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Sunday, February 04, 2007
HT Mint Review: WSJ & HT blaze new trail with Mint

A review of Mint, the new financial daily from Hindustan Times

BY OUR MEDIA EDITOR

Four years since it left a content-sharing arrangement with The Financial Express, the proud masthead of The Wall Street Journal on Monday made a smart comeback in India with the launch of Mint, the latest business newspaper brought out by HT Media in India. Mint, head-quartered in Delhi and published from Delhi and Mumbai, is edited by Raju Narisetti, a Wall Street Journal veteran who left his WSJ assignment to launch Mint, yes, with no holes.

These last four years have not been without news. Hopes were raised when in January 2004, Bennett, Coleman & Co, publishers of Times of India and Economic Times, announced a joint venture agreement with Dow Jones, publishers of Wall Street Journal, to bring out WSJ in India. Suman Dubey, WSJ's corporate representative in India, was named editor. Dow Jones officials even made several visits to BCCL to take the project forward.

Mysteriously, the project never took off. It was never officially called off either. Meanwhile, HT Media as part of its aggressive expansion plans, went for an IPO, made its foray into Mumbai, launched its radio channel and decided to kick off a new business newspaper.

It is not as if we do not have enough business newspapers now. India must be the only country to have so many business newspapers clamouring for roughly the same audience. The No.1 slot is taken by BCCL with Economic Times, followed by Business Line from Kasturi & Sons, Business Standard from Business Std Ltd and Financial Express from the Indian Express group. The former No.5 in business print media, The Observer of Business and Politics (OBP), shut shop in 2000.

Mint raised high hopes, especially given the ultra-high secrecy that preceded its launch. The newspaper's name was not revealed till immediately before the launch. Staffers temselves did not know the name or launch date of the paper. According to a staffer who has just breathed a sigh of relief, "we did not know what we were working for. I am so relieved."

This author has learned from experience that the launch day of a paper is not the ideal day to an analyse of the new kid on the block. There are umpteen problems which crop up on launch date, and a wise paper, over time, studies the problems and solves them to make a cleaner product. Mumbai Mirror is a good example. However, my job, reminds my editor, is to do a detailed analysis of the paper as I got it on the launch date, and not philosophosise over future issues. So, here goes:

My first impression of HT's Mint has been positive. To begin with, Mint is not a pink paper. Printed on clean white paper, Mint joins the other white business paper Business Line. The size is called Berliner, a format new to India. This is half-way between a tabloid (think Mid-day, Afternoon) and a broadsheet (Hindustan Times). The format is easy to hold and carry, and at Rs 2 a copy, the inaugural edition had 24 pages. This is approximately equal to about, say, 15-18 broasheet pages. In contrast, Economic Times the same day had a mega edition of 50-plus broadsheet pages.

The paper has a clean design - no gimmicks, no graphic atrocities, no attacks on peace of mind. HT's Mint has been designed by world-renowned newspaper designer Mario Garcia, who was worked with Raju Narisetti at Wall Street Journal. The typography is clean and readable, except in the Market Monitor and some of the stock page sub-heads. Overall, Mint has taken considerable effort to resemble WSJ as closely as possible, including the fonts, the design, and the overall philosophy. Even the grainy illustrations are made to look like in WSJ. This marriage of design is so smooth that the four WSJ pages which go with Mint everyday gel seamlesslessly into its overall design. This effort is commendable.

To me, the front page looked more cluttered than the inside pages. The inaugural edition of Mint reports on the Corus acquisition, RBI's credit policy and an anchor story on how human shit is damaging railway tracks. I disagree with the choice of the anchor story. C'mon - shit, not on Day One. I wish there was something better there. The Page 2 anchor story on mandatory BIS norms for gold jewellers, which went with the meaningless headline - Bringing science into the business of alchemy - would have been a better choice for page 1. I say meaningless headline, because the headline does not say anything about the story. Without a strap or an intro explaining what the story means, no one with a busy time schedule will burrow inside. I liked the "Quick Edit", a short single column editorial on Tata-Corus. This will be a regular feature. I guess the Quick Edit gives a personal touch, which you otherwise see only in the editorial pages. And few people these days have the time and stamina to plod through dozens of pages to find that gem of an editorial buried deep inside the edition.

Page 2 of HT's Mint is an overview of the edition. Basically, it is a compilation of synopses of important stories culled from inside. I dont know how exciting this concept is. However, it is irritating to find a brief on Unitech results, while there are more important stories inside which could have found mention here. Not just in briefs, Unitech also appears as advertisements in Mint print and online editions. Unitech is quoted once again in another story in Page 15. HT Mint must avoid editorial overexposure to major advertisers to, as they say, not just be unbiased, but also to be seen unbiased.

The next news page in Mint is Page 3. The title of the Page is Leading The News. Leading this page is an article by Tamal Bandyopadhyay, Mint Bombay Bureau chief, a veteran of about 20 years in the field, and formerly deputy resident editor of Business Standard. "Govt bank chiefs in line for performace bonus," says the headline. Apparently, chiefs of public sector banks are going to get performance-based bonuses, just like in private sector. This story first appeared in Financial Express front page on January, eight days before Mint launch, written by Mahua Venkatesh. (http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=152628) It is ridiculous to carry the same report for an elite audience which has already read it in another paper, that too in a very prominent spot. Bad news selection. Again, grammar mistake in graphic with the govt bank chief story.

Page 4. Leading The News. Lead headline reads "Yamaha to invest Rs 1575 crore to try regain India market share." Try regain? English or Spanish?

Story on Jet Airways and Air Deccan on Mint Page 4 refers to Air Deccan IPO date as "May 2005." Wrong. Deccan went public in May 2006. Reporter Mehul Srivastava should not have made this mistake. Even if he did, an alert desk should have noticed it because Air Deccan's was the only IPO whose subscription closure had to be extended after last date, poll-axed by a torrid market meltdown.

Page 4 carried Unitech results. Grr! More important results like ITC and Mahindra & Mahindra are pushed to Page 6.

Story on Vindo Khosla refers to Sun Microsystems as "computer server company." Ignorance. Whatever happened to Sun's Java, Solaris and the rest?

The corporate results announcements are littered throughout the edition. Besides, East India Hotels results has gone into marketing and media page. As far I know, EIH is neither into marketing nor into media. It is into hospitality. Again, Gail results are carried in Economy & Politics page. They should have been put together in one or two corporate pages. There is a random feel about the choice, allocation and display of corporate results.

A report on Page 4 reads: "Kingfisher, not related to the airline or beer of the same name, which ended 2006 with a revenue of 8 billion pounds, is in the same business as US company Home Depot, and targets consumers who believe in the DIY (do it yourself) approach to home improvement." There are at least half-a-dozen clauses and phrases in this clumsy 50-word sentence. News reports should have shorter, simpler sentences. Sagar Malviya, take note.

A flyer headline on Mint's Page 6 reads: "Galloping prices at home spell boom for cement manufacturers." Isn't this stating the obvious? Rising commodity prices, be it steel, cement, oil or gas add to the bottomline of the respective manufacturer. There is no news in stating the obvious. This is not a story, but a statement. The story also says that oil price has gone up from "under $40 (Rs 1760) per barrel to above $60 (254)." At the forex conversion rate of 44/$ used by Mint, $60 should be equal to Rs 2640, not Rs 254. Even then, the front page of Mint says a dollar is now worth Rs 44.11. So, the figure should have been Rs 2646. HT Mint editors must pay better attention to numbers.

Page 9 - Economy and Politics - has a story about how govt may lose Rs 6000 crore if the Supreme Court rules against it in a duty credit scheme. Apparently, the hearing of the case is on Thursday. I read the Friday edition of Mint to see if the paper has carried a follow-up on the Rs 6000-crore case. Not a word. If Mint editors felt this story was important enough to credit a four-column display one day, shouldn't they at least mention in passing what happened to the case the next day to pamper the reader's curiosity aroused by the report?

Page 10 - Economy and Politics has a report titled "Groups rally to make anti-SEZ stir national." This is a biased, lefty report. At one point, the reporter calls SEZs as "so-called special economic zones." Besides helping Medha Patkar's PR and busybody campaigns, it helps none. There is nothing in his story to merit this display. Basically, it lists out anti-SEZ programmes planned out by Communists and activists who spend ther lives in Communism and activism. There is no effort to throw light on the human aspect of SEZ development, like displacement, poverty and farmland acquisitions. It just delves on the lefty programme sheet. The report, by Sukhmani Singh, should not have found place in the paper.

Page 11. Technology. Mentions Sony Ericsson as Sony in a single column report. It is not one and the same.

Pages 12 & 13. The story of Mint. Written by Raju Narisetti and Mario Garcia. It narrates how Mint was built and the philosophy of Mint. It details how the "Mint" name and logo were crafted. At the top of the page, the graphic says that Gazetta, the Italian coin was used in "circa 1563." Below, Mario Garcia's column says the gazettas were born only in 1586. Whom to believe?

Page 14 is Money Matters. It has a story which says that lack of adequate number of registrars is going to be a problem with a number of IPOs coming up. Fine. The reporter repeatedly refers to "India's stock market regulator" but does not name "Sebi." Why not? If we can identify RBI as banking regulator and Trai as telecom regulator, why not Sebi as stock market regulator? Ignorance or miss? This is not the promised "clarity", either way.

Market monitor graphics use fonts which are unreadable.

Page 15. Money Matters. Reporter Biju Mathew's name is splet wrong as Biju Matthew. There is a column called Breaking Views, which makes the statement that "Ratan Tata may have been motivated by a desire to keep up with the Mittals. That may have given him an a powerful adrenalin shot, but it's not so good for outside shareholders." The statement is preposterous. One, even after Corus acquisition, Tata Steel is way below Arcelor-Mittal in global steel rankings. Besides, Tata Steel has already made several global steel acquisitions even before the Mittal buyout of Arcelor-- Natsteel and Millennium Steel for example. The acquisition could have been made at a high price due to any number of reasons - higher expenditure which would have to be made if Tata was to set up his own plant with similar capacity, concerns over ability to meet capacity targets he had set for his own company, expanding global footprint in a cyclical industry to ride out seasonal price fluctuations - but not adrenalin, as Taron Wade so blithely puts it. Secondly, Ratan Tata's calculations have never been - think Indica - be motivated by short-term stock movements. Tata is known to take medium-to-long term gambles like the Indica and the Tetley acquisition, to take his companies to greater heights, screw the share price for the time being. Those who have hung on to the Tata stocks have always benefited. It's ignorance to say that Tata's adrenalin is not good for outside shareholders.

Mint Page 16 is stocks, followed by Commodities in Page 17. In the stocks tables, headers to the sub-sections are not visible enough. More clarity required.

Pages 18, 19, 20 and 21 are WSJ. Page 22 and 23 are editorial pages, one of the articles being a defence of the principles behind Mint, ardently written by Niranjan Rajadhyaksha, Editorial Pages Editor. The Editorial Pages Editor spells "hundredth" as "hundreth" in another article on Credit Policy. Spell-check, please. However, Rajadhyaksha's article is quite readable. Page 23 has an essay by Manmohan Singh. Quite decent.

After reading HT Mint from cover to cover, I was left with the feeling that I did not get enough, especially while looking at competitors Economic Times and Business Line. Mint takes a track different from the ones set by its older predecessors. It's refreshing, but gives a feeling of "not-enough." Since I am used to the kilo tonnes of newsprint that lands up on my doorstep every morning, Mint gives a feeling of a "piddly little paper." The first two days of Mint did not have any exciting or breaking stories worth remembering. Most reports are run-of-the-mill routine types. I hope as Mint goes forward, it will infuse more clarity, and gather more newsy content. I am looking forward to that. Economic Times and Business Line have little to worry from Mint, since the new kid, instead of trekking the trail, tries to blaze a new one. Mint's success will hinge on how many followers it can attract to its new way of doing business journalism.

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