Devendra Darda, Managing Director, Lokmat Media Ltd writes about seven things a publication must know before entering a new market.
Media is expected to uphold high moral and ethical values while informing and educating its consumers. At the same time, it is also expected to engage journalistic talent, which can give independent and high quality thoughts on variety of subjects. This is where the first challenge lies. Traditionally, and even today to a great extent, very few choose career in journalism and media as their first preference. Which means the talent pools remain rather weak and the ability to deliver original content low, giving rise to problems such as plagiarism. Over and above, today’s fierce competition, not only within the same medium but also with other mediums and pressure on delivery deadlines, create a lose-lose situation for the media houses as well as the writers. The present all-pervasive digital environment ensures that stories can be filed from anywhere at any time, thereby further raising the expectations of timely delivery. This lack of talent, delivery pressures and easy access to the wealth of information available on the Internet, result in plagiarism.
In order to overcome this, media organisations need to market the profession effectively to attract the brighter lot from the education system, pay them salaries that are on par with other sectors, invest heavily on their training, encourage an environment where quality is appreciated over quantity and finally, put auditing mechanisms in place to check the origin and veracity of content.
Today, with so many media platforms available to choose from, the challenge before media houses is how to grab, maintain and expand the attention span of the consumers. This does more harm than good for both the society and the organisation in the long run. Electronic media is guiltier of sensationalism than print media mainly due to its very nature. We need effective internal as well as external measures to counter sensationalism.
It could involve writing up a charter for the editorial team with four or five clear points that the team would adhere to. Staying away from sensationalism should be on the top. External measures could involve the government setting up a regulatory body with clear-cut guidelines on the conduct of media.
Any media organisation indulging in misinformation and omission is playing with the trust, confidence and credibility it enjoys with its consumers. There is no doubt in my mind that such practice should be strictly dealt with through an external intervention mechanism involving censure, penalties, shutdown and even imprisonment. While we are always ready to analyse, criticise the government, businesses and people (often with partial knowledge and information), we are quite cagey about our own performance and standards being monitored. Once an example is set, it will serve as a deterrent.
While media consolidation in itself is not a bad thing, especially in these times of intense cost and revenue pressure, it is critical to maintain editorial independence. The concentration of platform ownership in very few hands would leave the society vulnerable to all kinds of evil. The government has been toying with the idea of imposing cross media ownership restrictions as imposed by some countries around the globe. This would be detrimental to the growth of the industry and would prevent media businesses to be of globally competitive in size and scale. However, the government could look at putting appropriate protective measures such as those imposed under the FDI norms.
Some degree of consolidation in the current media landscape may even be good to bring in more efficiency in the operation, thereby helping in improvement of the quality of content served. What the authorities need to ensure is availability of plenty of media choices for the masses, which is the case at present. Even if some consolidation does happen, I expect more small and medium sized players to enter the market and create competition for the leaders.
Every media, particularly the print one, which is the oldest form in the country, has been founded on some ideology. The set of intellectuals responsible for drawing up the media content either bring their own mindsets or follow the policies set by the management. Due to a mix of these reasons, it is not uncommon to find the media often taking position on issues and expressing its opinion. While there is nothing wrong in being opinionated, it is crucial to be fair and balanced and give equal opportunities for varying views to be reflected. This can be achieved only through self-governing mechanisms and robust internal policies. Media could play a constructive role by suggesting solutions and encouraging constructive debate and by not just always questioning and criticising.
Media companies today face the inevitable choice of managing growth through external financing, either through private or public markets. The challenge is to grow while aligning with the investors’ interests. If it is through the private equity route, clear understanding between the promoters and investors must be established at the investing stage on the terms of engagement. Promoters would be wise to understand that instead of focusing only on delivering quarterly numbers, which is very important, they must pay attention to building and maintaining long-term credibility of their brands.
Media companies must maintain transparency while pursuing financial objectives. While the Fourth Estate is a critical pillar in upholding democratic values, it has to be profitable in order to survive and grow. Revenue could be an influencing factor in some aspects of how a media firm is run. However, appropriate disclaimers should be made to the consumers so that they can make informed decisions. In the Indian context, it has been observed that the investors were prudent enough to let the promoter-led managements run the show as they deemed fit, which has resulted in good returns for them in most investments. On the other hand, managements, under the pretext of serving the investors’ interests, have taken unnecessary risks.
(Devendra Darda, Managing Director, Lokmat Media Ltd.)