Traditionally, the newspaper that every family has to get in India, well, at least in Mumbai, is the Times of India. I have seen it in almost every home I have been to.
But truth be told, I am not a big fan of The Times. Though the journalistic standards are still not horrendous, the amount of space which is devoted to advertisements is unhealthy. Of course most newspaper revenues come not from sales but through selling space for advertisements.
My father, who made an entire career out of this once specialized field, observed that no company that targets an audience in a region north of Bangalore can afford to not place an advertisement in The Times. Even a major group like the Tatas had to finally accede to The Times after not carrying a single ad in the paper for 15 days.
Of course this works both ways as The Times is heavily dependent on these revenues to fund not only their rather shoddy paper but also the number of disastrous offshoots that are almost entirely subsidized by The Times itself. This leads to poor journalistic standards where controversial news items pertaining to the companies which pay good money to them for ad space are suppressed and never see the light of day. This commonplace occurrence is painfully illustrated in Page 3, Madhur Bhandarkar’s wonderfully accurate take on the newspaper industry.
Not to say that this practice is exclusive to The Times. At some level, every newspaper has to draw the line because the loss of a major client would be a huge blow from which the paper may not recover. The big boys of the Indian economy can always afford the high rates in The Times.
But what about areas south of Bangalore you ask? Well that place is reserved for The Hindu. Now being challenged by newspapers like The Deccan Chronicle and The Times of India, the Hindu has somehow managed to cling on to its status as the one English paper that every family must get.
I am unaware of the current standards of journalism in this once austere newspaper but they simply don’t make newspapers as they used to. I still hold The Hindu in high regard because they have refused to compromise on their integrity as much as The Times has. Where The Hindu is currently lacking is in online presence. They have very recently set up a beta version of their website and I would love to read my news from that source rather than Indiatimes.
The other suspects when it comes to Mumbai are The Hindustan Times and DNA. I think what makes a newspaper interesting to read is the opinion columns and on an average I like the opinion page in the Hindu the most. The Hindustan Times surely edges DNA and The Times.
But The Times have the money to pay wonderful guest columnists and even some of their regular columnists like Jug Suraiya and Bacchi Kakaria write very insightful pieces most times. And how can one ignore the granddaddy of satire, Laxman? His common man has at least made the front page The Times worth looking at.
Most of the broadsheets are facing some level of competition from the tabloids. Though it is still not the preferred form of newspaper in India as it is in places like Australia, tabloids are the India TVs of print. Mid-day was a tolerable tabloid till a few years ago when they realized that they were losing their revenue by trying to remain serious and went on to do the full monty.
The efforts of Behram and Farzana Contractor kept the Afternoon Dispatch and Courier afloat for a long time. Round and About was perhaps the best column written by Mr. Contractor who signed it as “Busybee”. When he passed away, Farzana tried her hand at writing Round and About but wisely realizing that she was nowhere near as good as her late husband, gave up the paper to another group.
Perhaps the worst decision taken by The Times was launching their own tabloid Mumbai Mirror. That tabloid was a toe rag if there ever was one. An even bigger blunder was launching it as a morning newspaper. The curiosity factor for it was so high in the opening few weeks that its sales started hurting the sales of The Times itself. Matters were not helped by the fact that while The Times was priced at Rs. 3 at the time, Mumbai Mirror just cost a rupee.
Finally waking up, the powers that be at Bennett Coleman and Co. deviously started giving Mumbai Mirror for “free” along with a copy of The Times. They compensated for the initial financial setback by raising the price of The Times to Rs. 4 soon after. Mumbai Mirror joined the ranks of other failed Times endeavours.
Of all the papers, Mumbai Mirror is the only one that has retained its integrity. It was never meant to be taken seriously and probably never will. Of course bloggers and satirists are indebted to it for providing them with regular fodder to write about and criticize.
In all honestly if one wishes to read about the issues that plague the world in better detail, one would be better off reading The Independent or The New York Times. At least they have had the courage to take on the big industries and governments of the world and have not sold out on the honest man.