Everything You Wanted To Know About ToI (But Were Too Afraid To Have Confirmed)

October 4, 2012 10:06 am

Ever since it was known that The New Yorker was planning a large feature on The Times of India, journalists have been eagerly anticipating fresh dirt on one of the most controversial newspapers in India run by the siblings, Samir and Vineet Jain. However Ken Auletta’s “Citizens Jain” in the October 8 issue of the magazine makes no revelations, affirming what has already been widely reported about the paper’s dubious practices that have become precedents in the world of publishing. Of course the fishiest are Medianet, a service that allows companies and celebrities to pay for favourable content published in the newspaper’s supplements, and Brand Capital, formerly known as Private Treaties, which involves giving companies advertising space in return for equity. We picked the juiciest bits from Auletta’s report.

The business model. The Jains view The Times of India more as a purveyor of advertising than news. “We are not in the newspaper business, we are in the advertising business,” Vineet Jain says baldly, adding that “if 90 per cent of your revenues come for advertising, you’re in the advertising business”. He also observes, “If you are editorially minded, you will make all the wrong decisions.”

The genesis of Medianet. Upon reading an interview with Virgin Group owner Richard Branson years ago, a light bulb exploded in Vineet’s mind. Branson said that he pulled stunts like parachuting from planes because the publicity saved him millions of dollars that would otherwise have been spent on advertising. “When I read, I said, ‘Oh, my God, eureka—I’m stupid!” Jain said. “Why these guys are not advertising in my paper is because I’m giving them free P.R.”

On selling the front page. The front pages of some of the best newspapers in the world are sacrosanct in that they are devoid of advertising. Not so at The Times of India. The entire front page of the paper can be sold as an ad for $450,000. That’s about Rs2,35,00,000.

The saint. Spiritually inclined, Samir divides his time between Delhi, Mumbai and the holy town of Haridwar. Ravi Dhariwal, CEO of the Times Group, said of his boss, “The first filter he uses in any decision is ‘Will this be spiritually ok? Will I be able to go to my guru?’”

But the saint has a dark side. At a dinner, Samir told Namita Gokhale, writer and co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival, “I think history doesn’t exist, if I were Prime Minister I would ban the study of history.” Gokhale suggested, “What I’ll do is give you two tight slaps and a kick, and if you can’t remember it I’ll agree there’s no history!”

The saint is also a canny marketer. Samir Jain registered the name Financial Times as a trademark of the Times Group in 1993 to keep the more famous British paper out of the country. The real FT would be violating intellectual property rights if it came to India. A case is still being fought in court.

Who is admired even by critics. T.N. Ninan, the former editor of The Economic Times (ET), had this to say about Samir: “He’s one of the most challenging and stimulating men I ever met. His mind is active. He reads people’s motives very well.” It’s surprising that Ninan, who is usually critical of the Times Group should say this, especially since he might have failed to read Samir’s motives. In Behind the Times, Bachi Karkaria’s anecdotal account of the people who run the Old Lady of Boribunder, Ninan has been mentioned in a chapter titled “Ear today, gone tomorrow”. As the editor of ET, Ninan had opposed Samir’s decision to have ads on the ear panels of the masthead. These are little squares that flank the masthead. Ninan, Karkaria writes, shouted at the messenger bearing Samir’s imperative, “I don’t care who asked. I am the Editor.” Karkaria writes, “Yes, he was. But not for long.”

The sinner. Vineet Jain, on the other hand, cares more about money and women than gurus. A publishing executive said, “Samir is into God, Vineet is into women.” Vineet said that his older brother occasionally advises him: “He would say, ‘Relax. Work less. Have a good balance. What are you chasing money for?’” But, Vineet said, “for me, it’s not work. I love creating something. It’s so much fun—I hardly take holidays. For me, this is a holiday.”

The family dispute. The Times of India was founded in 1838 by British owners. It was subsequently owned by the joint British holding firm, Bennett and Coleman and Company. In 1946, it was bought by the businessman Ramkrishna Dalmia, who had 18 children from six wives. He entrusted the paper to son-in-law Shanti Prasad Jain, grandfather of the Jain brothers. Dalmia was jailed for fraud and when he was released in 1964, his son-in-law refused to return his company.

Why Arnab Goswami delivers news the way he does. When Vineet launched Times Now, he said that he wanted the news channel to have “a breathless newness and immediacy, not leisurely features and analysis.” He wanted the channel to be “about creating the illusion of breaking news, even if it is in fact news that’s already been broken”.

Citizens Jain [New Yorker]