Sometime in the latter half of the 90s, newspaper offices in India began to wake up to the reality of a new department and platform that needed to be created. Today, this department has become integral to a newspaper’s operations as it carries breaking stories – at any part of the day.
The growth of cyberspace made most papers realise the need to be web savvy. For a long time, the Internet was just an add-on to a newspaper’s resources, the web version simply carrying the print version’s content. That is slowly changing, with e-papers enabling the entire paper to be uploaded and thereby increasing the challenge of creating exclusive content.
Most media organisations have realised that “the consumer has become more demanding,” and that a morning daily cannot function on a single deadline. “It’s not just an advantage anymore; the web and new media have become necessities for a paper,” said Govindraj Ethiraj, Business Standard’s New Media Editor. “We have brought out integration in terms of editorial functions. Today stories are consistently sent to me in one mailbox -- everyone is breaking news as it happens. In turn, we release it on the mobile, Internet, and finally in print.”
Challenge of meeting consumer demand
BS (www.business-standard.com) makes 70 per cent of the content common to all mediums -- print, Internet and mobile. Around 10-20 per cent content is exclusive for the morning print edition and another 10-20 per cent is exclusive to the web. “Some stories are specially saved for print, which are anyway uploaded on the site later. Some stories are breaking news, which the web team does exclusively,” said Ethiraj.
DNA launched its website a month after the paper hit the stands in Mumbai. Anthony D’Costa, Editor Online, www.dnaindia.com, said that while initially only print stories were uploaded, innovations on the site were introduced later. “We have options like voting for favourite films and we link to blogs on topical issues,” said D’Costa.
Perhaps the first starter in taking to the web route is The Times of India Group. Its portals, which include Indiatimes (www.indiatimes.com), timesofindioa.com and economictimes.com, try to balance local and international content together with sections on industry, business, markets, infotech, health, science and entertainment.
New revenue streams
Even as most depend on advertising, some are hopeful subscription could work. “The total cost of subscriptions online cost almost as much as newspaper bills. I think people are willing to pay money. A good idea could be to make exclusive content paid and routine news free, like the New York Times (nytimes.com) does,” said Ethiraj.
On its part, Indian Express has been exploring the option of selling content; their stories are purchased by other websites. The Times Group has some revenue coming from subscription services like premium email, but ads still remain a dominant source of income.
D’Costa said that DNA might decide to go for subscription in the future and that it could work with the current popularity of online reading. “Right now ads are a major source of revenue for us. While our website is free on most days, the archives are paid for. The feeling of holding the paper in your hand is a habit we still have, but people will pay for the web edition as it is indispensable for breaking news. The details however are kept for the print edition next day.”
Media is becoming holistic
There is also a realisation that a mix of technologies can provide the same content in different ways, as no medium can be an island. BS has the facility of videos being uploaded for special stories. “Some videos are outsourced, whereas some are shot by an internal team. The challenge of being seen on the web through video for a BS, which is essentially a print publication, is the same as that of a CNN, whose challenge is of creating text articles and being read on the Internet,” said Ethiraj.
The Times portals include audio-video content and webcasts, SMS alerts and there are plan to start mailers too.
The advantage of feedback
Dinesh Wadhawan, MD & CEO, Times Internet Limited, feels that the web provides opportunities to go beyond merely publishing a story. “Only 20 per cent of the web content is taken from print. The online ambience provides better width and scope to link the main story to its background, events and players that lead to the story and user comments. And the way popular opinion is shaping the web makes interesting reading too. We aggregate stories on similar subjects in one section so readers don’t have to search all over the place.”
D’Costa says that feedback on the web is a great advantage. “People have written to DNA asking for editions in Pune, Bangalore, Singapore, and USA,” he informed.
All attempts to reach The Hindustan Times failed. HT was unable to respond in spite of repeated attempts to contact them.
Even though most people in the industry are dissatisfied with the development of newspaper websites, there seems to be a transition phase. The role of newspapers is changing and new media technologies are becoming inevitable to any news organisation.
(To be continued)