Those who’ve tracked my writing for a few years know of my sentiments for The Times of India group. Bennett, Coleman and Company Limited, as the company is called, is by far the biggest media company in the country. It was always huge, but its flagship daily turned a new leaf after it celebrated its sesquicentennial in the late 1980s. From the Old Lady of Boribunder, it gradually turned into the Pretty Young Thing of downtown Moombaayee.
However, despite all of this, my peeve about the company was that it had steadily eroded the importance of the editorial department. The period saw the rise of the magazine brands --- Femina and Filmfare -- and their awards events as also the domination of the ad sales department (rechristened Response) with Pradeep Guha as boss of the publishing side of the business.
It was around this time that the group also introduced Medianet, a scheme that offered editorial space in lieu of monies. With a receipt. A few years later, equity stake in companies was acquired in lieu of advertising space in the group plus an unofficial understanding that the editorial columns would look kindly towards the companies given they were part of the family.
There were many opponents to all of this, and I even went a step ahead and said that I will not take up employment in the group until Medianet exists. Most people thought I was nuts, but I stuck to my stand.
Despite having spent several years in publications that fought Times in the marketplace, I’ve turned into a silent admirer of the group in recent years. It’s #1 in promoting its brands and since it got a jolt with the entry of HT and DNA in Mumbai, it has worked a helluva lot on content. What really surprises me hence was is BCCL’s insistence to persist with what I consider a regressive practice.
Last Thursday, to coincide with ET Now going live (the launch happens today), Economic Times frontpaged a Code of Conduct notice which very few publications have cared to publicly announce and adhere to. Mint, under Raju Narisetti, announced its Code with much fanfare when it was launched and it follows it to the T till date.
The ET ethics are interesting because it declares, believe it or not, that there exists a “Chinese Wall” between the advertising and editorial departments. So, you may be a heavy advertiser in the group, but the editor can trash your communiqué with no explanations. You could do a hatchet job on that really big advertiser who took several full-page ads in the flagship daily. Ditto for private treaty clients: no obligations. In fact, as an ET staffer told me, the editorial team can even expose wrongdoings of a private treaty client and not worry about their jobs the next day. Hip, hip, hurray!
There are also rules on the stocks that employees can hold, etc... all of it convincing me that the times at the Times surely are a-changin.
There’s no word on Medianet yet, but I earnestly hope that wiser sense will prevail and it will be abolished. Yes, there may be some loss of revenue as the service brings in monies, but the amount of goodwill earned will be huge.
By the way, and here’s what deserves very special wah-wahs, the ET code says in no uncertain that plagiarism is a “firing offence”. So, if a staffer is found picking up content from even a blog, he or she could be sacked.
Meanwhile, the pressure is clearly on other big media players to do the same. I hope the non-business publications – within the Times group and elsewhere –undertake a similar exercise. For, such steps go a long, long way to boost reader confidence and augurs really well for journalism in India.
ET Now launches today with a major blitz. I didn’t catch the soft launch last week, but saw snatches of a bulletin on a friend’s mobile cam. Looked good. I believe the distribution deals have been struck so it should be as widely available as CNBC-TV18 and Times Now. There’s another reason why I am very excited about the launch of the channel. The newsroom for the channel and the newspaper will be converged. Now that ET Now is live, it will be interesting to see how much of it can be successfully put to practice. For the future of the news business, I sincerely hope the experiment works. Fingers crossed.
The views here are Pradyuman’s own.