N Ram greets NT on its b’day with an in-depth analysis on changing face of media

The news media are in crisis in the developed world. Journalism as we know it has come under intense pressure and challenge in the digital age. In the words of Alan Rusbridger, former Editor of The Guardian and one of the world’s leading thinkers on journalism, ‘news – the thing that helped people understand their world, that oiled the wheels of society, that pollinated communities, that kept the powerful honest – news was broken.”

The situation in India is somewhat different because the newspaper industry is still in growth mode for a combination of reasons. However, this situation is changing with the rapid growth of mobile connectivity, the expansion of the role of social media, the hardening of newspaper  economics, the fraying of the advertising led business model, and changing readership habits, especially among the youth.

Small and medium-sized newspapers play a vital role in keeping people informed across urban and rural India. They stay especially close to the communities they are part of and this is a historical role that is invaluable and cannot be easily replicated if it is lost. According to “Press in India 2016-2017, the last published report of the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI), 82 percent of the 29,556 newspapers and periodicals  which reported their circulation data were in the Small category; and 97 per cent were in the combined Small & Medium Category. In terms of reported circulation, the Medium category has the largest share of circulation, the Small category the second largest, and the Big category the third.

However, the small- and medium-sized newspapers face special problems and challenges. Although they are deeply enmeshed with the community they are part of, they are hard pressed for resources to financet heir day-to-day journalism, not to mention resources needed for  capital expenditure and investment for future growth. Claimed circulations are inflated across the board, blurring the picture when it comes to claiming a due and equitable share of the advertising pie from corporate houses as well as governments.

Bigger players tend to pursue sharp practices, including anti-competition tactics in the marketplace, with virtual impunity. To make matters worse, governments are notoriously tight-fisted, arbitrary, and politically manipulative in releasing advertisements to the smaller dailies and magazines.

Under these circumstances, it is remarkable that News Today has completed 36 years of uninterrupted publication and is entering its 37th year. Founded by T. R. Ramaswami (TRR), a Left-oriented journalist and a charismatic leader of the working journalists’ movement in India, the English daily has been nurtured with dedication and unswerving commitment by his son, T. R. Jawahar.

Jawahar is a qualified chartered accountant and cost accountant who was set for quite a different career. But it was his passion for journalism that took charge early on, especially after his father was incapacitated by illness soon after founding the newspaper.

Over three decades, I have watched Jawahar pursue his passion for journalism bravely, working hard and intelligently to overcome the  professional and business challenges, including intensified anti-competition practices by bigger commercial players. The two central functions of journalism are the credible informational and the critical-an-alytical-investigative.

News Today has developed a sound balance of grass-roots reporting and opinion, and Jawahar’s own ‘Point Blank’ column lends a distinctive spicy flavourto this mix. Jawahar has diversified his publishing venture with a Tamil evening daily, Maalaisudar, and Talk Media, astable of 20 neighbourhood weeklies in Chennai.

Responding to the challenges and opportunities of the digital age and exploring and finding a business model for digital journalism is a work in progress for Jawahar’s media ventures, as it is for all of us.

I wish News Today, Maalaisudar, and the Talk Media stable of neighbourhood publications a sound path of growth, success in engaging readers whose preferences and tastes are changing all the time, and all-round success.

 

The writer is Chairman of The Hindu Publishing Group and former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu and Group publications.

NT Bureau