The inception and evolution of the Mint newspaper ..(Mint’s history could be a good business history case in future)

Mint newspaper completed 10 years this week. It was an economic/business paper of Hindustan Times group and kickstarted operations on 1 Feb 2007.

The paper made an immediate mark given its content and coverage. However what stood put immediately was how the paper designed itself differently. It did not settle for the usual deign followed by business dailies- pink paper  with large sheets. It turned around the design using white paper with splash of orange and smaller sheets. The paper was especially convenient to read while travelling and its attractive colour combinations did generate interest amidst others.

There is nostalgia associated with launch of the Mint paper. The blogger made his debut on the Mint editorials (for that matter any editorial) on 30 Jan 2008. I only realise that it was just a day before the first anniversary of the paper! There were couple of more pieces thereafter as well but not a sustained relationship. No other paper has been kind enough!

R. Sukumar, the first and continuing editor of the paper has a piece on the inception and evolution of the paper. It is really interesting how most companies have a similar story of initial struggle no matter the promoters. This is especially interesting in Mint’s case as its promoter was Hindustan Times which was already a formidable force in newspaper business.

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.

There is a lot of business history here which needs to be documented carefully and could be useful for future researchers.

How do newspapers start? What made HT decide to move from its traditional bastion of general news coverage to a specialised business one? Sukumar broadly touches on these ideas but we need to dig a little more. Was it some survey or report which brought attention to the impending need for another business newspaper? Or was it a simply a strategy by the group to broaden its product profile?

More so it was a space which was so badly monopolised by Economic Times for many years.  Based on Google search,  it seems Financial Express was the first business daily starting in 1961 followed by Economic Times in 1961 as well. So Mint entered the space 46 years later which is a lot of time. If one uses the lenses of Industrial Organisation, what made HT Media take on the incumbents? Should one compete based on product attribute or on the basis of price?

Mint sort of competed on both ends. It moved away from usual market driven news to a more analytical one and packaged really neatly as explained above. It also kept a really competitive price of Rs 2 at the start which I think was cheaper than the rest. There were also tie-ups and subscriptions whereby one got the newspaper even cheaper than Rs 2 bundled with some gifts etc. as well. It got into products like Mint Lounge which was terrific product on a Saturday.

The newspaper industry especially the pink one (or should we call it white/orange) writes a lot on competition in industries and so on. We hardly see the news as an industry and individual paper as companies offering news content. These anniversaries are a good time to reflect on how and whether Mint helped develop the economic/business news industry in a much better way? If one could answer it as an emphatic yes, that could be a real contribution of the paper.

Till then, wishing the paper another great 10 years. Why just 10 and not more? Well, one is never sure how media will shape in this crazy digital world. Media especially the financial ones write a lot on how certain industries are going to be disrupted due to digital leash. They don’t admit that they are the ones which are first in the line for disruption…:-)

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One Response to “The inception and evolution of the Mint newspaper ..(Mint’s history could be a good business history case in future)”

  1. Anantha Nageswaran Says:

    Along with the newspaper, this commentator also completes ten years as a weekly columnist for the paper.

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