Tapabrata Ghoshal
Business Head,
HT Media

Impact of the COVID-19 crisis made digital volcano to erupt

The future of India’s newspapers has to be digital–and it has to be done now.

Publications need to find out strategies that will allow them to be sustainable online. Years of continuous growth and expansion in printed newspapers in India are about to come to an end. Failing to develop more compelling digital offers may lead to media houses shrinking to irrelevance, closing down, or losing what independence they have.

At a time when human contact and touch points are being minimized, digital technology is proving to be a key asset in tackling these practical challenges and supporting new ways of doing business. Digital platforms have become integral for business continuity. For the print media, digital presence is now more critical and could translate into greater monetization opportunities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in loss in advertising expenditures across all media. However, people being home bound has resulted in an increase in consumption of the digital media and hence this sector has seen a considerable growth.

News websites and e-papers have become a staple way of life for the newspaper players and the regional newspaper companies have taken to the digital medium quite enthusiastically. However, there are some steep challenges to surmount before they can make the most of the digital domain. According to industrial trends, the English news sites dominate the digital platform, giving less space and importance to the regional language papers. However, many newspapers are getting into the domain of health and education and competing with the more established players.

A very common format like education fair/exhibition has been turned into education expo on digital platform. A venture of www.livehindustan.com delivered expected responses to the institutions and connected the target audience effectively. So much so, non-education companies came up to share the platform within education institutions to attract the eyeballs of similar target audience. Innumerable webinars and E-expos happening every hour across the globe through various digital platforms, that are getting hosted by either own or common domains. These were hardly there when we stepped into the year 2020.

Another intriguing development is the move to real time stories, where reporters file directly from the field especially for the web. Digital revenue in India is growing at a rate of 40 percent. To attract a part of this revenue to the newspaper industry, the product and the reach of this product has to be formatted well. A strong product with good reach is enough to earn robust revenue for the newspaper houses.

A study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford shows that display advertising alone cannot cover the cost of producing quality content and definitely not earn a profit. In reality that premium content is expensive to produce and combined with a cluttered advertisement experience that drives readers away, this has forced publishers to think of a different approach to advertising.

Newspaper houses are now trying to use a number of revenue streams beyond advertising, with subscriptions among the most popular to boost the bottom line.

But even the best content will drive away audiences if it is presented poorly. Users who are turned off by pop-ups, overlays, auto play video or just too many advertisements are likely to head for other sites. Hence monetizing news remains a challenge.

Despite the shadow over the current advertising downturn, there is still hope for the future. The newspaper industry is gearing up for whatever that comes, from acquiring assets and expertise in other media and mobilizing their vast networks of reporters to produce content for print, TV, online, and other media.

Content is King. Journalists are warriors. Battlefield is evolving.
Journalism saw changing face of challenges over the years, decades and centuries. Our ardent reader audiences wait with curiosity to know the real story from a chosen section of people, who fight all odds to bring it on–the journalists!

Journalists have one thing in common–their passion, to challenge the status quo and to ensure the best possible coverage. All these are done for their readers. They are unstoppable–be it of any genre.

2020 brought in a new terminology in front of the mass–COVID-19, something that was in the medical books but never treated. Journalists also did not have this topic covered before. In almost no time, this became a global pandemic, dominating the news and changing everyone’s day-to-day life.

This again challenged journalism and entire world got glued on media to know what the journalists have to report–every hour, every day, and over months. For once, some things in particular became overtly important in making work life run smoothly, which were never on priority list–the digital platform of delivery.

With heavy workloads to consider, entire focus came on to the usage of virtual medium for journalists. Conducting video interviews, taking bytes of news from ground level, testimonials from experts, and opinions of administrative authorities–all these became highly regarded in a time when the ardent readers started getting habituated on digital devices, while confined at home with restricted exposure to non-virtual media options.

Social media algorithms are the newest technology impacting journalism today. A modern age journalist is competing with the social media content flow, while juggling their other interests, such as reporting facts as well as seeking to increase readership, viewership, and engagement of the readers and viewers.

The pandemic has brought to light the importance of media and access of the masses to verified information. Authentic and independent media serve as key source of credible and life-dependent information they also help people by detecting misinformation.

Professional journalism–publishing verified facts and informed opinion–has given people an alternative to disinformation and misinformation. Reliability and credibility are strong words that get branded with news sharing platforms with consistent delivery of genuine reporting. Very difficult it is to be authentic all the time–but that is the only way to remain dependable among all. Media websites dropped their paywalls and provided coverage of COVID-19 pandemic without any charge, in the name of public interest–keeping in mind the present exigency.

Fernando de Yarza López-Madrazo, President of WAN-IFRA said and I quote, “Under these circumstances, our responsibility as publishers and journalists is more important than ever. It is probably the greatest challenge we have faced in the past 100 years. The citizens of all countries now have a greater need for our journalistic work… Never have we been so necessary. Never has our role of social cohesion, of defending the democratic values, of stimulating solidarity and public awareness been so obvious. Never before has our desire to do the best journalism been so great. Never has our commitment to the truth been so laudable. It is an indispensable social and ethical duty.”

People feel that during this period, reporters have a great life, maybe even a better one than before, for now there is plenty of scope for journalism. But people do not understand how torturous it is, to stand in front of an affected person and take down details of his or her plight. It is horrible, to visit a room fully exposed to the life threatening virus, simply to gather information from the ailing, of details they would gladly forget, but cannot bring themselves to, it gives one the clear sense of being like a criminal–it hurts, but that is the job to deliver newsworthiness.

The threats to press freedom and safety of journalists come at a time when the economic crisis is pushing many media organizations to the brink of extinction, at exactly the moment they are most needed. The economic fallout from the pandemic has led the International Monetary Fund to predict that 2020 will see the worst economic recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s. The International Labor Organization expects loss of equivalent of 195 million full-time jobs. It is a survival of the fittest to fight the virus and survival of the strongest for the organizations–sustenance ability only counts.

This war may be controlled by taming the virus and getting enough antidotes for the world. The damage created will take long enough to get back on track. But this phase taught the mankind–better be safe than sorry, in any sphere of life.

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