Saturday, 17 May 2008

Indian National Daily from Pune, Not Delhi

Let me begin my blog with a feature on Sakaal Times, from the stable of Marathi daily Sakal where I started my journalistic career in 1969-70. It is reproduced from

Sakaal Times, the first 'national' English daily from Pune, was launched on Akshay Tritiya on May 7. National, because though it is only available in Pune now, it will be gradually published in Mumbai, Delhi and other states. The new venture of the Sakal Papers Limited also marks the eclipse of the group's English morninger, The Maharashtra Herald.

Interestingly, among those who witnessed the exit of the Herald was veteran journalist Dileep Padgaonkar who had started his journalistic career with this paper, then known as Poona Herald, in the 1960s. Padgaonkar who edited The Times of India for a long time, heads the Delhi-based Asia-Pacific Communication Associates (APCA) that provides the Sakaal Times (ST) almost its entire editorial content except Pune's local coverage. In a signed editorial in the debut issue, Abhijit Pawar, the Managing Director of the Sakaal Media group, said the APCA would provide Editorial, Comment, Nation, World, and some business pages from Delhi.

The new daily comes here after the launch of TOI's stable-mate Pune Mirror appeared on the scene four weeks ago. The Pune Mirror arrived in the city's market after the publishers of Mumbai's DNA (Daily News and Analysis) brought in their Pune edition only 18 weeks ago, on January 15, 2008.

The city has an edition of The Indian Express, which now has fewer journalists as most of them have joined one of these new entrants. There is a talk of The Hindustan Times bringing out its Pune edition in the near future. How near, nobody knows here.

The Sakaal Times has a distinct advantage of a good distribution network in Pune and twin industrial city Pimpri-Chinchwad and the rural Pune district, where the English daily will be circulated before moving on to Mumbai, Delhi and other Indian cities. Sakaal's strategy is to win over subscribers with its offer of an annual subscription of just Rs. 299/- On the day of the ST's launch, the print order was reportedly 100,000 copies. (Though Abhijit Pawar was on record earlier this year saying that he believes people should pay for a good editorial product, he has obviously decided not to risk acting on his belief.)

The DNA had introduced the strategy of Rs. 299 for a year and had met with a good response particularly from younger generation. The Bennett Coleman Company has offered a free complimentary copy of Pune Mirror with The Times of India (circulation of over 225,000).

Some media watchers here are sceptical about the marketing strategy of the Sakaal Times. It did not achieve much in spite of the same good distribution network when it made similar offers for the Maharashtra Herald after it was taken over in 2004 and till it breathed its last yesterday.

They however concede that the response from discerning readers could be different this time as the management and its partners APCA are trying to provide a package that involves bylines of big names like Amartya Sen and Shashi Tharoor. The daily could emerge a winner in the stiff competition because of the collective wisdom of Padgaonkar himself, Editor-in-Chief Anikendra Nath Sen, Editor Sandeep Bamzai, and Executive Editor Amitava Ranjan Sinha Roy who sit in Delhi. They video-confer daily with Resident Editor Dhanajay Sardeshpande and his colleagues in Pune.

Sakaal Media Group's Director Editor Anand Agashe insists that the new daily will not be the English version of the flagship Marathi daily. These two dailies will compete with each other and will also complement each other’s editorial inputs.

The competition to grab the national market is stiffer now because The Times of India has also been spreading its wings in recent times, from Chennai, Jaipur and Goa. DNA published by the Diligent Media Corporation, a joint venture between two industry majors – the Dainik Bhaskar Group and Zee Group, has moved from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, Surat, and Pune and has plans to enter other markets such as Jaipur.

The Sakaal group's flagship Marathi daily Sakal was founded by Dr N B Parulekar on January 01 1932. It emerged as the leading daily of Maharashtra, and continued to remain among the top Marathi newspapers, even after his death in 1973. It was taken over by industrialist Mr. Pratap Pawar, brother of Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar, in 1985.

Mr. Pratap Pawar brought in more professionalism and new business strategies during the subsequent years while his son Abhijit has led the company to emerge as a multi-national, multi-lingual media complex since the dawn of the new millennium. The Rs. 350 crore company has now daily Sakal published from nine centres, two weeklies Saptahik Sakaal and Tanishka, and Agrowon, a 16-page Marathi tabloid newspaper published in six editions in Maharashtra. The group brings out Marathi daily Gomantak and English morninger, Gomantak Times, from the neighbouring tiny state of Goa.

The group's quarterly, India and Global Affairs, targeted mainly at decision makers and knowledgeable readers in the country and abroad, has been well-received after its launch some months ago. Sakal's Internet edition is popular with Marathi readers in and outside India. Now the group also plans is to launch a television channel.

And a footnote: You must have noticed that titles of the flagship daily and its new English sister publication have spelt the name Sakal differently. Marathi title is Sakal (with a single 'a') while the English title has two 'a's between 'k' and 'l'. The name of the company has Sakal as was spelt by Founder Editor Nanasaheb Parulekar in 1932. If you want to refer to the new outfit, it should be written as Sakaal Media Group, as the management calls itself. Finally, if you are to access its Marathi website, try (and not which will take you elsewhere.)

For those who are not familiar with the meaning of word Sakal: It’s a Marathi word derived from Sanskrit, which means Morning, or Dawn. Dr Parulekar has selected this title from entries sent by ordinary people for a 'Suggest a name' contest. The winner was given a cash award of Rs 101.00 which was quite a fortune those days.


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