Tag Archives: NYT

WaPo, Amazon, HT, and the Reliance-TV18 deal

There was plenty of buzz about the Washington Post building being sold to shore up the books. But when the paper’s staff was convened for a meeting on the afternoon of August 5, they were in for a shock: the family-owned newspaper itself was being sold.

The sale, to Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, has made global headlines, not least because of the paper’s iconic place in modern journalism, thanks to its Watergate investigation.

Not least because a digital titan was the “white knight” riding in to save a dead-tree medium.

The low value of the sale has also set alarm bells ringing of the mortality of the print medium, as indeed has the ease with which the Katherine Graham family has parted with a one-town, one-industry paper they had so affectionately, so assiduously nurtured into a global brand.

Here, Anant Goenka, the scion of the family-owned Indian Express group, analyses the sale and its aftermath in the Indian context.

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anantgoenka

by ANANT GOENKA

“Comparing WaPo’s price to Tumblr & Instagram is stupid. Guess what? Great journalism is a worse business than social networking! Who cares?” A tweet from the Atlantic’s Andrew Golis.

Here’s why he’s wrong.

The Washington Post brand—a role model for journalism around the democratic world, and an aspiration in countries that don’t enjoy free press like Singapore and China—once considered priceless, now has a value.

Even the Hindustan Times, a thinly traded stock, has a value of Rs. 2,250 crore today that is based only on their profit and loss, and doesn’t factor in real estate or the brand.

WashPo’s value at Rs. 61 to the US dollar is Rs 1,550 crore.

This is relevant as it marks a shift in the way news media companies are valued.

Newscorp, Disney and New York Times didn’t value Wall Street Journal, ABC (and ESPN) or the International Herald Tribune like PE funds at 25 times profit after tax.

They believed they were bidding for the brand.

Twenty years ago, when the New York Times bought over Boston Globe, they valued it based on current revenues, expected future revenues from joint ad selling, cost efficiencies from scale, and, importantly, value of the Globe’s brand: possibly calculated by assigning a certain dollar value to each paid subscriber.

World over, news companies weren’t just valued by their business success, but for intangibles such as ability to influence public perception, discussion and political agenda, and the brand recall as well. And for good reason.

It’s no small feat for a brand to be recognized by every household in America.

McDonalds, Ford, Elvis Presley during his time, these are brands every American has heard of. Washington Post, New York Times, ABC, CBS, and other media companies, with a fraction of the turnover of McDonalds or Ford, are names known to every American.

How do you assign a value to that?

Similarly, Red Sox owner’s purchase of the Boston Globe at a value of 70 million dollars three days ago puts a pretty low value to a brand that is known to every citizen in Massachusetts.

Aside from the fact that the sale shows that proprietors are willing to exit without assigning any major value to the brand, it also shows that proprietors have given up, maybe without trying enough, finding ways to monetize a brand either by innovative brand extensions or franchise operations beyond the core product.

You can’t blame them. Experiments world over have shown that audiences are sticky to the first medium and don’t transfer across.

The most commercially successful radio channels, TV stations and magazines were started by a team of people dedicated to their platform and didn’t have much to do with the core business.

Take Time Out for instance, present in every major city, owned by very autonomous franchises. There isn’t any city where the destination city happenings/blog site is TimeOut.com.

Not Bangalore, London, Mumbai, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Prague or St. Petersburg.

It’s too soon to tell if the sale of Washington Post is good for journalism or not.

It’ll depend on the maturity and seriousness with which the new owner decides to run the paper with.

The trend of billionaires owning newspapers will only benefit journalism if they are as ruthless with the bottom lines of their news companies as they would be of any other company they have a stake in.

Because for any industry to flourish, bad business models and poorly run companies in the industry must perish quickly.

Companies that do journalism the world over will benefit only when Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos and other billionaire owners use their wealth of knowledge, experience in their areas of specialization and deep pockets to experiment with the goal of creating a business model that sustains itself.

This is why I believe Network 18’s sale to Reliance was a disservice to the news industry in India – it allowed a business that was far too expensively run to survive longer.

And the sale, now in its second year, will only help the industry when, with Reliance’s business acumen, the Network 18 group can find a way to be profitable (inclusive of interest cost).

Sure, it’s legitimate strategy to bleed the competition if you can sustain your loss, but to have a sugar daddy reinforcing poor business will soon lead India to an environment with only vested interest business media owners.

Incidentally, the Indian Express and its owners have no other business interests. The Hindu and Ananda Bazaar Patrika are other such companies.

In the fields of education, healthcare and news media, being purely “for-profit” has always seemed to be a little bit of a conflict of interest. But it is at times like these that we remind ourselves that a self-sustaining business model is the most important trait of a company that wants to be consistent in its impact on society

Also read: RIL has no direct stake in media companies

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

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How ‘New York Times’ stumped India’s censors

Foreign publications usually get into a kerfuffle with superpatriotic Indian authorities over the depiction of the geographical boundaries of India in maps and infographs.

Publications like The Economist, for instance, have noisily run afoul of censors for (corrrectly) showing parts of Kashmir as belonging to Pakistan and China.

The New York Times which recently launched an India blog called India Ink, has found a way out of a potential panga by using a cartoonish map of India (above), which magnanimously hands back the Pakistan-occupied and China-occupied parts of Kashmir to India, and which is far removed from the cartographic version of India that NYT otherwise uses (below).

So, which is the India the NYT blog will cover?

(Which is, just a roundabout sort of way of drawing the attention of the “host, chef and chief bottle washer” of India Ink, Heather Timmons to sans serif. Chill.)

Also read: The Indian Express stands up for The Economist

Censored, but no copies of Economist have been confiscated

The troubling nexus doesn’t trouble too many

Barkha Dutt breaks silence in NYT interview

For 15 days, as the media storm over the Niira Radia tapes raged around her, NDTV’s star-anchor Barkha Dutt opted to speak to the world through an official press release, an online essay, and a pre-recorded inquisition by print editors.

Dutt declined to appear on a Karan Thapar show and in a Headlines Today debate, and even spurned on-screen advice from Sanjaya Baru of the Business Standard to apologise and move on.

Now, she has broken her silence in an interview with Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times:

“I look at some of the conversations, and I do feel I should have been more alert,” she said in an interview on Friday at the studios of her television station, NDTV.

“I should have been more skeptical. I should have known better.”

Photograph: courtesy Lynsey Addario/ New York Times

A broadsheet battle as seen by a tabloid tycoon

An easy-to-understand animated film of the battle between Arthur Sulzberger‘s New York Times and Rupert Murdoch‘s Wall Street Journal, as interpreted by the Taiwanese tabloid tycoon, Jimmy Lai‘s company Next Media Animation.

External reading: Tabloid sensation recreates the news

Why did the editor cross Kasturba Gandhi Marg?

So, why did Raju Narisetti suddenly leave Mint, the business Berliner launched by the Hindustan Times group, in December 2008, less than two years after the newspaper’s launch, and return to the United States?

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# Was it because he was opposed to staff and salary cuts as proposed by the management, as insiders claimed?

# Was it because he had carried out his mandate of launching a credible newspaper and was ready to move on, as the management claimed?

# Was it because he had a tempting offer as one of the managing editors of The Washington Post?

# Was it because his wife was finding living in India more and more difficult?

# Or was it because an pesudonymous open letter to the prime minister by a serving IAS officer published by Mint had not gone down well with the HT management (whose vice-chairman Shobhana Bharatiya is a Rajya Sabha member nominated by the Congress), as the market speculation was (which Narisetti denied)?

There has never been a clear picture, but an indication that Narisetti and HT had parted reasonably amicably came recently when his name resurfaced on the paper’s tombstone as “Founder-Editor”.

Now, Narisetti has revealed a bit more of the circumstances surrounding his exit in a New York Times story by Heather Timmons on people of Indian origin who find it difficult to work in the country of their birth and then return home to the United States:

“Some very simple practices that you often take for granted, such as being ethical in day to day situations, or believing in the rule of law in everyday behavior, are surprisingly absent in many situations,” said Narisetti, who was born in Hyderabad and returned to India in 2006 to found Mint….

He said he left earlier than he expected because of a troubling nexus of business, politics and publishing that he called draining on body and soul.

Also read: Pseudonymous author spelt finis to Mint editor?

Shashi Tharoor isn’t the only Tweetiya in town

‘Good journalists, poor journalism, zero standards’

William Safire’s 18 steps to better writing

It’s not known if William Safire, who wrote the “On Language” column in the New York Times Magazine for 30 years till earlier this month, was conversant with the ways of social media, but it is safe to presume that he would have been horrified at how his demise last night was coveyed to readers subscribing to Jim Romenesko‘s media notes via Google Reader.

“NYT ‘On Language’ columnist Safire dies at 79”

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Of course, Safire, the author of “the nattering nabobs of negativism” and “hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history”, would get the joke, but you get the picture?

Neatorama has a compilation of Safire’s rules for writing:

*  Remember to never split an infinitive
* The passive voice should never be used
* Do not put statements in the negative form
* Verbs have to agree with their subjects
* Proofread carefully to see if you words out
* If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be by rereading and editing.
* A writer must not shift your point of view
* And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)
* Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!
* Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents
* Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided
* If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is
* Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors
* Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky
* Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing
* Always pick on the correct idiom
* The adverb always follows the verb
* Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; seek viable alternatives

Read The New York TimesWilliam Safire obituary

Also read: George Orwell‘s six rules for better writing

Sir V.S. Naipaul‘s seven rules for writers

‘The only award I want to win is from my readers’

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It is routine to hear super-achievers claim that the ultimate stamp of approval of their achievement comes when they are recognised and rewarded by their peers and compatriots.

Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman, in a discussion with the editorial staff of the New Delhi-based Indian Express, strikes a discordant note:

“People ask me what I do for a living. I tell them I am a translator from English to English. I sit down with that banker who really can only speak in the tongue of the financial market and I take that and I turn it into something simple that, hopefully, readers can understand.

“The trick is to make something much more readable without losing the complexity. We are in the communications business and sometimes we forget that. We are not in the obfuscation business and I have never written for my colleagues.

“I don’t want to win the journalist-of-the-year award from my colleagues. I want to win it from my readers. The reason why you should never read your critics is that if you do, you start writing for them and your reader picks up the paper and says, what the hell is this about?”

Read the full article: ‘There’s no Wall Street or Main Street, only one street, and we are all on it

Photograph: courtesy Discovery