Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Slimes of India - my two cents

For some time now, the falling Times of India standards have been a topic of discussion on the blog circle.

TOI devotees praise TOI marketing techniques and brandish the fact that its subscription is exponentially increasing as a proof that it is a great success.
I am going to jump into the discussion fray and add my 2 paise.

TOI is such an historically important brand - almost an institution. The building itself is a landmark of CST. No wonder they call it the Grand Old Lady of Buribunder. TOI is now the largest English selling newspaper in the world. Brands like TOI should not be vandalised for petty commercial gains, simply because their worth, what they stand for cannot be measured in green.

TOI essentially had everything going for it. In most metros, the existing brands were intrinsically so weak, that one didnt need to come charging with splashy front pages, silly puns, flesh infested supplements and low brow analysis to capture the market. TOI, in its classic avatar was enough to put them in hibernation or even cold storage. But Mr Vineet Jain decided that TOI should ride on the standing of the earlier brand and use it to sell crap. Sleaze in any form is unbeatable marketing gimmick. The paper should not only succeed, it should capture everyone - from the intellectual (who reveres the older brand) to the desperate (who would rather have his mouth foam by gawking at whats on paper, than by a toothpaste).

In pure monetary measure, the TOI is a success. But it has essentially starved most English newspaper reading junta of worthy and relevant news. Sincere and serious stories are pushed off the front page or many a times, even off all. When was the last time, TOI did any serious reportage. Or uncovered a major scam or lapse on the part of government/bank/companies? Or carried a sustained campaign about any of the problems plaguing us. They won't or dont because thats not their priority. Its more model hunting, celebrity chasing and party crashing.

WIth such a mass following, TOI is at the helm of incredible manipulative power. It has created a high aspirational value for incredibly materialistic and lavish lifestyles. To begin with, these are not the worlds that normal folks inhabit, but then, one starts subconciously craving for such existence - because its so extravagant. We start to imbibe parts of them - hedonism, partying, fooling around. Most of the articles are under assumed names, so its difficult to check the authenticity of the article anyway. TOI has consistentily got away with this kind of fake articles coz people complain about TINA

I certainly don't have anything against the depravity existing in our society, but to encourage it as a policy is completely unfair.

Then there is a flagrant abuse of the media stronghold they have, by using TOI as a a vehicle to sell other Benneth and Coleman products and services. So, Indiatimes, PlanetM, Times Music Femina, Filmfare all occupy as much space as they possibly can in Times. As if that is not enough, even normal news column are for sale. You want to sell mangoes, go ahead we will put your photo on BT (they did it for DHL). You want to advertise your clinic, we will print your interview. You want to be noticed to get that big break, we will write that you are the hottest hunk/babe in town. Just be ready to loosen your purse strings and we will pimp for you.

All of this has not only lead to a fall in content, but a pathetic lapse of character of the paper. As mentioned above, articles are being invented instead of researched, even movie reviews are copied directly (Nikhat Kazmi) and typos are shockingly creeping in. Indiatimes is actually a soft porn site, with inviting/misleading captions. Repeating of reports on TOI and BT happens frequently. Same articles get circulated in Pune times, Bombay TImes, Calcutta times. Just the names get changed to represent the demographics.

We almost forget that so little reporting about rural India happens in TOI. I am not asking them to tell me village problems. But even major happenings/events that are not city centric are royally ignored or consigned to token reportage.

Nothing captures the decay of TOI more than the common man himself, RK Laxman. Every since his illness, his drawings are more haphazard and unclear. Even the messages are a rehash. Hardly do we get to read to a real barb about current events. He's turned facile like the newspaper. TOI meanwhile wont do away with him, coz he is one of the last vestiges of the empire that was TOI.

If you read the TOI, you will find a very close similarity with the way Sun does it reporting. There in lies the answer. TOI didnt need to turn itself into the Sun. Benneth and Coleman, had enough financial muscle to invest in a new tabloid/newspaper, which would have won massive readership. News International, Mudorch's company owns both The Sun and The Times. But Times has still maintained the dignity and sincerity of a newspaper. In fact, I don't know of any single newspaper where the newspaper has gone so venally commercial. And I dont think there is any way out for the paper. It will have to stay that way and bring out a new paper, to take TOI place. How ironic.
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