Sunday, April 27, 2008

Motoyuva, chhotoyuva

She cares about me. And my cellphone.

"Don't put it like that into your pocket. In all the rush and jostling within the train, someone will flick it off your pockets!"

Moms, I tell you. I'm getting ready for work. Tying my shoelaces. And then this.

"While stepping into the train, would't it be a good idea to put your cellphone in your bag?"

Dad and mum, both decided to gift me this phone - Nokia N70 - much to my delight and surprise, when all I was expecting was a Motoyuva or something. Watching mom handing out the brand new N70 from the cupboard, wrapped in its box, was a treat to the senses. It bowled me over.

"Your dad has already lost an expensive watch in the train. Somebody just flicked it off his wrist as he landed at Kalyan station!"

The N70 was a gift from them. I'd topped my college in BMM (Journalism) in my final year and also earned a place in the top 5 Journalism students in Mumbai University. The marksheet made them hold their heads high, especially after my extremely disappointing show at the HSC exams in the Science stream.

"It's an expensive phone. And I think you have all your contacts and phone numbers in it. If you lose it, you'll be in trouble."

I've already come close to losing it and damaging it badly, on a couple of occasions. But then, some objects are made for their owners. Like me. And my N70.

"It's not too difficult to flick it off your pants, I tell you!"

True. As if she's been a professional pick-pocket once.

"Your dad always keeps his phone hidden deep in his bag. That's a little extreme, I admit, but you must be careful. Keep your hand on your pockets protectively."

As if protecting a tumor inside my trousers. Good heavens!

"Go safely. Don't have anything cold outside. Have your lunch on time. Don't delay. And call me from office, sometime.You toh don't call only."

I kiss her softly on the cheeks. And give her a hug. And then touch her feet, as I step out of the house ready to embrace another brand new day. I love my mom.

Now, back to my N70.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How will India's media boom survive the talent crunch?

In what seems like a dream-run for the next generation of journalists - the so called beholders of India's democratic information ecosystem - finding a job is not going to the first problem he/ she will have to worry about, when they pass out of grad school.

Which one to choose, is the million-dollar question.

There are so many jobs on the platter and entry level salaries are surprisingly high, for people who are still not equipped the required skill-sets. Training courses for once, specially like BMM (Bachelors of Mass Media) in Mumbai, are light-years away from an industry standard.

And with the University doing away with the Entrance Test for First Year BMM, filtering the best talent just got difficult. By rough estimates, this year's BMM-batch alone, which comprises nearly 500 journalism students from Mumbai, will see confirmed placements of atleast 200 of them. What happens to the rest of them?

Some of them, of course, will pursue post-graduation studies, thanks to unsatisfactory feeling BMM, as a course gives you. At the end of 3-yr course, a student's knowledge becomes extremely theoretical and focus gets blurred. Even post-graduation or diploma degrees in journalism, I'm told, give you the same feeling that undigested good generates.

For example, in the final year of journalism, Public Relations as a subject is something that syllabus makers have criminally given a miss. News-gathering on a variety of beats, working in B2B publications, networking, source building and news-sense are some of the major loop-holes in this myopic course.

Moreover, for an industry which in the next one year is going to witness a slew of business channel launches - they desperately need skilled talent - the BMM course is doing almost nothing to ensure that graduates pass out with atleast a fair knowledge of operating beta cameras, collecting sound bytes, reading off-the prompter and editing video on consoles. The syllabus is crammed with too many things at the same time and timings allotted to lectures are too short.

Which is why, retaining skilled talent is going to be difficult. While there is too much training on how to write a good report and edit, et all., there is absolutely no training on surviving in the profession...on sticking it though. Almost when the journalist begins to get into the groove of his beat, he gets noticed. And getting noticed, it seems is the worst thing that could happen to his organisation. What will it do? Stop giving him bylines? Lol...

Wage hikes alone are not going to work, today. I work in an organisation - DNA - which started the wage hike in the first place. Three years ago, thanks to the launch of this newspaper - and a couple of others - wages across the board for journalists, sales staff, editors were hiked by 100%. Ironically, it is the same organisation, that today, is facing a terrible talent crunch, especially in beats like business where atleast a substantial backgrounder about business news is important at entry level.

And this has got nothing to do with the paper's credentials. Take DNA, for example. According to industry readership surveys, DNA is the fastest growing newspaper in India. Its readership in Mumbai is second only to The Times of India and it has left competitors HT, Indian Express, Mid-day, Mumbai Mirror, Mint and others far behind.

This gives rise to a simple fact, that department heads, HR managers and editors must accept. Wage hikes are no longer a criteria for retaining talent. The person is simply going to wait for the hike, take it and paste the numbers on his next resume as 'current CTC' and expect atleast 25-30% higher CTC in return from his next employer. All of this, within months of getting the raise.

Its the nature of talent companies are dealing with. Young employees are fickle consumers. Dangle a fatter wallet in front of him and they'll fall for it. Of course, perks like a 5-day week work routine and cordial workplace are a huge attraction.

Which makes me come to the question - what are some effective ways to retain talent, that is settling into your media organisation? Better pay-packages? 5-day week? Regular meetings? Get-togethers? Going out for dinner sometimes? Note: A journalist-driven workplace is different than any other organisation. Doing all of the above may not be possible always. Especially, for a newspaper that is growing and expanding into newer markets, input costs are very high, margins are low and salary hikes across the board are not the first thing the CEO likes to think about when it comes to retaining talent.

Share your thoughts.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sunny Deo, Bobby Deo, P L S Apply Deo

Looks like I'll need a first class season ticket.

No matter how cheap deodarants are sold outside railway stations (Haan..bolo..eksau bees rupaiya mein do..!), Mumbai's Indians (lol!) will still remain stinky poos. Whatever happened to the good old deo? Rexona deserves to tear its hair apart. So does Set Wet Zatakk!

Coz, neither does the Marathi manoos apply any deo, nor the paan chewing Bihari. The Gujju uncle who boards the local train at Ghatkopar has applied powder before he leaves for work in the morning. But on his way pack, Jignesh-bhai smells like dhokla soaked in cat urine.

Mornings are bearable. Everyone's bathed clean, with oily hair. A tall guy like me can almost smell each one's hair and guess which hair-oil it must be. Ditto for shampoos, but that's only for Sundays.

The heat, however, takes its toll on the way back home. As you enter the compartment, into a semi-crowded human jungle, you can almost feel the blast of hot air - a mix of perspiration, carbon dioxide coming through flaring nostrils and the natural warmth of their bodies. But what hits you more is their body language. In literal terms, they simply don't want you there. That's second class for you.

Except that people won't spit outside at the drop of a hat, it won't be far too different in the first class compartment. Passenger numbers have increased way beyond capacity in the first class. People's disposable incomes have gone up, and with most companies paying for employee's regular conveyance, more and more people travel by first class these days.

Still, those red and yellow stripes on the body of the compartment are a dependable filter if you want to avoid spitty-arm, chest scratching men. And in the first class, the smell of the sweat is different. Can't say its bearable, though. Stale deo is still better than no deo.

Come to think of it, if you had to suggest a good deodarant to Mumbaikars, what would you recommend?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Some learnings

Its been almost four months working at DNA Money. I've learnt several things - pros and cons of working in a big organisation, evils of procrastination, perils of laying your life bare in front of the office hypocrite and some more...

Some of these learnings have been from other sources - senior correspondents, friends and family. Some of it, I've learnt myself. Listed below are some thoughts which have somehow struck a balance with I've been taught and what my conscience told me.

1. Love your parents. They're God's greatest gift.

2. Work, like there's no tomorrow. Some people will tell you, "Man, you need to relax...Man why don't you take an off...Man, why do you work seven days a week?" Fuck them.

3. Trust your gut feeling. That feeling, when you smell a story. That feeling when you know your analysis of the story is going to be better than anybody else. That feeling, when you know you can do this story better than anybody else.

4. You don't choose a story. A story chooses you. Its spiritual. Some stories are meant just for you. Within your limitations, you can do the best justice to it.

5. Nothing feels better than seeing your boss happy with your work. Don't try too hard to impress him. Impress yourself and your peers. They're the best judge of my work. Every time they see my story, it should remind them what they have missed. Don't work too hard on PR pitches, unless they're exclusive. Your peers have been pitched the same story as well.

6. Don't make close friends in office. A workplace is a workplace. Keep relations cordial. The ones who make you uncomfortable, stay away from them.

7. Associate with people whom you can learn from. Associate with people who tell you something new every time you talk to them.

8. Ask the office bitch to fuck-off. She's been taking sadistic pleasure foul-mouthing about me. Time for a reverse sweep. Stop reacting whenever she comes around.

9. I must not try hard to make too many friends. Some will be best friends. Some will be close friends. Some will remain colleagues. Others will remain mere acquaintances. Friends will come and go.

10. Just keep working. Be high on work and knowledge.

Dealing with PR professionals

Be polite. If you do not see a possibility of a story, tell them so. If the boss has trashed the story even after you've filed, tell them so, too.

Lets face it. You get at least 10-15 calls a day in the form of invites, pitches, press releases. One can't carry all of it. And what's worse, sometimes it is coming to you after travelling through ET, Exchange4media, HT and others...

The next time a PR professional says this - Send me a list of questions that I will get answered from the client and then I shall arrange an interaction - hang up. In journalism schools, we weren't taught it would happen like this. I don't know how many journalism schools actually teach what role PR plays. Guess its the old school thought - PRs are publicists - they just make the communication longer.

Sending a list of questions is almost like leaking the question paper before the exams. And why, may I know, would the client need a set of questions about his own business? He's the best informed person and should have stats, history at the tip of his tongue. If he doesn't, then he isn't good at what he is doing and doesn't deserve to be written about.

On second thoughts, maybe the client really wants to interact openly with the media. Maybe he has stats at the tip of his tongue. Maybe the inside story is that it is the PR professional that is the snob and not the client - "Call up the journo, ask him to send a list of questions and get 'the client' to answer them one by one.." if this is the brief PR industry is giving to young PR consultants, God help them. I mean, is the PR acting as a dalaal here? A real intermediary?

It is at times like these that I feel PR has ruined that sacrosanct journo-industry relationship. The common perception is that, suddenly industry felt they need to communicate with the media in an orderly manner and they employed PR professionals. The real truth, though, seems like the industry wanted to show-off "how busy we are and you need to fix an appointment telecon". All in a manner of snobbish-ness.

All's not bad though. I've come across experienced PR professionals who have such a sound knowledge of the industry, that they know how to pitch right. Their insights are invaluable for my stories.

My heart went out to a PR lady recently who gave me her client's number - her client is a big-shot mind you - and asked me to call him up 'straight-away'. "No, you just call him up. He's not picking my calls either. Just call him. What's the point if I make it lengthier for you?" she said. I hope her breed increase.