‘Content is King and will always remain the king,’ asserted the panelists in one voice at the session on ‘Is content the king even in troubled times?’ at the Indian Magazine Congress (IMC) 2009. Journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta moderated the session, while the panelists included Ajit Balakrishnan, Founder and CEO, Rediff; Tarun Tejpal, Editor-in-Chief, Tehelka; and Vinod Mehta, Editor-in-Chief, Outlook Group.
The two-day IMC 2009 is being held in the Capital on November 5-6. Worldwide Media is the presenting sponsor, while Chitralekha and Cannon are the associate sponsors. exchange4media Group (exchange4media.com, impact and Pitch) is the media partner.
While attempting to define ‘what is good content’, the panelists stressed on the importance striking a balance between driving profits and maintaining editorial sanity.
Balakrishnan observed that a downturn appeared every five to six years. “In my long-standing career so far, I have seen many downturns, and this is the seventh recession that I am seeing.” He further said that the current media scenario was witnessing an oversupply of ‘capital’ and to add to that, he said that too much of advertising inventory was coming into the media landscape. He also expressed his worry on the change in the business design among media houses that was rather something that could be threatening for the future of magazine publications. However, he also affirmed that magazines from a business standpoint were strong enough to withstand the ongoing economic crisis.
Mehta stressed on the need to define ‘good content’ rather than thinking too much about whether or not content was king. He confessed that despite his 35 years in journalism, even today he was not successfully able to comprehend what good content was. However, he also said that young Indians in the 20-35 age group were an important set of audience that publications could not ignore. Elaborating further, Mehta said, “While it is necessary that you ensure you’ve got the 20-35 year olds, it is a challenge to ensure that you stick to your core constituency.”
On what the young Indians expected from newspapers and magazines, Mehta observed that things like parties, sex and celebrity news were things that interested them. “We should not be snobbish about parties, lifestyle content and content relating to sex. There is room for that, and it should be treated as one part of your content. Fashion coverage may not excite you as an editorial person in the way it is done, but there are people who like that kind of content. You need to create a package that will have many ingredients,” he added.
Giving his take on what good content was, Balakrishnan said it was what ordinary people wrote. “It is not that only journalists know what good content is, there are experts who blog, even common citizens, and those are keenly followed,” he pointed out.
According to Tejpal, industry players had a lot of anxiety about the money end of the business. He urged publishers to also look at the soul of the business, which was content. According to him, “At the heart of the problem in the Indian media is the tendency to please the spenders, readers, advertisers. The soul of the business is journalism. Content in some sense remains an argument against oppression, against injustice.”
He further said, “In the last 10-15 years, the boundaries between public relations, entertainment and journalism have collapsed. There is today distrust about the intent of media, about media’s credibility. We live in an age of a huge amount of information. The real challenge for media people is holding on fast to an ethical moral framework. That is the great challenge for content today.
On the business model, Tejpal urged the publishers to pass on the buck to the readers than depending too much on the corporate world in the battle against economic turmoils, due to which the corporate honchos tend to lower the buck on advertising. “It is difficult to marry business interest with public interest. I am still learning to do that. You need to do the balancing act,” he emphasised.
Concluding the session, Tejpal said that there would always be a place for magazines in India. “If we lose the virtue we carry with our readers, we might as well put ourselves down,” he added.