Siddhartha Mukherjee: Pay for News Publishing? Nail the Coffin!

05 Oct,2017

By Siddhartha Mukherjee


While this has been on for quite some time, what got me to rethink was when I came across this getting publicised at one of India’s largest annual gathering of communications professionals a few weeks back.

It has been a while that some of India’s largest media owners launched a “pay for news” service – both for general and business news. Against payment, a company (or its agency) is assured of getting its news published on the online platforms of the newspapers.

Shocking? No! Not this bit, at least. To me, it is a very unfortunate but natural progression of media owners and media (advertising) agencies gradually closing in to devour the earned media space! It is a corroboration of India Inc’s ignorance or inability to understand how journalism, public relations and its stakeholders – CorpComm and PR Agency – should ideally function and add value to Corporate Brand Reputation.

What makes it disturbing for me starts with the basic point that no one is vehemently opposing it! Having an official paid mechanism to get news published will mark the beginning of a speedy death. Of whom? Not only the public relations industry but also journalism per se. What we are not realising is that if we allow paid dynamics to settle in, the advertising agency will have a much deeper and effective influence on the client and the media owner as compared to the PR counterpart. It will be nailing the coffin, faster and with assured results!

The concept of brand building, relaying out informed opinion about a brand and hailing journalism as the watchdog of our socio-economic fabric will start crumbling. A professional combo of PR industry and journalists which stood for creating and sustaining news andviews, will lose its existence completely.

I have detailed how the points below disturb me:

1. Our Industry continues to get dictated by the Paid Industry: Stopping just short of the word audacity, I feel sad to say that it is our industry’s conduct that has empowered the media owners andpaid agencies to even dare to think of coming up with the proposal of paying for news publishing. We could have avoided this situation. The paid industry, comprising media owners (for want of higher revenues) and agencies (for revenues and destroying the earned space), for years now, have been trying to stub our industry’s growth. We are not realising that the day this new paid principle gets set as a norm, the Big Brothers from the advertising world will bury our industry through sheer monetary muscle power and mutual camaraderie.

2. Our Industry is not Opposing this Move: So far, I have not come across a single PR organisation, a corporate or the industry body oppose this move! What gives me confidence to say this is that I am quite sure that atleast 50% (if not more) of any total news/views/editorial published by a newspaper, TV channel or online portal daily is courtesy a CorpComm or PR Agency source. Which means that the day these two sources jointly put their foot down, media houses will be devoid of content and will be forced to rethink of this move. It is time that our industry officially files its displeasure. (Mind you, the standalone agencies will be better placed to take this forward. A great way of separating the grain from the chaff!) On the whole, I was expecting the PR body to take this up and oppose this upfront publicly. It is a matter of survival of our industry. Alas!

3. Industry Events are open to accepting them as sponsors: I feel industry events are great opportunities of showcasing our vision and work ethics. While on one hand, external parties, with vested interests, outside our industry have gone all the way of malign our Industry under aspersions of work ethics and transparency, wonder why we are rolling out red carpet to those very detractors. Also, given that most of these industry events are backed or supported by industry body/ies, under vision and ethics, wonder why we don’t lay down clear rules of approaching for and processing sponsorship requests.

Already, there are many affected areas that our industry is grappling with to ensure sustained growth. Not opposing, if not publicly welcoming, is a sureshot formula for speedier and certain death of our industry.

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