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Times holds on to its edit flock in Mumbai’s poaching spree

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Times holds on to its edit flock in Mumbai’s poaching spree

For a while it appeared that the Mumbai media market was in for a massive editorial manpower churn with DNA and Hindustan Times preparing for their launches in the next couple of months. After the initial euphoria and speculation, everybody’s target – The Times of India – seems to have successfully weathered the hectic poaching attempts and held on to its editorial team at all levels.

In a way, the ‘Intrapreneurship’ scheme announced by Bennett, Coleman & Company appears to have worked. And the hefty salary hikes given to many editorial hands in the Old Lady of Bori Bunder across most levels has had a sobering effect. While no listing is readily available, Times staffers openly talk about the substantial hikes that have been given to many of them. And not just in Mumbai, even the neighboring Ahmedabad edition is learnt to have given out hefty hikes to retain its better talent.

Interestingly, the grapevine has it that the powers that be of TOI and HT have recently come to an understanding to shut out the poaching game. And for good reason too: salary levels have been threatening to go through the roof in Mumbai. But the moot point is that even if HT does not poach from Times in the near future, the more potent DNA threat remains. The well-established HT already has a vast national editorial resource to fall back on. In contrast, DNA has to start from scratch and build up a full edit team.

So where do things stand for now? For one, after the excitement over the initial top-level editorial recruitments by DNA, namely, Ayaz Memon, Khalid Mohamed and R Jagannathan, things have not moved much so far as other senior editorial hands are concerned. Most importantly, DNA is yet to locate its Editor. Speculation was rife about three weeks ago that Jaideep ‘Jojo’ Bose, Executive Editor, The Times of India, could be headed for DNA. However, Jojo is learnt to have said ‘no’ to DNA and is firmly ensconced in Times, and busy with the Bombay Mirror project, slated to be launched in all likelihood on June 1.

The only significant movements in recent days have been that of TOI’s Pune edition Resident Editor Ravi Srinivasan who has put in his papers. He will be joining HT in Mumbai early next month as National Business Editor. And DNA is reported to have successfully roped in Bipul Guha, HT’s Design Head in Delhi. Guha is likely to shift to Mumbai soon.

With Srinivasan set to take charge of HT’s business section, speculation is doing the rounds in media circles that current Business Editor, Sandeep Bamzai, may move out. According to sources in the know, he is expected to join DNA in Mumbai in a senior editorial role, but not in business coverage, which is in the hands of Jagannathan. Bamzai is mum about this next move, and it is learnt that he has not yet put in his papers.

The upshot is that if DNA is still searching for all those scores of hands to manthe new paper, the same is the plight with HT. While they have opted for Avirook Sen to head the editorial operations of its Mumbai edition, one has not heard of an exodus from The Times to HT despite his best efforts.

This could be a disconcerting situation for two high-profile newspaper launches. By rough estimates, DNA and HT would together create a demand for at least 200 editorial hands. One can’t do without less given the structure of a modern newspaper with at least 40 pages a day. From where will these 200 plus journalists be sourced? On last count, attempts were being made to hire staff from markets as far off as Kolkata, a city that has lent any number of journalistic hands to the Delhi market over the past one and a half decades. Kolkata is once again likely to be a hunting ground for sourcing middle level editorial hands.

Be that as it may, journalists in Mumbai never had it so good. It is a situation quite akin to the Delhi media job market about a decade ago when the now defunct Business & Political Observer changed the market dynamics for journalists almost overnight, aided also by the Business Standard which too went on a hiring spree with the launch of its Delhi edition around that time.

The buzz doing the rounds is that journos in Mumbai are talking to both HT and DNA, getting offer letters, and finally deciding to stay put where they are. This goes mainly for staffers from Times. For instance, CP Surendran, who has now joined as Resident Editor of TOI’s Pune edition, replacing Srinivasan, was among the first names slated to join DNA. S Balakrishnan, Chief of Bureau of TOI Mumbai, who was rumoured to be moving to DNA, is also staying back for now. And some like Udita Jhunjhunwala, former entertainment editor of Mid-Day, who was slated to join DNA, finally plumbed for HT where she will be entertainment editor.

All said and done, the last of the poaching efforts has not been heard by a long shot yet. As the launch dates near, the pressure for heads will get furious. If Mumbai journos are currently smiling, they should have enough reasons to grin in a few weeks’ time. The hands have to come from somewhere.

Going by the theory of demand and supply, the battle is far from over for the Old Lady of Bori Bunder. After all, this is by far the largest repository of editorial resources in the Mumbai market.


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