To read a good newspaper

Published: 02 December, 2011 07:35 IST | Vanita Kohli-Khandekar |

Mumbai is my hometown. In my growing up years we took only one newspaper at home -- The Times of India.

Mumbai is my hometown. In my growing up years we took only one newspaper at home -- The Times of India. My faith in it was unquestioning. That is till I started to do my graduation and post-graduation and discovered other papers -- MiD DAY, Afternoon, Indian Express, The Hindu and many others. 

That is when it hit me how limited my world had been and all that I was missing -- in the breadth of coverage and variety of opinions on offer. Remember we are talking 80s and early 90s. There was hardly any news television, no Internet and one dominant English paper -- the TOI. So it really was the only place to get all your news from. 

Secret to success: Newspapers work doubly hard in Mumbai and Delhi 
so that they can impress media agencies for more advertising. 
Representation pic 

In 2003, I shifted to New Delhi. And TOI turned out to be a big surprise. It was and still is a crackling read in this city. It has good reportage and some of the best analyses on any given news. In one instance of a murder story that I remember, HT reported that an aunt was the only relative of a murder victim. The TOI managed to trace that aunt, interview her and carried her picture. Funnily enough when I come to Mumbai, and I do that very frequently, Hindustan Times is the paper I prefer to read for exactly the same reason. It is a better read in Mumbai. 

Disclaimer -- this is not about newspaper bashing or praising. These two brands are being used to make a point, so bear with me. This is not to say that TOI Mumbai or HT Delhi are bad but simply that they are better in the other's city. Why do these two papers do a much better job in the home markets of their competitors? One reason seems obvious, there is strong incumbent competition. Mumbai has been TOI territory for decades. So when HT came here in 2005, it has had to work harder to woo readers, build up circulation and get ad revenues. 

Similarly Delhi is seen as HT's territory. So TOI works doubly hard there. That happens in almost any category. Till private operators came in MTNL was the only telephone company in Mumbai so consumers just put up with it. Now it actually tries to woo you. So competition always eggs brands to work harder. 

But if that was the case why does this not happen in say Hyderabad or Chandigarh asks one observer. In many cases neither the incumbents nor the new competitors are significantly better reads. My guess is that this is because Delhi and Mumbai are also critical from a 'visibility with advertisers' perspective. More than 80 per cent of an English newspaper's revenues come from advertising. And almost every major advertiser, agency or media planner sits in Mumbai and Delhi. While there are many in Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and other cities, the fact is that the head offices, mind space and focus of almost anybody who has a say in how ad money will be spent is based out of these two cities. 

And in spite of their cultural differences, Delhi and Mumbai operate like suburbs of each other. For media agencies, especially, life begins and ends in these two cities. The impression they form of a TOI or HT or for that matter any media brand in either of these two cities is what influences their decision most. So their efforts are geared towards ensuring that these anchor editions pack the maximum punch.Incidentally this is true for English news channels also. 

A largish proportion of news on English news channels is Mumbai/Delhi focussed. A third albeit unacknowledged reason is that the big city editions attract and retain the best talent. Whatever the reasons readers and viewers in these two cities usually get the best media the country has to offer. So if you live in either of these two cities sit back and enjoy the attention. 

Vanita Kohli-Khandekar is a media specialist and author

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