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Mumbai media fireworks: Report from the frontlines

The battle for Mumbaiís mediascape has barely started, but the battle for its journalists is in full steam. We guess their salaries will reach orbit faster than Space Shuttle Discovery. tries to make sense of the mayhem.




June 4, 2005: For a slave class, nothing could be sweeter than emancipation. This couldn't be truer for journalists in Mumbai, where the unfolding media war is suddenly raining manna for journalists. Salaries have shot up sky-high, and self-admitted losers who can't spell their name without stumbling can be seen bragging about the bomb-level packages they just negotiated. 

If Mumbai journalists thought money was thrown only on babes twisting on dance floors, they couldn't be more wrong - this time around, the money is thrown their way. What does this mean for journalists and the media? Many journalists and cub-journalists are still confused about the way ahead. They see the gleam of money, they hear the jingle of coins, but they are not sure if it is for real. For a profession where salaries have always been much below that in the services industry, it is a sudden take-off. Here is a ready reckoner:


The media boom in Mumbai is, erroneously, compared to the dotcom boom of 2000. However, this comparison is either motivated or uninformed. The motivated category includes the nay-saying media mavens, (your management and bosses who are earning several times their staffers, for sure) who would ideally like to keep their staffers without spending another paisa. The less they spend on their people, the more they get to keep. The uninformed are more innocent, and look several times before they leap. 

The dotcom boom was fuelled by venture capital money. Venture capitalists infuse funds into a business with the intention of making more money out it. This is a short-to-medium term plan. When the business model doesn't work (very few had any business models at all) they move away, and the company shuts shop almost instantly. This happened in 2000-2001, when many people lost jobs overnight.

The current boom is different. Established media players, with deep pockets, are sinking in money with the long-term future in mind. HT and DNA believe that the initial years won't be easy, but they are pitching camp for the long term. The moment they could not attract more investment and sell of stake, the dotcoms were dead. Not in this case. The newspapers know this is a long battle, and are ready for it.


Media dotcoms did not have proper (or any!) revenue streams. Even five years after the dotcom boom and bust, web advertising is still to pick up significantly in India. Paid website subscriptions, where the user pays to access news have also failed as a business model. Even the biggest advertisers in India hardly paid any attention to web media. The print/television media is different. There has never been any dearth of advertisers even for mid-level TV channels and newspapers. In contrast to the global scene where print advertising as a share of total advertising is on the decline, it is picking up in India. Put another way, more advertising is headed for print. This trend may reverse in a few years, with greater Net penetration, prompting advertisers to take web media more seriously. Even then, it wouldnít mean lower revenues for print. 


Mostly, this rule does not apply here. When Times of India took the media war to HT's heart in Delhi a decade back, both HT and Times benefited. The market expanded. Circulation of both papers went up. The fear of one paper taking away the circulation of the other proved false. The same principle has been proven globally too. Journalists in Mumbai have little to worry.

What they should worry about are the papers which have not taken the battle head-on. The battle lines are not a place to think, agonise and philosophise. You need adrenaline-pumping action. Times has taken up the battle with gusto, hats off to them! Some others still have their thinking caps on, God save them!


Many newspapers have sharply reduced the processing time for applications. It has mostly become a single window clearance process. I remember, as a sub-editor wet behind the ears, when I applied for a job with the Old Lady of Boribunder years back, the process was so long-winded and frustrating - finally leading to rejection! Times has now gone on high gear, despite its wizard Pradeep Guha leaving for Zee group.

Many newspapers in India have always excelled in the dirty habit of giving counter-offers to their journalists who managed a new job with enormous difficulty. Those days are mostly over, thank God. The media honchos have always refused to pay according to your true worth, until a poacher came along to pay you double your true value! 

Counter-offers to keep staffers are mostly gone. If 'X' poaches from 'Y', the 'poached staffer' is immediately absorbed into 'X', with the new employer paying up the notice period dues. This leaves little time for further negotiations for the journalist to extract salaries from current employer. There is a new kind of forced ethics - the papers cannot offer cannot counter-offers, and journalists can't take them anymore.


With the media market suddenly expanding, there is an acute shortage of journalists in Mumbai, as the demand has far overshot supply. The Mumbai media 'talent' pool has always been small, since there were few papers around. Since the trained manpower will now be spread thin across an expanding spectrum, there will be a corresponding decline in quality - quality of writing, reporting, editing, marketing, sales. Do no expect great quality from any of the papers for a while. Let them settle down, give them some breathing space.


When I entered my school of journalism over decade back, I went into it with the full knowledge that it is not a high-paying profession. For those looking for a life of lucre, this author never recommended a career in journalism. In contrast, a person who goes to a software engineering course is targeting a well-paying job. So, has the paradigm changed? Is it time for bright kids to choose a career in media over a career in, say, engineering or medicine?

I advise against it. The IT/software industry thrives largely on the outsourcing model. Even if the outsourcing boom subsides, it will still remain a lucrative field for youngsters. The IT/ITES industry recruits thousands of hands every year, and it is not going to die any soon.

In contrast, the boom in Mumbai media cannot be sustained. Read carefully, I said the BOOM cannot be sustained. The salaries, however, will stay at higher altitudes. The jobs will remain. The difference is, unlike the IT/ITES industry, the media does not need thousands of students every year. Once the dust dies down after the media war and the people settle in their cubicles, there wonít be a need to hire people as desperately as newspapers are doing now. So, aspirants in journalism who dream of pots of money year after year may well be disappointed. However, if you are doing a course in journalism now, or are entering the media now, you will benefit handsomely. 


Doesn't matter; you will still be paid handsomely


Doesn't matter; you will still be paid handsomely.


Be careful. Don't let the salary packet mislead you. Make sure what job, and what responsibilities you will be taking up. Outline your fundamentals clearly. Broadly, there are three categories of papers in Mumbai; those who offer high salaries and a prestigious I-Card, those who offer reasonably high salaries and a peaceful, systematic work environment and those who have salaries below industry standards, where work is hectic and quality is a roller-coaster ride but hold scope for good career growth for the capable ones. Pick and choose. 

For Mumbai journalists, the going has never been so good. And for Mumbai's media heads, the going has never been so bad. The hands that wielded the whip now hold the fan for you. Emancipation does not come every other day. Rejoice!


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