Ranjona Banerji: Where’s the money?

17 Jun,2022

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji

 

The state of journalism in India is dire. There is no doubt about that.

But there are also, luckily for us, small pockets of hope. Largely individual journalists in both small and large media houses, and a few media outlets, mostly digital.

The old notion of blanket dependability of newspaper brands is gone.

However, broadly, The Hindu, The Telegraph, The Deccan Herald, Deccan Chronicle, Frontline are some of the print publications which remain trustworthy.

The Times of India with its “federal structure” is trustworthy in regional pockets. The matter which comes from its head office, which includes the parody of an edit/opinion page, is substandard and often questionable.

The Indian Express was once the “journalists’ paper”. Now it is a faint and sometimes reprehensible shadow of its former feisty self.

Almost any digital platform is more trustworthy than print. Most do better journalism and cover a wider variety of subjects.

The big problem however remains money. This is not a new problem. But it is one to which there is as yet no magic solution. The advertising model which carried print for a couple of hundred years, and which helped television defeat print, is not as effective digitally. The plethora of digital choices for the advertiser has also meant that traditional avenues like news outlets can be easily bypassed.

The exact information from survey-based audience searches means that advertising can be carefully targeted. Therefore, if you’re looking for young targets you will not go to old newspapers for instance.

Regardless of the extent to which old and new media outlets hide behind paywalls, the scope of the paywall model is limited. The latest report from the Reuters Institute (link below) indicates that this revenue model has stagnated. Younger people are so used to a free internet that they will baulk at paying for anything. It is the above 55s who pay and they may not be the audience that everyone is looking for or catering to. Digital content changed the consumption game. But it did not bring any substantial new ideas to the revenue game.

TV viewership continues to drop. It is also seen as the least trustworthy form of news, according to the Reuters Institute report and by empirical evidence. Also, again, its audience tends to be older.

The challenge for journalists and media houses is not just changing patterns of news consumption. It is the inability of media houses to understand and therefore profit from digitisation. It’s not enough to have a website. It is not enough to manipulate viewers with fake news and click bait headlines. All this is old school. Tabloid journalism established centuries ago how to trick readers. Network news in the USA set the standard decades ago for adversarial explosive studio battles.

Personally, I find it impossible to subscribe for every single publication I want to read. I’ll admit it: I am not young but I have got used to a free internet. I do however buy physical newspapers. But it irks me that this monthly subscription does not entitle me to any online benefits. I cannot share articles, which my work sometimes requires. There is a disconnect here but perhaps those of us who still have a newspaper vendor are in a forgotten minority.

I abhor getting my devices clogged with millions of daily PDF format newspapers which are annoying to navigate.

I have subscribed now and then to digital platforms, but I find it easier for my pocket to donate, albeit I must confess, sporadically. I also find it tedious to have to go through an online payment process for individual articles.

I have registered with innumerable news outlets only to find I spend half my morning deleting various emails. If I actually click on any link to read something, I get sent on a log in, put in password, register again rigmarole which makes me give up.

I am not certain therefore that the end consumer is kept in mind when all these revenue options are discussed.

However, there is some great journalism going on.

Like this:

https://www.wired.com/story/modified-elephant-planted-evidence-hacking-police/

 

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford report:
https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/digital-news-report/2022/dnr-executive-summary

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal.

 

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