Sanjoy Narayan & Shantanu Bhanja on the ‘refreshed’ Hindustan Times: Taking ‘bad news’ head on

11 Sep,2013

Sanjoy Narayan & Shantanu Bhanja

By A Correspondent

 

Getting news media top brass to take questions on their product isn’t easy – either they don’t trust media websites or other news journalists or just don’t think it’s critical for them to speak to journalists even though expect their own staffers to chase news stories. MxMIndia though has been fortunate to get many of them to speak on their moves – especially those from the mainline dailies.

 

Earlier this week, leading daily Hindustan Times introduced a refreshed look with some changes in the design, but most significantly an innovation in the form of a slim tearaway sheet on top of the Page 1 of the main paper called the ‘Page One Plus’.  To coincide with the refresh (created by the HT Design team led by Anup Gupta), a new multiple media brand campaign by Lowe Lintas, New Delhi was unveiled.

 

In an extensive emailed interaction with Editor-in-Chief Sanjoy Narayan and Shantanu Bhanja, Business Head and Vice President – Marketing, the editor-marketer duo take questions on Page One Plus, the editorial direction and why paid content in the form of promotional features hasn’t gone away from the paper.

 

01. We’ve been hearing about the changes that have been introduced, but one had expected it to happen after your new managing editor Nicholas Dawes had settled in?

We have been working on the refresh for almost a year. No such big initiative is ever dependent on one individual; even here, it has been one big, multi-department project driven by the editorial, design and marketing teams. As for Nicholas, we are delighted to have him on board. His experience and expertise is going to further strengthen the product, as we seek to make continuous improvements day after day.

 

02. The use of the tearaway, slim jacket as an editorial add-on is interesting. Since HT also carries full ad jackets and full page ads on Page 1, how will the ‘Page One Plus’ be configured in the pagination (given the various full-page ads)

Page One Plus, which is an industry-first concept, is an integral part of the regular Page One, and research and preliminary findings point to very high likability because of the utility value. Ad jackets and full-page ads will continue the way they have been, giving advertisers the high impact they desire.

 

Any size restrictions for ads on Page One Plus?

We have put together a set of advertising norms for Page One Plus. The endeavour is to give readers sufficient news and information, while also giving the advertiser some additional premium advertising space which they have not had hitherto.

 

03. Can you take us through (the investments in) production facilities that led you to introduce the ‘Page One Plus’?

We have invested substantial amounts in our printing facility in Greater Noida, following on from our previous large investments in Mumbai printing facilities, to build significantly higher capacity both in terms of pagination and number of copies.

 

04. We notice that the ‘Page One Plus’ has been introduced only in Mumbai and Delhi. What about the other editions which have also gone in for a new look? Will we see a Page One Plus-like innovation also in Hindustan or Mint?

To begin with, Page One Plus has been launched in our Delhi-NCR and Mumbai editions. We are evaluating the option of taking it to other cities we are present in.  At the moment, there is no plan for incorporating it in Hindustan or Mint.

 

05. Was the movement of business to the main paper in the Delhi edition caused by the addition of the ‘Page One Plus’?

Not really. In Delhi, we moved HT Business to the main book following reader requests over the last few years. Research indicated that readers preferred business and industry news to be part of the main newspaper; incidentally, it also helps advertisers who have been keen addressing readers of the Business section within the Main-book environment.

 

06. Could you give specifics on the new editorial features and columnists? Any new columns, any replaced/dropped?

We’ve introduced a number of new features and columnists as part of this refresh and you’ll see them soon. We continuously evaluate our list of columnists and try to ensure we have an eclectic mix of writers. We’ve also introduced a community column. For instance, we had a Delhi-based Maharashtrian writer contribute to the Delhi edition on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi.

 

07. Your last para notes: “…we want to change the depressing narrative of news around us. From corruption and inflation to crime against women, there’s so much negativity around us. Let’s come together to fight this”. What does the “change the depressing narrative of news around us” mean? On Day 1 of the new-look we’ve seen the Delhi edition leading with the UP story while Mumbai had Leander Paes taking pride of place on the top? So, will the new HT be a more, activisty paper in the civic sense rather than politics, corruption and government inefficiencies

News today is full of negativity – from stories of strewn garbage to crime against women and deaths due to bad roads to the state of education that continues to plague a 21st century India. HT’s approach will be to take this ‘bad news’ head on. We will put the spotlight on these issues — both local and national — that affect our readers, cover them relentlessly, partner citizens and impact change. We will, together, make news better. The ‘Let’s Make News Better’ campaign is a statement of our vision, and is aimed at joining hands with our readers and impacting change around us.

 

Therefore, HT will certainly focus on civic issues which impact readers, but also continue to report and follow up on all types of issues ranging from politics to corruption and government inefficiencies, which interest and affect the readers just as much.

 

08. With the rising dollar rate, there’s been a pressure on newsprint and production costs. HT too has dropped some pages over the months (in Mumbai at least, unsure about Delhi). In the refreshed paper, do we see the return of any of the features done away?

While the industry has been forced to cut columns, we have not dropped any special features, sections or columns. The refreshed paper will, in fact, see a few interesting additions.

 

09. Will we see any revision of cover price in the near future?

Price revisions will happen from time to time, depending on the economic situation, as indeed they have happened in the past when the cost increases necessitate that.

 

10. While some editorial changes have been introduced, what stays unchanged is the ‘paid content’ or promotional features? Given that we don’t see too many paid-for features on the allocated pages in HT, why don’t you dispense with it altogether rather than bring disrepute to the entire newspaper? Although HT City and HT Café carry a disclaimer, the ‘sponsored’ features are not identified, making one wonder whether all the content is sponsored. Also, not including finer details on the events – the name of an outlet/venue/channel/programme – takes away from the reader experience. So why keep it?

We have remained true to our editorial values, ensuring that we are carrying due disclaimers for our readers whenever there are promotional features in any section, and we will continue to do so.

 

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