India slowly warming up to the idea of news on an iPad

How can the old media challenge the new media?

What began as just a simple way to track down high-school friends and stay social,  is today forcing change upon an industry that has to-date largely resisted it. Traditional media is experiencing the perfect storm of declining circulations, collapsing advertising revenues and erratic changes in the way news is produced and consumed. In 2010, newspaper circulation declined by 9 million worldwide, the worst off being America, with a 12% decline in readers and a nosedive in advertising revenues.

In India however, newspaper readership has shown a steady 4% increase when compared to 2010. English dailies like the Times of India and Hindustan Times have shown greater circulation, whilst regional dailies like Dainik Jagran and Dainik Bhaskar continue to outsell any other publication, in some cases by almost double. So while the rest of the world plays ‘paper toss’ on their iPhones, how is it that India’s media industry is still playing hard to get (online, that is)?

There are two main reasons for this.

The first – as rapidly developing a country as we are, and taking nothing away from the success of Akash II, a majority of India still believes a ‘tablet’ is nothing more than a prescribed cure. Oblivious to the concepts of instant updates, touch screen devices or the internet for that matter, nearly 40% (approximately 40 million people) of our population don’t have access to these facilities. The thought of having them read headlines, contribute to opinion polls, and voice their views on the internet, then becomes rather impossible. These are the households that still rely on regional dailies, radios and in the remotest cases – word of mouth news. Out of the remaining 60% of India’s population, only half have the resources and tech smarts that go with keeping up to date with global affairs, online.

The second – Indian news organisations are only just beginning to adapt their businesses to extend regular reports with blogs, videos, Twitter and Facebook feeds, comments and community inputs. For editors, journalists and readers, the problem has been that the nature of news and the relationship between the producers and consumers has fundamentally changed. News is no longer produced for a passive audience to consume. Nearly 40% of internet users are responsible for the creation of news, commented on it or shared it with others.  Involvement needs to move beyond just, views, opinion polls and feedback. For example, The Guardian recently started an experiment where it has made public its newslists, the articles and events that journalists are covering and working on. They then have a blog site, where community writers can contribute blog articles.

Another example is Al Jazeera. Probably the leader in its use of technology and social media to report, interact and incorporate content with and from the public; the organisation utilised live blogs to report on rapidly changing events such as the Egyptian protests. The massive media house also uses Flickr to share images and Twitter to monitor feedback, that in turn determines what to report and to help shape stories that are breaking.

According to the Indian Readership Survey 2011, internet consumption for the purpose of media is up by 36% as compared to last year. From the diminishing 2.3 billion worldwide, who wake up each morning only to mull over the details of yesterday’s happenings while sipping their coffee; to the burgeoning 1.9 billion, who even before their morning stretch have rolled over and thumbed through the latest news from around the world, on their iPads or mobile phones, in a matter of minutes. It has come as no sudden surprise that daily news consumption patterns have changed with the arrival of social media and access to the internet. For India too, it is only a matter of time.

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