He opines about the limitations of today's media, his measures on combating fake news, and his strategy to stand ahead of the competition in a cluttered market.
Sujit Nair, Chairperson and Managing Editor of HW News Network, is an ex-ad man who has spent 27 years building brand strategies and campaigns including the ones for political parties and politicians. In his candid interview with Debashish Chakraborty of afaqs! Nair talks about his latest news venture – HW News. With meteoric success that spans to half a million YouTube subscribers and 10 million plus monthly views and in a short span of one year, HW News today provides 2 hours of prime time content to US-based cable television ITV Gold. He also boasts about his team of first time journalists who in spite of hailing from diverse backgrounds are the reason behind the channel's fresh perspective and stupendous growth. Edited excerpts...
1. What led to the birth of HW News?
A- The media today is broadly bifurcated into the right wing and left wing. It is not what it is meant to be. I have always believed that a consumer of news should have information and opinion at their disposal. This is, however, not the present scenario. Today, the news is tweaked to fit one’s beliefs. There was a massive gap between the news published and what was actually happening. Media was offering what people wanted to hear. The element of unbiased views is missing and that’s where we have found our niche; disseminating news which is unbiased and in which information precedes opinion.
At HW News we make sure that information offered by us is unaltered and unbiased. Irrespective of what our individual beliefs are, we make sure our stories are never influenced by them. A combination of information, data, knowledge, and, opinion is what we offer and will continue doing so.
2. In a cluttered market, what differentiates HW News? What drives people at HW News and you?
A- We do not have an ideology and yet the only ideology we follow is distributing news where information precedes opinion. If I were to support any particular ideology other than this, I would have started a political outfit instead of a news channel. This differentiates us and in this highly cluttered market, we have an engagement rate of 80% for our editorial videos on our English YouTube channel. This is new, refreshing, and possible due to our belief of how a news channel should be. We’re opinionated as well, but we never let it cloud our news. Here, we haven't used any rocket science but stuck to simple yet effective information backed opinions. What we have created here is something that does not impose any belief on the viewer but rather informs them and let them take their own decisions. With a collective effort, what we have created is what has helped us to outshine and stand out. Also I firmly believe that ideologies are meant for political parties. When news portals start promoting ideologies they change into political portals. The moment we get biased, we'll be digging our own graves.
3. There is a growing concern of fake news being propagated especially on social and messaging platforms. What are the measures taken by HW News to tackle any fake news you might accidentally cover?
A- The birth of fake news happens when one starts to propagate one’s ideology. Recently, The Hindu showed half a portion of a document in a way which implicated BJP. Later, the party showed the complete document and complained about the misrepresentation of information. The fact is when you are an ideology based communication platform you would want to sell your ideology and as a corollary to it, create news around it. News should never be a one-sided story. Our stories have the views and opinions of both parties. One of our biggest stories was a 59-minute episode where we shared our views with the audience and also published the opposite party’s side. The video went viral and strengthened our proposition of combating fake news: to shed light on both sides of the story.
4. From being an executive director at Lowe Lintas to being the chairperson of a News channel how has this transition been for you and what made you change the path?
A- My decision to move from advertising to journalism was governed by my inclination towards political analysis. After I left my job, I observed that political journalism was mired with favoritism and Indian politics was being approached and narrated likewise especially after 2004. Barkha Dutt was named as a pro-Congress and Rajat Sharma a pro-BJP. Inclination towards a certain dispensation does not mean highlighting everything pro and neglecting the other side. This was ridiculous and I wanted to change it.
5. Who all were part of the initial team and what’s the road map for HW News? What do you see in the future?
A- We started with three people. Akhilesh Bhargav, who is an economist, financial expert, and a chartered accountant, Ganesh Jagtap, who is an investor, and I. Akhilesh was the only one who used to write on economics and politics and has been an author and a contributor to a number of magazines and newspapers. Today we have an employee-strength of 104 people across the country. With most of us being first-time journalists, curating refreshing ideas and the genuine art of storytelling has contributed the most to our commendable growth. We didn’t have big shots with us until now when we have Vinod Dua and Abhisar Sharma with us.
The past, present, and the future of HW News have and will be driven on three levels: on a personal level we are honest with our work; on a professional level we’ll remain true to our brand proposition. And on the business level, we are definitely focusing more on videos than articles as the former has worked better. We are video-centric and the future is definitely in IPTV which we think is going to be very big in India soon.
6. Any plans of using native advertising when it comes to IPTV and getting on board some brands?
A- Of course! This perception that advertisers generally influence the digital channel is a complete sham. I have been in advertising for 27 years and have given multi-crore release orders to various channels. I have never called and requested them to support any political party or politician. We are a hardcore commercial channel and we’ll look at advertising proposals thoroughly. We already have some advertisers on board and are looking forward to give value ads to brands.