All Out Crisis in News Media:
The second largest English paper has closed shop in Kolkata, and the largest one there has halved itself. Profits in news media have gone down for even the three leaders of Indian news media. Television news media is increasingly looking similar across studios, competing on shouting matches, with depleting field reports, and post-truths running amok. For the first time newsprint has been taxed, with 5% GST by the current government, and their publicity department has delisted most small and medium newspapers from getting government ads.
All media leaders are trying to re-discover themselves. But the issue is not about icons rediscovering their mojos. It is a darker and more complex tale about industry leaders coming to terms with a grim reality. A reality that requires cut-throat changes and the reassessment of the long held values and principles. That’s the thing about crystal clear vision. As much as it is a positive, it also means taking off the rose-tinted glasses and looking at a lot of ugly truths as well.
Revenues have gone down due to Goods & Services Tax, demonetization, Real Estate Regulation Act, decline in businesses of the usual advertisers, crisis in the SME sector, online consumption of news and web entertainment gaining natural grounds without concomitant contribution to the topline, newsprint becoming costlier, and distribution of television channels tougher and more expensive, and for a myriad other reasons. There is a hiring freeze on editorial staff in most news platforms, while many long-term employees are being nudged to take up voluntary retirement schemes.
In such a context, what may invigorate the Indian news media? Crises may be many, but the hunger of news and views of one billion consumers in the country is on the rise. And there shall be a riot of news dissemination and consumption with many states and the nation going to polls all within less than a year.
Innovating News Media:
So how do innovate in the news media? How do we expand the revenues. These are my ten ways to innovate, and five ways to expand revenue base.
The news media which are the most successful ones at creating and maintaining ties with their readers, users, listeners and viewers will increasingly be media that dare challenge some of the journalist dogmas of the last century: the dogma of arm’s length; the dogma of neutrality; the dogma of objectivity; the belief that journalists have a special ability to find and choose what is important for citizens. And not least: the basic idea, that journalism is primarily about transporting news and information from A to B.
On content side, more engaging, cooperative and community-oriented direction is needed in journalism. So move from neutrality to identity: Show who you are, and from which perspective — geographically, socio-demographically, or politically — you view the world. ‘Language of Hope’, ‘Development Focus’, on youth-identified content, etc, shall be seen.
Second, move from omnibus to niche: it is possible to create both quality journalism of high public value and cater to targeted audiences at the same time. Hence sectoral supplements, utilitarian content, news that you can use, busting myths and false news, etc, will be needed.
Third, move from flock to club: gathering people around the news media, in clearly defined communities — clubs — is a strategy gaining momentum. Hence, RoundTables, debates online and offline, creating loyalty in offices, catch them young in campuses shall be another order of the day.
Fourth, move from ink to sweat: create physical journalism in the form of public meetings, festivals, events, and stage plays. Hence, events, one each month with a focus. Some media organizations are already reaping the content, network and revenue benefit of high-decibel televised events.
Fifth, move from speaking to listening: listening to citizens and creating more transparency in editorial matters through direct personal dialogue, physical presence in communities, or systematic use of small and big data. Hence, more opinions of others on paper and online than merely those of the reporters and editors, more of community and citizen journalism to be seen.
Sixth, from being at arm’s length to cooperation: involve the citizens directly throughout the journalistic process: from ideation to research to delivery of independent content to the subsequent debate of published stories. So, round-tables, opinions, debates, stand-offs, guest editor, etc, to be enhanced in frequency and output.
Seventh, move from own to other platforms: social network technologies have big potential to enhance and deepen engagement, while at the same time creating stronger journalism. So, enhance social media footprints of all initiatives of your media platform, and not just to put content there but to engage and debate with consumers of media who shall then be prosumers (user generated content producing consumers).
Eighth, move from problem to solution: you gain greater impact if you add a solution-oriented level to your work. Constructive journalism simply creates more engagement among readers, users, viewers. Hence, all special features should ideally be solution-oriented.
Ninth, move from observers to activists: new relevance to your readers, users, and viewers through activist campaigns or journalistic advocacy. Hence, can pursue advocacy like net neutrality, RTI implementation, RTE implementation, 10% GDP campaign, lower taxes-higher compliance campaign, etc.
Tenth, move from siloistic or a few initiatives platform to a convergent multi-media platform, attempting to be present across offline (publications), online (portal, social media), on air (television, radio), on ground (events), and on mobile (app) platforms. Then, the media group can take its content seamlessly across multiple media platforms, reduce costs on human resources getting fewer multi-skilled professionals, and may also bring in higher revenue my offering integrated marketing and branding solutions to its advertisers across multiple media.
Expanding Revenue Base:
On the revenue front, the first one is the last one above: convergence reduces HR costs, real estate costs, news-gathering costs, and increases resource efficiency and brings in more revenue across platforms.
Second, events surely lead to positive top and bottom-line, apart from relationships and content, though organizations may need to be pliant to powers that be if not careful in dealing with them.
Third, clearly demarcated advertorials, news that you can use, utilitarian content from among paid-for branded content are another source of revenue to be harnessed by each media enterprise depending upon its reach and impact.
Fourth, investing in multi-media content providers and editors making them mobile journalists and multi-media editors on the one hand, and multi-media brand and sales professions who can develop packages to sell well in the market place, together make another way to enhance revenues.
Fifth, and finally, attempts to increase revenues online must be the way forward integrating video, audio, text and images, for news, views, previews and responses together. Alongside, this will bring down costs of legacy media in real estate, people, distribution network and feedback channels.
The author is School Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy, Delhi and Mumbai; and former Dean of Symbiosis, Amity and Whistling Woods; apart from being a regular writer in Indian media.