Newspapers asked to evolve revenue model without compromising on mission

Debate at Annual Press Freedom Round Table centred on revenue-content divide
— Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

(Left to right) Chris Elliott, Managing Editor, The Guardian, United Kingdom, Najam Sethi, Editor-in-Chief, Friday Times and Daily Times, Pakistan, with Sasa Vucinic, Managing Director of Media Development Loan Fund, during the 62nd World Newspaper Congress and WAN-IFRA Annual General Meeting in Hyderabad on Monday. HYDERABAD: As the print medium faces a steep decline in advertisement revenue in the wake of the economic slowdown, the debate over whether business interests or editorial content should dominate the content in newspapers continues to take centre-stage. The issue — which formed the core of the Annual Press Freedom Round Table on the theme “Free Press: what good is a mission without a business?” — evoked a lively discussion at the 62nd World Newspaper Congress that began here on Monday. Though the discussion was centred on the way governments in different countries were creating obstacles to the freedom of the press, speakers were united in supporting a model that enabled profitability of the organisation without deviating from the mission of a free press. The nearly four-hour discussion featured this year’s Golden Pen of Freedom award winner Najam Sethi of Pakistan, managing editor of The Guardian Chris Elliott, chairman of the Board of Mail & Guardian, South Africa, Trevor Ncube, publisher of El Periodico, Guatemala, Joze Ruben Zamora, CEO of Krestyanin, Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Irina Samokhina, and Moroccobased Tel Quel and Nichane publisher Ahmed Benchemsi.Mr. Ncube asserted that the biggest defence to press freedom was profitable media, as “that bottom line is what defends you.” A weak media, according to him, was susceptible to corruption and the government’s pressure, and “we also need an environment where publishers don’t have influence on editors.” Favouring a coherent commercial strategy in the light of increasing costs and the steep decline in advertisement revenue vis-À-vis the cover price, Mr. Elliott said the relation of press freedom with business strategy was like tectonic activity, rubbing between the plates, and that the two should go hand-in-hand.

Mr. Benchemsi, whose presentation in a lighter vein drew applause from the audience, explained how his publication worked as a revealing media rather than a combating one. “We do risk measurement every week. We keep writing about powerful people, but simultaneously publish their best photographs so that they don’t bother about what is written inside,” he said, throwing the participants into peals of laughter. Mr. Sethi explained that though there was little censorship in Pakistan and the media was relatively free, the main stream media had no problems with heady concoctions like religious nationalism and the rise of political jihad. “In addition, there is no sense of responsibility, which is resulting in negative consequences of press freedom which is unintended,” he said. Mr. Zamora described how he had been consistently harassed by the military for championing free press in his country and the attacks that were made against him. “My children left the country and I don’t want them to return.”

New media platforms hold out big promise for newspapers to grow
G. Ananthakrishnan

HYDERABAD: Using the mobile platform to expand audiences and connecting with readers using social media such as Twitter, Facebook and even custom-built tools are important methods for newspapers to grow, speakers at the annual Digital Media Round Table of WAN-IFRA, the global organisation of newspapers and news publishers, said here on Monday. Data from developed markets showed that the compounded annual growth rate for advertising on mobile phones was projected to be sharply higher than the rate for the Internet between 2008-12 in the United States and Japan. Surveys also showed that areas such as mobile TV and gaming would experience robust growth, Martha Stone, director, ‘Shaping the future of the newspaper project-USA,’ said. The Round Table was held in connection with the 62nd World Newspaper Congress and the 16th World Editors Forum organised here. Ms. Stone said the opportunity to exploit the mobile platform was before the newspaper industry, which should not “blow it.” Already, a failure to be aggressive in the early days of the Internet had handed over the advantage to non-newspaper companies, she added. Newspaper companies in Europe, Japan and the U.S. were leveraging the power of the mobile to connect with audiences. They used Quick Response codes to lead readers from print to extended or new content on mobile phones, both in news and advertising (QR codes are two dimensional matrix codes that camera phones with specific software can read and automatically direct the user to content on mobile browsers). A report in a newspaper, for example, could be printed with the QR code, and readers could scan it with mobile phones to access extended coverage.

It was also significant that while mobile growth had shown saturation in the European markets, there was slow saturation in the developing Asian economies and North Africa. The growing power of social networking was evident from the time spent by audiences on sites such as Facebook. In Australia, for instance, three million people spend, on an average, 22 minutes a day on Facebook, Professor Stephen Quinn, Associate Professor, Deakin University, Australia, told the audience. The time spent on social networking sites was growing three times faster than that spent on the Internet and represented a strong channel to connect with audiences. The question before newspapers was “How do we pay for journalism?” and the answer lay in finding an appropriate model suited to the particular publication. In some cases, newspapers preferred to develop their own social networking tools. Highlighting the initiative of the A-Pressen group in Norway, its executive vice-president Are Stokstad said it had created Origo, a tool that helped audiences connect with the newspaper, and in turn strengthened both relevance and content in print and online publications. Narrating the way a story grew, he said it originated as a complaint posted on Origo by a woman in a remote community about boisterous youth parties in her neighbourhood. A single post snowballed into a major discussion that was ultimately highlighted on the front page of a group newspaper, engaging the entire community. Origo, which connects users of Twitter and Facebook as well, “now strengthens print and online,” Mr. Stokstad said, adding, “the most successful newspapers are those that are relevant to their audiences.” As an illustration, he pointed out that 3,000 pages of the newspaper’s publications this year came from content generated through social networking, and that volume was expected to be 30,000 next year. The decision to build a custom application for social networking that was fully within the control of the publishing house was taken to avoid “Facebook becoming the new Google,” Mr. Stokstad added. The trends in multimedia publication require newsrooms to prepare for change. RIA Novosti of Russia found that the share of videos and infographics in content consumption was higher than their share among the products produced. There was a clear demand for standalone infographics, and the English website of the international news provider was preparing to launch a full-fledged infographics section. Newspapers had a lot to gain by training staff to meet the demand for multimedia products, RIA Novosti director Valerie Levechenko said. In the final analysis, the goal before media organisations was to use the various media — mobile, online, broadcast and print — to communicate with audiences. Presenting options for newspapers to change their workflow to meet the evolving requirements, WAN-IFRA Director Dietmar Schantin proposed a ‘4.0’ concept — one that would create audience-targeted newsrooms.

‘Entrepreneurial journalists on a par with traditional media’

G. Ananthakrishnan
— Photo: Mohammed Yousuf

Bharat Gupta of Dainik Jagran, speaking on “Newspapers: Multi-media, growth business,” during the third session at the 62nd World Newspaper Congress, 16th World Editors Forum and Info Services Expo 2009 held in Hyderabad on Wednesday. Hyderabad: Journalists who have made the transition to independent online publishing measure themselves against the same professional bar that print journalists do, and are equally differentiated as credible sources in much the same way as newspapers are. Only, the traditional media were holding them to a higher standard than its own, members of a panel discussion at the ongoing 16th World Editors Forum of WAN-IFRA here argued. If anything, some sections of the traditional media had blurred the line between editorial integrity and commercial considerations, which was reflected clearly in their publications. Journalists, the panel members noted, were by nature sceptical, questioning, willing to promote themselves and capable of viewing things after taking a step back – qualities that made them successful entrepreneurs if they chose to go into online publishing. However, such independent journalism was not to be confused with “poolside entrepreneurship and blogging from the bedroom,” said Rafat Ali, editor of, the entrepreneurial journalism website that was acquired by the Guardian group. It involved the same rigour, the “blood, sweat and tears,” 24x7 schedules, and the readiness to “burn the candle at both ends and in the middle.” The loss of journalism jobs in the developed world was permanent, and these were unlikely to return when the economic downturn was reversed. Professionals should, therefore, use the low cost of tools and launch themselves online, said Mr. Ali. The situation, however, was different in the developing world, which was relatively unaffected by “byline Darwinism.” One of the panellists, Sanjay Gupta, editor of Jagran Prakashan, pointed out that such concerns were less relevant to India, where low print media penetration,

rising literacy, low Internet access and slow growth of bandwidth all provided scope for the continued growth of print. However, the Internet was creating a new segment of young readers. The panel members, who included Olivier Creiche, vice-president of Six Apart (providers of low-cost, enterprise-grade social media platforms for leading news companies), and Frederic Filloux, editor, Schibsted International, traced the trends that were helping people promote themselves online, and the need for institutions offering journalism education to train students in exploiting emerging opportunities. Students keen to make their online personality noticed would invariably have a domain name, a blog, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, have posted professional material on the web, commented seriously on blogs, and made a downloadable resume available.

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