Mint: 10 years on
One day in the summer of 2006, I received a call from Raju Narisetti. I knew who he was, as did most journalists. HT Media Ltd, the company that publishes Hindustan Times, was launching a business paper and had tapped Raju, then managing editor of The Wall Street Journal’s Europe edition, to lead the project. It was an inspired choice. Raju, as I was to discover later, had the combination of physical and mental stamina required to run a modern, international-style newsroom. He also had the smarts needed to be a really good business editor.
Back then, I was managing editor of what was then India’s best business magazine, Business Today (BT). Magazines were still doing well then, in India and elsewhere, although the first cracks in the business were already becoming evident. BT was a good gig for me. I got to write. I rewrote much of the magazine. Over the nine years I spent at the magazine, I had launched many of the surveys that made the magazine popular (and, unfortunately, also encouraged a rash of me-too surveys that continue to plague us).
The magazine was a fortnightly, so I had easy weeks and tough weeks. My son was very young then, and my wife had a tough and intense job in software, so I put the easy weeks to good effect, starting my days early but also ending really early (sometimes as early as 4pm). Then I would pick up my son and we would go to a park—Deer Park, the Hauz Khas district park, Lodhi Gardens, or Nehru Park.
I didn’t desperately want to be editor of the magazine—and the then editor was (and remains) a good friend—although I’d been told (not in so many words) that I could expect to be made editor a few months down the line because the management had other, bigger plans for the incumbent.
I knew why Raju was calling me, and I told him (after the usual courtesies) that I wasn’t interested. Part of this was because I was comfortable. And part because I didn’t want to be someone’s deputy again. But Raju persisted and we decided to meet for an early dinner later that week (it was an easy week). I picked an Italian restaurant in the market behind my house. I was a little late for my meeting. I had taken my son to Nehru Park and we encountered some traffic on the way back. Raju ordered a glass of the house wine and seafood risotto; I picked a beer and some sole. And we talked.
Raju asked me what I would do if I were to launch a business paper in 2006. I told him that I would play around with the size, maybe do a Berliner—it was the rage back then, and I had recently met Alan Rusbridger, the then editor of The Guardian, who spoke of the advantages of this size—and make the content more magazine-style.
“Have you seen my business model?” I remember Raju asking, although he was being kind. My knowledge of the newspaper business was shallow then (and I am still learning).
He told me he was thinking of a Berliner too, and a small newsroom that would focus on deeper stories, including long-form narratives.
I liked him. He had the certitude all good editors have and was clearly intelligent, but I was loath to move. I told him as much. He asked for names of other people he could hire and I gave him a handful. One of those names was that of Anil Padmanabhan, then in the US as India Today’s man there. Raju, I learnt later, had already reached out to him, but didn’t tell me about it at our first meeting.
We stayed in touch over the next few days and weeks as Raju shared more details of his plans. With every mail, my interest level increased. The job promised to be interesting, even if the position was a little ambiguous. I’d be deputy managing editor (Raju was to be managing editor), sort of a “first among equals” in Mint’s “Editorial Leadership Team”, Raju said. I signed on.
It took me some time to wrap things up at Business Today. My last day there was 6 October and it was tough to leave a magazine that I saw as an extension of my own personality (and vice versa). My first day in Mint was 9 October. Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (Bhel) had just moved out of one side of the sixth floor at HT House and we had taken over that space. The furniture was basically whatever spare furniture HT Media could find and stuff that Bhel had left behind. But my laptop and visiting cards were waiting for me, and my mail was active. Later that same week, I was off to Mumbai to set up the bureau there. My first meeting was with someone whom I had already spoken to on the phone soon after accepting the Mint offer, Tamal Bandyopadhyay.
Of course, back then it wasn’t called Mint; the working title we were using was Scan (and Livescan). By the time I joined, Anup Gupta, our first design chief, was already working with the great Mario Garcia on Mint’s design (and Mario has repeatedly turned out his best work for Mint). And one of the best editors I have worked with, Priya Ramani, was already working on Lounge (a few weeks after I joined, she bullied me into doing a column on comics, Cult Fiction, for Lounge).
Those were heady days. The paper was yet to launch—our office on the 16th floor of HT House was getting ready, built in the classic pod structure that was popular in newsrooms in the 2000s—but we were hard at work. The style book was being put together (by Chandrika Mago, who now heads the features desk), as was the code of conduct. We were training people, getting special stories and series ready. And we were also trying to hire people. I think that between us, the Editorial Leadership Team of Mint must have met almost all the business journalists in the country; we rejected most.
In November, Anup, Priya, the head of desk (Mimmy Jain), Melissa Bell (now with Vox) and I went to Milan for a week and a half to get acquainted with a new content management system (CMS) created by some former Unisys employees who had branched out on their own. It was called Methode and we would be the fourth newsroom in the world to use it after Financial Times, La Stampa and Le Figaro. The CMS (which was initially print-only) would go on to form the technological backbone of Mint’s integrated newsroom.
The integrated newsroom wasn’t the only thing Mint pioneered in India. We were also early practitioners of what is now called data journalism. The newsroom started experimenting with video in 2009. The editorial pages and online opinion sections, headed by Niranjan Rajadhyaksha then (and still headed by him), have always been independent (with views usually different from that of the news bureaus). And we were always big on disclosure—in terms of mistakes (we still correct all) and also the distinction between advertorials (or marketing media initiatives or native content) and editorial content.
We launched Mint on 1 February 2007. The main story in that day’s paper was the Tata group’s acquisition of Corus (on 31 January). Naresh Mathur, who now heads the integrated copy desk, was the page 1 editor. The headline of that story was “What Now, Mr Tata?” The story asked the hard questions about the acquisition that analysts and others would soon ask. Later that week, we also ran a story picking holes in the initial public offering (IPO) of DLF that the rest of the world (and shareholders) would discover after the IPO.
After initial disparaging references to Mint with a hole and Papermint, people began to take notice of Mint’s stories. Our Business of Religion reporter Priyanka P. Narain did a wonderful series on the controversial Sethusamudram project that won a CNN award. The series was edited by Mitra Kalita, part of the founding team of editors, whose ability to take good stories and work with reporters to make them great remains unrivalled to this day (in Mint). Other awards followed. In its 10 years of existence, Mint has won 10 Society of Publishers of Asia awards and 10 Ramnath Goenka excellence in journalism awards.
But there’s more to Mint’s style of journalism than awards. It is a style that seeks to faithfully report, analyse, narrate, explain, and offer insights. It is a style that remains true to our mission to “serve as an unbiased and clear-minded chronicler of the Indian Dream”.
Much like that Indian Dream, Mint remains a work in progress—one of the tenets of Mint is that there’s never a story that can’t be improved by (one more round of) editing. But it’s been a good ride.
R. Sukumar, who has been with Mint since 2006, is now the newsroom’s second oldest-serving employee after Payal Sethi, and has been editor since late 2008.
This editor’s note is accompanied by a series of articles in Mint’s 10th anniversary special issue that look at India 10 years from now. The entire list of articles can be found here