@FF12: How relevant is newspaper content to the reader?

19 Mar,2012

By Archita Wagle

 

N Ram, former Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu, opened his keynote address by stating that there is ‘anxiety and gloom’ over the fact that journalism is in ‘meltdown’.

 

Speaking on ‘Building Deeper Reader Engagement- Sustaining Long Term Newspaper Loyalty over Regions’, Mr Ram said that news media is in crisis in the mature markets, due to which there has been a decrease in the circulation and readership of newspapers. But the fact to be noted was that the decline started in mature markets like theUSeven before advent of the Internet. He added that even the broadcast media, ‘the dominant player’, has also seen a sharp decline.

 

Mr Ram outlined Two Media World Phenomenon next, where the less developed countries are witnessing increase in circulation of newspapers unlike the mature market. He illustrated his point with the example of the regional, especially the Hindi, newspapers which have seen increase in their circulation. But he added a word of caution when he said that TV, even in the developing world is going through a crisis which it has so far covered by showing entertainment as part of news. Inspite of this, Mr Ram was optimistic that the medium term prospects for the media industry are looking good.

 

The key factor for the decline in the newspaper is the increasing popularity of the digital media. Mr Ram called this the Digital Age Paradox and added that in recent times the newspapers have seen an increase in the readership of their online editions. But he added that the recent paid content model will impact the readership in a big way.

 

Mr Ram opined that the paid content model will not replace the old revenue model of the newspapers any time soon as a lion’s share of the revenue earned goes to the search engines like Google and content providers like iPad apps.

 

He added that the paid content model has put a “double squeeze” on the newspapers’ revenue, as they have to subsidise digital journalism, which in turn is cannibalizing their circulation.

 

Mr Ram was optimistic about Indian newspapers surviving the challenge of the Internet as he believed that India has a “new kind of advantage” due to its fact the media here is still growing at the time when it is faced by the Internet challenge. But he said that the media can’t afford to be complacent about the time before it faces ‘a mature market-like situation’, estimating that the newspapers have around 3-7 years before the negative trends overtake us.

 

After taking the audience through a detailed study of the challenges being faced by the newspapers, Mr Ram turned his attention towards how the newspapers can engage the readers to sustain their loyalty.

 

Mr Ram said that readers today have real time access to information and could check out the information that was provided by the newspapers. He was of the opinion that if the newspapers stuck to the basic principles of journalism – context, accuracy, perspective, fact checking and verification – they can build a relationship with the readers, which it can rent out to the advertisers. But he was emphatic that “newspapering” must not be reduced to consumer marketing of news.

 

He advised the newspapers not to target “attractive demographics” which help in getting revenues, but to provide news for all sections. He said “trust is the key to good journalism”. He asked the newspapers to be clear about their identity, core values and focus on where they want to go and cautioned them against imitating anybody else.

 

He said that the readers today want shorter articles and more analyses and editorial content and views, especially in the digital viewing context. But he expressly warned against “editorialising in the guise of news”.

 

He concluded his address by stressing the importance of having an internal mechanism for correction of the mistakes that ran independent of the editorial and the advertisers which will help the newspapers to do the right thing.

 

Director of the Dainik Bhaskar Group Mr Girish Agarwal took the stage next for a short but relevant address. He started off by stating that he agreed with Mr Ram about maintaining the standards and fundamentals of journalism but begged to differ from him by stating that Indian newspapers are growing in their circulation and readership.

 

He said that India had a huge advantage in terms of number due to the gap between those who can read and those who actually read a newspaper.He spo

 

ke about the need to engage the reader by asking “How relevant are we (newspapers) to the reader?” He said the need for an intellectual organisation like newspaper is external understanding and internal adaptation. He opined that a newspaper cannot rest on its past glory but should move ahead by acknowledging and understanding what the consumer wants and giving him what they think he needs.

 

He also differed from Mr Ram when he empathetically suggested that newspapers need to be simplified and adapt themselves to the readers’ requirements. He ended by saying that newspapers should have global vision and hyper local content.

 

After the speeches the floor was opened to the audience who questioned Mr Ram and Mr Agarwal about threat perception of the culture of medianet and media houses being bought over by MNCs

 

Mr Ram denounced paid news as a rogue practice which has been rubbished by the Press Council and Mr Agarwal added that since only one company had this practice it was not fair to generalise about the industry. Mr Agarwal said that ethically media should report anything that may be perceived as defaming by the parent company but the ground reality is not always so rosy.

 

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