Strange things are happening in the print media world, especially in the United States. According to Sevanti Ninan who recently returned from a visit to America, newspapers in that country ?are becoming the dinosaurs of the media world?.
In her column in The Hindu she reported that just in one month?January 2007?The Philadelphia Inquirer, a paper of some distinction, sacked seventy-one of its staff. Sadly she added: ?Walk around its huge newsroom and you can spot the empty bays where journalists sat till a few weeks ago.? Furthermore she added: ?Whether it is The Boston Globe or the Baltimore Sun or the St Louis Post & Despatch in Missourie, the quality regional papers are suffering. And the journalists are paying for it with their jobs.?
The Globe announced the closure of three foreign bureaus a couple of months ago in an effort to minimise the 19-job cuts in its newsroom. Ninan reports that the percentage of those reading newspapers has been dropping steadily every year in every age group in the US between 1999 and 2005.
She adds: ?If students in universities in any part of the country read newspapers, they are likely to be reading The New York Times which takes care to woo them with subscriptions which cost 50 per cent of the regular price for a home delivered copy.? Significantly, The Times of India reported a year ago (July 19, 2006) that The New York Times plans to shrink the size to its pages in 2008, making them one and a half inch narrower. ToI further reported that the NYT ?also plans to cut 1,500 jobs, including 800 positions at a New Jersey printing plant?.
The size reduction of the New York Times means a loss of 11 per cent of the space devoted to news but apparently the paper plans to add more pages to make-up for that loss. It is pointed out that USA Today and The Washington Post have also cut their size pointing to rising newsprint costs and the loss of readers and advertisements to the Internet.
Contrast this with events in India. Daily newspapers are rising in circulation and competition is getting severer and severer. But that has not put off the Nagpur-based The Hitavada, for example. As recently as February 20, 2007, Rajendra Purohit, the paper'spublisher performed the bhoomipoojan for construction of a new spacious building in Avanti Vihar in Raipur. The paper plans to install the latest technology, multi-colour printing machine in its new premises. Having acquired the status of the largest circulated No. 1 English newspaper in Central India, the paper plans to expand its operations in the neighbouring state of Orissa as well. Even more interestingly, the paper had launched a Knowledge Magazine for schools last year. Vastly different from Twinkle Star in style and focus, The Hitavada described its new venture in enticing words. ?Right from science to fiction. From hobby to curiosity. From money to environment. From fun to future. From language to values. From personalities to heritage. Everything that a kid wants to know about the world is packaged in a lucid form in The Hitavada Knowledge Magazine.?
Apparently it is a weekly magazine for students to be distributed exclusively in schools, the idea being to help add value to education. Said the paper: ?When the idea was discussed with the authorities at various schools, The Hitavada team had very humbling experiences. Some headmasters and Principals were so overwhelmed with the idea of a magazine aimed at creating a knowledge society that they expressed readiness to pay the nominal subscription from their pockets even before approaching the students.?
These days one never really knows what really sells. I have before me five issues of a monthly called Opportunities Today for Intellectual Readers (OT) and it has been in circulation since 1971. If it can survive for 32 years it surely can survive for another seventy years. Founded by S.S.Motwani, its current editors are Subhash Motwani and Sunita Motwani-Makhija. The monthly claims that its mission is ?to equip youth of all ages with ideas, ideology, information, strengths and inspiration to develop total competence, thus harness their untapped power in bringing greatness and glory to self, society and the world at large.?
A great idea. There is no question but that OT is highly informative but it obviously needs greater exposure to the public. It should be of particular appeal to the young, considering the nature of the articles published and it is always sad to think that rubbish frequently sells more than journals of substance. OT belongs to the latter category. It is well to remember at this point what the editor-in-chief of The Hindu, N.Ram, told its Readers? Editor K.Narayanan as early as July 17, 2006.
Shri Ram talking about maintaining a balance between the editorial content and the advertisement needs of a major newspaper?always a delicate task. As Shri Ram saw it, ?the key factor? in all this ?is a simple truth: serious journalism doesn'tpay for itself.? It has to depend on advertisement which, in the case of big Indian newspapers, contributes 80 per cent of the revenues needed not only for sustenance, but also to create a healthy surplus for development. In the case of magazines the problem is just as severe. But most magazines are either weeklies or monthlies and anyone affluent enough to be willing to spare a few lakhs a year can easily bring out a magazine of class, free from sex, gossip, society news and all the rest.
If OT has survived it is obvious that its proprietors can afford to spend money on a noble cause. It takes not only a larger vision, but also courage to start?and run?a good magazine, even as it takes courage and vision to deal with sensitive subjects like HIV and human trafficking. That is why Gomantak Times deserves to be congratulated for giving space to two of its reporters Preetu Nair and Peter de Souza for reporting on those two subjects which have won them the UNDP-TAHA and HIV and Human Development Resource Network's(HDRN) Media awards for 2006. Competing with over 300 reports in local and national dailies, Nair and de Souza won the Award for pinpointing the people involved in trafficking in Goa. HDRN congratulated the two reporters for going ?behind the statistics and zeroing in on the men and women who add to the traffic in Goa'ssex highway.? The two reporters also had the courage for underlining the nexus between the offenders, the police and the politicians. No easy job, as any reporter can tell. Gomantak Times can justly be proud of its staff.