Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Felt I had to react to Gaurav's post.

I get his point about TOI changing the media landscape in India considerably. Their diversifications are pretty impressive. They have been successful at it as well.

I still feel that a drop in editorial standards need not accompany it. Everything need not be an 'either-or' compromise. The TOI has survived for over 150 years. Editorial policies change, but not as drastically as this decade has seen.

"Adapting to the times"? Do we mean to say that we as a generation are less intelligent than what we used to be? There is a concept of market segmentation, that I'm sure Gaurav knows more about that than me.

Fortune is your regular business magazine. They probably cover a lot more technology or rather New Economy stories now, but they have a separate magazine (Business 2.0) to deal with it. While dealing with the leading edge of technology there are different requirements and a different audience, and the Fortune format was not flexible enough for both. If you read both the difference in format, and the target audience is obvious.

A newspaper has the flexibility of adding glossy supplements, or additional segments to meet specific audiences. The TOI was doing this pretty well with the suburban sections in B'bay and specific sections for cities like Pune and Ahmedabad catering to different audiences. There is no reason they cannot meet the LCD (lowest common denominator) crowd's expectations with this.

In fact, on fortune.com (or was it on forbes.com? I forget), the website wanted to monetize keywords so that they could link keywords in article text to advertiser websites. You can see annoying examples on some websites even now. Finding that it took away from the reader experience, they decided to do away with it, though it would have made them buckets of money.

If, in the TOI today, one cannot make out the difference between content and advertising, then is there a point left at all?

Isn't full disclosure something Indian publishers (read:TOI) understand? Many journalists writing about stocks actually disclose if they own stocks they are discussing in their columns. Is it unreasonable to expect that TOI disclose if an article or any publicity was paid for?

Admitted, a company's primary responsibility is its shareholders. Read my post on this issue a few months back. But don't most companies have a mission statement, which includes something about the quality of their products and customer satisfaction? By customer, I mean the intelligent reader, at one time the mainstay of the paper.

"Giving users what they want" is a slightly complicated thing when it comes to content. If a generation of readers is raised on a lower standard of journalism (as they are right now), they'll expect it to be normal. Witness Fox News' definition of news in the US. A whole lot of Fox News viewers have very interesting ideas of the Iraq War and the (non)discovery of WMD among other things.

I find the use of Ayn Rand's essay as an example frightening. 'Selfishness' and 'Greed' have been reduced to their basest expressions by other Ayn Rand readers I know too. If you are giving an excerpt from Atlas Shrugged, you better have read "The Fountainhead", (a better book IMO) especially Howard Roarke's closing argument in the end. Is the TOI today closer to the first-hander Howard Roarke, or the second-hander Peter Keating? Isn't life about finding your highest ideal (to paraphrase Richard Bach?). And, isn't good journalism a journalist's highest ideal, if not that of his moneybag boss?

In the interest of full disclosure: I don't read the TOI. Unless someone specifically links to a TOI article, I vote with my mouse.


Anonymous said...

When you talk of a drop in editorial standards, I assume you speak of the main times.
Perhaps, the reason Times has been losing out on this front is primarily because of the neutral, almost dispassionate attitude they take towards reporting in the quest to be "impartial".
They admit to being an "agenda-less" newspaper, sans any pretences of belonging to any particular line of thought.
Maybe, journalism, for many, is nothing if not opinionated.

As far as separating the editorial from the advertorial content is concerned, I don't really see the point in doing that.
The incentive for businessmen when they go in for advertorial lies in the fact that the promotion is implicit.
I would rather go in for a regular print ad for my product than an advertorial if it is going to be announced as a product promo by the paper.


Ajay said...

The first point - I don't know enough on that issue to make a comment. My experience is limited to the liberal bias of NYT, but there too, the news is fact-based. The Op-Ed pieces and editorials tend to be skewed. Also, they were gracious enough to concede that the elections in Iraq were a significant achievement. They aren't partisan by any standards. Except of course, for Maureen Dowd.

As for the second, as a reader, I feel it's a slippery slope. If I as a reader know that advertorials are paid for, and I don't know if an article is an advertorial or not, how do I trust it? Even a review of, say, a restaurant or a movie, or something really expensive, like a car may be paid for, meaning that I cannot make an informed judgement. That makes me mistrustful of the whole newspaper. Maybe some politicial parties may pay for favorable coverage...as I said, it's a slippery slope.

If I am uninformed reader who does not know of this policy, I am being made a fool of. I am accepting biased opinions that were paid for, as being unbiased.

Also, businesses may not have compunctions regarding placing advertorials -it is definitely to their advantage. But their ethics are not being compromised here. It's the newspaper which has to decide whether it wants to sell out.

Anonymous said...

AWESOME post.....had the exact reaction to gAURAV'S POST....infact a lil angrier reaction infact...:)

anyways...good work !!