The team of top managers, who had earlier worked for Times of India and for consumer product companies, brought in ideas and strategies they have been familiar with and those that proved successful.
The adoption of the Times of India practices on the business side helped. This is evident from the spate of cover jackets won by the paper from a large number of middle level advertisers. The month-long campaign a year ago attracted this segment and was successful though it did compromise on rates. (The Hindu was known for its rigidities in tariff). Though the paper was critical of the paid news culture of Times of India and several other upcoming papers, it could not but appreciate the inevitability of this corrupt practice. Of course, it did this in a covert way giving liberal reportage to a company that is also a valuable advertiser.
There was nothing new though. For decades, centenarian P A Seshan, used to provide liberal positive coverage even to modest performances by SMEs. This helped win advertisements for the special supplements and publications. Of course, the quid pro quo was unconditional.
Times have changed in print media’s economics from the situation of a paper’s revenues predominantly flowing from copy sales in the 1960s to the present where 90 per cent revenues flow from advertisements. Sameer Jain of Times of India followed by Shobana Bhartia of Hindustan Times have understood the value of low cover price and liberal free copies that result in handsome increases in advertisement rates. The Hindu resisted this for long, but with competition hotting up, had to fall in line.
When the implements did not fit in ….
Editor Siddharth Varadarajan was born and brought up in the US and UK, and later based in Delhi, has little moorings in Chennai. He is unfamiliar with the customs, culture and the extremely political orientation of the southerner, especially the Tamils and Malayalis. Accustomed to the Delhi culture of facile contacts with policymakers, he must have felt like fish out of water in the opaqueness of the Chennai administrative set up; not just the CM, but the entire top civil service not accessible even to senior media persons. It is not easy to get relief even for patently unjust issues, like, the arbitrary manner of th state government deciding on ad releases even to a large newspaper such as The Hindu with the rates remaining unchanged for long.
Understandably, the print medium has been affected seriously. The rigidities in the coverage of news with fixated notions like a pro-CPM, anti-Modi stance, an overdose of foreign news coverage and a corresponding low space for city, local and regional news, had not endeared the 135 year old paper to its catchment area of readership.
The reform effort at The Hindu provided a good platform to Siddharth Varadarajan as the Editor-in-Chief. He spent his time liberally in Delhi and on foreign jaunts through several media delegations, the prerogative of Delhi-based journalists. He also spent long hours in TV News channels. A similar implant of TCA Srinvasaraghvan as the Executive Editor of Business Line, again did not work too well. Like Siddharth, TCA never worked earlier in Chennai and his style of functioning did not win for him much acclaim from his colleagues.
The family is back
Ram had to contend with the pressures of the family which owns the paper. The old plan to broad base the board inducting public men of repute and preparing the company for a public issue recommended as a strategy for growth could not be implemented: market conditions were not
favourable. The owners have now opted to revert to the old pattern of entrusting executive responsibilities to the owner directors. Thus, Ram has become the Chairman of KSL and publisher of The Hindu and its group publications.
Murali, who was denied chairmanship as per an earlier agreement, is now the Co-Chairman of the company. Ravi, denied earlier the post of Editor-in-Chief, is now given the post and Malini Parthasarathy, sidelined earlier, has been appointed Editor.
The new publication of the Tamil daily with a non-Tamil name § CkÕ may take long to build readership in a field dominated by decades-old papers with strong readership and credentials.
Perhaps, McKinsey may have to be re-engaged as consultant for another rejig. – SV