Saturday, May 28, 2016

Catering to the young and the old, in an effort to forge lasting bonds

It is interesting to read on the NiemanLab website that The New York Times (NYT) is taking its expertise and access to the classroom. The article by Ricardo Bilton says “the dual challenges of sinking print readership and contracting digital ad revenue are forcing legacy publishers to ponder new ways of making money”. NYT seems to have found a new way by opening a summer camp. Bilton says a few hundred high school students will spend a couple of weeks at the NYC Summar Academy this summer to get through “a set of courses designed to give students a comprehensive, cross-sectional look at some of the big areas within the Times’ wheelhouse”. Some of the courses offered include Sports Management and Media, Writing for Television: Inside the Writers’ Room, and The Future of Fashion.


Newspapers in India and indeed across the world have over the past several years been trying hard to attract young readers. Now, this initiative by NYT seems a sensible thing to do and newspaper publishing houses in India should consider offering similar courses for students. The idea is not just to earn extra income. Bilton quotes Raymond Ravaglia, director of the precollege division at The School of NYT: “The goal here is to get the students out of the classroom and into the intersection of ideas and careers. They spend a lot of their time studying and getting new ideas, but they don’t have a sense of how these ideas get operationalised in the world in terms of careers.” How true!


Such exercises must give students an opportunity to focus on the community, the neighbourhood, the city they live in. And you never know – from such exercises may dawn a student’s love for heritage or civic issues or sport or food, or even Journalism. Bilton says NYT charges nearly $4000 for the two-week summer course and that the cost has not discouraged students from signing up. By Indian middle-class standards, this is pretty expensive. I am sure media houses here can work out a reasonable fee. What’s also important is to get their reporters associated with the programme. We have students applying to intern in newspaper offices, but newspapers taking the initiative to draw students is quite different. It’s indeed a welcome step by NYT. Nothing like providing young and impressionable minds a true experience of what it is like working in a news publishing house.

We have all heard about newspapers reaching out to young readers, but here is something remarkably different. Writing for the Columbia Journalism Review,its contributing editor Trudy Lieberman explains why one local paper launched an online section for older readers. The new effort from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, she says, is a little unusual: it’s aimed directly at older audiences. In April this year, the paper launched Aging Edge, a section of its website dedicated to the interests and concerns of the area’s “older adults, their familiesand the professionals who deal with them”. The idea, according to Lieberman, came from Gary Rotstein, a veteran Post-Gazette journalist, the objective being to cater to a region that has a high proportion of the elderly. Some of the subjects covered include ‘staying healthy’, ‘aging at home’, and ‘preparing for the end’. The reporting, again, is more localized and community-driven. Yet another example worth replicating here in India.


Let us drive home the message that smoking is bad for health

Cigarette smoking is injurious to health. We’ve all heard that a million times. But who cares, anyway? There was a time not so long ago when smoking a cigarette was seen to be a cool thing (to borrow from today’s oft used terminology) to do, when boys just out of school and in college smoked to ‘impress’ girls or simply because if they didn’t, they would not be considered adults and be sneered at. The statutory warning, ‘cigarette smoking is injurious to health’ was carried by cigarette packs even then but few took the trouble to read it. Within families, empty cigarette packs were sometimes passed on to children to play with, and if you had the money to buy a pack of 20s of Dunhill or Benson & Hedges or Marlboro or Rothmans or State Express 555, you would have flaunted them; they all came in very attractive packages. And, of course, they were all status symbols of a kind.

Despite those rather glamorous heydays when film heroes smoked to make a point, in recent years, thanks to repeated warnings and mainly due to the fear of the dreaded C (cancer), many smokers have managed to give up the habit. For some, the initial stages have been akin to leading a wretched life. But having been brave enough to withstand and overcome the trauma, they have emerged stronger and wiser. Unfortunately, many in the young generation are getting into the habit of smoking cigarettes, like their fathers and grandfathers did. College girls and young women, too. Is there a way to stop them? It’s a free country, isn’t it?

So what do cigarettes do? Does tobacco smoke contain harmful chemicals? Yes, at least 250 of them. Is smoking addictive? Yes. It’s almost the same as being addicted to heroin and cocaine. Does
quitting smoking lower the risk of cancer? Yes. If you quit when you are younger, the better for you. It’s some of these messages that Dr V. Shanta, chairperson of the Cancer Institute in Chennai, a
this year’s recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, tries to get across at various forums. For her, it’s one of her life’s missions. And I feel it is our duty to strengthen the tireless efforts of doyens like Dr Shanta.


Let there be progress and change, and let us learn from shared experiences

Veteran journalist Pamela Philipose has captured well the flavour of “the throes of a great churn” as she puts it, after attending the recent WAN-IFRA Digital Media India Conference held in New Delhi. So, there is progress, there is change, and, of course, there are challenges. At the two-day conference, some significant points came to the fore: not every single new Internet user is proficient in English; Hindi content grew five times that of English; search queries in Hindi grew at a ten times faster pace than those in English; and, significantly, by mid-2017, the Hindi ad inventory will
overtake the English ad inventory.

In fact, the share of local language adspend on digital is expected to rise from 5 per cent last year to 30 per cent by 2020. Ad revenues will be under threat as the future becomes digital. And, what might not be welcome news to news publishers and television channel owners — with newspapers, television too increasingly appeals only to the 35-plus age group. However, riding the digital wave has never been easy or smooth. Yes, social is where the story breaks first, social is where journalists tend to follow up first. But being on social media and garnering ‘likes’ is not enough, mainstream media houses would need to translate the ‘likes’ into a continuous engagement, Philipose echoes the views of some of the speakers.

At the conference, Philipose listened to Torry Pedersen, CEO/editor-in-chief, Verdens Gang AS
(VG), Norway’s largest media house. The only way to go it seems, according to Pedersen, is to experiment and learn from each other’s experiences. He makes some very pertinent points. One, you have to be the fastest – the Usain Bolt of the media. Two, you have to be live and present, and to be alive today all you need is a selfie stick and an iPhone. Three, your content will have to create emotion -- of course, you have to be opinionated. The biggest proportion of traffic from our Facebook is the opinion section because people like to express their views and you have to let them do it. Finally, you have to instil the ‘fear of missing out’ in your audience, so that people
keep coming back to you.

The discussion about going digital is usually preceded by a caveat on the consequences. Ricardo
Gandour, director of Brazil’s Estado Media Group, which includes the 141-year old flagship daily
newspaper, O Estado de SPaulo, says fragmentation of media introduced by digital technology and now amplified by powerful social platforms comes with a risk to journalism and democracy. “Social media has boosted superficiality, with instant responses of either like or dislike, contributing towards a polarizing society.