Jan 172017

Image from here. 

The New York Times today released the report of it’s 2020 group that studied how the organisation needs to move forward in a turbulent digital era. As the previous reports from the NYT, this too was very illuminating (especially if you also work in the business).

A summary. But, if you have the time do read the whole thing. I found the whole thing fascinating, especially the success of the subscription model , probably because a) i work in the space, and b) more importantly, it is my firm view, that if you are giving away content at next to nothing, it cannot be very good content. If you have to create a long term sustainable business model, it cannot be purely advertising driven. It has to be by paying customers, who like the content enough to pay for it, again and again.



NYT on how it managed to get $500 million of digital revenues, which is “far more than the digital revenues reported by many other leading publications (including BuzzFeed, The Guardian and The Washington Post) — combined

We are, in the simplest terms, a subscription-first business. Our focus on subscribers sets us apart in crucial ways from many other media organizations. We are not trying to maximize clicks and sell low-margin advertising against them. We are not trying to win a pageviews arms race. We believe that the more sound business strategy for The Times is to provide journalism so strong that several million people around the world are willing to pay for it.

they talk about this later in the report too, when they say

A story that receives 100,000 or 200,000 pageviews and makes readers feel as if they’re getting reporting and insight that they can’t find anywhere else is more valuable to The Times than a fun piece that goes viral and yet woos few if any new subscribers.

And  the subscription focus helps the NYT not just get a dedicated, paying audience, but also attracts advertising that wants to reach these customers.

Our focus on subscribers stems from a challenge confronting us: the weakness in the markets for print advertising and traditional forms of digital-display advertising. But by focusing on subscribers, The Times will also maintain a stronger advertising business than many other publications. Advertisers crave engagement: readers who linger on content and who return repeatedly. Thanks to the strength and innovation of our journalism — not just major investigative work and dispatches from around the world but also interactive graphics, virtual reality and Emmy-winning videos that redefine storytelling — The Times attracts an audience that advertisers want to reach.

Going forward, to engage more audiences this is what they are planning to do:

  • Go more visual – use more pictures.
  • Short, chunk-able, utilitarian content – such as the Daily Briefing – that will lead to more consumption/engagement.  As they put it “They take advantage of the available technology and our curatorial judgment to explain the world to readers on a frequent, predictable rhythm that matches the patterns of readers’ lives.”
  • Features to become more useful (read utilitarian) content. Become a guide.
  • Make readers co-creators of content, that will be curated by the NYT’s journalistic expertise
  • Train existing staff digital ready ..to understand how the consumer wants to consume content. This would also look at journalism more as a ‘ visual narrative’ exercise.
  • Also, desk people may be holding their breath “The Times currently devotes too many resources to low-value editing — and, by extension, too many to editing overall. Our journalism and our readers would be better served if we instead placed an even higher priority on newsgathering in all of its forms.”
  • And on being wedded to an organisation form meant for a different era & technology — ie dead (wood) technology ie. print – “The print version of The New York Times remains a daily marvel, beloved by a large number of loyal readers. It is a curated version of our best stories, photography, graphics and art. But the newsroom’s current organization creates dangers for the print newspaper — and is also holding back our ability to create the best digital report”

Read the full report here 

Mar 042012

Brokering News

Brokering News is a documentary on the Paid News in India. The phenomenon has spread far and wide and permeates every aspect of news in India.

For most of us working in the media, the story of paid news is not new. When i was with a leading entertainment group, the anger against journalism as a profession and specific journalists or news companies, inside the company was huge. “chor hain woh log’ was a term i heard many times, especially when it came to the time when business results had to be published.  This is despite the fact that the company i worked for owned a news channel. But, in board rooms and office meetings we were told to be nice to journalists, to humour them and give them the ‘bhaav’ and treat them with kid gloves.

When we made our film Jhing Chik Jhing, and then were ready for publicity – we were told very clearly pay or there will be none. It is not called paid news. it is called a marketing tie up 😀 While you can argue that publicity for a film should be paid for, after all you are making profits out of the film … however, if you go to watch a film based on the reviews (which are part of the marketing package) then are you incurring a loss if it is a bad film ?  the same logic applies  when it comes to covering Politics or Business. The job of journalism is not to encourage or cover up for politicians on the take – it is to expose them. Similarly the function of journalism is not to cover up business wrong doings. For example, do you remember what happened with the ground water pollution in Kerala caused by Coke ? or do you know why the Metro in Mumbai has been delayed for so long – or indeed who is building it ?

Umesh Agarwal’s documentary looks at all these areas – be it film marketing, or sanitizing politicians or covering up business wrong doing. It further looks at the issue of who owns the media. the answer is that the same people own different news channels and papers and are also amongst the largest advertisers. The film looks at the main paid news cases of the last 5 years – be it the reporting on the Ambani brothers or the involvement of leading journalists – Prabhu Chawla, Vir Sanghvi & Barkha Dutt – with Nira Radia. The journalists claimed that they were cultivating an important source, but the fact remains that the incident eroded the credibility of not just the journalists but the profession at large.

A few years ago i stopped watching and reading the bulk of main stream media, and get my news from Government controlled agencies such as PTI, UNI, DD and AIR. For, if I am going to read biased news, i might as well know whose bias it is and compensate for it. I wouldn’t mind paid news, if i knew who was paying for it and how the bias manifests it self.

Do spend an hour to understand how the majority of those in the news business function. it is more business and less news. Don’t believe most things you see or read – it will lead to tremendous disappointment and disillusionment. There is a line that S.Y. Quraishi., the CEC, uses in the documentary “the fourth estate should not become the 5th column.’  Corruption – and the term paid news is a euphemism for corruption – corrodes a system from the inside.

The documentary raises important points. However, like most desi documentaries it tends to bludgeon you with its view rather than allow for any subtlety of any sort. I wish that it had featured views from honest editors and hones member from the journalistic fraternity . Also, the one thing i would like to see Indian docus do, as i would Indian films, is understand and appreciate the value of silence. there is no need to cram every second with sound … Having said all this , the film is a worth while excessive. Its an hour well spent in understanding who shapes your views and why . Umesh Agarwal needs to be congratulated to have the courage to go up against some powerful people .

Feb 052012

Dear M.J.Akbar

you are one of the most  erudite, well-informed, knowledgeable, well read people in Indian journalism. So how does a magazine that you edit, put out stuff like this

you need to tell whoever wrote that headline that all Christians are not Catholics. That the Church of South India, which Y.S.R.Reddy belonged to, is Anglican. The Anglican Church was set up as a revolt against Rome by Henry VIII, and is called the Elizabethan Religious settlement.

The two churches  are not the same. They don’t have the same head of Church, They don’t have the same rituals and they haven’t particularly liked each other, through history. In fact, their relationship has been quite adversarial. The Anglicans sent a fair few Catholics to the gallows – for being Catholics.

And, while I am sure you know this, people who work for you and run your magazine don’t. May I request you send them for training 😀

best regards
etc, etc…

Feb 022012

If you belonged to a certain generation, as I do, this was possibly the song you danced to, in college. British Band ‘Right Said Fred’ having a bit of fun with “I am too sexy” …

Someone at the Times of India – the world’ most read English Daily – has possibly danced to the same tune. And, loved the song so much, they applied the concept to their news paper… Apparently, the paper is too sexy for its readers 😀

In an inexplicable piece they have done a piece on how their readers are not middle-class but affluent

TOI has a readership of 7.4 million. That seems like a terribly large number, till you compare it with the total size of the Indian population, which is approximately 1.2 billion. In short, TOI’s readers actually constitute 0.6% of the Indian population. And logically speaking, they obviously know English, which is still the language of the elite in India.

How big is the Indian middle class itself? In 2010, a report by Asian Development Bank stated that India’s middle class – defined as those able to spend between $2 and $20 a day in 2005 purchasing power parity dollars – had expanded to about 420 million. By this definition, TOI readers are not only just 0.6% of India’s overall population, they also constitute barely 1.8% of its middle class.

Interestingly, the report defined those who could spend more than $20 a day as affluent. India has approximately 26 million of them. It’s a safe bet that most of TOI’s readers would fall into this category.

So, if at all a word has to be used to describe TOI readers, it should be “affluent”. Though perhaps it might be more accurate to dub them the creamiest of layers. Because when you compare their incomes and spending power with the Indian average, it is clear that they form the very peak of the pyramid.

Dear Big Bazaar, Vijay Sales,  and all other chains that publish their discount ads in the ToI for lakhs, maybe you should be looking at a different medium. All you companies that have recruitment ads for entry level positions — aahem the affluent don’t apply for jobs, they are invited :D. And, for those of you who put money in matrimonial columns run by the ToI … the elite don’t find matches via newspaper columns… Why would anyone in their sane mind want to alienate their audience & their advertiser?

Dear ToI editors, what were you thinking. or are elite papers that cater to the affluent incapable of that virtue ….

btw – the parents still subscribe to the ToI. No, they are neither elite, nor affluent but terribly middle class …:D

Jan 202012

Times of India has linked back to this blog. in a section called ‘women molested’ *face palm*


and, it links back to this page on the ToI Website



I must appreciate the Time’s of India’s ability to get all searchers of all sort of stuff onto its site.. I wonder if there is a page for “indian p*rn”

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