Monday, March 26, 2007

What not to learn from the world's largest English-language broadsheet newspaper

This is part two of the earlier MediaVidea story on the future of news. I want to draw readers' attention towards the lower end of the journalism fulcrum, of markets where there is less news and more noise, of markets where newspapers are forging ahead instead of folding up operations, of readerships that lap up sensation, mistaking it for news because of the TINA factor (There Is No Alternative).

The Times of India newspaper today sells 2.7 million copies daily, and has an average issue readership in excess of 8.4 million.

I have never worked for TOI or any other paper. What I am going to point out is what I don't like as an avid reader of newspapers and I think media can bring in positive changes in a developing society such as India. Living in a country where corruption, mis-governance, pervasive feudal structures, a VIP culture go hand in hand, I think and maybe this may seem wrong to some, that rather than write about the yet another rape/miscarriage of justice type story, you might educate people to how to go about - in this case, why not run 1 minute shorts about basic self-defense, basic law and related useful information?

The things that are wrong with TOI may also be said of many other papers in these parts of the world.

I had written down some points to say about what I felt was wrong with the paper that is more than 100 years old but Wikipedia made it easy.

The Wikipedia article says the same things that all media folks in India know but rarely dare to say it out.
Reason: The ‘Lady from Boribunder’ can be a generous paymaster and going by its reputation, it can stifle dissent quickly.

- Many accuse that The Times of India does not always acknowledge its Indian news sources.

- Many readers say the paper has modelled sections of the newspaper upon fashion tabloids.

- Stories of management interference in editorial policy are common. In fact, even I don't know who edits TOI nowadays. t

- The policy of selling paid news: The Times Group has a scheme called "medianet", which other firms can use to purchase editorial coverage in the daily.

- More recently, the Times Group has started a focused practice on acquiring clients under a program named "Private Treaties", in which PR and advertisements are provided in return for purchase of client's company shares.

- The newspaper unabashedly promotes its inhouse brands owned by its parent company, M/s Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd, (such as Times Internet, Femina, Radio Mirchi, Planet M, Times Music).

- The city supplements issued with the newspaper usually features some games, jokes, a fortune teller and television guide. The coverage is skewed towards glamor, fashion, life style articles and 'filmy' issues , which often contribute more than 75% of the entire supplement. You can credit TOI to bringing in the so-called Page 3 society and related coverage, like the Page 6 of New York papers, creating people who are famous for being famous. Director Madhur Bhandarkar even made a satirical film on the issue, called what else but, 'Page 3'.

- Overly sensationalizing news stories. The paper, celebrates the consumerist boom with the usual rhetoric of "Young India", a favorite subject with every other publication and electronic media outlets.

- Less of 'Hows and Whys, the cornerstones of reportage. The paper offers no solutions to the problems it seemingly highlights. You can say the same about most other media properties in this country.

A Simple Guide to the Indian Newspaper Market
The monopoly of the big two newspaper groups in India shuts out competition. I do not know about other newspaper markets in other countries but TOI and HT (Hindustan Times) sell their papers for almost 1/5 of their printing and distribution costs.

Thus only well-funded people can think of entering the news business in India. According to some estimates, it would cost upwards of Rs. 2 billion and upwards to launch a newspaper in India.

It is no surprise that print newspapers will continue to thrive in India for more than in Western Countries as PC and Internet penetration is still abysmal.

A bit of Newspaper economics: Cigarettes, newspapers and more...
A pack of Camel cigarettes cost around $3.32 in the United States; whereas, a 1 week subscription to the NYT might cost around $12.

In India, a big pack of Gold Flake costs around Rs. 38 whereas; a one month subscription to TOI costs Rs. 78.

I am no economist expert or anything but these figures do give you an idea about the Indian Newspaper market.
Idea: Somebody ought to create the Media version the Economist's Big MAC index.

Your typical Indian reader might spend Rs. 3-5 on a cigarette stick or a cup of tea; he won’t spend it on a newspaper.

He is spoiled silly by the low prices offered by the big newspaper companies.

You would find it surprising that the people living in the poor hinterlands were happy paying around Rs 3-4 for a paper whereas the city people paid only Rs. 1.50.

Now, with the increasing media consolidation in India, the big paper companies are offering lower prices to beat out competition. The core of this media expansion into the Indian hinterland is the stringer, who is paid around Rs. 1500 per month to submit stories. That is less than what even a laborer earns and so the idea of great news reporting goes for a six.

So, what do we learn from the world's largest newspaper?

News is news. Period.

Think better, think positive.

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At 7:33 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good points.

Did you know TOI covers news of latest product from TOI on the front page?

At 7:35 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder where P.Sainath has gone. His reportage was exemplary

At 3:48 PM , Blogger First Rainbow said...

Well, just because I work with Times of India Group does not mean that I will work like a paid PR guy...somehow I feel the blog post is a bit inclined....not a all competitive markets all leader brands take extreme marketing steps to reamian where they are...its sort of universal...

At 8:57 PM , Blogger Pramit Singh said...

Of course, making money is universal. However, when you are in the news business, be true to the news and the important part it lays in taking a society forward. Going by your agreement, one might accept a politician's argument that one needs to make money to educate one's kids in America and that is why he accepts bribes.

Readers read a newspaper for news. Period. Especially from something as old and respected as TOI.

Did you know some of the best quality papers in the world are run by non-profit orgs?

There must be distinction between the multiple business units of a big media brand.

By the way, selling valuable front page space in garb of PR doesn't show the news brand in a good way does it?

Either one is a newspaper or one is a Pr agency. Choose one. Don't confuse.


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