Selling the soul? Or sustaining the business?


PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Let it be said upfront: Indian newspapers have sold their front pages to advertisers before, and The Times of India is not the first.

In 1948, India’s self-proclaimed “national newspaper”, The Hindu, reported the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on its back page, because, back then, the “Mount Road Mahavishnu” used to run ads on the front page.

In the mid-1990s, when the “Old Lady of Boribunder” ran ear panel advertisements on either side of its title, it sold both slots to a (chocolate?) advertiser who created the words “LET” and “WAIT” in the same font as the paper’s mashtead.

Result, when readers received the paper, the masthead that greeted them was “LET THE TIMES OF INDIA WAIT”.

More recently, using the front page for advertising, often by flanking the actual front page with a wraparound, has gained currency among a variety of advertisers and newspapers, including The Hindu.

And there are those who believe this is a good thing because the most important piece of real estate in a paper can draw top dollar, which can sustain newsrooms in a tight advertising market. After all, the New York Times has just started taking front page ads.

Selling the front page for advertising is one thing, but selling a newspaper’s masthead?

That’s precisely what the Delhi edition of The Times of India has done today (see image, above).

The Times often uses the masthead to create Google-style doodles, to wish readers on festivals and to create a splash  on important news days. For journalists and readers of the old school, even that may not be OK, but at least that doesn’t amount to signalling to the world that the soul of the paper is safe.

But in a step that suggests that there is nothing in the paper that cannot be bought for a price, The Times today sells its masthead to a mobile phone company, whose ad, with various arms of it creeping all over the news space, appears below on the bottom-half of the front page.

It can be argued that there is nothing wrong with monetising the masthead. Regular readers rarely look at it with a close eye and in the case of the The Times of India, readers who are used to their paper’s masthead being played around with, may not even notice.

On the other hand, sure, business is bad, but this bad?


Also read: Pyramid Saimira, Tatva & Times Private Treaties

Times Private Treaties gets a very public airing

SUCHETA DALAL: Forget the news, you can’t believe the ads either

SALIL TRIPATHI: The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility

PAUL BECKETT: Indian media holding Indian democracy ransom

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA: ‘Indian media in deeply murky ethical territory’

The scoreline: Different strokes for different folks

Does he who pays the piper call the tune?


  1. yuk…but this is creativity and marketing team of the newspaper have to be appreciated to be able to sell the concept internally in their organisation…

  2. kuhfeuh

    am wondering why are you guys so biased. you seem to always aim your cannon towards the TOI. what’s your problem with the Times Group?

    1. Lohit Jagwani

      actually kuhfeuh has a point, why do so much TOI bashing, am not fond of the paper or the way it is run but the fact that its always TOI which is criticized appears suspicious…

  3. An interesting analysis.

  4. Arun

    and to top has to b the ugly n tasteless logo of MTS. the worst logo of a telecom company i’ve ever seen. wht they mean by having an egg as their logo?

  5. Mysore Peshva

    excellent post.

  6. m . r. dua

    Like it or not, TOI has had its way almost
    all these
    years so far !
    The old school journalists and media teachers don’t approve of it.
    But, as they say, money makes the mare go.
    And if, the Jains don’t follow this, who will?
    Anyway, I’m writing from USA. The other day here,
    a popular evening quiz program ‘ Jeopardy ‘,
    had a quiz for three contestants:
    Which is the daily newspaper whose circulation is double
    of the London Times and The New York Times put together?
    Of three contestants replied, only said: “TOI”.
    and doubled her (US dollar) prize money.
    Whatever may be the views of readers and
    professionals, TOI has done well in many ways.
    And, many of my students have richly
    contributed in this process.
    I met Samir many, many years at lunch
    in his office. And he did not mince words
    about the main motive of his publications, even
    the ones like the Illustrated Weekly / Dharmyug
    which were during their days ‘bright stars”
    Let’s now see which way India’s print
    media wind blows.

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