impact Roundtable on Indian language newspapers put the focus on language dailies in India, often referred to as ‘vernacular media’. It is this mindset that needed to be changed, insisted eminent speakers at the Roundtable, which was held on September 30 in Mumbai. The Roundtable was organised by impact, a weekly on advertising and media, from the exchange4media Group, and presented by Prahar.
The discussion was moderated by Kumar Ketkar, Editor, Loksatta. Other eminent panellists included Varghese Chandy, Senior General Manager - Operations, Malayala Manorama; Jwalant Swaroop, Director, Lokmat Group of Newspapers; Abhay Desai, CEO, Yuva; Nilesh Rane, Director, Rane Prakashan Pvt Ltd; advertisers such as K Ramakrishnan, GM, Marketing, TVS Motors; and media planners such as Divya Radhakrishnan, President, TME; Sanjoy Chakrabarty, COO, Dentsu Media; and Sundeep Nagpal, Director, Stratagem Media.
Is language press lower in terms of intellectual content?
Kumar Ketkar asked the panellists, “Is the language press lower in terms of intellectual content and production quality?” The panellists were one on the answer that the language press was in no way lower in terms of intellectual content and production quality that English newspapers.
Taking the discussion further, Ketkar said, “I think the perception or mindset is still there regarding language press that its quality is lower. Though not to a great, but the mindset is still there.”
“Language press is considered when there is a discussion of public issues such as traffic problems, drainage problems, local commuting problems and so on, but when it comes to discussing policy issues, you discuss it in the English press. Therefore, I feel it is a mindset and perception of the ruling class,” he added.
Ketkar further noted, “Generally the belief is that when it comes to concept and intellectual discourse, the language media operates at a lower level.”
Disagreeing with Ketkar, Jwalant Swaroop said, “That’s not the case. It may be possible to some extent when you have something to be communicated uniformly to the masses, probably you may use English press. That’s the reason the Government of India is still communicating in English, but at the same time you will find their communication coming out in Hindi and English parallelly.”
Explaining the genre in the publications, Swaroop added, “Essentially, we have been looking at the publication only from the news genre. It is not the news alone, there are various genres that have evolved over the years, and you can express some of them better in English press than expressing in language press because there are certain linguistic limitation exists.”
He added, “If the content in various genres is provided properly, then definitely language press will score over English press.”
Paper quality is as important as content
Nilesh Rane raised the issue of production quality and impact of same on the readership and also wondered who could sustain language newspapers with the growing cost of newsprint. He added that one needed deep pockets to start and maintain the newspaper these days.
Commenting on production quality of language newspaper, Ketkar observed, “Factors like layout, design and quality of paper do have a greater impact on the readers. They don’t just want to read the paper, but also want to experience it. A newspaper can get rejected by readers or they might stop buying a particular newspaper on account of bad paper quality. In fact, paper quality is very important, as important as content.”
Sharing his experiences in Maharashtra Times, Ketkar said, “The quality of Maharashtra Times was very poor earlier as compared to The Times of India. I remember how much I had to fight with the management of Maharashtra Times for good quality paper. Similarly, in Loksatta, too, I had to fight for eight colour pages for almost two years, which finally has been fulfilled last month.”
Agreeing with Ketkar about better paper quality, Swaroop said, “Your whole day is lost if you see an ugly or bad quality newspaper or your newspaper is smelling bad because of the ink quality early in the morning. Every media owner has to take care of this. If the returns are lost because of bad quality, then it is the owner’s responsibility to take care of the same.”
Varghese Chandy noted, “Newsprint cost is just a cycle that will pass. Those who have been in this industry for years will know that this is just a cycle. Print industry has seen many ups and downs, sometime newsprint costs are up and sometimes down, depending on inflation rates. This season will also get over soon and everything will be fine.”
Addressing Rane’s concerns about who could sustain in newspaper business, Ketkar said, “In the newspaper business, other than politicians, it is the industry leaders, someone like Reliance who had deep pockets, who could have their own newspaper venture. Even if the newspaper has political backing, the neutrality of the newspaper is very important, because the reader is most often not biased towards any particular political party.”
Tomorrow: Part 2 – Is there is a world outside the numbers?