For long newspapers have been a static medium, doling out news, opinions and analysis with hardly any participation or contribution from the readers, barring the letters to the editor. However, technology is providing newer platforms to newspapers to bring in a more participatory element to news – be it blogs, citizen journalism, SMSes, emails or opinion polls.
Speaking on BCCL’s various initiatives, its Chief Marketing Officer, Rahul Kansal, said, “Apart from blogging, the other elements that a newspaper has at its disposal to encourage interactivity include emails, SMSes, physical panel discussions directly with the editor through campaigns like ‘Teach India’ and ‘Lead India’, and lastly, market research, where you get to know what readers are saying, what are their issues and what they want. In The Times of India, we have column called ‘My Times, My Voice’ on the Edit page in which we publish the responses directly come from our readers. And at the end of this column, we also give options to the readers to write to us either through emails, SMSes or letters on so and so number and address, respectively.”
Neelanjan Shome, Chief Marketing Officer, HT Media, remarked, “We are entering what Jonathan Swartz (COO of Sun MicroSystems) calls the ‘new participation age’, where boundaries between consumer/ creator is becoming increasingly blurred. This is particularly evident in the media firmament, where newspapers are attempting to forge relationships with the reader which is active rather than passive like in the past. Interactivity – content flowing both ways – is key to forming such a relationship. Newspapers around the world are attempting to do this in several ways, the only real constraint is our imagination. To mention a few examples, ‘OhMyNews’ in South Korea is written entirely by its readers – created by 33,000 citizen journalists everyday – generating a regular readership of 20 lakh. Wisconsin State Journal (second largest in the state) asks its readers to vote for the next day’s lead story.”
DNA, too, has introduced a completely new platform of interaction with it readers with its blog called the ‘DNA Editors’ Blog’. The blog went online on November 24, 2008, with posts from senior journalists like R Jagannathan, Malavika Sanghvi, Ayaz Memon, Sathya Saran and Siddharth Bhatia.
KU Rao, CEO, DNA, said, “By launching this blog, we have reinstated people’s belief of being the most interactive daily in the country. With this initiative, we hope to see more people expressing their views on this worldwide platform. With blogs from our editors we would cover the entire gamut of topics – from the economy, fashion and entertainment, politics, sports and social causes – and hope to connect with the growing number of netizens blogging in India today.”
Sandeep Bhushan, COO, Mint, said, “We at Mint look at this a bit differently. Unlike in the case of many other publications, a bulk of Mint’s readers are net-savvy decision makers, which gives us the option of using both our website livemint.com and the paper to build interactivity. Our website also has inbuilt interactivity through features such as polls and feedback.”
He further said that as the paper started out, they had the basic features like ‘Letters to editor’, ‘Readers’ Choice’, etc. They then added strong interactive sections in a Q&A format under the ‘Ask Mint’ section. “Recently, we launched the ‘Mint Helpdesk’, where we invite readers to ask us any question related to the world of business, each of which is replied to individually. We have now institutionalised interactivity on key stories. During the US Presidential elections, we partnered the LiveJournal community (The Independent, UK, was one of their other partners) in the US, and our editors interacted with them on a range of issues and some of these discussions were carried in a special section for over a month. This gave an insider view to our readers, for whom global news and analysis is critical. We have also recently launched the ‘If you were PM’ platform to catalyse the debate on what should be our next action as a country. Responses are being published daily in the paper in a special section. We are using our blogs platform to build this debate further,” Bhushan added.
Akila Urankar, President, Business Standard, observed, “You have so many transactions that you allow on the site today, you allow chat, you allow people to post their comments, there are blogs, chat rooms, there are investment tips, etc. A lot of people tend to respond back or post their comments after the reading session. Newspaper blogs allow you to post comments on various lead stories of the day on the site.”
Manajit Ghoshal, CEO, Mid-Day Infomedia Ltd, said, “We have something called ‘Point of View’, which is actually almost like a blog, but the difference here is that multiple people’s opinion are voiced on a particular story. We also have polls, an important part of our interactive element, and thirdly, of course, ‘Citizen Journalism’. Citizen journalism is one of the most impactful interactive element that we have in the media industry today.”
Interactive elements helps
There are various other interactive elements apart from blogging to encourage interactivity. According to Kansal, “All these initiatives really make a difference to the newspaper brand as they really help in building an active relationship between reader and the brand.”
Shome too said, “The short answer is an emphatic ‘yes’. It is more than newspapers attempting to ‘change’, as it were. The fact is that as media consumers, our attitudes and behaviours to various media formats have been evolving rapidly, led by disruptive technological changes over the last decade. The reader has changed and, therefore, newspapers and other traditional formats must adapt themselves to this changing consumer. This new adaptability is exciting to say the least, and it should result in more competitive generic benefits that newspapers will be able to provide.”
Bhushan noted, “As the premium business paper in the country, we at Mint do not see interactivity as a matter of choice. We are read by articulate influencers in society who have a point of view. Our interactive features help build loyalty. Our effort is to provide clarity in business and our interactive features convey our brand personality of transparency and accessibility. So, both from the view of building loyalty and brand personality, interactivity is critical for Mint. In fact, even on our events platform ‘Clarity through debate’, which are panel discussions chaired by Mint editors, we take questions and comments from a live audience as well as from an international audience, who tune in to the live webcast on Livemint.com, which is an another illustration of taking the brand wider and building stickiness on the brand.”
According to Urankar, “All these initiatives really make a difference to the newspaper brand. These are all channel for disseminating the information. Any interactivity whether you engaged the readers through the website or newspaper basically will help readers’ stroke visitors engage with the brand.”
Ghoshal said, “These initiatives really make a difference to the newspaper brand. It involves people and the brand connects increases substantially. It is not about reading but it is about how you keep your readers engaged throughout the day. Engagement part happens when people get involved in terms of voting, in terms of giving their opinion and in terms of writing their article and so on. There you get maximum mileage and maximum amount of impact happens.”
Today’s newspaper readers have moved on from the early paradigm of merely receiving information to commenting on and now to contributing to the news content.