Times Group Forces Journalists: The Unspoken Other Side
So the Times Group has ‘forced’ social media on its journalists and TVPs are linked to how ‘social’ the journalists will be. Oh evil Times Group! Oh, is it? Wait, what?
Well, before we go further, two questions!
A battle has broken out, the general expects his soldiers to be at the spot where they will be able to protect or invade. Is the general being rude, or unprofessional or bizarre, or ridiculous? Ok next! A Bollywood film is ready and about to release and the producer expects the lead actors to promote the film at events, on online social networks. Is he being bizarre or ridiculous or trying to save money to ‘not hire a social media agency’? Make up your mind and read ahead.
Understand that this is not a response from the Times Group. I was (or may be am) a journalist with The Times Group in The Economic Times, and since I was blessed with logic, I am presenting the other side for the benefits of readers.
The Times Group has been trending on Twitter in the recent times for ‘sensationalizing’, like the Deepika cleavage thing. Let’s get it clear that times Group was never a news organisation. The company’s MD Vineet Jain was always clear that “We are not in the newspaper business, we are in the advertising business.” There is nothing better for company than having the MD with a clear thought. If any journalist thinks otherwise, and claims that journalism rules, he or she should check out the figures. General perception is that the Hindu or the The Indian Express has good, quality content and Times of India has trivial stories. If you think journalism rules, then why do Hindu and The Indian Express have lesser circulation figures than Times of India? More people should be buying the quality content paper right?
We journalists should understand that we work (or worked) in this group for money. No one came here to do social work by writing life changing stories. Apart from money, we got an additional perk of recognition via our names being declared to the public as our bylines. (And mind you, that also made it public personalities. Hold on to this, we’ll come to this soon.) Any company can pay its employees only if it makes money. Basic rule that applies all over the world. Now tell me, have our articles ever generated a single rupee for our company? Do you remember any instance when the circulation (or sale) of your paper grew because you wrote a great article? You got your salary only because your paper got money via advertisements.
Try one more thing if you are not convinced. Go to market and tell the readers that you have a great story, or an investigative report of corruption. Tell them you incurred an expense of Rs 100 on getting this information (phone call, travel, etc) and they should pay you Rs 30 to read that one pager, 500-word article, which is in national interest. See for yourself how many people will ready to pay. And now see the irony. You cannot generate even Rs 100 for your creation. And now check out your payslips.
So money in important.
Around 2008, online social media started nibbling away into the share of news media as people started to consume digital news instead of waiting for the newspaper in the morning. Social media brought in speed, it bought in free content, advertisers got a cheaper medium to advertise. Circulations started growing slower than earlier and in some case even stagnating. So it was natural for any media company to start embracing social. And so it was logical for it to expect that its journalists also start doing the same. Think of the general who expects his soldiers to be on the line of fire to protect and invade.
Around 2011, Times Group had woken up to the social media onslaught and unveiled a ‘social-first’ policy. I’ll speak of what happened in The Economic Times. The then executive editor Rahul Joshi sent out an email which read…
Dear all (at ET and ET NOW),
ET will soon start an initiative called ET Speed, which will be a twitter-like service focused on business news.
ET journalists (print and TV) will be powering this service. We will expand it to the larger business community soon after the launch. The process of filing tweets for this service will be made simple and easy to access. We will soon share more details with you on the specifics of filing tweets and certain dos and dont’s.
As back-end preparation for this service, we need the following details from you and all your team members.
All reporters, researchers, feature writers and anchors need to fill in the details below. I hope I won’t have to remind you all about this–please be responsible and ask your team members to send across the details. Vertical heads and bureau chiefs should also take part in this. Thank you.
As you can see, there was no talk of TVP being linked, company invading, etc nothing. It was a pure play ‘let’s-do-this’ thing. It was a good opportunity for journalists to embrace social, get involved with their readers, help its brand grow. But journalists were adamant and reluctant and themselves created a mess.
Before I delve into this, let’s understand the psychology of us journalists. We inherently have a larger-than-life image about ourselves in our mind. So how we behave at press conferences if the organisors are late. That’s a crime, and the organisors will have it big time from you. But if you are late, you are busy. Talk to some PR agencies and you will get to know incidents after incidents. Apart from this, we were already alienating ourselves from our readers. Just write to any journalist and 9 out of 10 times you will not get a reply. 9 out of 10 journalists will not reply. We considered it an insult to themselves (well, almost) to even reply to emails from readers. Write a negative or counterview to a journalist’s article and he/she will trash it right away. This psychology contributed to mess of ‘social first’ policy.
Journalists took it just as a compliance thing rather than ‘let’s-do-it’ mission. Many started putting out bits and pieces of press releases, rather than writing real updates of news.
Then they rolled out ET Online, which was a project to file more stories for the online edition. With the TV and social media onslaught, there were many incidents that were newsworthy, but could not have gone into the print next day as they would be stale by then. They wrote to all journalists that the social media is the next big thing and we should be on it. Elaborate plan was laid out. The social media team was readied. The agenda was simple. We should be on social media, we should break stories first, we should write about developing stories as & when and as & how they happen. They said go all out on social media, talk to readers, take pictures, etc. I quote the last para from the executive editor’s email
What’s in it for us? We’ll all become better multi-media journalists breaking stories across the paper, ET NOW and ET online. You will soon see display of your stories improve online, while getting feedback from a net savvy reader. Your stories could also get shared on social networking sites and breaking news could soon go viral, which is a huge kick for any journalist.
Yet, journalists considered online of lesser god. They pushed their stories for print and again dished out trash for the online. Press releases again started making their way to the online editions.
The executive editor flagged his senior editors many times that their teams were not firing online. Then in 2012 came the first email which stated that those contributing to social will get rewarded more. Hardly any movement. Then some weeks later came the email which said now TVP will be linked to online contributions. Still people were not firing on the social media part.
Then the later developments have made it to public domain, where the company said we will take control of your social media accounts and then this recent one of where you says Times Group is forcing its journalists.
So let’s understand that this entire thing started first as a friendly thing, to be able to sail through the market change. We, the so called journalists, took it very lightly or remained adamant and dug up our own grave.
So it is not ridiculous as your article (this one) says. Is it not logical for a media company to expect that its journalists also promote and share and discuss their stories. Don’t actors go about promoting their films? Can you accuse the producer of trying to save the expense of a social media agency? And with a whole department of Times Internet and so many people there, why would they even ‘try to save money’?
It is not an easy task to run such a big organisation. Your bread and butter is the (news)paper, and if social media is going to bite into a chunk of it, naturally it make sense to be where it will benefit you. And it is logical for the employer to ask his employees also to be there. It is as logical as the general expecting his soldiers to be on the line of fire to protect or invade. Because, eventually not being there is going to hurt your source of income. If the company will not earn, what will it pay.
And secondly, let’s be clear of the most important part here. The two portals who wrote about the ‘Times forces it’s journalists’ incident have accused the group of invading privacy. Journalists are not private people. The very fact that we struggle for getting our bylines out to the public and that what we write is going to impact, or influence the public makes us public people. See what you yourselves do to the public. Don’t you rush to capture the actor’s cleavage while she is at the party or her panty while she is getting out of the car? Is it not their private life?
So saying that social media accounts of journalists are private is wrong. You can’t be public in one sense and claim to be private in other. It is just comparable to saying ‘I am secular’ while sitting on the minister’s chair and saying ‘xyz religion promotes terrorism’ while walking down the road. Of course, what you do behind closed doors or within family or within closed doors is your private life. But have it behind closed doors. You can have separate private profiles where only your closed ones have access. Do you in your offline social life have private discussions loudly on the road, where people look up to you as a journalist? No! So why on the online social life?
Disclaimer: This is not an official word of the Times Group. This is my personal view as an employee (or may be former employee) in the editorial function of The Economic Times. I choose to remain anonymous. If you want to correct anything written above or have something else to share feel free to comment here or write to me at [email protected].