While the western print industry is struggling to keep its feet intact, in India the story is quite opposite as the print industry is witnessing growth. News is and will remain relevant as long as there is a society. The 6th Annual South Asia Conference held at Le Meridian in New Delhi saw panellists discussing the future of news and what newspapers need to do to remain relevant.
Jacob Mathew, executive editor, Malayala Manorama and president, Wan-Infra moderated the session. The panellists for the session were M J Akbar, editorial director, India Today and Headlines Today; and Sanjay Gupta, CEO and editor, Jagran Prakashan. The topic discussed was 'The future of news'.
Mathew started the discussion by saying that the Indian newspaper industry should learn from the western countries and energise those learnings into their current business model. He said, "Initially, newspapers gave content for free in the online space but later they realised how a new stream of revenue was being compromised and hence changed the model. Now, readers have to subscribe to various online news sites as well. Some charge on the basis of superior news in the space of business, for example the Financial Times."
Taking the discussion forward, Akbar emphasised that man is not a hermit - he lives in a community and to survive in any community, it is important to know and understand what is going on around him or her. According to him, ignorance leads to conflict, which further leads to war.
"Curiosity is the element to exploration and as long as man remains curious, he looks for various sources that bring news to him. At the same time, news will also travel," added Akbar. He said that a newspaper has to be like a Thali, which should have the right quantity of sabji, roti, rice, dal and also the achaar. "There should be a balance of all sorts of news. Only then will readers like to read news," he stressed.
Interestingly, Akbar opined that while it is not the future of newspapers which is at stake in India, it is rather the future of the journalist which is in danger. "A journalist usually falls into two kinds of trap - the first one being fish journalism, where in a journalist swallows any bait without thinking; and the second being the delusion trap. In this case, the journalist thinks he or she is more important that the news. The classic example is news being fit to print. A journalist needs to understand that the primary space belongs to the audience and not the creator."
Next, Gupta talked about the fact that news will always remain relevant in some or the other form. "As long as society exists, news will remain. What is changing is how it is being consumed, the audience base and the format of news. Hence, newspaper companies will have to find an integrated approach to tackle the changing dynamics of the business. Companies will have to focus on creating the right infrastructure to handle the evolving technology and will have to create a versatile workforce that can multi-task for any platform," he said.
At the end, Gupta remarked that newspapers will continue to grow as long as the literacy rate grows, the purchasing power grows, and income rises. It is just that newspaper companies need to derive the right model and keep all the changes in mind.