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Mumbai Mirror: Break the glass, and run!

Mumbai Mirror's inaugural issue stays way below our expectations. Dancewithshadows analyses the latest steed from the Bennett Coleman stable. The analyst sleeps off somewhere around Page 23.




May 31, 2005:  The news stand is a little way off; and since I wake up late every morning, to get a paper from the stand means walking in the sun, since still does not provide me with an office car, despite several requests. (Editor, please take note) Since Mumbai Mirror was being launched on Monday, the duty of writing a round-up of the newest baby on the block fell on my shoulders. Finally, I decided against venturing out in the intense May heat. I congratulate myself for that decision now.

For those who came in late, here is the quick wrap-up. Mumbai Mirror is the latest product from Bennett Coleman, the largest print media establishment in India. As the name suggests, it is a product for the Mumbai market and comes in a tabloid format. Since Times cannot afford to be seen or heard as downmarket, they avoid the 'tabloid' terminology like the plague, and call it 'compact'. The paper is edited by Meenal Baghel, formerly city editor of Mid-Day, the little big guy in Mumbai's media. The Mumbai Mirror is the first salvo in the media war which is unfolding in Mumbai. On the anvil are Hindustan Times (promising electricity for Mumbai with the tagline Let There Be Light) Mumbai edition and DNA from the Zee-Bhaskar Group combine, which is stocking up for the war. 

The inaugural day's Mumbai Mirror dashed my hopes of a quality, tabloid (compact) newspaper from Times. It also destroyed all my faith in reader survey-based product launches. Mumbai Mirror, it was claimed, was a newspaper created after enormous inputs from extensive surveys and analysis. If Bennett Coleman is to be believed, this is what the Mumbaikar wants. Is it? Serious compact newspaper it is not. A threat to Mid-Day it might be; only time will tell.

The newsprint quality could have been a lot better. The layout and design are average, but they could be improved easily. What is disappointing is that in its inaugural issue, it did not have a single memorable story. In fact, the only things I can remember are the dozens of errors and goof-ups I noticed. May be the Mumbai readers interviewed by Times don't care. May be they are too busy to notice. After all, other newspapers have been getting away with bad grammar, inaccuracies and errors for years.

The Mumbai Mirror inaugural cover story is on Ajitabh Bachchan who is writing a critical book on Amitabh Bachchan, his brother and movie icon. The same (exclusive!) story appeared on the same day in Mid-Day. The second story on the front page is about a priest killing his brother apparently over a minor fight. My hopes of a serious newspaper in compact (tabloid) format died a a sudden death, with the swiftness of the priest's killing. Too much like Mid-Day? Perhaps.

The two stories in the city page (Page 2) are average - one says Govt may scrap merit list while the other is about the reshuffle in state police. The same reshuffle story is on Times of India front page too.

An eight-page pullout of classifieds follows under the title of Your Connect (whatever that means). I immediately threw the pullout to one side. (Most Mumbaikars probably will not - Editor)

Page 4 is, again, City. The lead headline says: WR's gift for Gustad. The story says that Western Railway (WR) has asked Standard Chartered Bank to freeze the bank guarantee Kaizad Gustad had given to WR last year. In a 2004 mishap, Gustad's assistant director Nadia Khan had died when she was run over by a train while shooting for his movie Mumbai Central. WR has now sought freezing of his bank guarantee now that the case is pending trial.

It reads: "A year after director Kaizad Gustad's assistant Nadia Khan was knocked down and killed by a train during Gustad's film shoot near Mahalaxmi station, Western Railways has an anniversary gift that the director wouldn’t want to collect."

The story doesn't mention any gift or anything (even a mail) that WR is sending Gustad's way. What is WR's gift? I couldn’t figure out. Is there any hidden meaning here? Nothing! It is an obvious error, in the a main story in the inaugural issue. I have never been left more confused by any other headline ever. 

Another story on the same page features a 15-year old gang leader. The boy's photo is given, with a black band over his eyes to disguise identity. Frankly, it does not conceal any identity. Turn over the page, and there is a story on a sketch artist, who makes drawings for police. The story says that the good chap receives death threats for sketching criminals’ pictures from victims' descriptions. The artist's photo is printed along with the story. Fascinating. Who is more at risk, the sketch artist who receives death threats on phone or the dropout who has been in and out of observation home? Hasn't the Mumbai Mirror story exposed an honest chap to greater danger? May be his enemies in the shadows did not know what he looked like; now they have face to look out for. Very poor judgment. Now, such bad judgement is not the exclusive preserve of Mumbai Mirror - others too do it with abandon.

Move on to Page 7. The lead story says the ban on dance bars in Maharashtra was provoked by a government decision to cut to size 22 cops, including some encounter specialists who are running benami dance bars. The story has no authentic quotes from anyone except a mysterious "senior police officer". Not a single name is mentioned. No attempt to contact RR Patil whose picture is pasted with the story. To add to it all, grammar error in the intro to the story.

Page 8. Lead story on solar water heating systems in Mumbai buildings. Box with story spells "roof" as "rood". Sub-editors, do your spell-checks!

Page 10. Nation. Horror at the top. The top panel, with picture of Advani has spelling errors. INCLUDE is spelt as "INLCUDE". It says the high-profile visitors to Pakistan this week INLCUDE Advani. The same page carries stories where Calcutta is spelt as CACUTTA and district spelt as ISSTRICT. Obviously, nothing is strict!

Sub-standard quality follows into Page 12. The lead story is on Anjali Gupta, IAF staffer, who has been under "close arrest" under several charges including corruption and indiscipline. The story says - in two places - that Anjali complained to the Chief of Air Staff on April 13. The graphic with the story, which chronicles the case, says it is March 13. Which is true? Speak up, Mumbaikar! You created this paper!

Somewhere in the story, the writer makes a completely unsubstantiated statement: "Whatever be the merits or outcome of the case, the whole episode is going to have an adverse impact on women officers in Air Force." Yeah? How? Do men chargesheeted for corruption or indiscipline have any adverse impact on the Air Force? Do their planes fly at lower altitudes? (Give them a break, Mumbai journalists' writing is suddenly not going to improve, and such unsubstantiated generalisations are the norm - Editor)

If Page 12 is thus, can Page 13 (the dreaded number) be far behind? Page 13 beats page 12 and all previous pages. There is only one story in the entire page.  The story talks about the indiscriminate use of abortion pill Mifepristone, which is an anti-progesterone. The insinuation to the beneath-the-surface- immorality is clear. The drug can be used under a doctors' supervision to terminate unwanted pregnancies; in some states only by an approved doctors and centres. It is a restricted drug. Throughout the story, the uninformed Roli Srivastava spells the drug as Mifeprstone (without an 'I'). Forget that; the headline screams: Prohibited abortion pill an easy buy in AP. Prohibited? Who prohibited Mifepristone? It is a US FDA-approved drug, which is also approved in India. Governments have not banned Mifepristone; Mumbai Mirror has.

In fact, this is what you call a collaborative effort: the uninformed reporter writes a semi-cooked story. Later, the sub-editor takes over and destroys whatever is left with a blunder headline. It is one of the standard rules of journalism. (Students of journalism, please listen! This is regular practice in most newspapers, and some have honed it to perfection.)

Pages 14 to 18 are World pages - filled with stories from PTI, Reuters, AFP. Not a single good analysis, not a single foreign correspondent. However, this section is by and large free of errors. Mumbai Mirror must say thanks to the wire agencies who did a good job of editing.

The next two are business pages. Uninspiring stories, unexciting design. Some stories are edited. The top panel calls "cable landing station" as "land station." Grammar and spelling errors in lead stories of both pages. Page 23 is International Business, which is recommended reading if you have a problem falling asleep.

By now, I too started falling asleep. It is Page 23, yawn! The next four pages are sports pages. But I am shaken out of my slumber by the first Sports page, where the top panel says "Nightmare on Lap 59" about the previous day's F1 race. "Raikkonen loses his wheels", misinforms Mumbai Mirror. Wheels? You mean, plural? Two wheels? 

I had watched the entire race on Sunday. It was sad to see Kimi crash out at the end of the race when he was still No.1, when the McLaren’s front tyre and suspension failed. Kimi lost only one wheel. Mumbai Mirror has pulled out one more. Which is why I think he lost.

By now, I am completely shattered by Mumbai's informed choice. Those who are interested, and keen to learn more, please buy a copy yourself. Better still, subscribe, and get a treat of its editorial brilliance day after day. 

For information, the rest of the Mumbai Mirror pages are as follows:

Four Sports pages
Three Views pages (Edit/op-ed type pages)
One Health Page 
Relationship Page
Five entertainment pages
Two pages of crossword, astrology, cartoons and other rubbish
Two pages of Listings
Followed by even more pages of Entertainment, featuring Mumbai Mirror launch.

At first, I couldn't figure out why the Mumbai Mirror launch story was under Entertainment section. After laughing through most of its stories, now I know. It's fun dude! It's rockin'!

I can almost hear the bosses at Mid-Day, HT and DNA chuckle.


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