Monthly Archives: September 2010

An Aroon Purie tribute worthy of emulation

Farewell speeches and circulars in Indian media houses—where good HR practises are somewhere between 18th and 19th century—are usually grim, graceless, god-awful affairs.

The moment the exit sign lights up over an employee’s head, the good times are over: bosses suddenly bare their fangs, colleagues start hissing amongst themselves, and management chamchas slither around suspiciously.

Take a bow, Aroon Purie.

The India Today bossman has penned a touching farewell note for his Bombay bulwark, Mohini Bhullar (in picture), whose exit from the group was announced on Wednesday vide an email.

Below is the full text of Purie’s syanora laden with grace, goodness, gratitude—and civility—something that pumped-up managers and accountants would do well to ctrl-x and ctrl-v.

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“Please join me in making this announcement very special.

“Because, it’s about a very special person.

“Because, it’s perhaps the most important and emotional formal announcements I have ever made in my life, and one I thought I would never make. It’s about someone who stood by my side for nearly a lifetime, and helped me steer the company from its inception to the enviable position it occupies today. It’s about someone who’s an integral part of the India Today group – and my professional life.

“Mohini has decided to move on from the India Today group effective September 30, 2010, after a glorious innings spanning over 40 years. She came on board with our group company Thomson Press as part of the sales team and was the first to establish a beachhead sales office in Bombay for Thomson Press. When we entered publishing, this became the very critical ad sales office for LMI [Living Media India] which she headed. The rest, as they say, is history. What a journey it has been!

“Mohini’s unflinching zeal, conviction and never-say-die attitude are some of the personal traits that have made her an indispensable part of the company. I can say this without any hesitation that the success we enjoy today is primarily because of her contribution and her enormous dedication.

“There was one common thread that kept her going in her entire career with the India Today Group, be it as editor of Bombay magazine, as publishing director of ITMB, as marketing director of the entire company, or for that matter, as the executive director in charge of the events SBU. It was her indomitable will, energy and her total professionalism. She is revered as the ‘Mother Queen’ of Indian print media by advertisers, agencies and the media alike – a fitting tribute to her competence and accomplishments. She has handled all her diverse and challenging roles with her usual aplomb.

“Now at the golden age of 77, Mohini is still very young in every which way. She still takes early morning flights, climbs up 3 flights of stairs at our F14 office in Connaught Place, probably faster than most of us, parties till late, shares the latest jokes with the young trainees who work with her and even supervises the event set-up for the IT Conclave at 1 am! And I also know for sure that she responds to calls, emails and text messages within a few seconds. Truly amazing!

“When I was running Thomson Press, and we were trying to figure out how to create our own work for the press, we came up with the idea of creating our own children books. Not finding any willing authors, she and I even wrote children books. We had great fun together. That’s the way it has been ever since.

“She brought to India from the Thomson UK the rights (for free of course) to publish a medical journal called the Journal of Applied Medicine, and that small publication was our first foray into magazine publishing and a precursor to India Today and all that followed.

“Mohini has single-handedly helped to build the brand India Today, while leaving me and the founding edit team to concentrate on the various editorial challenges when we launched India Today in 1975. Thanks to her, I didn’t, and still don’t have to make a single sales call to any company or ad agency. She completely insulated the editorial team from the commercial pressures advertisers are prone to exerting and established the abiding cornerstone of the company of uncompromising editorial integrity.

“Mohini has inspired the key younger generation of leaders in the Group. Our CEO, Ashish Bagga, tells me that his first interview as management trainee was with Mohini in Bombay in 1983, at her office in Jolly Maker Chambers. Malcolm Mistry, publishing director, was Mohini’s understudy for over 6 years and was handpicked by her. Most of the advertising and media professionals in India have at some point in time worked or interacted with Mohini. She has represented the Company on the INS, ABC, NRS, ASCI, MRUC, AIM and many other premier industry bodies.

“But alas, I guess, all good things have to come to an end. Mohini has decided to move on and I on behalf of the entire 5000 employees of ITG, comprising TP, LMI, TVTN, IDIL, MT, ITAS, Bagit, HCI and all the ones that are currently being incubated, wish her an amazing and successful journey ahead. A journey full of good health, happiness, prosperity and satisfaction.

“It is my good fortune to have found a wonderful colleague like Mohini so early in my working life and I am filled with sadness that our ‘lucky shining star’ will be leaving us. But I know for sure that she will continue to cast her lucky charm on us and guide us to even better and happier times.

“We will all really miss Mohini. No words are sufficient to thank her for her contribution to the Group. We will continue to reap the benefits of that for the years to come.

“Please do join me in wishing Mohini the very best in all her future pursuits and to radiate happiness to all around her with her ever so charming smile and demeanor.”

Prabhu Chawla out, M.J. Akbar in at India Today

There is change at the top of the totempole of India’s largest English newsmagazine, India Today.

After several false rumours of his impending mortality as helmsman, editor Prabhu Chawla has been sent off to look after the language editions of the magazine.

Author-editor-columnist M.J. Akbar has been named editorial director of India Today and the English news channel owned by the group, Headlines Today.

The appointments were made public in an email sent by group editor-in-chief Aroon Purie to staff last night. The changes will take effect from Friday, September 24.

Below is the full text of Purie’s circular flagging the changes:

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“It gives me great pleasure in announcing the formation of a brand new SBU (strategic business unit) within Living Media, which will become an independent company very soon, that will address the burgeoning opportunity of Indian language publishing and all related extensions in the Indian language domain. To begin with, all current India Today language brands will be assigned to this new SBU.

This new company will be placed under the leadership of Prabhu Chawla, who will be designated Editor (Languages) and CEO. Prabhu Chawla will report into a Board. Given the tremendous opportunity of this space and in view of his new responsibilities, Chawla will give up the editorship of India Today – English edition and India Today – international and all their related extensions.

“As editor of the magazine for the last 14 years he has done great work in turning it into a weekly from fortnightly and maintaining its position as India’s leading newsmagazine. He will also be consulting editor to Business Today.

“Prabhu’s new mandate will be to address the business and editorial opportunity of Indian language publishing in an aggressive and focused manner. His efforts will be directed towards growing the existing language publications and to launch many more new language publications in the future. In collaboration with ITGD (India Today Group Digital) he will be addressing digital opportunities in the language space as well.

“Prabhu will continue to be associated with Seedhi Baat in Aaj Tak and will spearhead the group’s initiative in setting up a media/journalism institute. He will also continue to lead the group’s content archival project and the library resources. This comes into effect from September 24th, 2010.

“It also gives me immense pleasure in announcing the appointment of  M. J. Akbar as editorial director of India Today (English) and India Today (international) and their related extensions.

“He will also have the additional charge as Editorial Director of Headlines Today.

“MJ, as he is popularly known in the industry needs no introduction, given his rich and long experience in launching, managing and leading several top print publications in the country. MJ comes on board effective September 24th, 2010 and will report to me.

“As you can see, these are significant changes in the editorial leadership of our group’s flagship brands, which I am sure will be transformed by them to meet the challenges of the fast changing world that we live in. They will explore new opportunities too.

“Please join me in wishing Prabhu and MJ the very best and I also seek your active support in making this a smooth and successful transition.”

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Till The Week was launched in the early 1980s (and Outlook* in the mid-1990s), Akbar’s Sunday magazine, published by the Ananda Bazaar Patrika (ABP) group, was fortnightly India Today‘s main competitor. Akbar currently has a stake in the weekly newspaper The Sunday Guardian and writes a column for The Sunday Times of India.

Under Chawla, a former ABVP volunteer who used to cycle to the offices of India Today delivering press releases, India Today took a shine for the BJP and the magazine’s  anti-Congress vibe reportedly earned the displeasure of the ruling dispensation.

Akbar, a former Congress MP, too has been vehemently anti-Congress and anti-UPA. Dislodged in 2008 as editor-in-chief of The Asian Age which he helped found, Akbar has gone so far as to accuse prime minister Manmohan Singh of “sabotage” by signing the civilian nuclear deal with the United States.

Ironically, both Akbar and Chawla were in the running for a Rajya Sabha seat on the BJP ticket in 2008, but their ambitions were nixed with the nomination of another journalist turned politician, Balbir K. Punj. Chawla who figured in the Indian Express 2009 power list at No. 71, didn’t figure in the 2010 edition.

* Disclosures apply

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Also read: Don’t laugh: do journalists make good politicians?

Is media resorting to self-censorship on Ayodhya?

The run-up to the court verdict on the title suit in the Ayodhya dispute has seen plenty of activity built around the media. The News Broadcasters’ Association—the body representing private television news and current affairs broadcasters—has issued a set of four guidelines to all editors of member-news channels:

1) All news relating to the High Court judgment in the case should be verbatim reproduction of the relevant part of the said judgement uninfluenced by any opinion or interpretation.

2) No broadcast should be made of any speculation of the judgement before it is pronounced ; and of its likely consequence thereafter which may be sensational, inflammatory or provocative.

3) No footage of the demolition of the Babri Masjid is to be shown in any new item relating to the judgement.

4) No visuals need be shown depicting celebration or protest of the judgement.

Citing the size of the court room, the media (print and electronic) have been kept away from the compound of the Allahabad high court, and the court has gone so far as to say that the media must not speculate about the verdict till it has a copy of the operational part of the order.

Now, the Union home minister P. Chidambaram has urged the media to “reserve judgement and not make hasty pronouncements.”

While the precautions are no doubt understandable given the preciousness of human life, a good question to ask is, is the Indian media resorting to self-censorship in order to present a better face? In the process of doing so, is it allowing itself to be told what to do and what not to do, thus depriving viewers of what they should know?

If all this passes muster in the name of “self-restraint”, where does this self-restraint vanish on normal days? Is the NBA’s call for self-restraint now an admission of the utter lack of it on regular days?

Was the killing and mayhem that followed the demolition of the Babri masjid by Hindutva goons, while BJP leaders watched in 1992, squarely a fault of the media? Conversely, if the media weren’t around for this and other stories, would India be a land of milk and honey?

Cartoon: courtesy Keshav/ The Hindu

When an advertisement becomes the news

Both The Hindu and The Times of India have today run news items on the buzz created by the Volkswagen Vento “talking” advertisement that the two papers ran.

And both claim they were the “world’s first” newspaper to run the ad, without mentioning the other.

But, to its credit, The Times of India story also mentions the scare and confusion the ad caused. A maid thought there was a ghost in the morning paper. Elders panicked. And a panic call was made to the bomb squad in Bombay after a “beeping sound” was heard from a garbage bin where the paper had been thrown.

Also read: ‘Talking ads’ in The Hindu and The Times of India

Three reasons why the ToI-Volkswagen ad won’t work

3 reasons why ToI-Volkswagen ad doesn’t work

Still unaware that the Volkswagen Vento ‘talking’ ad appeared first in The Hindu, Madras, and not The Times of India, and that it also appears in The Hindu Business Line, the adman turned columnist Anil Thakraney lists three reasons why the ad doesn’t work, in Money Life:

1) Getting instant attention cannot be the sole purpose of advertising… The idea must always be to get attention in an endearing way, and in a way that the route embellishes the brand’s core personality.

2) It’s a boring, non-stop chatter from a sleepy voice, that pretty much translates what the ad is already saying. Now if my newspaper has to play the role of a radio in my life (eeeeks!), the least it must do is to entertain me.

3) For a luxury sedan, isn’t The Times of India, a mass paper, a waste of the ad rupee? Wouldn’t this gimmick have been more suitable for, say, The Economic Times? Or one of those many auto mags?

Read the full article: Gaddi badnaam hui

Also read: ‘Talking’ ads in The Hindu and The Times of India

‘Talking’ ads in The Hindu and The Times of India

Two leading Indian newspapers—The Hindu and The Times of India—have notched up a global first of sorts by carrying a “talking advertisement” two days in a row.

The pathbreaking ad, which first featured in the Madras edition of yesterday’s Hindu, now finds space in today’s ToI in its Bangalore, Bombay, Poona and Delhi markets.

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Today’s 36-page edition of ToI (Delhi market) is split into two sections: a 26-page news section, and a 10-page wraparound.

The opening page of the wraparound carries this announcement:

The Times of India and Volkswagen have created four pages of content as part of a special media innovation. Don’t miss reading and listening to this ‘speaking newspaper’.”

On the last page of the wraparound is a full-page Volkswagen ad for its new model Vento.

As the page is opened a light-sensitive speaker—yes, a light-sensitive speaker— weighing no more than a mere 10-15 grams and stuck on the extreme left panel in the advertisement (above), belts out the line in a loop:

“Best in class German engineering is here. The new Volkswagen Vento. Built with great care and highly innovative features. Perhaps that’s why it breaks the hearts of our engineers to watch it drive away.

“The new Volkswagen Vento.  Crafted with so much passion, it’s hard to let it go.

“Volkswagen. Das Auto.”

The same Volkswagen ad runs in other papers without the audio.

This is the second Volkswagen innovation in ToI after the German auto major “road-blocked” all advertisers in November 2009 by running 12 pages of  Volkswagen ads on its pages.

Talking advertisements have been done before. Even moving advertisements.  (Esquire magazine created a moving cover to mark its 75th anniversary in September 2008.)

However, this must be the first time daily newspapers of the size and reach of ToI and Hindu have done it at a time when American newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post are just about coming to terms with the reality of advertisements on the front page.

(This story which initially mentioned only ToI has been updated following tipoffs from alert readers, reflected in the first two comments)

Also read: Anything ToI does, the competition can do worse

Why Karan Thapar stopped haggling with God

Karan Thapar has a well-cultivated image of a tough, snarling, bulldog of a interviewer a la Jeremy Paxman.

All the aggressive, relentless questioning and eyeball to eyeball gazing with the crooked and the wicked of the world might leave viewers wondering if the man has a heart at all.

But the Devil’s Advocate has a human side, too. The tragedy, really, of losing a wife when young.

In his Sunday Sentiments column in the Hindustan Times, Thapar, 55, writes of his relationship with God and how it changed with the death of Nisha.

“Right up till my 30s I would often strike a deal with God. When I wanted something so desperately I was prepared to sacrifice for it, I would enter into an agreement: ‘I’m going to give up X, Y and Z and, in return, I want you to do A for me.’

“The change that occurred after Nisha’s death was small, simple but significant.

“From not knowing if God existed and thus being sceptical I switched to not wanting to risk he might be there and thus offending him. My new position became ‘I don’t know for sure but I’m prepared to accept he does exist’.

“From caution — or fear, if you prefer — was this new belief born….

“It’s now over 20 years since Nisha’s death and, except once, I haven’t bargained with God or, rather, with any of the Gods on my list of prayer. That phase is over. I’m now a believer except there’s no single name of God I place my trust in. I believe in God with a capital G and that means all his manifestations and avatars.”

Read the full column: Oh my God!

Visit his blog: Sunday sentiments

Also read: Did Karan Thapar stand a chance with Benazir?

From the desk of Shri Quickgun Chidambaram

Separated at birth: Karan Thapar and Keith Olbermann

93 seconds to knock 93 years of a hero’s life

‘Repeating bullshit doesn’t make it wisdom’