Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How do you keep pace with the dynamics of the Mobile Revolution?

No other instrument has created a greater impact in our lives, at least in recent decades, than the mobile phone. There are more than a billion users in India of the mobile phone, but more than the numbers it is the sheer power of the instrument, especially the smartphone, that is amazing. If at home it may not be surprising to see silence reign and members of a family engrossed in texting, pinging, chatting or whatever with their eyes glued to the small hand-held screen, the transformation of the media landscape and publisher business has been quite dramatic, so much so that several organisations, including the majors, are now focused on meeting the challenge of catering to the customer of today and tomorrow – Generation Z – who, according to Dushyant Khare of Google India, is likely to be a mobile-only user.

For owners, publishers, editors and technical heads, riding the “smartphone wave” hasn’t been easy and it is unlikely to be smooth in the days ahead. For the mobile revolution is still as dynamic as ever. As Khare says, the question that is uppermost in their minds relates to money, especially at a time when print subscribers have dwindled. So who is going to make sense of the “digital phenomenon”? We may have to wait a while for that to happen.

The latest World Press Trends Report has found that for the first time, circulation revenue of newspapers across the globe has surpassed advertising revenue. Declining advertising revenues are posing yet another challenge for publishers – how to make print more attractive.


Kasturi Balaji, director of Kasturi & Sons who now heads the World Printers Forum, suggests that a redefinition of the newspaper may be required if the printed newspaper and the printing plant are to be sustained. Can newsprint compete visually with high-quality displays on mobiles, tablets, he asks. We all know the answer to that. So, what’s the way forward? One of the ways could be users buying the articles they wish to read. Blendle’s micropayments system holds promise for publishers not only as a revenue stream but also as a gateway to selling subscriptions. The concept as far as I know is yet to take shape in India but it is an interesting concept nevertheless. 

Then there is the whole issue of mobile revenues not keeping pace with the rising number of people using smartphones to consume news. Google, Facebook and Twitter seem to be making all the money while others are left wondering what to do. More than half the readers of four UK national titles (Independent, Daily Mirror, Express, Guardian) access content only on mobile devices (smartphone or tablet), not in print or on a desktop computer. And that not only makes the picture clear but also strengthens the view many of us have – that the future will be more about mobile devices. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Yes, Mr Raghavan, it matters to have gentler ways

B.S. Raghavan’s piece on his blog about the exit of Malini Parthsarathy as the editor of The Hindu and some of the goings-on within and outside the family that runs the venerable newspaper may have surprised all those who have read it. A couple of former senior IFS officers I met yesterday in my office, who know Mr Raghavan well, told me it was so unlike him to put it all down for the record as it were. A senior journalist I spoke to said the same thing. We might all wonder what prompted him to write such a piece, but it appears as though he wished to just get a load off his chest.

Whatever may be the churning developing apace at The Hindu, it’s probably none of our business as long as they don’t affect us as readers of the paper. But there are some larger, pertinent points Mr Raghavan has made, which you just can’t shrug off as being unimportant.

Perhaps the most important point he makes is the one about Humility, about the need to be humble at all times. He uses the phrase, “the ephemeral and transient nature of life and its trappings” and how people change when they reach exalted positions. He uses the words “insensitive and encrusted bureaucracy” to describe some of the goings-on, and how his repeated emails never received responses.

In my three-decade-long career, first as an officer in the insurance industry, then as a public relations manager for a leading corporate entity, and later as a journalist and an editor, I have always responded to telephone calls and replied to letters or emails. And been courteous with customers, visitors and staff. Busy is not a word I generally use. According to me, feeling is everything. So, if you wish to do something, you will find the time to do it. It’s as simple as that.

Often, in recent years, my calls or text messages or emails to editors and journalists, even to those I have worked with, have elicited no response. Sometimes, I do get a reply – a rather brusque “Noted” or disinterested “OK”. I often wonder what it is that stops them from even writing a full sentence. Surely, nobody in this world is so 'busy'!

However, even among publishers, editors and journalists, there are exceptions. B.G. Verghese, who passed away a year ago, was one. He would occasionally even string two or three sentences to say he liked a particular issue we published or suggest something useful. Now, coming from a person of his stature (a former legendary editor who was press information advisor to Indira Gandhi nonetheless), it shows that the truly ‘great’ people are usually humble. I was fortunate to meet him once when he had come to Madras and get him to sign his book (First Draft: Witness to the Making of Modern India) for me. In fact, it was Mr Verghese who had sent me details of his visit before leaving Delhi and invited me to the programme, long before I received a call from the local host.

Another example I can recollect is that of Gopal Krishna Gandhi, former distinguished civil servant and diplomat, and West Bengal Governor, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson. When I once called his residence number with some amount of trepidation, I was pleasantly surprised to hear his voice at the other end, asking me if it would be convenient for ME (!) to meet him on so-and-so day and time. Recently, I met him at a wedding and later went to him and wished him. He remembered me well and spent a few minutes chatting with me.It was quite extraordinary. But that is the kind of person he is.

Now, these are giants I have hardly known, quite different from let’s say, my mentor S. Muthiah, veteran journalist-editor-author. And when they extend to you that kind of warmth, your respect for them multiplies manifold.

There is also the aspect of treating people with respect, no matter what position you hold and no matter whether the person is your deputy or peon, your driver or maidservant. Yes, you may occasionally raise your voice with them to make a point, but that’s all right if you bear no malice and treat people fairly. You have to be gentle to be liked and loved, and to succeed and be admired.


Mr Raghavan uses the word “subhuman”, which perhaps is going a little over the top. But, if as an editor I am publishing an article about the humane treatment of refugees, for example, I must be sensitive myself and show kindness to people. Of course, there are human weaknesses and failings but it is not very difficult to exercise the human touch. As publisher, editor or journalist, you have the same feelings and emotions as most ordinary people. And so does an entrepreneur or CEO.