Monthly Archives: February 2009

Man who educated Bombay journalists is dead

sans serif records the demise of T.N. Shanbhag, the founder of Bombay’s legendary book store, Strand Book Stall, in Bombay on Friday morning. He was 84.

Mr Shanbhag, who was once so poor that he couldn’t afford 75 paise to buy a paperback, built his enterprise, now happily expanded to Bangalore and Mysore, on the motto that no young person should walk out of his store without a book in hand.

For his rigours, he was awarded the nation’s third highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri.

Strand’s location in the busy “Fort” area of India’s commercial capital, also made it a chattering hole for journalists working in nearby addresses.

Writes Namita Devidayal in The Times of India:

“There was a time when the senior editors of The Times of India would go to Strand after lunch, browse and catch up with Shanbhag, and then stroll back through the arched arcades of Dadabhoy Naoroji Road, as part of their daily constitutional.

“‘Sham Lal’s wife hated me because he spent all his time and money on books,’ Mr Shanbhag used to joke about the former Times editor. The writer Khushwant Singh [former editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India published by The Times group] once declared, on a BBC show, that Strand was the only ‘personal bookshop’ in India.”

Read the full obituary: He spent a lifetime serving the written word

DNA obituary: End of an era for book lovers

Also read: Khushwant Singh on his last day at The Illustrated Weekly

Vinod Mehta on Sham Lal: Editors are only as good as their papers


How a slumdweller became a Newsweek reporter

The demographic profile of journalists worldwide has undergone a radical transformation in recent years.

Whether it has actually made journalism better is a question readers, viewers and listeners answer every day and night with their remote controls and subscription renewals.

Once the lowliest of low professions—the last hope for lazy bums, the dregs of society with “no real knowledge or skill set” who could get into no other profession—journalism is now populated by sharply sculpted careerists with deep pockets and heavy accents, whose reputations are preceded and defined by those of their parents, spouses and their alma mater, usually Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia, St. Stephen’s or Presidency.

Rare is a “Slumdog Millionaire” kind of story of a poor boy or girl, who rose from the margins to the top of the pile.

Rarer still is the journalist with the humility to remember, or the courage to tell the world where he or she came from.

Take a bow, Sudip Mazumdar.

Mazumdar has done a first-person piece in the March 2 issue of the magazine on his progress from the slums of Tangra in Calcutta where “scrawny men sat outside shacks, chewing tobacco and spitting into the dirt. Naked children defecated in the open,” to eventually become the India correspondent of Newsweek magazine.

Mazumdar writes with admirable candour about his sister being born in a rat-infested hut in Patna; about a family of eight living in a  single rented room; about running with a local gang in the teens; about stealing from shopkeepers and farmers, and extorting money from truckers before fleeing to Ranchi.

So, how did Mazumdar end up becoming the correspondent of a major American newsmagazine in India?

“I started hanging around the offices of an English weekly newspaper in Ranchi. Its publisher and editor, an idealistic lawyer-cum-journalist named N. N. Sengupta, hired me as a copy boy and proofreader for the equivalent of about $4 a month.

“It was there that I met Dilip Ganguly, a dogged and ambitious reporter who was visiting from New Delhi. He came to know that I was living in a slum, suffering from duodenal ulcers. One night he dropped by the office after work and found me visibly ill. He invited me to New Delhi.

“I said goodbye to my slum friends the next day and headed for the city with him.

“In New Delhi I practiced my English on anyone who would listen. I eventually landed an unpaid internship at a small English-language daily. I was delirious with joy. I spent all my waking hours at the paper, and after six months I got a paying job. I moved up from there to bigger newspapers and better assignments. While touring America on a fellowship, I dropped in at NEWSWEEK and soon was hired. That was 25 years ago.”

Mazumdar now lives in a “modest rented apartment in a gated community in Delhi”.

“I try to keep in touch with friends from the past. Some are dead; others are alcoholics, and a few have even made good lives for themselves. Still, most slumdwellers never escape, But no one wants to watch a movie about that.”

Read the full article: Man bites ‘ Slumdog’

What a headstart of 1,562 months doesn’t give

In an interview with Sruthijit K.K. of contentsutra, N. Ram, editor-in-chief of The Hindu, talks of how things have changed for the “Mount Road Mahavishnu” after the entry of The Times of India in Madras:

“It’s good, we welcome competition. The Times of India is a major newspaper…. I never put down The Times of India. I learn a lot from them. There are other papers that are non-serious, but not ToI. I not only respect it, I read it with a great deal of interest.

“There is a lot of criticism out there (against ToI) but it’s a serious newspaper. You may not agree with some of the views, some of the things, and they may not like what we do also. But it’s a major newspaper.”

Wiser, more honest, words have probably not been spoken.

The Times of India (established 1838), which is 10 months old in Madras, has 9 full broadsheet pages (inclusive of the advertisements on those pages), plus two edit page pieces, devoted to local-boy A.R. Rahman “breaking the sound barrier” at Slumdog Millionaire‘s Oscar sweep, and other stories.

The Hindu (established 1878), whose home has been Madras for 1,572 months—giving it a headstart of 1,472 (!)  1,562 months in the east coast City over The Old Lady of Bori Bunder—leads with the story on page 1, has a four-column story on page 12, a four-column story on page 16, a full page on the last page of the main edition, and on the first page of the metro supplement, besides an editorial.

What is “over”, what is “sober”?

Should newspapers really mourn young readers turning away?


Also read: When the Old Lady takes on the Mahavishnu

How an Oscar winner ushered in a newspaper

Last year, when The Times of India made its big move to Madras to take on The Hindu, it used music composer A.R. Rahman, who won two Academy Awards today for the best original song and best score for the movie Slumdog Millionaire, as its vehicle of change with this slick television commercial.

Also read: When the Old Lady takes on the Mahavishnu

Any number will do when the game is of numbers

The 11 habits of India’s most powerful media pros

Eleven media professionals—editors, publishers, promoters, proprietors—figure in the Indian Express list of the 100 most powerful Indians in 2009.

Eight of them have a presence in newspapers, three in television, only one is from the magazine sphere. Four of the 11 are from the language press.

The IE ranking also lists the quirks and kinks of the bold faced names, including those of the media pros.

# 50: Vineet Jain and Samir Jain, owners, The Times of India group: “Vineet likes going to discos, Samir often visits a spiritual retreat close to Haridwar.”

# 58: N. Ram, editor-in-chief, The Hindu: “He has an air-conditioned aviary at home. He is crazy about tennis and cricket.”

# 61: Prannoy Roy, co-founder, New Delhi Television (NDTV): “Accompanies his 85-year-old father to India’s cricket matches, this week in New Zealand.”

# 70: Raghav Bahl, managing director, Network 18: “The figure 18 in the company’s title is a lucky charm.”

#71: Prabhu Chawla, editor, India Today: “A sharp dresser, he has a tie fetish and possesses a wide range of designer ties.”

# 73: Shobhana Bhartia, vice-chairman, The Hindustan Times group: “Her friends swear by her. She is known to be the most loyal of friends.”

# 76: Mahendra Mohan Gupta, CMD, and Sanjay Gupta, CEO and editor, Dainik Jagran: “M.M. Gupta hangs out at a chaiwala‘s when in Kanpur. Sanjay likes the colour blue.”

# 77: Aveek Sarkar, editor-in-chief, Anand Bazaar Patrika group: “He is always impeccably turned out in a white starched dhoti at social dos.”

# 88: Ramesh Chandra Agarwal, chairman, Dainik Bhaskar group: “He loves eating chaat in Bhopal’s Chowk area. He is good at number crunching.”

Also read: Forbes can name India’s second richest woman

Is this man the next media mogul of India?

Amita Malik, the ‘first lady of Indian media’, RIP

sans serif records with regret the passing away of Amita Malik, the radio journalist who grew to be one of India’s leading film and media critics, in New Delhi, on Friday. She was 86 years old.

Often referred to as “the first lady of Indian media“, Ms Malik conducted path-breaking interviews with luminaries like Satyajit Ray, Marlon Brando and David Niven before the airwaves were opened up. “Her columns on TV and film were both heeded and feared.”

In a recent column for The Tribune, Chandigarh, she wrote on an NDTV anchor…

“…who reads like a drone and sounds like a tanpura from the next room. With no change of facial or audio expression, she reads so fast that even an expert lip-reader like shall fail to understand what she is saying.”

In October last, Ms Malik spoke to Omair Ahmad of Outlook for the magazine’s 13th anniversary on radio in its 13th year after India’s independence:

“In 1960, All India Radio was the only truly national organisation that reached and touched everybody. Pandit Ravi Shankar even composed the signature tune for AIR. The national programmes produced great concerts by great musicians. Every other Saturday, Hindustani and Carnatic musicians would play jugalbandis, bridging a gap that had existed for many long years.

“The then IB minister, B.V. Keskar, restricted the playing of Hindi film music on AIR, so then Radio Ceylon swamped the airwaves with Binaca Geetmala—a hit parade of film songs—broadcast by Hameed and Ameen Sayani. Keskar had to allow film music back and the Vividh Bharati channel was created. TV was some years away—although the first experimental broadcast of Doordarshan took place in 1959, regular service only started by 1965. By 1967, TV was important enough that I hosted a show on it with Marlon Brando and Satyajit Ray.”

Catty in a delightful sort of way, Ms Malik mourned the demise of Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni‘s tresses in a TV column two years ago in The Pioneer, Delhi:

“There was for me, the sad spectacle of Dhoni shedding his locks for a crew cut. We all remember that famous occasion in Pakistan when president Pervez Musharraf complemented Dhoni on his hairstyle and advised him not to cut his hair. His long locks have long been Dhoni’s own special identity and I was as hurt as his fans to find him unrecognisable with his crew cut.

“The rumour goes that one of the actresses, on whom he has a crush, asked him to trim his long locks. If this is true, all that I can say is: ‘Silly girl’.”

Ms Malik was 84 when she wrote that.

Photograph: courtesy Outlook

Also read: India’s first TV newsreader passes away

A baritone falls silent watching the cacophony

Why the great Indian media dream crashed

Rs 60 crore for hoardings to promote the launch of a television channel; Rs 1 crore per day for programming.

Hindustan Times editorial director Vir Sanghvi on why the great Indian media dream came crashing down:

“Many publishing houses ventured into businesses and products they had no understanding of, believing that the revenue from their existing cash cows would increase so dramatically that they could subsidize losses in the new businesses.

“That dream is now dead. That’s why some publications are closing down and others are certain to follow.

“In the TV space, the situation is even worse. Two years ago, venture capitalists believed that the boom would last forever. Not only would ad budgets keep rising but the stock market would sustain absurdly high valuations for media companies.

“Much of the expansion of the last two years has been based on these mistaken calculations. TV companies have spent so much money that it is hard to see how it can ever be recouped.”

Read the full blog: Why media suffers, while movies, IPL prosper?