Ranjona Banerji: Why HT scores in Mumbai

08 Oct,2012

By Ranjona Banerji

 

For Mumbai, The Times of India has to be the primary English newspaper. But seven years ago, a very serious challenge was mounted by the Hindustan Times and DNA. For at least five of those seven years, DNA was well ahead of Hindustan Times in circulation and readership and for a while, even had the Old Lady of Boribunder worried. But since then, Hindustan Times has overtaken DNA and left it behind as a third contender. The difference between the two papers is not much in terms of numbers – a few thousand copies, not hundred thousands – but it represents how much DNA has lost, its recent rise in IRS calculations notwithstanding. I’m not counting Mumbai Mirror in this race since it is not a standalone newspaper.

 

So far it has seemed that DNA’s loss was HT’s gain – through no major effort of its own. But lately, HT’s efforts to make a niche for itself seem to be paying off. Unable to compete with the TOI for blanket coverage of city news – and severely hampered by the no-poaching pact between their managements – HT had specialised in packaging and focused campaigns. Now it seems to be taking a surer route – re-introducing the city to its readers.

 

Monday’s newspaper has an excellent exploration of changing trends in the Girgaum area by senior journalist Smruti Koppikar. It’s good to see Ayaz Memon’s insightful and incisive column on “So Bo” (how I hate that phrase!) back in HT, shifted to Monday’s city pages from its earlier Sunday slot. HT Cafe is clearly trying to be less PR-driven than its competitors and ruffling a few feathers with its stories. And HT sports section – although this has little to do with Mumbai – is one of the better ones.

 

That leaves HT’s edit page, which for my money is too skewed towards India’s TV stars and has far too little analysis or informed opinion – in my humble opinion!

 

There are many ways for a newspaper to gain ground and many of those have to do with circulation, branding and management. But for editors, you have to grab the hearts and minds and HT Mumbai seems to be working that out for itself after seven years.

 

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Mohd Junaid Ansari asks in what passes for the humour column on The Times of India’s edit page: “Aren’t we all a little bit in love with Hina Rabbani”. This takes off from the gossip that Pakistan foreign minister is involved in a love affair with the Pakistan president’s son and putative heir, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

 

Attractive as Rabbani is, I would contend that only men and lesbians are likely to be in love with Rabanni. Even accounting for female foeticide, dowry deaths and accounting for same-sex selections, roughly half the human race might prefer to not to be in love with a woman. Some might even pick Bilawal over Rabani. We do count you know, even in a male-dominated world!

 

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Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan and other members of the new un-named political party and what’s left of India Against Corruption are bound to be disappointed with the media’s reaction to their allegations against Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra.

 

Although TV has given the story playtime, newspapers have been tepid. The main reason is the allegations are unsubstantiated and it requires some work to find out just how the connections between Vadra and DLF work. It looks as if Kejriwal and friends just threw a pebble into the pond to see how many ripples it would create.

 

Now instead of taking it further, the anti-corruption crusader and politician is encouraging people in Delhi to break the law.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator based in Mumbai. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia

 

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