Sunday, November 11, 2012

Who's Minding The Store? - Part 2 (TOI Story)



The man driving a tank down New York’s 5th Street is not some American General who’s on a victory parade. He was 15 and spotty when he wrote the first copy for his own magazine. He once bungee-jumped 100 metres off a Las Vegas tower to launch domestic flights. He has flown on balloons across the world. He has also spent a night in jail for smuggling records and evading taxes (he later paid them so escaped a sentence). The man is none other than Richard Branson. Crazy adventurer and successful businessman! When he was about to launch his airline’s first flight from UK to the US he called up the press in New York to announce his grand airline; Virgin. They asked him how many aircrafts he had and his team proudly said: “1”. The press didn’t bother and nobody cared. That’s how Branson decided that instead of depending on the press he would do his own thing for publicity. He drove the tank to launch Virgin Cola and shot the cannon at Coca Cola. The cola flopped but his publicity stunt remains famous. Among many, two people in India were most inspired by Branson. One was Vijay Mallya who imitated him but didn’t have his business sense. The other is Samir Jain the head of the huge media empire of the Times Group (TOI). Branson had a business principle: If something doesn’t succeed in one year, dump it. Samir Jain has it, Vijay Mallya doesn’t.  

SamirJain
What Samir Jain learned from Branson he turned into a successful ‘profit-model’ while Mallya has only ‘models’ and no profits. Branson had remarked in an interview that he had saved his company tens of millions of dollars in advertising with his stunts which the media covered for free. That’s what triggered the idea for Medianet, Advertorials and “paid publicity” for TOI. SJ said: “When I read it, I said, ‘Oh, my God, eureka—I’m stupid!’ Why these guys are not advertising in my paper is because I’m giving them free PR”. Today, nothing is free in TOI. Want to promote an event? You pay! Want to promote a movie? You pay! Want to promote a rising starlet? You pay! Running a fashion show? Sure, TOI will cover it but sponsor wants mileage; You pay! Then followed ‘Private treaties’, a barter system, under which small companies got advertisements and publicity in exchange for equity.

In the previous part we discussed the rise of Dhirubhai Ambani in the 1980s. Samir Jain’s rise to the leadership of TOI also started around the late 80s and thus followed a string of innovations. His brother Vineet Jain, who jointly runs the business, told New Yorker’s Ken Auletta: “We are not in the newspaper business, we are in the advertising business”. That’s redefining the business although it has been that way for ages. It used to be that newspapers as per rules had to devote at least 33% of space for news and editorials and 67% could be used for advertisements. It still may be, but supplements and pull-outs extend it beyond such limits. TOI practices are not respected by observers but none of it is illegal. What the TOI started as ‘pay for everything’ has culminated into ‘paid news’ as we now know it. While TOI may be sticking to some standards various other big and small newspapers have used the concept of ‘paid news’ widely. TOI is financially independent and doesn’t need doles from govts or frequent doses of investments. That’s the big difference.

For a newspaper whose editor once said “he had the second most important job after the PM” the TOI has more or less made the editor redundant. There are periods when TOI has even gone without an editor. It doesn’t need one. Strikingly, Vineet Jain observes: Earlier, the newspapers were written more for the intellectual élites.. It was too serious at some point. It was not relevant to our readers”. In other words, it was about making TOI more relevant for the ‘Educated & aspiring Aam Aadmi’. I consider that a splendid move because I consider some intellectual elites to have caused more damage to India than any other group. But make no mistake, with its rise in circulation and reach the TOI did wield considerable power in the “establishment”. Vineet was invited to a function when Barack Obama visited India but he declined and he adds: “What will I do? It’s just meeting somebody, shaking hands. What’s the point... the closer I get to politicians, the more they’ll interfere. It’s a Catch-22. Politicians are no one’s friends”. Well said. Which is why it is surprising that that TimesNow has lately been frequently on a witch-hunt of certain politicians with Arnab Goswami as the obnoxious hunter.

Bill Gates was late to latch on to the internet. So too was the Times Group on the TV front. Bill Gates never recovered ground but TOI managed to make up for its TV presence. I have no data but safe to say that among English news channels TimesNow can claim to be No.1 in India. On the internet front Indiatimes occupies a strong leadership position, both in terms of news and online business. It may face threats from the likes of Flipkart in times to come; nothing alarmingly worrying though.

TOI has done away with the “intellectual” editors. I now call this tribe not editors but “editorialists” whose main job is to “swing public opinion”. It’s not as if TOI has completely ignored the “mini-bar” owning intellectual elites. Sometime back they came up with “Times Crest” just to soothe the crestfallen egos of the elites. A former head of TOI’s marketing once claimed TOI is read in the drawing rooms while local language newspapers are read in barber shops. Since then that has been altered a bit with ventures in regional languages. Latest being a Bengali version too. Surprisingly, from a drawing room paper, TOI is now frequently referred to as the TOI-let paper. It doesn’t faze them as it rightly shouldn’t any business organisation. What should be even more surprising is that despite years of Kolkata being their home, the Jains are not as Commie as most other newspapers and TV channels. It is just as unlikely that you will regularly find Election opinion polls or Exit polls in TOI. This is a job for the “swinging” editorialists and TV channels.

Sometime back Arnab launched a major witch-hunt against Suresh Kalmadi and CWG. Ah I guess that had something to do with TOI not getting certain CWG media contracts which were doled out unfairly to NDTV and CNN-IBN. Fine! TOI as a group also hounds Narendra Modi frequently. Partly understandable considering Modi had slapped a sedition case against their Ahmedabad edition. But the excessive witch-hunt of Nitin Gadkari is certainly inexplicable. The insipid Gadkari is not even news-worthy most times. That’s a rare political witch hunt the truth of which will unfold in time. What TOI started as a revenue generation practice others have used for both political and business profits. If you filter and crunch all the news for a whole day it wouldn’t last more than 15 minutes. Add regional news from all states and it still wouldn’t last an hour. So what do our 24X7 news channels do? Repeats, yes! Then you have all the shows on cars and bikes, Bollywood pre-release promos, Foodie programs, Cars and bikes, Marks4Sports, Hills and environment and so on. All of it, I repeat, all of it is paid for and sponsored. None of these programs are genuine news items or documentaries. And most of all, political news is also paid for and sponsored. Panellists on debates are also paid for appearance (Not party spokesmen). Quite often the debates are “fixed” as in match/spot fixing in sporting games.

Even as I write I watch NDTV doing a 5-minute promo for Café Coffee Day as “news item”. Most people would confuse this nonsense for Sunday trivia but it’s not. It’s a cleverly disguised paid promo (Sunday, November 11, 9.20am). For the quarter ended September 2012 NDTV showed another loss of 16 crores. This must add to their heavily accumulated losses but still companies keep pouring funds into this channel. Must be some magic, eh? Reliance has indirect investments in NDTV through DE Shaw. Jindals have invested in NDTV. Surely, there must be something about NDTV’s failing business that holds an attraction for these investors. Reliance infused some 1400 crores in the TV18 network (CNN-IBN and the gang). If “Congress toh apni dukaan hai” and Reliance is minding that store then guess who’s minding the store for Reliance.

One of the good things about TOI’s full front-page-ad sheet is that you can safely remove it and dump it; which is what most people do. TOI being the leader others followed their example and tried but failed to evoke the same PR revenue. So instead, political PR was the next best choice. Some like to call the TOI a TOIlet paper but one of the realities they have accepted is that the “Editor” is useless. For that reason the TOI is far less biased than its competitors. Most wouldn’t know who the TOI editor is. Compare that with editors of Hindustan Times, Indian Express or The Hindu or TV channels. Compare Vinod Sharma, Shekhar Gupta, Vardabhai, Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai. Who do you think are more biased and pepper their news items with a definite tilt? Some even peddle outright lies as news. TOI does have its bias but it’s clearly in favour of business more than politics or govt. Why do you think TimesNow is perceived to be less biased when compared to NDTV or CNN-IBN? The answer is not hard to guess.

Samir Jain is a very reclusive man and said to be quite spiritual. He doesn’t make too many public appearances, not even in the awards shows of his company. If Rahul Gandhi really wanted to learn “BackOps” he should have chosen Samir as his teacher. Vineet Jain in contrast is more in the public eye. Even the frivolous “Aman Ki Asha” campaign is nothing more than a business campaign and not some Track-2 diplomacy. You can tell by the increase in ‘Shaadi’ classifieds from Pakistan in their papers. TOI doesn’t have to depend on the govt for money. Indian Express wouldn’t survive without doles from the govt.

Like Dhirubhai Ambani, there is no Padma or any major award decorating Samir or Vineet Jain. While petty media celebs like Barkha, Rajdeep, ShekharG and others have many such awards. If Congress is a “Dukaan” for Reliance there must be some playing the role of the “Delivery boys’. TOI is not that delivery boy, I leave it to you to guess who the delivery boys and girls are. Yes, TOI does mind a store, one of its own, that of covering up the business-end of crimes. Don’t expect TOI to bother too much about corruption or exposing politicians or govt; Nitin Gadkari is an aberration. Don’t ever expect TOI to expose any major advertiser or major business unit. Its business is not political but of turning every available cm and mm of its newspaper into money.

Quotes of Samir Jain and Vineet Jain and some trivia from “Citizens Jain” by Ken Auletta in The New Yorker (October 2012)

Concluded.

23 comments:

  1. Hanky Panky deals are in blood of Jains. Look at Mundhra affair which was due to this family. Thanks God, I stopped buying and reading Toilet of Italy newspaper, as described by a person, and saved my hard earned money. Wonder, if Arnav tried to extract money from NG in lieu of not going after him in 19 episode. My God every one got arnavdiorrhea that time.

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    1. What Zee allegedly did, Times was also accused of. Thats how the CWG scams was unravelled just like Gadkari's case. Remember?

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  2. I have the feeling that these Jain bros.are having more skeletons in their cupboards than any other media house which could be related to money laundering etc. as hinted by Mr.Gadkari. They seem to me a copy book case of crony capitalism in today's India. Let's hope some day some swamy will dare to expose them which would become an example for other media houses.

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  3. The first part was more or less an OHT (Overhead Transmission). And that is because even if call myself an educated fellow, but it would take eyes of eagle to scan the ongoing BS in the media and politics. I don't how much more time it would take to identify these scoundrels. Let's hope it to be soon.

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  4. Pls see BBC Program ROYAL TELEVISION SOCIETY LECTURE, how social media is changing journalism.

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  6. TOI is as bias towards Congress like the rest of the other English newspapers. Usually they carried out pictures of Sonia Gandhi for no reason in any news item related to Congress. In 2002 Gujarat election they were making their readers believe that the election was neck to neck. I read an editorial where they said that illegal Bangladeshi immigration were okay since this world should actually be a free world and any person should be able to go and live wherever they want. In Bombay Times once they carried a story about how the people living in the suburbs of Mumbai had inferior genes when compared with those people living in the city!! Once they printed out a police report of how the rape was carried out - reporting how the victims panties was stripped and so on.

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    1. In Bombay Times once they carried a story about how the people living in the suburbs of Mumbai had inferior genes when compared with those people living in the city!!

      Are they mad? if they think in that way, they must have the same pea sized brains of the reporter who posted this gem.

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  7. TOI is certainly more objective than the neta owned or funded newspapers, and definitely more independent than the losers who advertisers don't bother to spend money on. Worse are newspapers and channels indirectly funded by political parties. Toss some money at these papers and channels and watch their journalists and anchors do strip tease acts and lap dances to your liking.

    If you've ever seen the Indian Express, you will be struck with the amount of government ads and tender notices that paper gets. Far too many to justify its meagre readership. Actually printing the paper is a big expense, and Indian Express should simply go completely online. It hardly has readership in print anyway. In essence, public money is funding Shekhar Gupta's rag meet many of its expenses. That and Shekhar Gupta needs to be tossed out on his behind, replaced with someone more respectable and objective.

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  8. After reading your story, I googled Richard Branson & saluted the man who has risked his life on many occasions, be it for promoting his company or to promote the conservation of the tiger shark. Contrast this with the Jains and you realise that they have been smarter than him. They have mastered the art of 'gain without pain.' TOI has been the leader when it comes to 'paid publicity' as well.

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  9. So nothing is for free in the TOI-let paper. Ahh, then THAT explains the pro-congress stance of this paper. BJP and Gadkari must have been niggardly. Serve those misers right!

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  10. When the only stated object is making money, TOI should never claim any privileges and freedoms of Media or Press more than what is available to ordinary (not rich)citizens.

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  11. Oh! The rule says ratios of news to advt is 33:67. But as Reliance has always done, TOI also violates and get rule changed (or regularized)? TOI Bengaluru Edition on 10th November had a unique situation. Page 1 started on Page 5(Honestly, yes - not writing this for effect). https://twitter.com/surnell/status/267151681970638848

    Got a measuring tape and measured out the contents and was shocked to discover that non-advertisement content (incidentally, even that had a lot of promotional content in the name of news) was just 14% and even for a Broadsheet specification paper sizes were wrong (economized there)- A silly unimportant statistics but proves what you are making here too.

    Reliance during licence Raj violated every possible rule and did the best possible - Get the Rules changed. Alternately make piles of money and pay pittance as fine. Makes good business sense and that is the reason why they are No. 1 As some activist say, Government is run by Reliance, I would only be happy Provided they run it in the model of Reliance :)

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  12. Mind you, Times group shares highest % of ads from Government of India :-)

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    1. @Shaurabh..

      That is not an accurate inference. In terms of absolute share, maybe. But you cannot talk about ad share without relating it to the total sales of the newspaper. TOI sells over 4 million every day. That is the highest sale for an English paper in the whole world.

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  13. What ever you say, TOI is far better than IE and Hindu interms of quality of editorials and news coverage. As a reader I would like to see news from all quarters, which IE and Hindu lack. They have news only limited to certain parts, you know better. Also the editorial teams are more biased towards one party, you know which is that and probably you wanted TOI to be like that. TOI has editorials intellectuals from different spaces and also from different parties mostly both from BJP and Congress and more are neutrals. You don't like that. You like none should be from other parties than your preferred parties. If TimesNow hunted Gadkari, what is wrong, he is president of a main opposition party that claim to be clean and different. Don't you think the same TimesNow also hunted A Raja, Kalamadi and many others UPA ministers. Don't you think you yourself is biased to get support for BJP. I suggest you before pointing finger on someone about having biased projection in media, you better have unbiased attitude.

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    1. @Marudi

      I wonder what you read in the whole article. If anything the post states clearly that TOI is far less biased than any other media. I think your comment is based on a poor reading of the whole post.

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    2. Only suggestion for you. Improve your comprehension skills.

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  14. Great article Ravinar.

    The one thing I would like to point about TOI is their comments section. I think, this is the only Newsportal where comments are moderated first instead of posting first and people raising false flag/offensive check. You can post anything in comments, any number of gaali's, disrespect mothers and sisters of people, the admin won't care. You can use fake characters, do whatever you want. But now, the moment you mention TOI or any of their advertising practices or their biased attitude or the inaccuracy of the articles etc., the commented will not be posted by admin. They claim 'Freedom of Speech' should prevail but they themselves are not open to accept anything against themselves even if it's truth. They are too busy to promote Poonam Pandey everyday, for all her nonsense publicity stunts like Bathing or her Bra and her recommendations about choosing one. It's understandable that Poonam Pandey is one of her clients and business is too serious for them and anything that makes money gets space. The articles in lifestyle sections which contains only about sex aren't original, get repeated frequently and they won't even care to give due credit to original international authors.

    It's not difficult to observe, on their online edition, 60% news are junk news not worthy to be front page. They hold biased opinions and reporting techniques too. Investigation journalism is dead for many news papers including TOI. Once they published headlines 'BJP opposing Lokpal'. In the article, they only cared to mention that Congress proposed the bill and BJP opposing it. No mention of BJP on why they are opposing it and what issues they quoted in the current lokpal bill. I saw the debate on TV and felt it was pretty important to know BJP's side before anyone jumping to conclusions. But Nah, TOI didn't bothered and the result was comments full of people bashing BJP jumping to one sided conclusion without even bothering to know or investigate the opposition's stand and why there has been a opposition. Even if they are wrong in opposing, there should have been proper spirit of journalism by these MSM news portals on the basis of atleast educating the reader on the issue rather than taking sides and showing positives on their side only.

    Lastly apologies for big comment. I agree with Ravinar that every newspaper is horrible but TOI is still tolerable.

    Cheers,
    Verma.

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  15. Leave out bias etc. TOI is the worst newspaper when it comes to quality of writing. Tons of spelling mistakes, grammatic errors, wrong names, meaningless articles.There is no editor at all.
    Why do they even pretend they are a newspaper, the output is to level of a tabloid like "National Enquirer" in US.

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    1. Could not agree more. I prefer to read The Dawn to get proper prospective. The Dawn is 100 times better than any Indian c$$$. Hope one day they enter India and start publication here.

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  16. Interesting that you wrote about DA and Vineet Jain. One tending to be flamboyant and the other so reclusive. Usuually flamboyance should fetch an award not that DA or Vineet Jain really bothered about it. If they had wanted they could have got the award commitee eating out of their hands. Possibly they were nominating
    and recommending other awardees. The DA team may also finally get the President a Bharat Ratna ;-)

    I have always held that business and political power have been partners for a long time now - from the times of empire building - remember the East India Company, Opium wars etc. However in those times they were together against 'locals'. Now they mostly work against their own people. We have forgotten this in all the hoopla about democracy and power to the people etc.

    Politics and business share a symbiotic relationship and it is all about money. We can keep beating our chests about corruption till the cows come home. It is not going to go away. Don't we see that more and more politicos are in business nowadays. Corporatisation of politics!

    Where I have a problem with people like DA is the rather brazen and cynical way in which he broke the system - I would not like to use manipulated or managed. I would like to credit him more with giving confidence to many people to break the system and get away with it. If it was only about 'speeding it up' one could rationalize it. The problem is that many times the brazeness
    resulted in illegalities since the law takes its own course. Possibly he could not break the award system or it was the system's way of getting back at him:-)

    It has been known for some time that newspapers etc., do exactly what ToI has

    been doing inspite of their protestations to the contrary. They are business ventures and have to show profits to atleast stay afloat. The only problem is that they dont have the courage to stand up and say loudly and clearly that commercial sense is more important than idealogy - even commies know this- and bias is inherent to mankind instead of trying to stand on a pedestal and
    pontificating. All this talk about independent media is only a blind. Considering that ToI has the strength to be independent, I only wish that ToI had the desire to take up more issues that could ease the lives of the 'mango people'. However one bit of info that jolted me was that NDTV made a loss. I dont think it is possible considering that it has been around for 2 decades. Did u look at their investment shell companies :-)

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