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Edit Page: Gone with the winds of change?

07-February-2011
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Edit Page: Gone with the winds of change?

The announcement by Daily News & Analysis, better known as DNA, that it would no longer have an edit page took many by surprise, and left several industrywallahs shocked. IMPACT magazine felt it warranted discussion, and organised a roundtable on the issue at the Press Club in Mumbai, on February 3, 2011.

Aspects of the edit page – from its importance, its readers’ connect and its marketing value to the changes that it could go through, were tackled in the well-rounded discussion. The panelists who participated were Aditya Sinha, Editor-in-Chief, DNA; Aroon Tikekar, veteran Editor and historian; Bharat Kapadia, Director, Lokmat Newspapers; Ajay Kakar, Chief Marketing Officer – Financial Services, Aditya Birla Group; columnist Ranjona Banerji; and Divya Radhakrishnan, President, TME.

Aditya Sinha confessed that when he had first joined DNA, he found that the paper lacked a distinct identity, and this made him think. As the paper itself includes “analysis” in the name, he said, it called for more of it, and the paper’s new move only takes that to the micro level by having comment and opinion on different relevant pages instead of clustered together on a single page, which he felt was a mechanical approach and ended up being a limitation.

Sinha also said that the stature of writers needed to be taken into account. In the light of damaged credibility, journalists needed to take a step back, get off their high horse and give space to expert comment, he added. “If journos themselves don’t respect sanctity, how can we talk about the sanctity of the edit page?,” Sinha asked.

Aroon Tikekar, while remarking that DNA and Sinha should be congratulated for its bold and revolutionary move, also strongly pointed out that the editor was the “face” of the paper and was bound to take a stand as he or she served an important social function. The editorial and the edit page, even if read by a minuscule percentage of readers, had sanctity, he insisted, “because those are the people who count”. He further said that there were three important aspects to a newspaper and added that newspapers unnecessarily competed with television channels, when instead they needed to be vehicles of social change.

Bharat Kapadia pointed out the “pathetic” condition of the edit page in some language newspapers, wherein the edit is not written by the editor himself, but outsourced. “It is like a sixth finger,” he said, which was there, but didn’t know what role it played. He observed that most popular newspapers had not seen change in years, thus losing the relevance of the edit page with the availability of opinions everywhere else.

Bringing a marketing perspective to the issue, Ajay Kakkar explained that since the edit page did not have a rate card to it, its pull value could not be gauged. He remarked, “The king is dead, long live the king,” and observed that we were emotionally attached to the editorial page, when in reality one might not have missed its absence if it had not been announced. “In this new world of speed, we will have the editorial as a point of view in different spaces,” he said, adding, “but if the editorial point of view dies out, then yes – the newspaper will die.”

Before satellite television, a media buyer was considered smart to buy the front page, the back page and the op-ed, which was then charged at a premium, said Divya Radhakrishnan, especially in newspapers which had a strong edit. She further said, “If you want to follow standpoint, today every editor is on Twitter”, and one didn’t have to wait for their opinions in their respective papers the following day.

Ranjona Banerji said that when the edit page was introduced in Mid-Day, the paper had gained credibility and weight, and readers began taking it more seriously. The edit page told readers where to go to find comment and opinion, she said and remarked that the edit might not be relevant to people every day, “but there are times when that voice is vital”.

Journalist Naresh Fernandes, who was in the audience, remarked that the edit page gave room for honing the craft of writing, and some of the best reading could be found on the editorial and opinion pages of the world’s newspapers.

Also contributing their points of view via email were Mid-Day’s Tariq Ansari and veteran journalist and editor Sidharth Bhatia.

Tariq Ansari said, “The editorial page is an important device so that newspapers can signal clearly to their readers the difference between news and views. At a time when the line between the two is being blurred, if a newspaper dispenses with its editorial page, the temptation to editorialise in the news columns needs to be resisted through an alternate device such as Times View, which is a clearly flagged opinion space.”

Sidharth Bhatia stated, “News and information can now come to you in an instant on a variety of media, ranging from television and radio to handheld devices. But there is growing consensus that readers will demand cogent and well-thought-out analysis on issues. A newspaper’s stand on these issues helps clarify people’s opinions and distinguishes one paper from the other.”

He also remarked, “Not every issue is an earth-shattering one which demands front page edits. Often a local subject needs commenting upon. An edit page serves that purpose.” However, carrying analysis scattered along with news could confuse the reader, he said.

Although no consensus as such was reached at the discussion, which was moderated by exchange4media Group Chief Editor Pradyuman Maheshwari, it was agreed that the move by DNA and its Editor had been a bold and brave experiment. Aroon Tikekar quipped that DNA might well see the return of its edit page, while Aditya Sinha said that a newspaper had to evolve to keep up with rapid changes, and there were factors that forced it to evolve.

Whether the absence of a demarcated edit page will make a difference is for DNA’s readers to say. Until then, the debate continues.

Also read:
DNA drops its edit page; scribes react sharply

 

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