We want to be known as the voice of South India: Vignesh Vellore, The News Minute

Vignesh Vellore, Co-Founder, The News Minute, speaks about their unique brand positioning, the future of digital media and getting into the vernacular news space

e4m by Neethu Mohan
Updated: Jun 17, 2019 8:55 AM
Vignesh Vellore

The News Minute (TNM) - the digital news platform gives specific focus to the five southern states of India. Founded in 2014, TNM’s core strengths include their deep access in the southern states and within a short span of time, they were able to put South India in the national narrative.

Vignesh Vellore, Co-Founder, The News Minute, spoke about TNM’s unique brand positioning, the future of digital media, getting into the vernacular news space and more.

On growth and positioning

The most important factor that led to our growth is our unique positioning. We started our journey as a news aggregator from South India and we curated individual content from different websites. After some point, we started publishing our own content because we found that there was a lot of newsworthy content from South India which was not finding its way to news websites. In 2014, we got a break where we did a fact check on a news article which said that an individual was felicitated by NASA. The News Minute (TNM) cross-checked the facts by even reaching out officials at NASA and found out that it was fake news and that helped us in grabbing eyeballs. We slowly started getting discovered by readers for the content we were writing.

The News Minute stand by the principle that we must be cent per cent sure before publishing a news article. Yes, we have also made mistakes, but we don’t want to get into the breaking news game at all. TNM has consciously taken a decision that we will not expand to the northern states as we believe that there is a complete model for credible news from South India in English which covers the five states.

TNM is the only news website in the country which has 40 per cent women audience. We have been able to take advantage of journalism which is stuck to Mumbai and Delhi. We are reporting for South of India from South of India with cultural sensitiveness. In the last 5 years, we have been able to put South India in the national narrative.

Getting into the vernacular space

From a long-run perspective, we always wanted to get into the vernacular space. We have not been able to penetrate the level we want to in terms of rural audience. TNM has been able to make inroads into Tier 2 and Tier 3 audiences, but rural is a long way to go.

TNM wants to enter the vernacular space, but we have a lot of financial constraints for that. In the past, we were translating our articles into Malayalam and Tamil to see how the vernacular content works. But, we were not able to get the actual context of what has to be published. South India has 4 languages and 5 different states, putting together a team of that size is a tough task and at this point, from a business perspective, it doesn’t make much sense. If we can secure some funding in the future, definitely we would make an entry into the vernacular space. We want to be known as the voice of South India.

Subscription based model journalism

From an Indian perspective, we are not used to paying for news articles. I don’t think you can go to an individual and expect him to pay based on the fact that ‘my content is king’, even if I am capable of breaking the story first, in the next ten minutes there is another website which will carry the same news. TNM going behind that kind of paywall doesn’t make sense from the reader’s perspective. I believe it is not a scalable model at this point in time.

Native content and authentic storytelling

When we started The News Minute we didn’t think much on the revenue perspective, we were keen on reaching out to more readers and scale up in terms of website traffic and readers reach. When we started hitting relevant numbers the focus was on native content. A few years ago, I read an article in The New York Times, a series of articles which depicted the life of women in prison. At the end of the series, it was revealed that the articles were written for Netflix to inform the readers about their new web series ‘Orange is the New Black’. It is a phenomenal piece of work.

In India, the native content has not scaled to that point. From a native perspective, good storytelling is very important. If you can grip a reader and look beyond the fact that you are trying to sell him something by bringing in the narratives as much as possible. I believe it will work but will take some time in terms of convincing people.

Print vs. Digital media

There are big brands which operate from the print perspective and that is not going to wither any time soon.

According to reports, Internet users in the country have exceeded half a billion and around 85 billion English reading consumers are in the country. At some point, these numbers will grow. The barriers of entry into the digital space are zero. As long as these barriers are untouched, then digital media will grow.

For the next ten years, I don’t see anything that Print media will do apart from taking away the advertising money from the digital space. But, the distribution of advertising is also splitting between Television and Digital, a lot of people are not consuming news on Television anymore. They are viewing it on mobile sets; technology is growing, people are willing to download various apps.

There will not be any overlap as such, until and unless legacy media decides one day that print is not the way forward and push all their money into digital space. I think that is when the change will happen.

What's next for TNM?

We have built our traffic and that is going to grow. The focus for the last one and half years has been on the revenue aspect. TNM is trying to attain financial stability and that is going to happen in the next 18-20 months.

We would like to focus more on video content, and associating with OTT platforms are also one of our focus areas.

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