When the Old Lady takes on the Mahavishnu

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: “Unprecedented” is the most misused and abused word in Indian journalism. Anything—almost everything—that the desk couldn’t check if it had happened before, is effortlessly slapped with the label “unprecedented”.

But 14 April 2008 will truly be an “unprecedented” day in the annals of Indian print media when the first bundle of The Times of India is shrunkwrap in its Madras presses and loaded on to a waiting truck.
It will be unprecedented for at least five reasons:

# It will establish The Times of India as India’s first truly national newspaper brand.

# It will breach the unwritten no-compete “arrangements” between print media behemoths.

# It will test if Madras is really an orthodox, conservative City as the world thinks it is.

# It will pit “serious journalism” versus anything-goes, chalta-hai, page 3 pap.

# It will be a battle that will establish if content is king, or if reader loyalty is hogwash.

Each of those claims are worthy of attention.

The Hindu advertises below its masthead that it has been “India’s national newspaper since 1878″, but the national there only refers to its role in the freedom movement, not its geographical spread. The undivided Indian Express, with 23 editions, claimed that it was “India’s only national newspaper” although it did not print in the East. But ToI‘s Madras edition, on top of editions in Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta makes it “The Masthead of India” (as its TV commercials claim), with editions in all four metro centres of the country.

For the Jains, Samir and Vineet, whose bhagwad gita is the advertising rate-card, that is of enormous signficance, especially if it can take their mother Indu Jain a few notches higher on the Forbes‘ list of Indian women-billionaires.

Second, the buzz, for a long time, was that there was a mutual agreement between the nation’s English media moguls that they would not enter each other’s “profit-centres”. It was first broken when the Hindustan Times went to Bombay three years ago. But Madras had remained a turf of The Hindu through and through. That stranglehold was slightly broken when Deccan Chronicle launched an edition a couple of years ago. But it is only ToI‘s entry on Monday, after several promised launches, that will break the monopoly fully, formally and finally.

However, these “unprecedented” feats are nothing compared to the real thing, which is the battle for the soul of Madras between two centenarians. In that sense not only is the ToI launch unprecedented, it is also historic.

Unlike bindaas Bangalore, Madras prides itself on being a literate City that values the word—or at least The Hindu paints its reader as a literate one who values the word and drinks buttermilk and goes to bed every night after attending a katcheri at the Academy in the evening.

Grim and correct, the “loyal” Hindu reader is said to be a serious, substantive character, not given to frivolous, titillating stuff that captivates the rest of us.

Kosovo more than Kodambakkam; abstract not tactile.

The arcane details of a bilateral contract between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot, the full text of the CPI(M) resolution on the 123 agreement, an MP3 of an anti-globalisation Nobel laureate’s speech, report of the expert group on agricultural indebtedness, a (preferably TamBrahm) bureaucrat’s defence of red tape… this is the kind of stuff that The Hindu, as the “paper of record” thinks its readers are dying to read every morning, and this is what its reporters and editors purvey with pride.

V.R. Krishna Iyer‘s fulmination, howsoever mediocre, M.S. Swaminathan‘s latest “note”, howsoever silly, Subramaniam Swamy‘s latest diatribe, howsoever mad, all get full play in the name of seriousness. Its reporters take down notes from railway, election, electricity, forest, and other officials as if they are receiving The Word from God herself.

The more boring the output, the more gray the presentation, the more serious the content, and therefore the more credible the newspaper was the inherent assumption.

Whether the reader really wanted such stuff, we don’t know because he was a hostage; he had no choice. Whether this was all Madras (and India) had to offer no one knew, because there was no other way to know. Whether this was how it was to be presented, in turgid unreadable prose, no one could argue.

The Hindu landed at his doorstep as regularly, and with the same consistency of his sachet of milk. You couldn’t argue with the milkman, you couldn’t argue with the hawker.

That comfort zone gets altered with the arrival of The Times of India.

***

The Hindu has had plenty of time and examples to prepare for this, the greatgrandmother of all newspaper battles. On the one hand, it has seen how ToI entered other established centres and tried to break the existing reader habit.

In Bangalore, Deccan Herald let ToI run all over it. In Delhi, Hindustan Times tried to compete but gave up after a while (after which Shobana Bharatiya was decorated with the ET Businesswoman of the Year). In Hyderabad, Deccan Chronicle played ToI‘s own game better. In Calcutta, The Telegraph has put up a stiff fight.

If The Hindu has learnt anything from these jousts, will be known shortly. But it has certain shown that it is up for a fight.

It got Mario Garcia to put its very old wine in a spanking new bottle. It has launched new supplements like “nxG” for the next generation, and a free tabloid called “Ergo” along the IT corridor. It is even tying up with NDTV to launch a Madras-centric channel called “Metro Nation”. Last week, its staff got generous hikes ranging from 60 per cent to 100 per cent.

Will all that help The Hindu to stave off the challenge?

If history is anything to go by, it has a good chance. Deccan Chronicle, a paper which copied The Times‘ editorial and marketing strategy and kept the ToI challenge at bay in Hyderabad, entered Madras with the same grandiose notion of upsetting The Hindu.

On paper, it clocked a circulation of well over a couple of lakh on a one-rupee cover price which was two full rupees less that of The Hindu, but The Hindu has lost none of its numbers even at the full cover price.

So, a price differential which ToI might offer through an invitation price (Rs 170 for six months, Rs 299 for a year) might not necessarily work wonders, especially in a year when ToI cannot afford to “dump” copies as it usual does, as the group has taken a Rs 400 crore hit on its bottomline because of soaring newsprint prices.

But where ToI differs from DC is in its content. Although its marketing men pride themselves on making the editor irrelevant, ToI is like a chameleon, which can tailor the kind of “serious” coverage that might suit a supposedly serious readership like Madras’.

Plus, it can offer reams and reams of job advertisements and “news you can use” classifieds through all its many partnership deals, which in a consumptive age is not to be sniffed at.

And then there is its marketing muscle. Having firmly embraced the advertising model, ToI sells its thick papers like toothpaste or soap. Its hoardings, its sales executives all dressed in newsprint attire with the line “Next Change” have been the talk of the town, peering from every building and apartment.

Will orthodox, conservative readers who claim to adore serious stuff be able to avoid the temptation of peering into an almost-free publication with plenty of colour, glitz and glamour? Or will only “outsiders” in Madras—the young and unconnected who have come here to work—shift to a paper which they are used to seeing in their hometowns?

The Times‘ executive president Ravi Dhariwal has told a fellow publisher that the paper is aiming at a print order of between 175,000 and 200,000 on day one. That will straightaway establish it as a No. 2 in a market where the revamped Indian Express sells in the low thousands, and DC‘s numbers few believe or care for. But ToI is not coming here to be No. 2, it’s aiming to be No.1.

Through its contemptuous disregard for reader interest in the coverage of Nandigram and Tibet, in particular, The Hindu has shown that it is stuck in an ideological Cooum. Through its disconnect with a changing India, a changing Madras, and changing reader profile, it has taken the high moral ground.

Yet, readers have stuck to it through it because they had no other choice.

And on top of all that have been the increasingly shrill accusations of bias. First an anti-right, anti-BJP bias under Malini Parthasarathy (which was supposed to be alienating the core readership), and then a full scale pro-left bias under N. Ram (whose reinstallation was supposed to provide the course-correction).

But a battle with The Times of India is not about morals; it’s about money and muscle.

In Madras, from Monday, it’s the battle of two worldviews between two centenarians.

In one corner is a left-of-centre 128-year-old which silently says we are right, this is what the official/minister told us; which says the world is falling apart, take our word for it; which says the movie to watch this Friday is a long-lost Francois Truffaut , and have you heard the Subramanyam Bharati number which M.S. Subbulakshmi didn’t record?

In the other corner is a 170-year-old will o’ the wisp which says screw farmers, the world is a great place if you just keep buying the stuff our advertisers sell; corruption is here to stay yaar, why bother, I’m OK you’re OK; which says the individual is bigger than society; which says Munnabhai MBBS was great but Lage Raho should have got the Oscar.

In its own ways, The Hindu has shown it won’t change. Its readers?

Also read: When my newspaper is no longer my newspaper

Blogger Views: How will The Hindu react?

The Hindu versus The Times of India

Yuck, ToI is coming to Madras

The Hindu is afraid of The Times of India

Image: courtesy AgencyFAQs

Cross-posted on sans serif

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33 Responses to “When the Old Lady takes on the Mahavishnu”

  1. Enemy of the Kings Says:

    TOI has a great skill of trivialising everything and glorifying every trivial thing. Only the Jains should explain such a strange talent.

  2. Not A Witty Nick Says:

    Sold Old Lady of Boribunder… how about an separate edition for folks who prefer the TOI of 90s and earlier?

  3. D P SATISH Says:

    TOI has a special north east edition printed in Guwahati. They are planning a separate edition for Kashmir from Srinagar.

  4. kaangeya Says:

    For long I thought that the “South India China Post” aka “The Hindu” with its fondness for commie thugs, tyrants – Stalin, Mao, the current Chinese Commie leadership, CPI(M) crooks like Karrot, Yechuri, Jyoti Basu etc. – is still preferable to a rag with no intention to be honest like the TOI. I thought that The Hindu is simply like a stuck clock – right atleast twice a day. But after its recent shameless, vicious, and crooked embrace of commie thuggery in Kerala, West Bengal, and everywhere else, I have decided that I would rather live with a perennial page 3 type paper than The Hindu. Anything is preferable to The Hindu. I do hope the ToI buries the The Hindu and prompts what is left of the family to dump its fifth columnist mafia, chief China toady N.ram and his sycophants. All the very best to the ToI. I long ago switched to Newstoday and The Pioneer, so I really don’t give a damn. I am a long time resident of Madras, and am very happy that we are going to see some real change.

  5. Shravan Says:

    Clearly despite its popularity, TOI has failed to prove it is anything more than a filmfare or stardust in cheaper paper!

  6. Alok Says:

    Can’t believe I am actually rooting for the ToI in this contest…

  7. Bhamy V Shenoy Says:

    Difficult to predict of these two medocre papers which will be the winners. I wish we had a genuine news paper which can publish boldly all the news that is worthy. How long will we have to wait?

  8. anon Says:

    ToI over the last two years has been the most improved paper in the country. Of course there is pap, but other papers are worse. Its coverage of the budget and analysis of several serious economic issues has been better than all the leading business papers. Hindu is a sitting duck. ToI will become the the market leader faster than anyone anticipates. Ms Shenoy, I have news for you. If the guardian is what you want to read, its there on the internet.

  9. Shiva Says:

    “Whether the reader really wanted such stuff, we don’t know because he was a hostage; he had no choice” – I cannot agree more.

    In my example, after moving to Bangalore, I have got a whole new range of viewpoints thanks to TOI.

    And as for quality, we don’t need people with prominent left leanings to serve whatever they feel is best!!

    I am sad to say that even after growing up to love newspapers because of THE HINDU, I wish sincerely that TOI changes things in Chennai!!

  10. TKM Says:

    TOI has become lately a shopping mall pamphlet. But then that is what the neo-urbanite on the run wants for he has no time for the printed word! So, in a changing Chennai the TOI is likely to take over the new generation while the old guard will remain with the The Hindu. I really won’t worry who is going to be the market leader as long as they continue giving their internet edition free!! :)

  11. kaangeya Says:

    Mario Garcia redesigned The Hindu? That’s what Napolean would call tish wrapped in a silk stocking. The ToI has deep pockets and is fresh from its conquest of other cities. But The Hindu has planned for this day by cultivating anti-Hindu segments of the society. With half-wits like Jyotirmaya Sharma and Meera Nanda, and dimwits like AG Noorani, Gail Omvedt, TK Oomen, and Kancha Illiah, writing for it all the time, it has acquired a lock on self-pitying Islamicists and evangelical anti-Hindu Christians. Since English readership isn’t that big a segment in the total readership market, having >90% of a particular minority segment guarantees a loyal readership. Apart from that are the wealthy Iyers and Iyengars like beneficiaries of the TVS, Chemplast, India Cements, groups, who don’t give a damn either way. JJ also very cleverly split the Brahmin electorate when she embarked on a witch-hunt of the Kanchi Matham, by playing up on hte old Smartha-Vaishnava divide. The Hindu’s is simply following the marketing version of votebank politics. Unfortunately its competitor is the ToI which caters to a deracinated lumpen mass of youngsters who have no intellectual anchors and can swing anyway any time. This was the undoing of the BJP in urban areas in the 2004 elections. In Bombay large masses of well educated and decent youth swayed by the World Social Forum farce, voted for the Congress because they thought it was “cool” to vote for a foreign lady led party full of attractive people educated abroad, rather than a grass roots party run by hardworking men and women who had fought the Emergency.

  12. pragmatic Says:

    thats a great read Mr. Arvind. Very aptly sums up the heat in Chennai. I wish all the very best to ToI to thrash the commie mouth piece. It s also unfortunate that The New Indian Express will be hit very badly, I dont care much about DC though.

  13. babuds Says:

    A nice choice for thambis. They have a choice between the (commie) devil and the deep sea (full of sleaze). Serves them right for not encouraging papers like the NIE.

    ‘Dimes of India’ is going to win hands down and make the maamis try out bikinis and make all thambis discount the ‘kadjeris’ for rock shows.

  14. CV Says:

    Had TOI chewed more than it can swallow? I guess so. How one could fail through their own success here we go. Am i exaggerating?Nope absolutely not! TOI is going to be the catalyst for the suave and urbane new look The Hindu with national footprint. I could reminiscence only the 1991 liberalisation with the unfolding events in chennai. Sure TOI had awaken a sleeping giant just like MNCs did to the license raj infedted corrupt businessman of 90′s. Sure The Hindu will lose it’s sheen even market share and may be crucified.But thats not the end of story.Soon we can look forward to Mumabi and kolkata edition of The Hindu. Will TH strategise to the changing environment and demography ? Sure they will.Do i sound like a mouthpiece for TH may be?But it’s only due to the agony of protecting India’s only ,yes thats right Only newspaper with world class coverage and editorial. The empire will strike back for sure with vengeance.

  15. tarlesubba Says:

    hate the editorials, but i will stick out and still root for the hindu.

    for i am convinced that in a million years the dili-mumbai walas will not get clue about what makes the mudhol hounds or even the the sundry hindustani singers from the bylanes of dharwad, unique forget the karnatic singers from mysore and mangalore.

    there is not 1 chance in a million that some body like pt. venkatesh kumar getting ANY MENTION in any of these pretenders. NOT ONE. honest to all that is holy and good YOU TELL ME. DOES IT GET ANY BODY BETTER THAN PN. VENKATESH SINGING these… AND IS THERE A CHANCE IN HELL in TOI or ANY of these pretenders EVER covering musicians and sounds like this.
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=n0mGlBJ4O7k

    AND I AM NOT EVEN TALKING ABOUT Pt. Venkatesh singing emmavaru besa gondare.

    I mean, i swear, my dodda and all her indoctrination be damned, but does it it EVER, I MEAN REALLY REALLY EVER, INCLUDING SUBBU LAKSHMI PUTTING HER BEST VOICE FORWARD EVER, GET ANY BETTER THAN PT. VENKATESH KUMAR SINGING EMMAVARU BESA GONDARE? I mean the authoratative voice of the man and the mind blowing fundas by basava and if you still are not moved then you are a stone.

    ***

    bhakti gikti i dont know. but i get goose bumps every single time i listen to the man. and i have been listening that man evoke all that is godly for more than two years now. i mean rock stars be damned, but that man is a genius.

    ***

    INTI MOOVARU OBBARA BAYALU MAADIDA RAAGI. The one, who ever it is, has been exposed in triples. You can peddle theories and then some, and i would like to believe i have read a few of those, but written in 11 hundreds this is just mind blowing. you can tae your secularism and all your theories and shove it you know best. baccha guLu all these pretenders.

  16. Not A Witty Nick Says:

    tarlesubba,
    neeve ondu independent blog maaDri, clog gaLna hechchu jana odolla!

    Pt. Venkatesh Kumar is awesome! He doesn’t harm the saahitya like many of the sangeetaagresaras of south!

  17. Hari Says:

    When MS passed away, I was in Bhopal and the newspapers gave her a full one paragraph with a passport sized photograph of her in the inside pages. HT for instance, Do not remember Times doing anything at all.

    But The Hindu, (I borrowed a copy from my friends) had fantastic coverage and was reflected in all its editions. When Bismillah Khan passed away the Bhopal edition of HT had a passing reference to it. Times a photo feature. But The Hindu did a good job.

    Point is papers like TOI and HT pretend to be national. They may be so in geographical reach but in perspective and news coverage they are more local than regional editions of vernacular papers.

    What you see in one edition is not to be found in other editions. Not the case with The Hindu (I am referring only to national news). Though their local coverage varies from centre to centre and is quite understandable.

    Never mind its left leanings but imagine if the choice was between HT and TOI ? How much garbage can people really take ? I for one believe The Hindu should launch a Mumbai edition and it will surely pick up not less 1.5 to 2 lakh copies as there is a market for serious journalism. The kind of which Aravind Swaminathan hates – like Railways, Forests, Electricity…
    And contrary to belief that it carries only Tamil Nadu news (as alleged by people who do not read The Hindu) it is the only newspaper which covers North East India, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh while TOI is restricted to urban centres.

    Anyway it is good if the TOI enters Chennai as the Maha Vishnu may finally blink and make some cosmetic changes without diluting the content !

  18. Aatmasakshi Says:

    Like George W Bush, Arvind Swaminathan presents an either-or case.

    Either Chennai buys Hindu or Chennai buys The Times; either serious journalism wins or frivolous journalism wins; either you are with us or you are against us. But surely in a 21st century world, “We, the readers” are entitled to multiple sources of news and multiple worldviews? Surely enlightened Chennaikars can buy both papers and live happily?

    Neither The Hindu nor The Times can claim that theirs is the only worldview that matters. They can try, of course, but they won’t succeed, because the modern world is infinitely more complex than their editorial and marketing mavens can imagine or concede.

    We need the cerebral stuff and the imbecilic stuff. We need the right view and the left view. We need the traditional and the trendy. Not just with newspapers, but with TV and radio and the internet too. Subsisting on just one of the two isn’t going to help us.

    That said, what is the role we expect our our newspapers to play? Are they supposed to inform us, enlighten us, educate us? Or are they supposed to entertain us, titillate us, make us feel good? This is the crux of the battle in Chennai. One paper likes to think that he treats the reader as a citizen, the other looks upon him merely as a consumer.

    From a business point of view, the latter makes sense, but from our democracy’s point of view, it doesn’t. A citizen can be a consumer of course and vice-versa, but the moment papers start treating us as either a citizen alone or a consumer alone, we have a problem. Like our politics has polarised voters, our media polarises readers/ viewers/ listeners. In the long run, this isn’t a healthy development.

    A responsible citizenry, fully aware of its rights, duties, freedoms and responsibilities and at the same time well-endowed to make choices, is better than a consuming class that is blithely unaware of and unwilling to exercise its rights, duties, freedoms and responsibilities.

  19. captainjohann Says:

    A great post with lot of humour. TOI is going to win though i subscribe to Hindu because it is like Telegraph taking on the Statesman in calcutta. But then who is going to edit it in chennai?

  20. tarlesubba Says:

    awesome post AS.

    pardon my all caps rant.

  21. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    The Harijan, the Hindu, Benares Hindu University, Alighar Muslim University, Hindusthan, Bharath, Jamayath-e-Islami, the Muslim League, VHP, Hindu Mahasabha, Veerashaiva Mahasabha, Vokkaligara Mahasamsthaana, Maisur Bada Brahmanara Sangha (MBBS), a students hostel for each caste, Dalit Sangharsha Samithi, Janatha Darshini (S), Dalit Christians Federation, Dalit Muslims Federation, Dalit Dalit Organization, Veena Noble Das, Samuel Rajasekhara Reddy, Thejaswini Shriramesh Gowda, Rasarishi Kuvempu, Kadala Theerada Bhargava, Aary Eedigara Sangha, Aarya Vaishya Samaja, Suryavamsha Kshathriya Sangha, Chandravamsha Kshathriya Sangha, Vishwakarma Brahmana Sangha, Swami Agasthiyar Tamil Selvan . . ..

    Sindh is no longer part of India; Punjab has been split three ways; Vanga has been rent; Tamils have appropriated the term “Dravida.” Yet we sing “Janaganamana” and take Narayanamurthy to court for playing an instrumental version of it.

    Long live the Secular Republic of India, Bharathavarsha, Aaryavartha, Hindustan.

    “Bharatha Jananiya Thanujathe?” Let her rest pieces. Huyilagola Narayana Rayaru (Varadaraja?) wrote “Udayavaagali Namma.” Bhimsen Joshi sang it. Veeranaaraayana is invoked. So it cannot be our naadageethe. Oh, the tragedy of Kannada and Karnataka. Endu thilivudo manujakula, ithyaadi.

    Please read this post as a response to the one on hypocrisy.

  22. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    Forgot to mention the fatwa against singing “Vandematharam.” Are we the only nation with two national anthems? There should be one in each language.

    Forgot to mention excommunication for those sport the bindi or wear sarees. Also forgot to mention Ayyappa’s hatred of women.

    Devegowda once said he wanted to be a Muslim in his next incarnation. Since Hinduism says only sinners have reincarnations in store for them, obviously Gowda knows who he is and what he has done. Two days ago he said he wants be reincarnated as his wonderfully talented son HDK. Swayambhu Deva. If that happens, we will have father and son in one. May the Holy Ghost protect us, everyone.

  23. KL Says:

    I hate this cliche ‘Mahavishnu’ of mount road.Sickening.Let us not bring the holy name of Vishnu.There are devotees of Vishnu who are not iyengars.

  24. KL Says:

    The Hindu has a stranglehold on minorities and kongas.It is out and out a konga paper.All the intelligent tamil brahmins will stick to it,to know the pulse of tamil nadu.The Hindu knows the pulse of TN.From their viewpoint(a journalistic vadakalai),they are absolutely right.One can even argue it is smarter than a smartha or any other caste view point (in TN). Impossible to beat it in its home turf.

    It is only their claim of being THE national newspaper that sucks.

  25. KL Says:

    While journalism gives us an opportunity to vent our feelings,there is nothing profound about it.As most of our concerns are ephemeral,it is natural for newspapers to get a larger than life image,but essentially they are superficial.

    The redeeming feature of ‘Hindu’ is the newspaper has as sense of balance as it knows the intrinsic superficiality of journalism.That is why it has been a favourite in southern india for its coverage of ‘weightier’ things like music,mathematics etc.

    In fact, churumuri is a better chronicle of our times than ‘Hindu’.

  26. Chetan Krishnaswamy Says:

    this is writing at its best…congrats

  27. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Kaangeya,

    A brilliant analysis! …”This was the undoing of the BJP in urban areas in the 2004 elections. In Bombay large masses of well educated and decent youth swayed by the World Social Forum farce, voted for the Congress because they thought it was “cool” to vote for a foreign lady led party full of attractive people educated abroad, rather than a grass roots party run by hardworking men and women who had fought the Emergency…”

  28. neerajaswamy Says:

    Hey did u see the TVC of New Ind Express? SO apt on TOI and DC, they are really 100% Gas. The Express is looking really steely now a days, credit to who ever is the editor and the team behind that. Heard all the top people in editorial/mktg etc are leaving at this juncture? Express needs better treatment from its staffers especially when it is on upswing.

  29. Rags Says:

    TOI has the knack of glorifying even trivial things and catching the attention of Gen X,Y,… But lets accept that it is a paper of no intrinsic value. You can read for TP.
    The Hindu still provides information which is very few papers cover and even today I would still vouch for it.

  30. mayura Says:

    Now people of Madras have a choice of toilet papers

    TOI(Toilet paper of India) and TOC(Toilet paper of China)

    :)

  31. pulikeshi the last Says:

    TS–

    You are right on the money about Pandith Venkatesh Kumar. He should get a transfer to Bangalore so he can have a wider audience. Hope he is not thinking about moving to Pune as Upendra Bhatta and Madhava Gudi have done.

  32. Varshini Says:

    There are lot of misconceptions about Chennai media market.

    DC is not a success though it has made itself highly visible. Its circulation base is very good, but its advertisement revenue is not even par for the course. Despite what the accounts books show, DC, Chennai is not a winner in money terms, and is being bankrolled by DC, Hyderabad, which is a strong success. DC, Chennai by having a good circulation cannot cut its overheads. This is a classic catch-22 situation.

    Its journalism (with a stable of very mediocre journalists — this paper is notorious for glaring errors both in English and facts) has come in the way of it building a strong and loyal readership base.

    The new New Indian Express, on the other hand, despite Aditya Sinha’s enterprise and ebullience is always going to struggle. Apparently the paper has got some infusion of huge investment some where. That is why it is able to look fresh. But its new look cannot buy it readers, and except for an award-winning brilliant film writer, IE too has no strong writers to attract readers. All its fresh talents have flocked to TOI. Sad but true, IE is looking down the barrel.

    The Hindu is obviously rattled. The price cut alone is not a give-away. After being too snooty and too ivory-towerish, the Mount Road Mahavishnu has now only deigned to feature local (Chennai stories) prominently on page one. The Hindu, with its strong political leanings, and the outright duplicity of its editor (Ram), who tends to preach ethics to others but doesn’t follow them himself, has won the paper a lot of enemies. Rumours have it that Ram and his brothers are now at loggerheads on which way to take the paper. If Ram changes tack, and can inspire some good writers in its roll, The Hindu can still be a handful.

    TOI, no paragon of virtue itself, is bound to benefit immensely in the short-term. In the one week since its launch, it has made all the right noises. Its local coverage has been extensive and, in fact, meritorious too. For instance, today’s story on the others who got killed along with Rajiv Gandhi is a wonderful piece of journalism —- something which Chennai deserved all these years (rather than the dreary voice of the establishment). TOI has begun well. But the road ahead is long, and all depends on how much dent it can make in the advertisement market as it is where the real and the all-important battle is. The Hindu has a good clique in the ad market, and there are many top men in the agencies who tend to be its men. (Chennai Ad Club is headed by N Murali)

    The interesting angle to the ad war may come in the form of neighbourhood papers, which are quite unique to Chennai. The Talk Publications, which have a swathe of local weeklies, and the Adyar-Mylapore-Anna Nagar Times, have an incredible stronghold on mom and pop stores insertions, and also area-specific classifieds, which are the lifeline of most papers elsewhere. To be honest, the neighbourhood weeklies in Chennai make more money from ads than DC and IE. This is the harsh reality.

    So far, The Hindu alone (among English papers), with its strong presence built over several years, had done well in Chennai in classifieds. Otherwise, it is all local neighbourhood weeklies.

    In general reckoning, the fight between TOI and The Hindu will be interesting and will be even-Stevens for some time. DC will not make money, but will preen as if it has. IE will make the noises, but little else. The neighbourhood weeklies may emerge stronger, or maybe washed away if the biggies find a strategy to assert themselves.

    All in all, it is an interesting situation.

  33. Madhav Says:

    I gave up reading The Hindu a long time back.It presents an ideological worldview long dead and buried elsewhere.It deifies mobsters like Prakash Karat, Lenin, Antonio Gramsci and sundry such clowns.More reliable than its reporting is the Chindu blog which strips it of its respectability.

    Being a Kannadiga myself,I feel that The Hindu has always been irrelevant to the Kannada way of life. Its political opinion is what the dinosaurs in Mount Road propagate. Sadder still is its political reporting. I do not mind it being anti-BJP,but surely, is it too much to expect that it voice the public sentiment? In the recent Karnataka elections,for instance,I remember it carrying an article on a fading communist from Dakshina Kannada ( forget the name).This, when the communists are not even a political force here.

    My only joy is to see the paper bought to its heel.This needs to be done first and foremost in its bastion,Chennai.

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