Mediaah! HuffPost and Times of India — Great Match or Mismatch?

08 Dec,2014

By Pradyuman Maheshwari


I am personally delighted to see the launch of the India edition of Huffington Post. Two reasons: One, we hear from politicians and the TV channels that India’s stock is rising in the world order, but it’s another thing to have an international news vehicle like Huffington Post enter India. And, two: I take great pride in the fact the Editor-in-Chief Sruthijith KK (SK) has been a friend. He was out there helping raise public opinion about this blog when it was in an independent avatar and was being taken on by a leading news daily.

He was part of my team at dna in 2006-07, although he didn’t report to me directly. I was in touch with him till around a couple of years back, but met him at his office a couple of weeks back when I was in Noida.

I am not very sure whether I have helped shape his career, but it surely feels good to see someone rise up the ranks to one of the most coveted jobs in the country. He was a good colleague, excellent at his job and went on to do some great work at Mint, Economic Times and later as editor of Quartz.

The reason for this piece is not about SK or the fact HuffPo has entered the country, it’s about:

1. Do we think HuffPo India it has a future?

2. Is the Times of India-HuffPo marriage the right match or a mismatch?

Does HuffPo have a future? Of course it does. Am sure the spreadsheets would’ve been done, but a lot depends a lot on how long the two partners keep investing in it. And, more importantly, how much the flavour of the US edition is retained here.

There are a few other players who are into similar ventures in India: FirstPost, Scroll, Daily O, TheNewsMinute and Quartz. The last of these is where SK worked until recently, so he is obviously clued in to the kind of work HuffPo India needs. The scale is different of course. From the first look, appears to promise several stories every day, some original and many curated. It will have its set of blogs, and I am sure many of these will make for a good read.

When I heard about HuffPo choosing Times of India as its partner in India, I was unsure if it would work. The internet requires a different style of operations which large media companies in India haven’t been able to establish. That’s one of the reasons why most websites of mainstream media print entities aren’t any great shakes. But the choice of SK and the dozen-odd journalists he has hired is excellent and could well get the team to produce compelling content.

And finally to the point of whether TOI was the right choice for HuffPo India? My view: I am not sure. This isn’t the first time HuffPo has aligned itself with the big fish. In France, it’s partner is Le Monde. So TOI is not a special case.

But what happens when TOI does some disdainful stuff like the focus on Deepika’s cleavage. Will HuffPo India damn it? Will it carry a campaign on Paid Content or something around the Arnab Goswami brand of primetime television journalism?

I remarked on this when I met SK recently but didn’t push for an answer and get him on the backfoot. He obviously knows that it’s not easy to have a mainstream player like The Times of India as one of your parents.

It’s not that one Times group publication hasn’t damned another in the past. I remember an editorial in The Times of India and Maharashtra Times taking on Vinod Mehta’s case on a  story on Maharashtra strongman YB Chavan in 1989.

An India Today report sums up what happened following the publication of the YB Chavan story in the Independent (a daily that the Times of India ran from 1989 until the mid-1990s):

“Intriguingly, the most scathing criticism of the report came from the editorial columns of the paper’s own sesquicentenarian sister. After excoriating “juvenile zeal for sensationalism”, the Times of India concluded: “The hysterical self-righteousness of sections of the press is only a facade for perpetrating politically-motivated intellectual terrorism.”

So, Ariannan Huffington and Sruthijith KK  need not feel intimidated by Big Brother Times of India. There’s precedence.

In a  2865-word opener Ms Huffington, talks about her views on India and what her site will be doing here. She writes:

“And while HuffPost India will be reporting on all the challenges India is facing and all that is dysfunctional and not working, we’ll also be relentlessly telling the stories of what is working. To start with, we are spotlighting organizations that are tapping into Indians’ collective creativity and compassion to improve the lives of individuals and communities.”

Just the kind of stuff that works in India and the rest of the world.

Back to where we started.

1. Do we think HuffPo India it has a future? Yes, it does. Will it be a financial success? We aren’t sure, but if The Times of India group isn’t able to manage this, who can?

2. Is the Times of India-HuffPo marriage the right match or a mismatch? This isn’t going to be run by the TOI bosses at Bahadurshah Zafar Marg, but the boys and girls at Times Internet headed by Satyan Gajwani. So, things could well be different. But what happens when someone screws up in the paper or the channels or there’s a negative story in one of the various events that the group organises? We hope that there is no reason for such an eventuality, but given that there’s just too much at stake for The Times of India group in India, if things get too uncomfortable, no marks for guessing what will be given a go-by.

But it would be fair to give Ms Huffington, Mr Satyan Gajwani and Mr Sruthijith a fair chance with the India edition of Huffington Post. Best wishes to them!


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