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We are in the age that is best described as Media 360, says Rajdeep at IMC

16-January-2018
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We are in the age that is best described as Media 360, says Rajdeep at IMC

At the 11th Indian Magazine Congress in New Delhi Rajdeep Sardesai, Consulting Editor, India Today, remembered the time when he used to work for Times of India. He said, "I started in print in 1988 and moved to TV in 1994, The TOI in the late 1980s was a behemoth and probably still is. The only difference is that this was the pre TV breaking news era. We had a monopoly on news, no TV, no Internet and no mobile. It was certainly a less noisy world, also a more comfortable one."

Here is Rajdeep Sardesai’s full speech:
I belong to the cross-over generation. I started with print in 1988 and moved to TV in 1994.. allow me a touch of nostalgia.. to read my byline on the front page of the newspaper was a big high.. to find that a small story on how street lights were not functioning at Colaba bus station or how a pothole had not been filled near VT station got an instant response was gratifying.. the TOI in the late 1980s was a behemoth.. it probably still is.. the only difference is that this was the pre- TV breaking news era.. we had a monopoly on news.. no TV, no internet, no mobile.. it was certainly a less noisy world.. also a more comfortable world.

That world must seem like the age of dinosaurs. We are in the age that is best described as media 360, an age of instant communication, where today's news is often the next hour's history. Let me give you a peep into this world. On December 18, the Gujarat elections were declared. From 6 am to 1 pm I was on air dissecting the results on TV. From 1 to 1.30pm, I did a Facebook live, first in Hindi, then in English. Then, I was asked by Hindustan Times and DailyO to write opinion pieces, so that was the next task. Even while doing this, I was tweeting through the day.

The big question is: is the printed word relevant in such a world where Twitter is a 24x7 newswire, where an FIR is filed on live TV, where there are millions of websites constantly bombarding you with information, where the world of news is literally in the palm of your hand. And even within the printed word world, is there a space for a magazine?

My answer is, a qualified yes. Yes, the printed word of the magazine can endure provided all the stakeholders are willing to embrace change while ensuring continuity. Let me give a cricket analogy. Think of the printed world of the magazine as the world of test cricket. What is it that makes test cricket endure in the age of T20? Four words to describe the USP of test cricket today a) legacy.. test cricket dates back to the 1870s, so it has tradition on its side.. b) stature.. players often tell you we want to be judged by the runs we make in test cricket because it's for them the highest form of the sport.. c) skill.. all forms of cricket need a special skill, but there is undoubtedly a special skill required to be a test cricketer.. d) unique.. no other sporting format is played over five days.. it's the marathon of sport.. (tour de France)..

Transpose this now into the world of the printed word and the magazine in particular. A) legacy: an India Today has legacy built over years. I read the India Today when I was in high school. I have student memories associated with the brand b) stature: I read The Economist every weekend because it has acquired stature. It is seen to be the finest example of writing on the global political economy. c) skill: when I read a 20-page article in the New Yorker, I realise what skilled writing is. d) unique: I subscribe to the New Yorker because there isn't anything quite like it anywhere in the world.

The challenge, therefore, is obvious: how can the printed word build on legacy, raise its stature, enhance skills, stay unique? Are there any or some of the models above that can be adapted and embraced in the Indian scenario? Why don't we have an Indian economist is a question I often ask myself, a magazine that becomes almost a badge of honour to have by your bedside, one whose USP is that it is seen to enhance knowledge in an age of infotainment.

Let's be honest, there are big gaps in what TV news provides you today. Most channels (no names please in this republic of hours) provide you noise, entertainment, breaking news. Do they provide context, analysis, knowledge? I am afraid they don't. In a sense, the decline of the TV ecosystem provides a big opportunity to the printed word to fill the gap. I want to read the next morning's paper to make sense of the news, to enhance my understanding of complex issues. Take for example, the judges' revolt. It simply can't be summarised in a sound byte or two. It needs explanation.

Also, while the printed word may seem under strain when taken in isolation, transpose it into a multimedia world and you realise that the word isn't dead. It's just that the content platforms are transforming through technology. A journalist today has to be platform-agnostic, willing to provide information and knowledge across multiple platforms. The great magazines are also building first-rate websites which provide a large base of new users and potentially a large revenue base, too, through an effective subscription model. Yes, a video is more likely to go viral than an article but who is to say a finely written, provocative blog won't be shared by millions. The challenge may be there to monetise it, but the value and impact of WhatsApp and social media shares shouldn't be underestimated. The story of judge Loya, for example, broke on the website of The Caravan magazine, a magazine whose circulation is very limited. That hasn't stopped the story from being a talking point. The Jay Shah story broke on a website wire which is run as a public trust. It created a huge buzz. The Tribune published the story on Aadhar data leaks. A Chandigarh-based newspaper managed to create national ripples. In a strange way, the technology which may seem to constrain the printed word is also enhancing its impact by offering it across multiple platforms. Therefore, the printed word is still very relevant provided you are ready to do impactful journalism. In the end, it's about good quality. Quality content will always be relevant and will always draw in readers.

Let me end on a personal note once again. Over the years, I have had the unique opportunity to get front page bylines, to front big news stories on TV, to have a large Twitter following, to write best selling books. Would I choose one over the other? No, I would not. Neither I believe should you. Instead of worrying about whether the printed word and the magazine are irrelevant, let's embrace the challenge of how to make each medium even more relevant.

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