The Indian Magazine Congress (IMC) 2009, held in Delhi by the Association of Indian Magazines (AIM), was witness to an interesting debate on whether content is king even in troubled times.
The panellists for the session comprised Vinod Mehta, editor-in chief, Outlook Group; Ajit Balakrishnan, founder and chief executive officer, Rediff; and Tarun Tejpal, editor-in-chief, Tehelka. The discussion was moderated by journalist Pranjoy Guha Thakurta.
Mehta cautioned the fraternity against 'dumbing down' or underestimating the readers. He emphasised that there existed equal room for both serious journalism and Page 3 write ups. Also, according to him, cosmetic changes by giving the publication a facelift, with new design, look and feel, cannot compensate for poor content.
Balakrishnan drew attention to the fact that when content is freely available, even the designs and news delivery platforms have undergone a drastic change - and so has the definition of what is good or bad. Unless and until we completely move to a model where the reader is ready to pay for the content, there will always be questions about relevance and quality of the content being produced.
Guha Thakurta questioned whether the fierce competition was responsible for the lowering of journalistic practices in India?
Tejpal responded by reaffirming that whatever the situation, the soul of the business is content. If one is compromising on it, then one is neither special, nor should one have the elbow room to demand any special privileges. Today, there is an increasing anxiety to please all - be it politicians, industrialists or readers. Thirty years ago, this tendency was missing and we need to ensure that we stay away from this trap to make sure that journalism remains an argument against injustice.
He added, "Earlier, there was a clear distinction between three or four media functions, namely journalism, public relations and advertising. Today, the well drawn line between these is blurring fast and leading to distrust amongst readers over credibility and integrity."
The moderator asked the panellists if there was a way to check the slump experienced by the industry by putting in place a quality control mechanism to check what is being delivered to the readers.
Balakrishnan responded by saying that in a world of information overflow, it was difficult to appoint or identify gatekeepers. He shared that there are cases where a piece of news on the web generates brilliant response and comment from individuals who are not essentially journalists. These are enthusiastic bloggers or professionals who, armed with expertise in the subject of their interest, are capable of producing better columns than the reporter-writer on the field.
He concluded the debate by saying, "Good content can be what ordinary people write and it more than often turns out to be better than a review penned down by an expert."