Digital Transition in Newspapers in India: A Pilot Study

Posted by Zeenab Aneez at Jul 19, 2016 12:35 PM |
This pilot study situates itself at the intersection of global trends in news and journalism, and emergent practises of legacy print media in India. Our aim is to explore how legacy print newspapers are transitioning to the online space. The study will address questions in two thematic clusters: 1) the work of journalism, and 2) how the emergence of the digital, both as a source of news, and the medium of distribution, is shaping the work of newspaper journalists.

 

Introduction

This pilot study situates itself at the intersection of global trends in news and journalism, and emergent practises of legacy print media in India. Our aim is to explore how legacy print newspapers are transitioning to the online space. The study will address questions in two thematic clusters: 1) the work of journalism, and 2) how the emergence of the digital, both as a source of news, and the medium of distribution, is shaping the work of newspaper journalists, which has expanded to include various functions particular to the digital environment. And two, newsroom practices, which focus on the different modalities of convergence emerging in Indian newsrooms, and the organisational re-engineering that is being attempted in order to do journalism in a space where professional editors and journalists no longer have dominance with respect to the production and distribution of content.

 

News Culture in Transition

The influx of digital technology combined with advancements in the field of telecommunications has had a disruptive effect on the global news industry. This year’s World Press Trends survey, released last month, reports that at least 40 per cent of global internet users read newspapers online and that in most developed countries, readership on digital platforms has surpassed that in print(WAN-INFRA, 2016). However, while revenue from print is said to be declining, it still makes up for more than 92 per cent of all newspapers revenues. At the same time, circulation increased by 4.9 per cent globally, mostly owing to the 7.8 per cent growth in numbers from India, China and other parts of Asia which made up 62% of the global average daily print unit circulation in 2015. This growth, the report suggests, is a function of low prices and expanding literacy in these markets.

While newspapers are a thriving industry in India, newspaper organisations and journalists are adopting new technology in order to remain relevant in a fast changing environment (Chattopadhyay 2012, Panda 2014). One one hand, they are swept up in the disruptive shifts in the global media economy, while on the other, they are in a unique position to convert this disruption into an opportunity.

The WPT report also notes, perhaps to the relief of those struggling to find a sustainable revenue model for digital news, that revenue from paid digital circulation has increased 30 per cent in 2015 and that one in five readers from the countries studied are willing to pay for online news. Revenue from digital advertising on the other hand, is growing at the slower pace of 7.3 per cent.

The report points out that there is a huge opportunity in mobile growth, with more than 70 per cent of readers in countries like USA, UK, Australia and Canada reading newspapers via a mobile device. Similar trends can be seen in India, as internet usage here is increasingly shaped by mobile growth (Google India Report, 2015). The fact that many digital-born news sites are adopting a mobile-first strategy (Sen and Nielsen, 2016) reflects this. More recently, Hindustan Times has hired a mobile editor to build a team of over 700 journalists specialising in mobile journalism.

Earlier this year the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism released a report on digital news start-ups in India (Sen and Nielsen, 2016), which explores how digital-born news start-ups are developing new editorial priorities, funding models and distribution strategies for news in the Indian digital media market. The study, which included observing the practices of The Quint, Scroll, The Wire, Khabar Lahariya, Daily Hunt and InShorts, concluded that India was not short of noteworthy experiments in journalism and online news. It also found that more news publishers are adopting mobile-first approaches, given that internet use in India is increasingly through mobile devices. More relevant to this study, the report established that social media has emerged as a tool for distribution and also stated that digital news start-ups are turning their focus to Hindi and local language content, in order to serve new audiences.

 

Studying the Effects of Convergence

Their digital transition can be witnessed on two counts: publishing with digital and publishing for digital. The first involves a shift towards using the digital in the process of sourcing and publishing news. Workflow is managed by advanced content management systems, news articles contain multimedia and interactivity that require technical expertise, and the web and social media are increasingly becoming a reliable source of primary and secondary information for journalists. Second, publishing for the highly competitive comes with it’s own challenges. Distribution and consumption of news is increasingly being carried out on digital platforms, fostering a culture of interdependence that impacts news providers in previously unforeseen ways. As the decision to prioritise their digital products take hold, newsrooms themselves evolve to contain a diverse range of skill and expertise.

According to the 2015 Trends in Newsroom report, editors and senior reporters in newsrooms across the globe are experimenting with new ways of storytelling using podcasts, chat apps, automation, virtual reality and gamification, as well as dealing with new challenges with respect to source protection in the face of increased surveillance and intermediaries like Facebook and Google and reporting on culturally sensitive subjects(World Editors Forum, 2015).

The dynamics of these shifts in different countries may be shaped by several factors including the availability of human and financial resources, and pace of adoption of new technologies by the readers. In markets like Japan, complexities of the existing newspaper trade in the country act as a deterrent to technological change (Villi and Hayashi, 2014). Given the pace at which the media ecology of the web evolves; this transition is an ongoing process characterised by experiments in business, marketing and editorial strategies. A good example of such an experiment is last week’s decision by leading Indian newspapers, to make their content unavailable to those consumers who had ad-blocking software installed.

Such a shift also demands that we ask new questions of news in journalism. In his paper on studying computational and algorithmic journalism, C. W. Anderson tackles how sociologists and media scholars can frame inquiries related to journalism, given its computational turn (Anderson, 2012). He suggests using the added lens of ‘technology’ and ‘institutions and fields’ to Michael Schudson’s (Schudson, 2010) typology on the sociology of news which approaches the study of news from economic, political, cultural and organisational approaches. While most of these are self-explanatory, by institutions and fields, he refers to the ‘field of journalism’ as a whole and the different actors that shape it. This frame will examine the cultural power struggles that occur within the field and the way these struggles shape newsroom practises and news content (Anderson, 2012). Anderson adds that it is imperative to understand that the dynamics of the field of journalism are closely connected to nearby fields which now include computer science, web development and digital advertising.

We adopted a similar approach for our study. We began our inquiry by asking questions about how the emergence of digital technologies and the Internet are changing the process of producing news and how news organisations are rising up to the challenges posed by the digital space: what technologies and software are being used in the production and distribution of news in India, how are these technologies and softwares influencing the process of news production and distribution, how are the everyday practices and roles with respect to journalistic and editorial work transforming with their transition to digital, how do media agencies conceptualise and measure online viewership, and how do these metrics impact journalistic and editorial practices.

These questions led us to explore how leading legacy print newspapers across three language markets - English, Hindi and Malayalam - are making the transition from producing news stories exclusively for print to producing multimedia stories for the highly competitive and and diverse media ecology of the web.

 

Research Plan

As already mentioned, the study is divided into two thematic clusters: work of journalism and newsroom practises.

The former will include asking questions related to strategies and skills of information gathering and validation, methods and tools of communicating a news story in an online-first (or simultaneously print and online) environment, personal engagements with audiences via social media websites, new methods of performance assessment and sources and practices of learning and capacity building.

The latter will explore how choice/emphasis of content and reportage is being re-shaped by the digital environment by inquiring into changes in editorial responsibilities, dynamics of decision making, news-making workflows, technical diversity of the work force, and interaction between news producers within an increasingly convergent newsroom.

This being a pilot study, we will conduct intensive interviews with journalists, editors, and management personnel associated with one newspaper in each language market: 1) Hindustan Times in English, 2) Dainik Jagran in Hindi, and 3) Malayala Manorama in Malayalam. We selected these three languages due to their large market sizes and geographic distribution, and selected the newspapers for either their pioneering efforts in adopting digital technologies, or their dominant position in terms of circulation.

The research team includes Zeenab Aneez and Sumandro Chattapadhyay from CIS, and RISJ Director of Research Rasmus Kleis Nielsen. Vibodh Parthasarathi from CCMG, Jamia Millia Islamia, will contribute to the study as an advisor.

 

References

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