Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Hang them all, not just the Times of India

Amit Varma continues to provide fodder for thought. In the latter half of his blog on newspapers and regulation, which I sort of added to, he writes on the ethics of selling “editorial space”.

“Anyway, the high point of the evening was the presence of Bhaskar Das, the executive president of the Times Group, who rightly got assailed about how the Times of India sells editorial space. “We don’t do it on all the pages,” he argued. “Only some of them.”
The best moment came when someone asked Das why the ToI didn’t have the basic decency to indicate which articles were paid for. His reply:
“The clients wouldn’t like that.

As flummoxed as I was on the fact that the debate on newspaper monopoly still exists, the hanging of Times of India as the only sinner in “selling” editorial space astonishes me more. Every single newspaper, newsmagazine and news channel worthy of being called a newspaper, newsmagazine or news channel is guilty of the same crime – yet it is only The Times of India Group which gets the rap.
This morning, in addition to various menus of pizza joints in an around Bandra, out popped a small booklet when I picked up my morning papers. It was an auto guide complimentary from today’s Hindustan Times.
Some gems from the “editorial”.

“Bajaj Auto’s new Kristal….. surely the most intelligent offering to make the NextGen happy.”
“Just two years old, Excell Autovista Pvt. Ltd or popularly known as AUTOVISTA … has grown at a staggering pace. The company has grown at fast pace….”
“The (Wasan) group’s focus has always been on “maximum customer satisfaction”….which has given the group an edge over its competitors.”
“Phoenix Hyundai not only believes in providing unmatched service to its customers...”

One could go on an on.
Nowhere in the booklet does HT tell the reader whether the editorial is paid for or genuinely deserving of the space (and the superlatives).
India Today does it with their Impact features. So do a number of other publications without branding the “advertiser’s” features.
All draw the line on where in the paper it’s done. The page three kind of supplements are considered by most managements and editorial honchos as harmless, and these deals (official or otherwise) will rule. Sometimes, it’s linked to the sponsorship of a ground event, an annual budget commitment, and so on.
Often, it’s a lot more covert. Where there is an unwritten (but surely committed) quid pro quo between a media salesman and the buyer. “I’ll commit this release, but you ensure my MD is interviewed” kind of arrangement.

And I’ll put my foot in my mouth: there is NO NEWS product in the country where it doesn’t happen. NONE.

And none of them has the decency to tell us what is paid for and what is not. None.


Anonymous said...

Today's budget coverage on CNBC TV 18 had certain companies share prices popping up eg Navneet which had nothing to do with the Finance Minister's speech or impact on the industry in which Navneet operates in. Was it a paid for insert? I must say it was a good way to get ad money from clients who do not have commercials

Vanita Kohli-Khandekar said...

hi anant, it is vanita again. just think that saying all newspapers and magazines in India trade on editorial is not correct. to my knowledge there are several that don't. also as people who understand the business and the societal impact i think the impassioned plea may perhaps work less than the hard-nosed business argument against selling editorial. may i (again) suggest that you read a short comment i wrote in my column in the BW dated 5 March 2007. am sorry i keep suggesting pieces that i have written. but this is a subject i feel strongly about. and have found after fulminating at various debates that the economic argument for not selling editorial is so strong that i do not need to make any other. hope i can convince you likewise.

Anant Rangaswami said...

Dear Vanita --
This is is also a subject that I feel strongly about.
And the premise that everyone does it is also something that I feel strongly is true.
There are different ways this is done, and in differing degrees.
Without naming names -- as I do not want to walk that path -- the most common, now, among the more "honest" and "ethical" is when someone sponsors an event. There is a commitment that the event will get a certain amount of editorial and there is a commitment that the names of the sponsors will find their way into the editorial.
This might sound like nit-picking, but, to me, that is also selling editorial.

And I have read the piece you refer to.

And, hey, I'm on your side.

But I do not agree with you that there are a number of publications which don't ever resort to sales of editorial space. Let's go offline on this; you name the publication and I'll give you an example.
I must add that, often, the editorial team neither approves of the commitment, nor write the pieces that have been committed.


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