Print keeps the show going in Kerala despite lockdown & COVID-19 misinformation

Thanks to concerted efforts from the government & publishing houses, newspaper distribution in Kerala has emerged unscathed, unlike in the rest of the country

e4m by Simran Sabherwal
Published: Apr 22, 2020 8:34 AM  | 4 min read

The country-wide lockdown, which started on March 24 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, disrupted the printing and distribution of newspapers across the nation for a few days. However, the Kerala market was an exception where the newspaper distribution continued seamlessly as usual without any interruption. It is not just the regional giants but also the other dailies, including English papers that have not faced any delivery issues in the state. On the other hand, even though newspaper circulation has resumed in other parts of the country, distribution is still at about 75-90%.

A key reason for this was the concerted effort by the newspapers and the government to stop the spread of false news and misinformation that newspapers might be a carrier of COVID-19. On their part, all newspapers also created videos to spread the work. 

Says M V Shreyams Kumar, the Managing Director, Mathrubhumi Group says, “We also took a strategic approach to raise public awareness. We produced a video, which depicts our efforts in the hygienic production of the paper. The video showcases the hands-free, automated process of printing, sanitised wrapping and bundling. We are also following strict protocol in the distribution of our newspapers. The entire transportation and handling, right up to the newspaper distribution, is done in fumigated trucks with masked and gloved handlers.”

M V Shreyams Kumar, the Managing Director, Mathrubhumi Group

In addition to an awareness campaign, Malayala Manorama also ensured that it went to print a couple of hours earlier so that any distribution hurdles could be sorted out.

Adds Varghese Chandy, VP, Marketing, Advertising Sales, Malayala Manorama, “The Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan clearly said that the newspaper distribution will not be affected and that the virus does not spread through the newspaper as precautions have been till the last mile. With a lot of fake news going around, people look to the newspaper for news as the credibility of the newspaper is strong. They believe information from credible sources,   And in Kerala, people believe in the printed word and take it as the last word”.

On its part, The Indian Newspaper Society also pitched in. “The efforts taken by the INS Kerala committee, which simultaneously launched a campaign releasing a print ad in all Malayalam newspapers affirming its commitment to fighting fake news is also commendable. It played a crucial role in making the public aware of the same,” says Kumar.

Message to the Advertiser

 The biggest impact of the pandemic on the media industry has been on advertising, with the print media, in particular, being severely hit. It has been estimated that print advertising has seen a fall of over 90% and Kerala is no exception. However, there have been some categories of advertisers, such as online education portals, hand sanitizers, BFSI – financials, banks & insurance – Government ads, who continue to advertise. In addition, many brands have resorted to coronavirus related advertising.    

Kumar says, “The safe and regular distribution of newspapers in Kerala has not really made much impact as most of the businesses of our advertisers have been affected due to this pandemic. The FMCG, automobile, retail sector would need a great push to revive the businesses. It would take a fair amount of time for the entire print media industry to get back on track and would need efforts to be put at all fronts, which include owners, employees, Government and supporting bodies etc. “

With the cases of coronavirus decreasing in Kerala, Chandy is optimistic that some districts in Kerala will be among the first to be declared as green zone by the Government. This could possibly mean that even though the first positive case was diagnosed in Kerala, the State will probably be one of the first to reopen.

As per Chandy: “The reach of a newspaper in Kerala is higher than any other medium and continues to be a strong medium. However, with many industries at a standstill, we want to say that whenever the advertiser is ready to advertise, Kerala is also ready as the medium is ready. Whenever the industry is ready, Kerala should perhaps be one of the first states they should focus on and their reach objectives will definitely be met by the newspaper media.”

He adds, “A big problem is that the perception of people in other cities is that if I don’t get my newspaper, it would be the same elsewhere. However, the story is totally different in Kerala. My message to the advertisers in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, etc. is do not compare your metros with Kerala as Kerala is so different. The distribution of newspaper in Kerala has not been affected and is close to 100%.”

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