Ranjona Banerji: No longer the future… Online journalism is the present!

31 Oct,2014

By Ranjona Banerji


I learn this from journalist Rohan Venkat on Twitter: “Online journalism in India, 2014: Scroll, Quartz, Quint, Catch, HuffPo, DailyO, Swarajya and at least two more to come.”


To this, others have added older websites like FirstPost, NewsLaundry, IndiaSpend and then there’s MxMIndia itself. Not to forget NitiCentral, which dedicates itself to rightwing issues and opinions. Some of these contain original content others can also be aggregators.


I suppose you could go as far back as a young person can remember these days and start with rediff.com… and the hoot if it’s the media you are focusing on.


The upshot is that online journalism is working hard to replace the other forms. Websites attached to newspapers somehow cannot seem to match these sites. It’s not because they don’t have the staff or the resources. But it seems to be because they are circumscribed by limited ideas of how far journalism can go. Or, more correctly, they have limited themselves either by laziness or having bought some spiel sold to them by owners and marketing managers.


The irony is that the talent pool is the same for other media houses and these online journalism websites. So the problem doesn’t lie there. A colleague who I worked with in DNA has just done a brilliant investigative piece for Yahoo News about how junk food is causing malnutrition in Dharavi. She says it took her about four weeks to do the story. Newspapers rarely give you that sort of leeway. Magazines do but you need only have a look at falling subscription figures to see where that road leads…


Presumably, these websites have owners too and they apply their own pressures on them. Is it just that as long as you are new and small, you can get away anything but success brings its own burdens? Let’s take firstpost.com, part of the TV18 group and India’s biggest bugbear as far as the media is concerned – which side of the political spectrum you aim your darts from. Even before it was bought by the Ambanis, the website was accused – even by me – of being rightwing. And yet, even then it had carried pieces with the “other” point of view. Now that the rightwing are ruling India – or are in government at any rate – firstpost.com appears to have made a slight course correction. Criticism of the government is not uncommon and it does have a range of writers on offer.


Scroll.in on the other hand shines because it investigates the story right under your nose if you had only bothered to look. Many of these are brilliant and also require a lot of legwork.


DailyO, from the India Today stable, offers a range of opinions. IndiaSpend analyses data to reach some staggering conclusions. And Huffington Post is where so much of all this began in some ways…


In that sense, these websites expose traditional forms of media for their lack of imagination and their refusal to get away from familiar and well-trodden paths. I am at a slight loss of where to include TV in all this because TV dances to another tune and websites of news channels can be far more revealing than their broadcasts. The opinion section on NDTV’s website for instance often has more heft than most programmes from most news channels.


However the issue of long-term financial viability remains, especially with the online community largely refusing to pay subscription fees. The other route of income from advertising is still somewhat experimental even while it is entrenched with traditional media.


Online journalism is no longer the future. It is the present. And if it can achieve so much in so little time, if I was in traditional media, I would be a little worried.




A small aside: The fight over GamerGate and perceived or misunderstood sexism in the gaming world has been largely ignored in the Indian media. If our world of gamers is so small, then we have not yet entered the 21st century or our editors are too old!


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2 responses to “Ranjona Banerji: No longer the future… Online journalism is the present!”

  1. editorsunil says:

    some of the major newspapers have already planned a switchover from paper to net. some call it convergence in in-house jargon, and some call it a digital-switch-over. today most print-media houses have their websites, and those online editions are at times more detailed and updated. some have told me that today online is piggy-riding on print, but in five yrs main revenue would be from online and print would become parasite. i also feel that online news sources are the only hope for freedom of expression. pulp-based industry can not survive for long, and hard-copy delivery is becoming very expensive. so online news media would be the only viable, and independent media. freedom of expression and print, would not walk long together, it has already parted ways to a great extent.

  2. Shiv Kumar says:

    You are forgetting one thing: Vitamin M. It is the old-style newspapers and even magazines that are still making money. The new ventures are still flying on hope and fresh air apart from funding from VCs. They will come into play only when they start earning revenues and profits on their own stream.