-negotiable realm in a privately-held, family-owned newspaper group which is not even thinking of an IPO for the moment, and which has long held that journalists don’t deserve so much bhaav for how little they impact the bottomline.

The manner in which JoJo has been poached by Network 18 has an eerie similarity with the manner in which
the group roped in Rajdeep Sardesai from Prannoy Roy‘s NDTV. In Sardesai’s case, too, he was given overall control of the new venture, plus a stake in the new channel. Clearly that seems to be the mantra in India’s exploring media atmosphere.

With Sharanya Kanvilkar in Bombay

Also read: Is Raghav Bahl India’s new media mogul?

Why JoJo might want to leave The Times of India

How Murdoch is taking on the New York Times

American media observers went into a tizzy when news emerged that Rupert Murdoch would lay his hands on the Wall Street Journal. So what’s happened to the paper since he gained ownership of it?

The Project for Excellence in Journalism has done a survey of the frontpages of the newspaper in three months preceding and succeeding the Murdoch’s takeover and it tells a story that Arthur Sulzberger of the New York Times might not like.

# In the first four months of Murdoch’s ownership, the Journal has shifted its focus, opting for less business coverage and for more coverage of national politics and international issues.

# Politics and campaign coverage more than tripled from December 2007 to March 2008, reaching 18% of the newshole compared to 5% in the months before the takeover.

# Business coverage dropped more than half—falling from 30% in the months prior to the sale to 14%.

# A comparison of the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times front pages suggests the editorial competition is largely in the area of politics.

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.