ಇದೊಂದು ವಿಶೇಷ ಪತ್ರ. ಕೃಷ್ಣಪ್ರಸಾದ್ ಅವರು ವಿಜಯ ಟೈಮ್ಸ್ನಿಂದ ಹೊರ ಬರುವುದಕ್ಕೆ ಮುನ್ನ ವಿಪಿಎಲ್ ಅಧ್ಯಕ್ಷ ಚಿನ್ನನ್ ದಾಸ್ ಅವರಿಗೆ ಕಳಿಸಿದ ಮೇಲ್ ಇದು. ಇದಾದ ನಂತರ ಕೃಷ್ಣಪ್ರಸಾದ್ ರಾಜೀನಾಮೆಯನ್ನೂ ಕೊಟ್ಟರು. ನಂತರ ಅವರನ್ನು ವಿನೋದ್ ಮೆಹ್ತಾ ತಮ್ಮ ಔಟ್ ಲುಕ್ ಪತ್ರಿಕೆಗೆ ಸಂಪಾದಕರನ್ನಾಗಿ ನೇಮಿಸಿದರು.
ಪತ್ರಿಕಾ ಸಂಸ್ಥೆಗಳ ಲಾಬಬಡುಕತನ, ಚಿತ್ರವಿಚಿತ್ರ ಮಾರ್ಕೆಂಟಿಗ್ ಸ್ಟ್ರಾಟೆಜಿಗಳು, ಸಂಪಾದಕೀಯ ಮಂಡಳಿ ಕುರಿತಾದ ಟೇಕನ್ ಫಾರ್ ಗ್ರಾಂಟೆಡ್ ನಿಲುವುಗಳು ಪತ್ರಿಕೆಗಳ ಸಂಪಾದಕರನ್ನು ಹೇಗೆ ಹಣಿದು ಹಾಕುತ್ತವೆ ಎಂಬುದು ಊಹೆಗೂ ನಿಲುಕದ ವಿಷಯ. ವಿಜಯ ಸಂಕೇಶ್ವರರಿಂದ ವಿಜಯ ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ, ವಿಜಯ ಟೈಮ್ಸ್ ಮತ್ತು ಉಷಾಕಿರಣ ಪತ್ರಿಕೆಗಳನ್ನು ಕೊಂಡ ಟೈಮ್ಸ್ ಸಂಸ್ಥೆಗೆ ಅಕ್ಕರೆ ಇದ್ದದ್ದು ವಿಜಯ ಕರ್ನಾಟಕದ ಮೇಲೆ ಮಾತ್ರ. ಯಾಕೆಂದರೆ ಅದು ಆದಾಯ ತಂದುಕೊಡುತ್ತಿತ್ತು. ಇನ್ನುಳಿದ ಎರಡು ಪತ್ರಿಕೆಗಳ ಕುರಿತು ಮಲತಾಯಿ ಧೋರಣೆ. ಹೀಗೆ ಒಂದು ಕಣ್ಣಿಗೆ ಬೆಣ್ಣೆ, ಒಂದು ಕಣ್ಣಿಗೆ ಸುಣ್ಣ ಎಂಬ ನಡೆ ಆ ಸಂಸ್ಥೆಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಕೆಲಸ ಮಾಡುವ ಪತ್ರಕರ್ತರನ್ನು ನೈತಿಕವಾಗಿ ಕುಗ್ಗಿಸುತ್ತದೆ ಎಂದು ಬೇರೆ ಹೇಳಬೇಕಾಗಿಲ್ಲ.
ವಿಜಯ ಟೈಮ್ಸ್ ಕೃಷ್ಣಪ್ರಸಾದರ ಸಂಪಾದಕತ್ವದಲ್ಲಿ ಪ್ರಸಾರ ಸಂಖ್ಯೆಯನ್ನು ಹೆಚ್ಚಿಸಿಕೊಂಡಿದ್ದರೂ ಅದನ್ನು ಮುಂದುವರೆಸಲು ಸಂಸ್ಥೆಗೆ ಆಸಕ್ತಿಯಿರಲಿಲ್ಲ. ಬೆಂಗಳೂರು ಮಿರರ್ ಎಂಬ ಡೈಲಿ ಟ್ಯಾಬ್ಲಾಯ್ಡ್ ಸಾಹಸಕ್ಕೆ ಕೈ ಹಾಕಲಾಯಿತು. ಅತ್ತ ಉಷಾಕಿರಣವನ್ನು ನಿರ್ದಯವಾಗಿ ಕೊಂದು, ಟೈಮ್ಸ್ ಆಫ್ ಇಂಡಿಯಾ ಕನ್ನಡವನ್ನು ಆರಂಭಿಸಿ, ಅದನ್ನೂ ಮುಗಿಸಿ ಈಗ ವಿಜಯ ನೆಕ್ಸ್ಟ್ ಎಂಬ ವಿಚಿತ್ರ ಪ್ರಯೋಗವನ್ನು ಟೈಮ್ಸ್ ಒಡೆಯರು ನಡೆಸುತ್ತಿದ್ದಾರೆ.
ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಕೃಷ್ಣಪ್ರಸಾದ್ ಖುಲ್ಲಂಖುಲ್ಲಾ ತಮಗೆ ಅನ್ನಿಸಿದ್ದನ್ನೆಲ್ಲ ಹೇಳಿದ್ದಾರೆ. ಇದು ಒಂದು ಮ್ಯಾನೇಜ್ಮೆಂಟ್ ಹಾಗು ಓರ್ವ ಸಂಪಾದಕನ ನಡುವಿನ ಖಾಸಗಿ ಪತ್ರವಾಗಿ ಉಳಿಯದೆ, ಇವತ್ತಿನ ಮಾಧ್ಯಮ ಸಂಸ್ಥೆಗಳ ಮತ್ತು ಅವುಗಳನ್ನು ನಡೆಸುವವರ ನಡುವಿನ ಒಳಸಂಘರ್ಷಗಳ ದಾಖಲೆಯಂತೆ ಕಂಡು ಬರುತ್ತದೆ. ಓದುಗರನ್ನು ಹೇಗೆ ಮಾರುಕಟ್ಟೆಯ ಸರಕುಗಳಂತೆ ನೋಡಲಾಗುತ್ತದೆ ಮತ್ತು ಅವರನ್ನು ಎಷ್ಟು ಲಘುವಾಗಿ ಪರಿಗಣಿಸಲಾಗುತ್ತದೆ ಎಂಬುದಕ್ಕೆ ಇದು ಸಾಕ್ಷಿ. ಸಂಪಾದಕೀಯದ ಓದುಗರ ಕುತೂಹಲಕ್ಕಾಗಿ ಕೃಷ್ಣಪ್ರಸಾದ್ ಬರೆದಿದ್ದ ಪತ್ರದ ಪೂರ್ಣಪಾಠವನ್ನು ಇಲ್ಲಿ ನೀಡಿದ್ದೇವೆ.
ಹತಾಶೆ, ವ್ಯಂಗ್ಯ, ಸಿಟ್ಟು, ಅಸಹಾಯಕತೆ ಎಲ್ಲವನ್ನೂ ತೋರ್ಪಡಿಸಿಕೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತಲೇ, ನಾಳೆ ಕೂತು ಮಾತಾಡಿ ಎಲ್ಲ ಸರಿ ಮಾಡಬಹುದೇನೋ ಎಂಬ ಕೃಷ್ಣಪ್ರಸಾದ್ ಆಶಾವಾದ ಫಲಪ್ರದವಾಗಲಿಲ್ಲ ಎಂಬುದು ಬೇರೆ ವಿಷಯ. ಓದಿ ನಿಮಗೇನನ್ನಿಸುತ್ತದೋ ಹೇಳಿ.
Trust this finds you in good cheer.
I have received your emails conveying the ‘decision’ to turn Vijay Times into a tabloid; to change its name to Bangalore Mirror; to change its content into a city-specific showbiz-sport-entertainment mix; and to bundle it with The Times of India.
I am also in receipt of your email suggesting that the number of editions be cut to five from ten, that the supplements be dropped everywhere except Bangalore, and the editorial mix of VT be transformed “immediately” to that of Mirror in its broadsheet format.
I have orally conveyed where I stand on each of these issues in our meeting on Tuesday, January 23, 2006, at the V V Puram office, but I believe there is nothing lost in putting these views on paper because the logic behind these moves deserves far more debate, discussion and transparency than VPL has been able to muster or demonstrate.
My views on the size of the paper are well documented; there is nothing secretive about it for you to conspiratorially suggest as you did that “the editor is perceived as not being aligned with a tabloid.”
I was not squeamish then nor am I squeamish now about admitting that a sleazy tabloid without a worldview doesn’t enthuse me one bit. But, I hope, I do not have to remind you who else too had similar feelings and who suggested that I come up with such a note.
As I mentioned in a three-page note in August 2006, I believe the tabloid size is not appropriate because:
a) Bangalore and Karnataka don’t have a culture of English tabloids,
b) Making VT a tabloid could drive away existing readers,
c) Making VT a tabloid could nullify the perceived benefits of the acquisition, and
d) Making VT a tabloid could seriously limit its own growth potential.
We can find any excuse to consider the tabloid form again now, and I fully respect the management’s prerogative to do so, but I manfully stand four-square behind each of those points—and my fears are more than borne out by the crashing failure of Mid-Day in its third entry into Bangalore.
So, if there is a strong rationale to summarily cut the size of VT, then it is majestically invisible to me and, I am sure, many of my colleagues.
Merely the fact that such serious papers as The Times, London, or the Wall Street Journal have gone tabloid isn’t sufficient justification. We need to convince the world that there is a compelling reason for VT to become one itself in Bangalore (and Karnataka).
While we can squabble about who is going to be proved wrong on the issue of size till the cows come home, this note is about something bigger: which is the perfunctory and disdainful manner in which VT has been treated thus far, and the ruthless ease with which an alive, breathing newspaper has been strangled—and is now being readied to be killed.
The decision to change VT’s name, size, format and content are being painted now as if every editorial and marketing option to make it a commercial success has been explored and as if these are the last-ditch efforts to keep the paper afloat. But I will argue that not a single editorial and/or marketing option has been tried in seven months.
What we are seeing, on the other hand, is a fait accompli— and very convenient post-facto excuses are being offered which turns common sense on its head.
Hear me out.
For seven months now, I have watched with shock, shame and surprise, the whole thing come apart, as even the most basic of facilities have been stalled, denied or given the short shrift, by mind-numbing bureaucracy and jargon-filled marketing mumbo-jumbo.
1) Water cooler promised for the staff: not provided
2) A coffee vending machine: not provided
3) A coat of paint for the office: not provided
4) Telephones for the staff: not provided
5) Air-conditioners for the office: not provided
6) A decent canteen for the staff: not provided
7) Working computers which do not crash: not provided
8) Error-free business cards: not provided
9) A set of decent chairs to sit on: not provided
10) A trained receptionist to take calls or a secretary for the editor: not provided.
And so on and so forth.
All that’s just on the infrastructure front, but as anybody would admit, these factors affect morale, motivation and functioning as they have.
On the editorial front, the story gets even more pathetic, and even more revealing of the unfolding gameplan, such as it may be.
1) We haven’t had content support
2) We haven’t had library/archival support
3) We haven’t had syndication support
4) We haven’t had design and graphics support
5) We haven’t had photography support
6) We haven’t had brand support
7) We haven’t had advertising/promotional support
8) We haven’t had training support
9) We haven’t had support retaining people or recruiting people
10) We haven’t had team-building, motivation, creativity support
The only support that VT has been privileged to have is of the magnificent Franklyn James & Co [of the circulation department], who have slogged it out to add numbers. And all we have had from most of the rest has been jargon-filled emails “assuring you of our fullest support” as if one wing of the organisation is doing a favour to the other.
# A simple payment method for contributors which could ease our editorial burden? Six months in coming.
# A clearance for an ordinary invoice for a mutual fund NAV provider? Three months in coming.
# Clearance of pending cell phone bills of key staffers? One month in coming, and an embarrassing disconnection.
If, in spite of all this, Vijay Times has been the most talked about newspaper in Bangalore in these last six months, if VT has broken more stories than any other paper, if VT has generated buzz, it is because of two reasons. One, the quality of the rest of the competition. Modesty prevents me from naming the other one.
All that Vijay Times staffers have got since the takeover is a t-shirt that was given to them on the so-called Integration Day on August 18.
Everything has been as it was before the company was bought over. If not, worse. Indeed, that we couldn’t even remember the anniversary day of the paper and greet the staff in person tells a very significant story of how human resources—the most valuable resource in a paper—has been dealt with.
# A get-together? No.
# A party? No.
# A bonding exercise? No.
The other “decisions” to cut the number of editions or cut the number of supplements, or to realign the supplements to generate more revenue, have been gone through and agreed upon so many times since July last, that it isn’t funny and it doesn’t bring any glory to decision-making.
But if there is a key reason why the decision to tabloidise a broadsheet like VT in the manner of Mumbai Mirror meets with such circumspection, it is because there is still no convincing answer to the key question.
Which is, what is wrong with Vijay Times now?
In this, there is a key difference from, say, the Usha Kirana experiment. That paper sold in the low thousands and had no hope in hell of making it.
On the other hand, there is nothing—nothing at all—to suggest that Vijay Times in its current broadsheet avatar won’t make it. In fact, a circulation of 1.5 lakh in four years, despite the competition in Bangalore, shows that something is right with it. In contrast, Times of India, Bangalore, sold 8,000 for the first 10-12 years of its existence.
Yes, VT runs up a monthly loss of Rs 60+ lakh. But, as per your own assertions recently, that has come down from Rs 1.43 crore. Moreover, didn’t we discuss a strategy that would ensure breakeven by March?
World over, newspapers are made first and then profits are made. But by strangling Vijay Times of its most basic infrastructure needs and requirements, we are clearly putting the commercial cart before the editorial horse.
I concede that is the promoters’ prerogative, but why?
Without giving it a good chance to succeed, without creating the conditions for it to succeed, we are eliminating a newspaper which has racked up good numbers, emerged as a strong local voice, put the fear of god in Deccan Herald & Co and which has shown that it can sail into readers’ hearts on its own steam—quite unlike Mumbai Mirror which rides piggyback on Times of India, and has met with considerable resistance after readers were given a choice not to take it recently.
I will be the first to suggest that it is healthy to get rid of the unhealthy, like the Illustrated Weekly or Dharmayug—but it is very unhealthy to get rid of the healthy, like Vijay Times.
It amounts to, pardon my saying it, murder.
By seeking to tabloidise a newspaper that has made the important interesting and shown that there is an audience for a serious yet lively paper, we are cocking a snook at the aware and intelligent Karnataka newspaper reader, with whom this paper has built up a rapport.
More importantly, when everybody who is somebody in the organisation speaks in hushed tones of the monumental losses (rumoured to be around Rs 100-120 crore) that Mumbai Mirror ran up last year, to think of turning an editorially successful VT into a clone of it, tells its own story.
Yes, the name is a problem with advertisers and agencies, but who hasn’t agreed with changing that?
In these circumstances, I find it astonishing that there should be talk of “immediately” transforming the editorial mix of VT into that of Mirror in the broadsheet form. The question that pops into my mind each time I see emails to this effect is: are they kidding, or they unaware of what they have done to VT?
We have lost dozens of people, and some of our best and brightest (and there aren’t many) have served notice. We have lost reporters, sub-editors, design personnel, in Bangalore and elsewhere, in the main paper and the supplements. The fact that the paper came out every morning used to be a miracle last September; now it is a major miracle.
Just who is going to make this transformation happen “immediately”?
Magicians and hypnotists?
The abysmal staff situation has been brought to the notice of all several times. Again, what we have received by way of a response is jargon-filled mumbo-jumbo. As naturally a night follows day, 48 hours prior to the visit of the head honchos from Delhi, we are made to spring into action with spreadsheets of those who should stay, those who should go, etc. But what have we been doing in the interregnum?
What precisely have we done in these seven months to make existing people feel comfortable? What comforting signals have we sent to outsiders who are looking at joining VT? What have we done to fill trainees with hope? How can we have a situation where key people in the organisation proudly talk of the role that “doubt and uncertainty” play in helping the management achieve its objective, such as it may be?
By communicating the idea of VT’s “transformation” without even taking long-time staffers into confidence; by sowing and spreading rumours; by dismissing honest people’s backbreaking efforts as a “dead product”; by keeping young people hanging about their future; we have completely demoralised, demolished and destroyed the newsroom atmosphere in VT.
What has this newspaper (and its readers) done to deserve this?
What have this newspaper’s wonderful employees, who stuck around even when the cheques were not arriving in time, done to deserve this? How must it feel, after the recent skulduggery in absentia, for a man who has been here for four years to say in exasperation, “we haven’t known six continuous months of stability”?
I heard one of the staffers—a fine, competent, loyal employee—say last week that “even the truck operators ran this paper better”. Is this all that a 169-year-old organisation, “one of the six great newspapers”, with all its accumulated and assumed wisdom and expertise, can bring to the table?
All this makes depressing—maybe even infuriating—reading, but that’s the whole idea.
It doesn’t hurt to hear this.
Whatever “transformation” has taken place today at Vijay Times—a fact that becomes visible by looking at critical and popular reader response, competitors’ reactions, or indeed circulation numbers—is not because of the editorial, marketing or monetary muscle of The Times of India group, but mostly in spite of it.
I believe a bit of that must be secured and used before the death knell is sounded for Vijay Times. I believe that we must give it a decent chance to succeed. That’s the least we can owe to the employees who have stuck with through thick and thin. That’s the least we can do to the readers who have stayed with us. Yes, it might not fetch us pots of profits by tomorrow morning, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
The typical answer to this one is, “Oh, there is no time, Deccan Chronicle is around the corner.” But, why does Deccan Chronicle cause such palpitations only in the hearts of otherwise invincible managers?
In Vijay Times, as I have pointed out several times before, Bennett, Coleman & Co has a fine chance to show that it’s not a one-trick pony—that it can buy, create and run a different newspaper that is at once profitable and critically acclaimed. That like the New York Times, which runs Boston Globe, it has different strokes for different folks.
Unfortunately, by endlessly looking over the shoulders, by blindly apeing and copying every trick that has been tried before, by being tied to the girth of the Times, by arrogantly refusing to acknowledge that the reader might be right in picking up VT, we seem to have taken the easy option, the low road.
If it’s not too late, may I humbly suggest that we debate some of these issues tomorrow?