On issues that matter …

The business of journalism October 18, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — srirekha @ 11:08 pm
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It was early ‘90s… I was still a rookie reporter at the local eveninger, Mid Day Publications. The editorial offices were shared by the group’s older weekly publication – Sports Week. Week after week I would see how the entire team worked hard, while not necessarily compromising on fun, to bring out the magazine. It was known the magazine was struggling against competition, but not many in the editorial foresaw its demise. So, after 25 years of publication, the management decided to close it. I remember the day it was announced… although still new in the field, I learnt a hard truth – the best of journalistic talent was of no value without the patronage of advertisers.

Years later, working with India Post, an Indian American publication in New York, I saw how a single incident – the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks – changed overnight the fortunes of the well circulated weekly newspaper. A drastic fall in advertisements that followed the uncertainty in the days that followed, never managed to pick up again and some ten years of desperate struggle to keep the paper in print later, the management dropped the hard copy and went digital.

It wasn’t easy telling people that we had stopped printing. It wasn’t easy, accepting the fact that print journalism could be dying.

Gradually, however, in the last year or so, perceptions began changing with the proliferation of online publications and more importantly, major national American newspapers bringing out digital editions themselves. Suddenly it wasn’t embarrassing anymore to say we are only an online edition.

Still, it wasn’t without a twinge of shock and pain that I read the news this evening that the iconic News Week, after more than 80 years of being in circulation will not be printed anymore. Beginning 2013, it will be available only in its digital avatar.

The reason for News Week’s demise is the same old story – fallen advertisement revenues.

So, as one who has in the last five years seen some of the biggest American newspapers desperately hanging on to their printed versions against the onslaught of virtual media, it is beyond irony for me to find print media thriving in India.

An old school, die hard print journalist that I am, I should be happy, right? Wrong. And that’s where the irony thickens. Yes, print media in India is thriving, not because good journalism is catalyzing a more literate society, but because advertising is booming in an open economy.

Newspapers here are now weaving news around advertisements and advertisements take precedence over the front pages. Journalists are mere space fillers while space sellers are editorial policy makers.

Undeniably, publishers in India have realized with a visionary philosophy, the mantra for running a successful newspaper. The mantra? It’s business, idiot, not journalism.

Srirekha Chakravarty