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WAN-IFRA 2009: Is the future about convergence or divergence?

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WAN-IFRA 2009: Is the future about convergence or divergence?

“While free newspapers are still available and are very valuable, can we imagine quality journalism without print newspapers?” this question was posed by Xavier Vidal-Folch, Deputy Editor, El Pais, Spain, as he sought to get the panellists to air their views on where print as a medium was heading, given the challenges that are being posed from newer mediums that are emerging and posing a threat to the existence of newspapers.

The question set the base for the panelists who had assembled to deliberate on the topic ‘The future of journalism versus the future of newspapers’, on Day 2 of the World Editors Forum being held at Hyderabad.

The panelists included Jaideep Bose, Editor-in-Chief, The Times of India; Paul Johnson, Deputy Editor-in-Chief, The Guardian, UK; Mahfuz Anam, Editor-in-Chief, The Daily Star, Bangladesh; and Martim Figueiredo, Publisher & Editor, ‘I’, Portugal. The session was moderated by Xavier Vidal-Folch.

Presenting his views first, Jaideep Bose sought to present the example of his very own firm the Times of India that recently launched a 40-paged broadsheet the TOI Crest Edition. While the paper was serious, analytical and long-form that covered everything from politics to policies, the brief that was given to the team by the management was that the paper should be an ‘editor’s playground – try to bring in the joy of serendipity and discovery.’

“We were questioned by many on why we wanted to launch another paper alongwith the daily that has a circulation of nearly 4 million copies? As a journalist I am happy we are doing this as it speaks of a demand for well-researched and intelligent writing. People will place a premium for writing that is solid and is understood well. As people get smarter the challenge is to engage these smart people further.” Bose was very clear that digital did not possess any harm to newspapers and that the publishers had to learn to stay relevant.

Given the high literacy rates and rising incomes, according to Bose, the future for press in India is very bright. It is the west that would face the challenge of survival, he said.

The Guardian’s Paul Johnson spoke next and began by citing three examples (stories) that his newspaper had carried out that redefined the way journalism was being covered. The first was on a story on the G20 Summit in London where a person had died at the event. “The police cited it as a case of heart attack, whereas the true picture was something different. And that true picture was presented by a gentleman from the US who had recorded the event and found that the man had been murdered because of police brutality. Following the finding, the pictures were uploaded on the web and it stirred quite an argument within the public and government circles. The government was forced to reconsider and nail the culprit cop.”

The other two examples, one of global warming and the other of overseas torture of terror suspects, were similar in nature where after being posted on the web the law enforcers were forced to act and apprehend the culprits. “The underlying point is that while all the three stories have taken the same route, it is the application of different mediums - blogs, twitter, citizen journalism, etc - that redefined the way news can be handled. Internet in a sense gives a feeling of empowerment to many users who get on the medium to share news and not just otherwise.”

Mahfuz Anam from Bangladesh took the audience through press activities in Bangladesh. There are about 40 dailies in Bangladesh, 11 private TV channels and three FM radio stations, but the question that needs to be asked here is whether the future is divergent or convergent?

“There are many who say that newspapers as a platform do not have a bright future and to save it we need to take help from the web. But that is a wrong way of thinking. Today the demand for information is more than ever before.” Providing a logical stance, Anam said that the reason the newspapers are in trouble is because it is the journalists who have abandoned the newspaper and have lost confidence in it. “We feel the future is jeopardized due to digital but it is because we have abandoned the newspaper ourselves that we are facing this issue. The US is a classic example of what the publishers of today should not be doing. They have trivialized content and neglected the readers.”

Martim Figueiredo of Portugal provided an impressive view of his just-launched paper ‘i’ that is creating quite a stir, especially in the online world. “I am gladdened to know that there is a bright future for newspapers as elaborated in the panel here today. The intent of launching í’ is because we want to become a brand-based operation by 2014 and we feel that ‘newspaper as a medium has the power that is high on brand salience. With the new approach and look of the paper, we have managed to attract almost 23 per cent new vendors who didn’t care about newspapers at all,” he said. The focus now is to harness the internet to further increase its salience with the users, he said.

Xavier summed up the session by saying, “We need to get back to the basics of being a traditional newspaper. I think we have abandoned our readers and we are not able to give them what they are demanding – instantaneous flow of reports on a 24x7 basis. The future lies in catering to this aspect of the trade.”


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