After exiting Network18 in 2014, Ritu Kapur and Raghav Bahl have not taken a single day off from work. In fact their venture, The Quint is increasingly being seen as a coming of age of India’s online journalism.
With sticky content at its core and driven by a young team of journalists, The Quint has successfully managed to gain attention and differentiate itself from the clutter of online news space.
In conversation with exchange4media, Ritu Kapur, Founder & CEO, The Quint, spoke about the shift from broadcast journalism to pure-play online, the demands of her new profession, the promise of digital and more.
What is driving the new wave of disruptive journalism that The Quint has taken up as a mission?
I think what is driving it is the fact that it is a newsroom comprising a young team that is clearly talking to a very young reader. I think that is organically disrupting the way news is done. Because you have the freedom of experimenting and you have the freedom to fail, as long as you stick to the basic tenets of journalism.
It is not that we set out to be disruptive. We set out to cater to the underserviced news consumers (18-34 yrs) and the fact is that the younger audience not only loves to consume news but also actively engages with it.
From owning a large media network to another start-up now, how do you see this shift, is it unsettling in any way?
It may sound clichéd, but I actually find it very liberating. When we set out in 1992-93, we had nothing at stake. But when you become a large media network there is a lot at stake. Then you look over your shoulder, you are looking at what the competition is doing. You are fighting with the same advertising pool of clients etc.
Of course it’s a huge loss. It’s a setback. Having said that, we decided that there is not going to be a single downtime day. We didn’t stop going to work and when there is nothing at stake, you are legacy free and you have the freedom to fail again.
In the last two years The Quint has become something that is being taken seriously. It has allowed us to get more involved into what is happening in the news space, both in terms of technology and reading patterns. When you are doing broadcast, you tend to think that what you are creating is great and people who consume it must find it great too. With digital, I have never been so close to my audience, especially when it also allows you to know at what level you are connecting with your audience.
How demanding is it for broadcast journalists to become online publishers?
It’s much easier to be a digital publisher than to be in broadcast journalism. There is much more freedom in terms of regulation and policy. Moreover, because digital newsrooms are more nimble and less resource intensive, they have ownership freedom. In fact most broadcast houses are owned by corporates which could lead to some level of compromise. If you look at the current digital newsrooms, they have much more stronger voices sometimes since they are more independent.
There are a couple of things that journalists need to get acquainted with. One is the fact that you cannot be in the digital world and be tech agnostic at the same time. You have to understand technology because it’s the biggest enabler. Moreover digital is much leaner; we just use a selfie stick and a mobile camera. This allows the focus to shift from craft to content. What digital teaches you is that audiences are only interested in what you are saying and how you are saying it. All the paraphernalia fades into the background. The other thing is that you have to be open to innovation. You can’t trust the same tools of storytelling because the audience can correct you very quickly.
Being a digital publisher, what are your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge right now is battling fake news. We have already two initiatives running, one is in partnership with BBC India and it’s called ‘Swachh Digital India’ and the focus is to raise awareness among readers and help them identify fake news. The other initiative is called ‘Webkoof’; it’s for those who believe in fake news. Moreover, there is also a lot of curation and aggregation being practiced because at times as digital newsrooms do not have enough resources to do enterprise journalism, the boots on the ground journalism.
Is the virality aspect dumbing down online content in some cases?
When traffic, tractions, numbers, page views and unique visitors become your metric, you will find a little duplicity in some of the websites. You will find top-notch quality journalism and storytelling and at times you will find cat and puppy videos too. However, the important thing to observe is what is happening on the website and the other distribution platforms. On the website you will largely find kosher content but on social media, in order to attract larger people, the content strategy becomes different. In fact people come to you through those cat and puppy videos and then stumble on great content.