Thursday, 27 March, 2014

Multi-platform news generation

The Wan-Ifra digital media conference attracted a full house this year. The participants this year included Indian language papers and some of the growing digital tribe from India and abroad – all hungry to sell editorial software to the assembled media. Importantly, there was more enthusiasm from both the speakers and the audience partly because of an increased appreciation of audience interaction by the speakers.

Publishing content on multiple platforms
The conference kept the crowd interested and participative although the best speakers came at the fag-end of the second day. Murugavel Janakiraman, CEO of Bharat Matrimony, along with Dan Barth CEO of the Oklahoma-based News OK gave a feel of the power of digital media in revenue generation. Salil Kumar, COO of the India Today group gave deep insights on how digital and print could be both winners and how the work behind multi-platform news generation could be leveraged from a single content source. He recounted the experience of India Today, a single magazine in print in the 1970s that went to become a huge media house with 36 magazines, 12 TV channels, 4 radio stations and over two dozen websites, in forty years of existence. “Print magazines, news letters, events, app development, audio magazines, websites, television, video and digital platforms are co-existing and growing at India Today,” said Kumar.

On the table this year were many more digital experiences, though a lot of it came from people still admittedly in the learning stage like HT Media, ABP and Jagran. These are early days for the conference, and the Wan-Ifra team needs to further broaden the discourse at the application end of the technology, especially to look at changes in newsroom efficiencies and multi-platform workflows. The challenge, said several speakers, is also to increase the throughput like the digital giants have while maintaining quality of content without turning journalists into code writers and SEO operators. This can and should be done by adaptation of the right mix of management systems and technology tools.

While venturing into uncharted areas like social media or cross-media news generation, a media house needs the right balance and focus on generation of well researched news stories to be relevant, and then curate and accelerate the news generated through either established marketing or SEO inputs or third-party resources. There is a need for presentations on the application of technology tools and use of management information systems and use of software to automate broadcast.

Press freedom and surveillance
The concluding part of the first day had senior editors led by N Ravi, director of The Hindu discussing surveillance and monitoring, privacy, and press freedom. These issues are increasingly gaining importance reflected KN Shanth Kumar the current chairman of the Press Trust of India (PTI) in view of the increasing political intolerance across the world. Though Julian Assange and Snowden, the poster boys of resistance to authority for maintain integrity of public information and news were lauded, the editors had little answer to the increased polarization of Indian journalists and their affiliations to political parties in India that makes them report as mouth pieces without any accountability or factual integrity.

Outlook editor-in-chief Krishna Prasad recounted the exposure of Nira Radia tapes and how only 300 of the 18,000 odd conversations tapped by the Income Tax department were selected by Outlook to expose the scandal. The focus was only on relevant conversations of those involved in the 2G scam instead of the much more juicy conversations that encroached privacy and were much more sensational. He stressed the need for objectivity and was seconded by Kalpesh Yagnik, the national editor of Dainik Bhaskar who said that integrity and honesty of purpose was the prime factor in news coverage.

Sandip Sen, March 2014 issue Indian Printer and Publisher

Tuesday, 18 October, 2011

World Statistics Day, or, Shooting in the Dark

20 October 2011 is World Statistics Day and I am tempted to comment and to provoke the industry with which I have been associated for over forty years — as a printer, publicist and publisher. These days I am not as isolated as I once was. I am not the only person decrying the lack of social conscience or a practical sense of community in the Indian printing industry.

In our research company IppStar, I often comment on the unreliability of government data, even GDP statistics and the RBI data, but I do not speak too loudly since my area is the print industry where I am more sure of the numbers which are based on a huge amount of face to face interviews of expert informants, as well as a healthily sceptical analysis of secondary data. I must admit that the general scepticism comes from our detailed work in the printing, packaging and publishing domain. The particular seems to give insight to the general and so we largely ignore the almost daily announcements of GDP projections and industrial data ups and downs.

On 17 October 2011, a young colleague who is an avid reader of the Economic Times brought me a clipping from the morning’s paper of an article by Mythili Bhusnurmath titled Economic Policy: Shooting in the Dark. She writes, “What was India's gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate during the first quarter of the year? Is industrial production rising or falling? What about services? What is the inflation rate? Is it rising or falling? The list can go on and on. For, the truth, unpalatable as it might be, is we really don’t know. “As a result, economic policy formulation has become more like a game of shooting in the dark. Policy authorities don't know which way to turn in a scenario where the three pillars of a sound statistical database — credibility, timeliness and adequacy — are absent.”

Bhusnurmath goes on to point out that even monetary policy decisions on serious issues such as inflation are being made on the basis of very poor data since there is very little real investment in the actual ground research. She writes, “Garbage in, garbage out! The RBI, in fact, has paid a heavy price for its reliance on dodgy data. As RBI governor D Subbarao pointed out in a recent speech, ‘Policy is framed real time and if the provisional data that these are based on are inaccurate, the resultant policies can turn out to be suboptimal choices.’”

So the printing industry is not alone in its ignorance of real data or its lack of investment in data collection, compilation and research. Nevertheless, to me it seems a miracle that bank loans for print projects upwards of Rs. 40 crore are approved mainly on the basis of relationships and trust since the data available is really quite sketchy. Of course our multi-client industry research has subscribers but in our current project every subscriber is a multinational company. Not a single Indian company or organisation is supporting a massive effort that could actually make their projects and growth viable.
What I have written may sound like a plug for IppStar’s research and why not? While a few leading printers actually support IppStar in its work, many more call us up for a few hints about the industry data. And many more ‘borrow’ it without acknowledgement (even for a Red Herring prospectus for an IPO) and sometimes even print our research articles in their association magazines without even a phone call or an email!

Like shooting in the dark, borrowing is our thing. I receive calls from Indian students every month who are doing a thesis in some foreign university. Investing in data and research doesn’t really seem to be our thing whether it is the government or industry or the individual. Actually our industry is vibrant and could easily play a leading role by investing in real on-the-ground statistical work. Perhaps this is something that the so-called leaders of the print industry can think about on World Statistics Day.
 Naresh Khanna

Friday, 30 September, 2011

From convergence to engagement –WAN-IFRA Chennai

Apart from the reflected buzz emanating from hyperactivity of the Tamil and Malayalam newspapers in recent months, the WAN-IFRA conference was interesting. The newsroom summit discussed innovative concepts that can continue to leverage the content leadership of print, and there were many presentations that included case studies and examples from Asia and India.

This IFRA shifted from convergence to engagement. Raju Narisetti illustrated the example of The Washington Post, which a couple of years back had a website that was going nowhere, like many other newspapers and magazines. The solutions were to combine the print and web newsrooms which were earlier across the river — away from each other — into a common web-first operation. This meant a robust multimedia CMS or editorial system instead of the three separate systems that were in place. It also meant a new set of skills and as Narisetti said, “Traditional newsroom skills are not sufficient in the digital space.” He emphasised the need to populate the team with search, social and traffic experts.

As Narisetti illustrated, a print story just pasted into the CMS generally cannot work on the web. The web requires packaging and essential elements to make a story ready for the web. The story is ready when it contains some or all the following elements — hyperlinks, further reading, galleries, photos, graphics, video, database and interaction. He gave examples of how an interesting sidelight of a story highlighted by a blog or a tweet can drive huge traffic and often even displace the main story.

It’s obvious that editors like Narisetti are both intrepid and persistent. In his presentation about the changes at The Washington Post he talked about creating a metrics driven culture — the mere idea of which would have had him laughed out of any newspaper a decade ago. And finally he said that even a measurable increase in traffic is not enough. The goal is engagement and this too is not rocket science. There are helpful open-source tools that can enhance daily stories, and increased social outreach can spark conversation on newspaper websites.

While Narisetti is of Indian origin and now heading a leading daily in the United States, Lin Neumann is of American origin with experience in several Asian newspapers. Neumann is the chief editorial officer of an English language start-up in Indonesia, The Jakarta Globe. His presentation at Chennai spoke about using Facebook and Twitter to build up the new daily and its website. Neumann hired a fresh college graduate to get young people to register on Facebook and Twitter through the Globe’s website. His single employee in turn went to schools, colleges and shopping malls to promote the newspaper and its website with the help of college students who wanted to be part of the new social networking media. The eight most active helpers were rewarded with a Blackberry each. Thus by enabling the social networking inclinations of the young people of the city, the new Jakarta Globe quickly gained traffic and importance in their lives. Neumann also concluded saying that now that the traffic is there, the issue is engagement. How long can you keep the reader on your site? How can you mobilise your readers as news sources?
—Naresh Khanna

Thursday, 29 September, 2011

Interactivity for print

In September 2010 IPP had started Interactivity in Print, a feature that enables our readers to share any article by sending an SMS with an email address. The article is instantly sent to people the reader wants to share it with. The sender can also include their email id to receive a soft copy of the article. Our readers are requested to make full use of this and give us their feedback.

We are keen on making print a two-way communication activity. When you either agree or disagree with the content written in the editorial you can convey your ratings and leave comments for the author on our blog, helping us to have a dialogue with you and bring more content relevant to your needs. This allows our readers and advertisers to do what they usually do on digital media — rate, comment, and share.
Naresh Khanna

Friday, 9 September, 2011

50 Fastest growing Indian dailies

For the WAN-IFRA India special issue of Indian Printer and Publisher we took some help from our research colleagues at IppStar. Although our assessment of the fastest growing newspapers in India is based on the most recent publicly available ABC circulation and IRS data, we have also taken into consideration the start of new editions, the increase in pagination and colour pagination, the building of new plants, absorption of new technology, innovation in media, and serious attempts to take on the environmental challenges. 
Naresh Khanna

Wednesday, 31 August, 2011

Breaking boundaries

At one time, certainly before 1990, there may have been a tacit understanding or even an agreement between newspaper publishers not to encroach on the each other’s territories, markets or languages. But the trend that began 20 years ago with what was considered predation then, has now flowered into a great expansion.

The newspaper industry in India over the last 21 years has grown well in almost all respects and matured in many just as the economy has. With a large parallel growth in literacy, it has weathered the privatisation and multiplicity of television news channels, as it takes advantage of the internet and gets ready for the convergent opportunities of a large base of cell-phones and a tiny but growing base of tablets. The key phenomenon has been expansion in circulation, new editions, more pages, more pages in colour, new media such as radio and television and new print media products as well.

In these years the first wave of FDI in newspapers has led to the first wave of foreign direct investment (FDI) and closely held family companies going to the stock market. Some consolidation has also taken place such as Bennett Coleman’s acquisition of the upstart Vijay Karnataka group and Jagran Prakashan’s acquisition of Mid Day Multimedia’s print assets. There have been fissures and cracks among owner families too, but what is significant is that in most cases they continue to work together while facing the market.

There is a new confidence amongst the Indian newspaper publishers which has erased the old linguistic and media boundaries. Every fast-growing newspaper group has crossed linguistic or geographic boundaries in the past ten years. No territory is sacrosanct as newspapers have to leverage their brands to survive.

It is also nice to see that there is a resurgence among some of the strong newspaper groups that had suffered setbacks in the past decade. Amongst these one sees the resurgence of the Rajasthan Patrika and Deccan Herald groups in winning back circulation and starting new editions as a reflection of the inherent strength of the Indian newspaper industry as a whole. 
Naresh Khanna

Sunday, 21 August, 2011

Rajivnama — Distasteful self promotion from the Congress party

Indian newspaper readers woke up to a bizarre print spectacle on 20 August, a day also celebrated as Sadbhavna Divas. Page after page contained advertisements issued by the Congress-led Central and state governments, and various public departments to commemorate the birthday of Rajiv Gandhi, former Indian Prime minister. Initial surprise gave way to shock which turned to irritation, and finally anger as the reader flipped through newspapers that carried the late Prime Minister’s handsome face staring somewhere into the space on almost every page.

In response to a similar advertising blitzkrieg on the death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi in 2010, Ramchandra Guha had written, “A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”

If spending Rs 300 crore of the taxpayers’ money in self promotion through hero worshipping its former leader (incidentally, named in the Bofors scandal and accused of owning Swiss bank accounts) isn’t corruption, then what is? As the Congress-led UPA government struggles to save its reputation in the wake of accusations of corruption in almost everything it has undertaken in its second term in power, such shameless self advertisement can only ruin its image even further.

Pritam Sengupta from sans serif estimates that there were a total of 108 advertisements amounting to 48¼ of the published pages in the well known English dailies Hindustan Times, The Times of India, The Indian Express, Mail Today, The Hindu, The Pioneer, The Statesman, The Telegraph, The Economic Times, Business Standard, The Financial Express and Mint (Berliner).

‘Sadbhavna’ in Hindi refers to noble thoughts and having good feelings for others. But sadly the action of the Congress party at the centre and across some states displayed little nobility of thinking or action even on the day it has set aside to entertain noble thoughts.

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- Avinandan Mukherjee