The Fall and Fall of The Hindu

No, this is not about the Hindu Indian, who is having the time of his life, thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

This is about The Hindu newspaper in particular and the media in general. But this post is not just about its news content, rather more about its advertising support and indifference to customer issues.

I was in Chennai during October 14-18, a period that usually sees a surge in advertisements in newspapers to capitalise on Diwali festivities.

Advertisements are a measure of a newspaper’s popularity. We do not need to go by figures released by the ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation), the IRS (Indian Readership Survey ) or those by the respective newspapers themselves. They may throw in some statistical jugglery that can be confusing and raise credibility questions.

Everytime I visit Chennai I make it a point to buy all of the English language newspapers published from Chennai daily. I buy them even in Singapore whenever I visit Little India. I have generally observed the decline not just in the quality of content in The Hindu over the years but also in terms of advertising space.

This time I found it more pronounced than ever.

This, I reckon, is because of the launch of the Chennai editions of The Times of India, about six years ago, and of the Deccan Chronicle.

iPhone Ads: The week I was there, Apple launched its iPhone 6 in India and I found two full-page colour advertisements in The Times of India (ToI). The newspaper also carried similar ads from Samsung for its Note 4 release. I did not find them in The Hindu.

These are products that appeal to the young who have been lapping up ToI more than The Hindu. So businesses know what newspapers need to be targeted for getting maximum mileage for their offerings.

Tamil Edition: On Oct. 18, however, The Hindu was able to match ToI in the number of pages – 72. While The Hindu now has its own Tamil edition (without making any meaningful impact on vernacular readership), that day’s ToI edition had a full page of reports in the local language. I found that interesting – a bilingual touch to an English newspaper.

Sports reports have traditionally attracted young English readers, but that is on the wane as well with the growth of online portals and TV broadcasting.

Not that we need to apply too much thought into the tastes of the new generation as they have lost interest in reading, too! But business interests dictate that newspapers factor that base into their planning.

The Hindu has tried to ape ToI with some entertainment and glamour coverage but not with equal appeal or fervour.

Obituary Ads, their biggest selling point?: It is also my perception that The Hindu draws readers for its Obituary ads which the youth hardly care about.

The Hindu has been a pioneer in the use of printing technologies and newspaper despatch with satellite editions.

But it has not been able to carry it well into the Internet era. It is not easy to place an advt online though they have that facility. The live chat feature appears to be there only for namesake as I have not been able to elicit any response on the few occasions I tried.

The response levels are clearly abysmal. There have been times when I sent them feedback on the services but they did not care to respond to them. This was a newspaper I had served for more than seven years and I find customer support far from satisfactory.

Issues with my Obit Ads: Recent issues relate to two advertisements I placed in the Obituary pages of The Hindu. One was on Oct. 8 when I placed an ad on my mother’s death (at a cost of around Rs 47,000) through an agent – the Vincent Parker group that provides funeral services.

Amma obit ad in The Hindu, Sept 8, 2014

Around 5pm the previous day, after I had sent the content, I realised that I had forgotten to include our phone numbers – which is important for friends and relatives across the country to contact us.

So I called up the agent (Vincent Parker) to request inclusion of the phone numbers. I know for sure that obit ads are accepted until around midnight, so I was certain this could be easily accommodated at least in the Chennai edition. But the agent told me that The Hindu refused to honour the request. Vincent Parker, nonetheless, did a good job with their other deliverables — coffin, etc.

Poor Customer Service: I was so busy with funeral arrangements amid the tragedy in the family I did not have the time to follow up with The Hindu.

But here is one question I have — will not The Hindu review the content and offer suggestions when something is missing in an ad? It may not be obligatory, but proactive support will be a testament to customer-friendliness. Good customer service goes beyond collecting payments and blindly accepting what the advertiser provides them with and offering value-adds that could include correcting mistakes.

Not surprisingly, many of our friends were unable to reach us and some managed to find our numbers through our other contacts.

No Proof for My Review: The next was on October 14 when a birthday remembrance ad for my mom appeared in The Hindu. I had placed the ad from Singapore through another agent, Release My Ad

Mom's birthday remembrance ad, The Hindu 14102014

This time I had sent the text for the advt to Release My Ad about a week in advance and requested them to send me the proof for my review. Despite my many calls to them and email reminders they did not send me the proof at all. When I saw the printed edition I found the ad was not formatted well – the point size was too small and the photograph way too light.

I sent a complaint to Release My Ad with a copy to the only advertising contacts from The Hindu, expressing my dissatisfaction with it. Had I been provided with the proof before publication I would have had the opportunity to fix it or even take an enlarged space to make it more prominent. As expected, and as is the tradition of The Hindu, there was no response from neither the newspaper nor the agent.

The newspaper seems to even pick its agents / business partners based on their culture of indifference!

G Joslin Vethakumar

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