This is a reaction to an opinion piece fellow-media-professional Pradyuman Maheshwari has written. (Check it here http://www.exchange4media.com/e4m/news/fullstory.asp?Section_id=1&News_id=37123&Tag=2352) I want to say to him: well written piece, Praddy, but wow, man, you’ve said that the Times of India is a “media group that has scant regard for editorial integrity”? See, I have no axe to grind either for or against the TOI, and I guess you probably don’t too, in spite of what happened with mediaah years ago. But am curious why you believe – as I understand from your column above, that the TOI is “a media group with scant regard for editorial integrity.” Only because of Medianet? Many other newspapers I know have a similar model. In fact, due to past interactions with publishing houses, I have been privy to signed documents pertaining to paid editorial deals OR free editorial support for ads bought – it’s exactly the same thing. In fact, in those documents, one has seen a list of exactly specified kinds of stories with specific positions, page numbers, periodicity and equivalent advertising cost, etc.
And like Maheshwari said to the effect in his column, it’s good to milk an opportunity and monetize a good thing better. But yes, the reader should be informed — with at least the same prominence as that given to a story byline – of the fact that the piece s/he’s reading has been paid for and hence is salesmanship in print and not editorial in print. But some of the other papers indulging in this sort of thing do not even bother to have a Medianet division up front, and instead sales enters into cahoots with editorial and so, with all the public outcries against Medianet-kind of arrangements, the owners of those publications don’t have to worry that their readers would ever experience any righteous indignation that they are being fooled into consuming advertorials as editorial. Just suppose that a staff photographer of a top Page-3 type publication in Mumbai was charging fashion- and other celebs a surreptitious fee for clicking their photographs and pushing them for publication, and if the sales head and the media owner were to learn of it, what’s wrong about the media owner wanting to rightfully develop that source of revenue as a fresh revenue stream for the media vehicle he owns?
The big problem arises when the media owner permits the rules and stipulations (read embargoes) that govern paid editorials of the Page-3 supplement to override the editorial considerations of the mother publication. I have a TV station, so do not mention other TV stations by name. I have a news channel, so no mentions of other news channels by name. I charge for logos to be carried in pics, so AVOID pics with logos even if they are incidental and irrelevant to an otherwise brilliant picture (I remember the backdrop of a mega Cricket conference with Yuvraj and other stars a few years ago were used on their web site with – holy cow! – the logos removed from the backdrop grid! But I digressed.
Another question: if the reading public is so disgusted with Medianet, why is the TOI still ruling the roost in Mumbai in terms of both, circulation and revenues-and-profitability? I do agree that this fierce internal insistence upon using ONLY paid information even in the news-you-can-use sections such as TV listings, has actually made the page layout in BT pretty ugly — in a huge space, you have TV listings of just a handful of channels that one believes have agreed to pay for them, and to fill up the space, there’re massive pics too. But then, Mirror, which goes free with the TOI, has all the listings. And together, both publications provide strong value in terms of both, editorial and advertising. In fact, today, advertising is as big a draw as editorial is, for the reader. Dangerous generalization, I know, but speaking for myself, thanks to the internet, the SMS alerts and my GPRS connectivity, all breaking news hits me with very little delay. Views, analysis and more can be read, reached and shared through the net, and in the face of the challenge from not only the internet but more significantly, from the 24-hour news channels, the biggest past role and glue of newspapers – breaking news – is history. Which is why the anchor story of the past has moved up to the second and even first lead today. Editors constantly have to think and commission gripping and interesting follow-ups of the biggest news broken till the paper went to bed the previous night, for the next morning.
Yes, I’ve also heard of a reporter or two passing off someone else’s material from the internet as their own (again, something Praddy too has alluded to). What else? Am curious to know, because knowing Praddy, I’m sure he wouldn’t make any sweeping statements questioning the very basis of existence of a media house – its editorial integrity, and importance that it ascribes to editorial integrity in its internal scheme of things.
If people are indeed crying themselves hoarse that the TOI Group is dumbing down content, I want to know how. If having user-friendly graphic narratives of the high points of each important story within the body is considered dumbing down of content, give me such convenient browsers any day, and I like the way the TOI presents its stories. Yes, there are occasional grammatical errors in stories and headlines; that happens across newspapers, though it really shouldn’t. But story-for-story, I find that in backdrop of the incessantly breaking news on live news television, the net, sms alerts and what-have-you, the news sense of the TOI Mumbai stands up to scrutiny in its choice of lead stories, and ends up creating a good, well presented print browser of the past 24 hours. It’s an excellent meeting point of news and advertising. Now if only they could become a bit more dismissive of the Medianet straitjacket – not as a business; that, of course, is completely the owners’ prerogative, and a well deserved one at that. I’m referring to the editorial department becoming more open to admitting ‘competitive’ brands into industry stories.