(Paper submitted to Indo-Russia Conference, Moscow, December 07-08, 2007, by Kiran Thakur)
The paper discusses status of online journalism in India since 1995 when The Hindu launched its web edition. It is based on the outcome of two studies: the first carried out for the initial phase 1995-98 and the second extending up to 2006 which covered 114 dailies online. Two more dailies were added after the study was complete, taking the total number to 116.
The research concluded that except for a few newspapers, most web editions continued to be economically unviable. Production processes remain unchanged in most newspapers. Contents of web editions are shovelled from their parent print editions.
Readership survey indicated that the web editions are accessed from 63 countries, most of the readers being Indians in India and abroad. The study offered demographic profile of the readers and broad indications about their needs, expectations, uses and gratification. The readers are young, highly educated and more interested in news about India, and more specifically about their native places.
Indian print journalism began with an English weekly brought out by an Irishman in year 1780. Its circulation was limited to Kolkatta, the then centre of the East India Company and the target readers were the British traders, officials and their families. The weekly did not last long, but other enterprising Englishmen launched new publications. These were also English newspapers. Gradually, Indians began bringing out newspapers in English and native languages from several centres like Mumbai (Bombay), Chennai (Madras) and Delhi. The Indians used their newspapers as vehicles to spread the message of social reforms and to arouse public opinion against the British who had begun ruling the then princely states in the country.
After 1857 when the British took control of the entire country, the newspapers were broadly divided into two: those run by the British owners, and the others who were Indian freedom fighters. For most Indian editors and publishers, journalism was a mission to make India free from the imperialists. The British left India in 1947 after ruling the country for over 150 years.
The newspapers took some time to adjust themselves to the new political environment in Independent India. Until 1947, their solitary aim was to fight the British regime. Now, it was their government headed by charismatic Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Political leaders in particular and the people in general had begun breathing free air. Newspapers had to re-define their roles. One of their responsibilities was to ensure that the hard-earned freedom and the democracy that was ushered in were protected. Initially, it was difficult for the newspapers to be critical of the government, particularly of Jawaharlal Nehru and his cabinet colleagues who were all giant freedom fighters only a few years earlier. However, the editors gradually took upon themselves the role of watchdogs of the society. Development of the country into a prosperous India became their mission.
As years passed by and leadership changed after Nehru's demise in 1964, the newspapers found several issues to take up. Political parties were split and new outfits were born. There were issues of poverty, unemployment, communal divide, wars with neighbouring countries, problems facing the farmers, industries, women, children and so on. Political parties were divided into the rightwing and the left. Newspapers were subjected to censorship during the Internal Emergency imposed by Mrs. Indira Gandhi's government during 1975-77. There were attempts later also to gag the press, but journalists across the country rallied and thwarted all such attempts.
Newspapers became strong institutions. Circulation and revenue grew up. Owners did not remain content with a single daily newspaper. The publishing houses added to their stables other dailies and periodicals meant for niche readerships. A publishing house, for example, would have a general interest English newspaper, a business daily and daily newspapers in the regional language. The same group would have periodicals for women, children or farmers. Some have specialised journals for readers interested in, say, literature, cinema, culture, automobiles, computers or travel and tourism. With the advent of modern technology, it became possible for a publication house to print copies of its periodicals at far of places.
Pro-globalisation and liberalisation policies initiated in 1991 brought in changes in the economic scenario that were welcomed by industries in the country. In the process, newspaper industry also stood to benefit. Computers, which were unheard of in newspaper offices in metros, were installed for desk-top-publishing even in dailies in smaller towns. Internet was soon to follow in mid-90s. Mobile phones with audio-video recorders became commonplace among journalists in metropolitan centres, cities and small towns during the last three or four years.
Critics, however, lament that the modern technology has changed only the face of Indian journalism. It is no more a mission, but a profession to make profits for the owners. These critics say the newspapers now have attractive layout, quality printing and quality newsprint; but there is no 'substance' in the contents. Coverage is superficial and journalists lack social commitment. Academicians and journalists from 16 states who attended the national conference held in Pune in February 2007 were unanimous in saying that the English and 'language' newspapers did not reflect the real issues facing the country.
Publishers in advanced countries such as USA have been debating over the adverse impact on circulation of newspapers due to electronic media and online publications. (Media Watch ) However, in India, there seems to be no such adverse impact.
(Burke John ) Newspaper circulation has been growing in spite of the onslaught of television news channels. Publishers of Indian newspapers have exploited new information and communication technologies to expand their base. The Times of India and several major English newspapers have started editions from new centres.
Similar growth in circulation has been witnessed in leading newspapers published in other Indian languages such as Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Telugu and Tamil. These 'language ' dailies have brought out editions not only in other cities and towns in the same state (province) but also in other states. Thus, Hindi newspapers like Dainik Jagaran, Bhaskar and Rajasthan Patrika have editions from more than one state. What is more, many of these dailies now have a number of pull-outs for readers in several suburbs of a single city. The dailies are printed in colour using quality newsprint unlike in late 1990's. This only indicates that the 'language' newspapers have been prospering. They are no more poor cousins of the English newspapers even in cases where they belong to a group or chain newspapers with flagship dailies in English. In some cases, though the group's flagship English daily is better known outside the region, its 'language' stable-mate has better readership. (For example, Mumbai's Marathi daily Loksatta has a readership of 18,23,000 while The Indian Express has 705,000 readers in this metro. )
Among their marketing techniques are offering 'introductory' price that is less than that of the rival publications, organising popular events and exhibitions for readers and offering discounts and gifts to the subscribers. Such techniques seem to be increasing visibility and circulation figures of the dailies.
The scene in print journalism seems to be so rosy that the Registrar for Newspapers in India prefaced its overview for the year 2005-06 with this observation:
"We thought that the advent of information technology would affect the print media. But, it didn't happen; the statistics also shows that no technology can beat the print media, which always finds its own level.
The print media has responded to the new changes and challenges with its modernization. They have accepted the information technology, which resulted in better coverage with great speed and affordable price. The readership of newspapers is growing. The statistics shows also that the people prefer their regional language newspapers and that is why the regional newspapers are venturing out to bring editions from other cities where there is sizeable population of the respective language."
The buoyancy in the newspaper industry is reflected in applications for new titles submitted in the year and also in the sale figures of dailies. During 2005-06, 2074 new newspapers (dailies and other periodicals) were registered. Only four newspapers ceased publication. As on 31st March 2006, there were 62,483 registered newspapers on record as against 60,413 at the end of March 2005. The total circulation of newspapers increased from 15,67,19,209 copies in 2004-05 to 18,07,38,611 copies in 2005-06. The term 'newspaper' in this case includes dailies, weeklies and publications of other periodicities.
As per the annual statements received during 2005-06, the number of dailies being published in the country was 2130. Their claimed circulation figure was 8,88,63,048 copies, 12.93% higher than that the previous year. Hindi had 942 dailies claiming a circulation of 7,66,98,490 copies, while 201 English dailies claimed 3,41,06,816 copies.
There is tussle between print and electronic media to grab a larger pie of budgets of the advertisers. Online newspapers do not get priority as yet. At best, advertisers are willing to consider web editions of some leading newspapers to insert the advertisements as add-on to the main print editions. This means that web editions do not earn substantial ad revenue to make them self-sufficient, leave alone profit-makers.
As stated earlier, Indian newspapers had started using computers for word processing and page layout since 1987. The newspapers one after another switched over from teleprinters and telex machines to e-mail to send and receive news when Internet was available 1995 onwards. The changeover was quicker when a number of competing Internet service providers descended on the scene during the last decade. Later, mobile phone instruments with cameras were made available to journalists.
Yet, these newspapers were slow to launch their web editions. Only 48 dailies had their web sites by 1998 when this researcher undertook documentation of status of online journalism. An extension of this study established that there were 116 Indian dailies with web editions in year 2006.
India joined cyber world in 1995, quite late compared to the West, although Internet was available to researchers earlier also. In the initial period, net access was limited to only four metros. It was very slow. Computer penetration was very low. However, the penetration improved as prices of computers began falling and net connectivity spread to small towns when private service providers came on the scene.
By 2007, India had an estimated base of 42 million Internet users, which was 3.6 per cent of the world users. Although this base was far below the Internet users of USA (which was 210,575,287), China (162,000,000), Japan (86,300,000) or Germany (50,426,117), India ranked fifth in the list of top twenty countries using Internet.
In case of India, this was noteworthy because she is still considered a developing country. Advanced countries have better infrastructure and resources for rapid development in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) area. India lacked even in availability of power in cities and villages in every state without any exception. It was therefore no surprise that India would lag behind in terms of computer penetration, Internet connectivity and its usage during the initial phase of ICT.
Against this background, publishers of Indian dailies were hesitant initially to launch web editions. Even later, except for a few English and 'language' dailies, majority of the newspapers put up their websites as a 'me-too' syndrome.
Research was undertaken to document status of online journalism in the initial phase (1995-98) as doctoral dissertation by the author of this paper. Subsequently, another project was undertaken with support from University Grants Commission and was titled Changing Profile of Readership of Indian Newspapers on Internet: A Status Report on Online Journalism in India. With co-investigator Dr Ms Ujjwala Barve, it was carried out at Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Pune, in the city of Pune.
This paper discusses outcome of these two studies.
Aims and Objectives of the study
• To document status of Indian Newspapers on Internet during 1995-2006. It was in year 1995 when The Hindu launched its web edition, marking the beginning of web journalism in India.
• To study if there is any change in the organisational structure of an Indian newspaper on the Net since the launch of the online journalism in India in 1995.
• To find out if the production process of these editions has undergone any change.
• To find out if there is any change in the profile of readership of these net editions.
a) An updated list of the newspapers on Net was compiled using search engines like google.com and yahoo.com, and portals like samachar.com
b) A brief questionnaire was e-mailed to the publishers and editors of these dailies for details about their web editions.
c) Case studies were carried out meeting executives and staff members of the Internet editions of the newspapers
d) Information about the online dailies was compiled from their home pages in slots like ‘About Us’, ‘what is new’, ‘site map’ and advertising information.
(B) Data was collected also to find out:
a) Process of developing content
b) Process of Editing
(C) Readership survey through Internet.
Procedure for Readership Survey
After carrying out pre-test and pilot study, a questionnaire was placed at the homepage of Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Pune with a path (hyperlink). Editors/publishers were requested to place a banner or provide a link from their respective home pages to this questionnaire at the department’s homepage. The idea was that readers of these online editions would be made aware about the Readership Survey through these banners. On clicking the banners, they would reach the questionnaire and fill in the details if they so desired.
Newspapers in Marathi were considered as representatives of the all the rest 12 non-English Indian in which the newspapers are brought out. Marathi newspapers are published from different towns in the state of Maharashtra. In the similar manner, the non-English dailies are published from towns in states of their respective principle languages. English dailies included in the study are general interest and business newspapers and are published from various cities in different parts of the country. Data procured from this exercise could therefore be considered representative of readership of web editions of all the Indian newspapers.
All the 12 Marathi newspapers with websites provided such hyperlinks for a fortnight as per their convenience during July and August, 2006. These are: Dainik Aikya, Belgaon Tarun Bharat, Deshdoot, Deshonnati, Kesari, Lokmat, Loksatta, Maharashtra Times, Pudhari, Sakal, Saamana and Tarun Bharat (Nagpur)
Similarly, following 13 English newspapers provided such links for two weeks as per their convenience between July and September 2006: Asian Age, Business Standard, Daily News and Analysis (DNA), Daily Excelsior, Economic Times, Financial Express, Hindu, Hindu Business Line, Hindustan Times, Indian Express (also Express India portal), Malayala Manorama (English section), Pioneer, Times of India.
Data and its analysis
After the first exercise mentioned in (a) of Methodology was carried out, a list of 114 Indian newspapers with Internet editions was available. (Annexure 2). Language-wise break-up of these dailies is as follows:
Table 1: Number of newspapers with online editions (arranged alphabetically)
Language Number of newspapers
with web editions
These 12 non-English languages are out of the 22 languages officially recognised by the Government of India. The data shows that newspapers in the rest ten languages do not have web editions. These languages are: Sindhi, Nepali, Konkani, Manipuri, Kashmiri, Sanskrit, Bodo, Dogri, Santhali, and Maithili. Publications in these languages do not have large circulation and cater to populations concentrated in smaller pockets in their respective regions.
English, not included in the schedule of official languages, is co-official language that can be used in the government administration. It is understood by educated people spread over in different parts of the country, predominantly residing in cities and towns. English newspapers are published from metros and larger cities to cater to the readers in their jurisdictions. Most of them have large circulation figures and enjoy prestige among the elites. Advertisers patronise these dailies because of the circulation figures, high visibility among bureaucrats, industrialists and the educated class.
Publishers' Response and Case Studies
As per the point (b) of Methodology outlined earlier, data was sought from publishers/editors of all the 114 newspapers through an e-mailed questionnaires prepared in MS Word. Of these 25 newspapers responded to the questionnaire. The language-wise break-up is as follows: seven out of 12 Marathi newspapers, one out of seven Bengali newspapers, six out of seven Hindi newspapers, seven out of 39 English newspapers and four out of six Tamil newspapers.
The data can be considered fairly representative as it covered web editions of a large number of newspapers representing Indian languages, including English, and different regions (East, West, North and South). They included small, medium and big newspapers as also small web sites and large portals of leading newspapers of the country.
In addition to this, the researcher, his co-investigator and research associate, met the staff of the web editions to elicit information during visits to the newspapers' offices for non-participant observation.
Data yielded through this procedure provided number of stories, articles, photographs and advertisements uploaded to web sites of the respective newspapers every day. Response to a question about economic viability of the website was also recorded. The following table presents a summary of the responses received from publishers/editors:
Table 2: Contents and Economic Viability of online editions
Newspaper News Stories Articles Photographs Ads Economic
Sakaal 350-400 10-12 25-30 8-10 No
Lokmat 700 6 100 20 NA*
Tarun Bharat (Nagpur) 30-40 5-6 2-3 NA No
Maharashtra Times 100 15 5-10 5 Yes
Pudhari 20 22 16 1 Yes
Belgaum Tarun Bharat 80 10 15 2 No
Kesari NA NA NA NA No
Anand Bazar Patrika NA NA NA NA NA
Amar Ujala 4500 10-15 150 2-4 No
Hindustan NA NA NA NA No
Dainik Jagran 3000 plus 50 250 5-6 No
Rashtriya Sahara 90-120 14 100 NA No
Navbharat Times 100-15 10 2-3 NA NA
Punjab Kesari NA 10-12 NA 2 No
Dinakaran 300 15 25-30 35 No
Dinamani 600 15-20 NA 5-6 NA
Daily Thinaboomi 75 10-15 10 6-7 No
Viduthalai 50 4-5 10-20 NA No
News Today NA NA NA NA No
New Indian Express 250 15-30 30 5-6 NA
Daily Pioneer 160-170 50 10-50 NA No
The Hindu 300 NA 50 10 Yes
Hindustan Times 100 100 300-400 25-30 No
Indian Express NA NA NA 15-20 Yes
Tribune 120-130 8 80 5 Yes
(^ Economic Viability: The column offers response to the question: Has the online edition broken even financially? * NA (Not Available) means that staff of the concerned online edition did not provide the data.)
Analysis of data:
Ad Revenue: Most newspapers do not get advertisements for the net editions, with only a few exceptions like The Times of India (ToI) group of newspapers, The Hindu, The Hindustan Times (HT), The Indian Express (IE), Sakal and Jagaran. The number of advertisements ranged from 1 (in case of Pudhari) to 30 (in case of The Hindustan Times). In case of most others it was in the range of five to ten. The situation was the same in 1998 when most of the 48 newspapers did not earn much advertisement revenue for the web editions.
Economic Viability: This was the reason, then and now, that web editions of most newspapers could not break-even financially. As many as 15 of the 25 newspapers said their web editions were not economically viable. Five others did not offer any response to the question in this respect. Representatives of only Maharashtra Times, Pudhari, The Hindu, The Indian Express and The Tribune, that participated in the present study, reported that their sites have broken even. There would be some more, perhaps like the members of the Times of India group that have been making profits or have broken even. It could be however concluded that web editions of most newspapers have not been making profits out of the online activity.
• Online Staff: It was perhaps for the same reason that the publishers have not made large investment in manpower for the web sites. The web site is managed by a very limited staff. In most newspapers, the staff pattern is same: a chief sub-editor assisted by one or two sub-editors. In some cases, only the sub-editor working in the print edition has the responsibility to upload the contents after his night shift job is over. Newspapers like The Times of India have an independent structure headed by Content Editor or Web Editor who is assisted by a team consisting of news editor, chief sub and sub-editor. These are, however, exception rather than a rule.
• Contents of sites: Most publishers are content with the arrangement in which the computer systems department staff look after their web sites. The result is that web editions of most newspapers do not contain contents other than what is made available from the editorial team of the print edition. No effort is made to create contents exclusively for the web editions. In absence of a thought process that should go to into creation of contents for the web edition, there is no reverse flow from web to print. The web team simply shovels text and graphics, including photographs, from the print and complete the day’s work.
• Audio-video contents: There are again exceptions like that of The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Indian Express and Sakal, that try to exploit the features of Internet. Such editions have audio and video clips that go along with the text or stand alone as interesting add-ons.
• No Reporters: Indian newspapers have not appointed reporters exclusively for web editions. When it is done, perhaps these reporters would provide special coverage for the audience of the web editions.
• No staff for Advertising: Most publishers have not appointed staff to procure advertising either. The staff in the advertising department of the parent print edition is expected to work for the web also. There seems to be no special effort to canvas for ads for the web editions. In most cases therefore ads in the web editions range between 0-10.
• Reasons for lack of advertisement: Web editions do not get advertisements because advertisers do not get response or feedback from the readers. This is because the readers are not in a position to place orders directly by clicking on the links or pages for advertisement. This is in turn because the Indian readers are not comfortable with online transactions, as credit cards are not yet commonly used. This situation is expected to improve with the growth of e-commerce, e-business and e-banking etc. Already, people are becoming familiar with ticketing for the railways and airways.
• Callous Publishers: Even publishers of several better known newspapers seem to be callous or casual about important and permanent contents relating to ‘About Us’ that could be of interest to readers and potential advertisers. A few of them do provide Advertisement Tariffs, but most of them do not have this feature that could help potential advertisers and ad agencies.
• No change: Production process of web editions in most newspapers has not changed substantially during the last decade.
• No Editing: The web staff gets contents from the editorial department of the parent print edition through the Local Area Network. Similarly, if there is any ad to be inserted, it is passed on as a soft copy through the LAN. The web staff only looks for errors that might have gone unnoticed at the parent editorial desk and corrects them. In other words, there is no editing to correct grammatical or factual errors or improving the text. The contents are then included in the slots such as National, International, Local, Business, Sports and so on. The contents are uploaded onto the Internet through servers. This takes place almost at the same time when printing for the parent editions begin after one a.m. Once that is up, it is available for access to readers anywhere.
• No updates: In most cases, there are no updates of the web sites for the next 24 hours although technologically updates are possible every minute. Most publishers reported that they run scrolls to announce a single sentence news story of great importance (of ‘breaking the story’ or ‘Flash’ level). But that is rare, if not never. Such contents are passed on to the web section when such stories are available directly from news agencies. This is the case in most web editions. Major newspapers like The ToI, HT and IE insist, however, that their web sites are continuously updated round the clock.
• Skeleton staff: The web sections are manned by a skeleton staff. They work in shifts of six to eight hours in various newspapers. Smaller newspapers seem to have shifts starting during the afternoons and ending when the web sites are uploaded early in the morning at around two a.m.
• Volume of contents: Volume of contents of web edition varies from newspaper to newspaper depending on whether it is ‘small’, ‘medium’ or ‘big’. A small newspaper may carry a minimum of 30 news stories, six articles and three photographs. A big newspaper’s web edition may contain 3000 news stories, 50 articles and 250 photographs.
• Shovelling from print edition: Almost 80 to 90 per cent contents of the parent print editions are shovelled in most cases. However, some newspapers claimed that they use more than 100 per cent contents. This meant that they exploit the advantage of Internet technology which does not have constraints of space. Stories that can not be accommodated in the print edition because of lack space are used in the web editions. But these seem to be exception rather than a rule as can be seen from the data presented in this chapter earlier.
• Readers based in the West: Based on the feedback received through e-mail, readers of the web editions are mostly young, male, from Information Technology, Non-resident-Indians based in USA, Canada and Europe. This was also observed in the first study a decade ago.
• New readers: During the present study, however, Tamil and English newspapers from South India reported that their web editions have a substantial readership from West Asia and Sri Lanka. A readership survey carried out by the present team has indicated that growing number of the readers is from within India also. Editors receive e-mail responses from readers who generally react to the news stories or pass on suggestions. Such responses range from a few to over 100 per day.
• Software prepared: A major change in the production process over the past decade is however that most publishers have prepared software that has made the production process and particularly uploading of the contents very easy even for a novice sub-editor. With simple commands, the contents are uploaded within no time.
An important part of the present study was Readership Survey. The survey was carried out as per the procedure described in methodology above and was aimed at finding out readership profile and the uses and gratification the web sites offer to the readers.
The survey provided 681 responses from readers of online editions of Marathi newspapers. After removing duplicate, incomplete and frivolous responses, data of 493 respondents reading online editions of Marathi newspapers was analysed.
Similar data of 1132 respondents reading web editions of English newspapers was made available and was analysed.
Following discussion provides analysis of the data from readership of online editions of English and Marathi newspapers. The analysis of data of the present study (conducted in year 2006) is compared with that of the previous or ‘first’ study (conducted by the department in year 1998). The comparison provides change in the profile of readership of online editions of Indian newspapers.
Findings of this quantitative study provide the profile of readership as follows:
• Spread of Readership: The readers are spread over to more than 62 countries, besides India. In India, readers are located even in small towns and not just in metros.
• Residents of even smaller Indian towns: Of the total 1625 readers of the sites of English (1132 readers) and Marathi (493) newspapers who participated in the online survey, 67 per cent readers of English newspapers and 60 per cent Marathi readers were residing in cities and towns of India. This established that profile of the readership of online editions has undergone a major change during the last eight years.
In the first study covering the initial phase from 1995-1998, only ten per cent readers were Indians residing in India, while 62 per cent readers were non-resident Indians residing in USA and four per cent in Canada. Apparently, the growth of readership within India has been possible due to penetration of computers and availability of Internet connectivity in small towns and cities of the country.
• States in India: The readership is more in states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, compared to other states in the country. These are also the states where Information and Communication Technology have made rapid strides, as against the rest of the states.
• Increase in Women Readers: The proportion of female Internet newspaper readers is considerably smaller than male readers of both English and Marathi Internet newspapers. (13% female readers for English newspapers and 15% Marathi newspapers). However it has almost doubled in eight years. In 1998, the readership comprised 7% female readers.
• Age-group: Majority readership is in the age group of 21-40 years.
• Education: Most readers are highly educated (Master or Ph.D. degree-holders) in case of both English and Marathi newspapers. (60% and 54% respectively).
• Profession: Professionals from the fields of IT, Education and Media constitute almost half (48%) the readership of English newspapers on the Internet. In case of Marathi newspapers also these three fields account for 53% of total readership.
• Readers read the online newspapers mainly for news. (95% and 98% in case of English and Marathi newspapers respectively).
• Almost an equal number of readers read for the views expressed in the newspapers. The combined percentage of readers of Editorials and Opinion Articles is high for both English and Marathi newspapers. (92.7% and 85.5% respectively).
• Book/film/theatre reviews are also read by a considerable proportion of the readership (24.3 and 24.9% respectively).
• More readers of Marathi newspapers (18.8%) read the Horoscopes-related column in newspapers than readers of English newspapers (13.6%).
• Advertisements are not among the top favourites with readers. However they have more readership now (9.10% for English newspapers and 7.91% for Marathi newspapers) than in 1998 when it was 4%.
• The small percentage of readers (7%) reading Women's Column can be attributed to the fact that the percentage of women respondents is only 13%.
• Most readers are interested to read news about India (92% for English and 64.7% Marathi)
• There is a striking difference between the interest of English readership and Marathi readership in world affairs. (61.6% and 31.2% respectively).
• Interest in the news from Home town also varies. While 58.2% Marathi readers are keen on reading news from Home town, comparatively less percentage of English newspaper readers (33.8%) read news from Home town.
• Readers seem to be interested to read more about Business and Economy (69 % among English readers and 55% Marathi), Politics (60 % and 57%) and Science & Technology (60 and 49 per cent). Sports news is favoured by 37 per cent in both the language readers.
• A significant change was noticeable in the interest in news about Social Development and Environment, between now and 1998. About four per cent readers had shown interest in this category of news in 1998. In the latest survey readers of English and Marathi newspapers showed interest to the extent of around 46% for news about social development and 33% in news about Environment. Similarly more readers seem to take interest in news about Rural Development. (41% Marathi readers and 30% English). Marathi newspaper readers are also more interested (37%) in Art and Culture than English newspaper readers (28%).
• English newspaper readers on the other hand have more interest in Human interest stories (44%) and news about celebrities (21%) than Marathi newspaper readers (32% and 16% respectively). Columnists' Columns also are read by more English newspaper readers (42%) than Marathi newspaper readers (28%).
• A striking finding of the present study was that a large number of readers visited the online editions to ‘access archival material' (47 % in case of English and 36% in Marathi newspapers).
• English newspaper readers also visit the web editions to ‘participate in on-line polls’ and ‘to kill time.’ Those who are away from India or hometown look upon it as a tool to overcome homesickness (14% and 21% in case of English and Marathi newspapers respectively).
• Though Marathi Internet newspapers provide the facility to write e-mails in Marathi only a small proportion of readers (8%) visits newspaper sites for that reason.
• The same is the case with other facilities like sending greeting cards/gifts, chatting with other readers and real estate transactions etc. provided on newspaper sites. These facilities are used marginally.
• Matrimonial advertisement section of the web editions of the newspaper do not seem to attract the readers, although readership is dominated by youngsters. Only about 2.5 per readers of English newspapers and three per cent of the Marathi respondents visited the Matrimonial section of the online editions.
• Similarly ‘cartoons’ appears to be less frequented section of the web sites. (about 0.44 per cent for English web sites, for Marathi online editions it is zero percent.)
A part of the study was based on non-participant observations. The principal investigator and members of his team carried out interviews and interacted with the journalists and non-journalists for case studies. In the process, they recorded certain observations about online journalism in the country. Some of these did not surprise the team members because of their professional experience as journalists in the past. However, some observations did come as a surprise because these were not anticipated, or had not struck the researchers earlier.
These observations are not based on any quantitative study. The researchers are aware that they can be challenged for lack of empirical data. Yet, they deserve to be mentioned here because a very serious effort was made to be objective while recording the observations. It would always be possible and desirable for future researchers to make an in-depth quantitative study in these areas:
There is a very perceptible divide between attitudes of old-timers in print journalism and the youngsters. The old-timers, who began their journalism careers before mid-nineties of the last century, are not Net-savvy. Most of them have learnt use of computers to key in the stories, edit and make a page using PageMaker, QuarkXpress or InDesign. They are however reluctant to go beyond this, and use Internet to search for references. They rarely use e-mail.
The old-timers in editorial and other departments have little interest in the activities of the online edition of their newspaper. Many would not know the correct URL of their online edition. Many were not sure of the e-mail Id of the edition or of the key executives of the online and the parent editions.
The online department is variously described as Systems department, computer department, electronic and web department. This department is dominated by 'technical staff' that may include computer operator, hardware engineer, web designer, and in some cases, graphic artist.
In most cases, editorial staff in a shift of the online department would be a chief sub or a sub-editor. In smaller newspapers, particularly published from non-metro towns, a night shift sub-editor in the parent print edition has the responsibility to upload the text mechanically. This would be his/her job after the pages are locked for printing to begin. The sub-editor does this by mechanically shovelling the text into the templates or slots such as National, Regional, Local, Sports, Business and so on. These templates are often prepared by outside software company that design the web pages of the online edition.
Owners and Editors of the parent newspapers are not aware of the intricacies of the online edition. In some cases, it was observed that the owners were proud to own a web edition but were ignorant about the scope and limitation of this new medium. In several cases, it appeared that they have not accessed their web sites for a long time. They seemed to be unaware of the importance and utility of simples features of the web page, such as 'e-mail us', 'contact us', or 'letters to editor' as distinct from the Feedback Form.
A good design of a web edition would have features that would prompt readers to write to the Editor offering comments on news and features of the day. This is very essential if the web edition is claimed to be an inexpensive and instant means of communication. A good newspaper would make continuous efforts to treat the web edition as a platform for the readers to discuss contemporary issues. The readers should be able to air their grievances against public authorities. The editor should get a feel of readers’ views on political, social and other issues through e-mails. This is possible if the home page offers features such as ‘Contact Us’, ‘e-mail us’ or ‘Letters to Editor’.
Ideally, a separate ‘Contact Us’ page should be made available through home page. It should provide details that include names, landline and mobile telephone numbers, fax numbers and e-mail Ids of heads of editorial, advertising and other departments.
A leading Delhi-based newspaper makes the reader write text (even if it is meant to be for Letters to Editor column) only in a feed-back form. This is cumbersome. It is difficult for the reader to revise the text because he/she can read only a small portion at a time. It would be convenient if the format of Outlook Express or Yahoo!, G-mail etc is made available to the readers.
It is not possible, in most cases, for a reader to send an attachment to the Editor of the online/print edition. Thus, the reader cannot e-mail graph/graphics or photographs as his/her contribution to the newspaper. The medium of Internet is thus not exploited fully. Technologically the medium is ‘interactive’, which would mean instant two-way communication. A reader can react in real time (to news or opinion carried by the online edition), but the newspapers do not seem to involve the readers in the creation of contents of the online edition through such interactivity. The features such as Blogs and Chat rooms are not provided by most newspapers.
In case of ‘Contact Us’ pages of some newspapers, details of telephone and fax numbers were indeed available, but they were outdated and needed immediate revision.
E-mail ids such as firstname.lastname@example.org, in some cases, proved to be without any use as nobody seemed to be opening the inbox of such ids. There was no response to the mails sent to these addresses.
Ideally, e-mail should be attended to promptly, by a senior editorial executive. Members of the research team did not get response to the appeals and queries immediately. To elicit desired response, efforts had to be made through landline or mobile numbers after it became clear that the e-mail messages would not be answered. To get the landline or mobile telephone numbers of the newspapers, the members of the research team had to use other sources such as Annual Book of Indian Newspaper Society. (Incidentally, the e-mail Id of this apex organisation of the newspaper industry was not active, at least during the period when e-mailed messages were sent to the Society.)
It would be a good strategy to assign email-ids with a carefully drawn strategy, as some newspaper managements have done. These managements have provided editorial and non-editorial staff with mail ids in a systematic manner, such as email@example.com. There is no justification why the editorial and other staff members should be allowed to use ids of mail services such as Yahoo! or Rediffmail, or Gmail. Yet, systems departments of most newspapers seemed not to mind use of such services by the staff.
Postal address is yet another very important detail that must appear in the Contact Us page. This would enable a reader to try the snail mail when the high-tech e-mail system and the telephony fail to elicit any response.
In the domain of online edition of most newspapers, the system department calls the tunes. The chief of the editorial section, for example, cannot decide if a hyperlink can be provided to an academic study such as the research of the present team.
In the offices of newspapers in non-metro smaller cities, there would be only one technical person who could make any change, add or delete anything in the structure of the Home Page. This person is often not an employee of the newspaper, but that of a company that designs and maintains the web site. This would mean that if this person is not available because of medical or other leave, nothing could be done to make any change in the structure of the web pages. Junior sub-editors who mechanically carry out uploading of the contents every day have not been trained to modify or improve the design of the page.
Some leading newspapers do publish some Letters to Editor received by online editions, but this is not so in a large number of print editions.
In almost every newspaper, e-mail Ids of reporters and correspondents are not carried in the print and electronic newspapers. In the initial phase of online journalism in USA, as in India, it was thought that publishing e-mail Ids of the authors would fetch response from the readers. It could be hate mail or fan mail. Journalists of initial period of Internet era even in USA were shy of such hate/fan mail as they were not accustomed to receive such response from the readers earlier in their careers.
New journalists feel that publishing e-mail Ids in addition to by-lines helps them a great deal because readers can offer tip-offs to the reporters. This could broaden the base of the contacts of the reporters. Knowledgeable readers can point out errors in the stories. This may include mistakes in details of facts mentioned in the story. Readers can notify mistakes in usages of language and grammar.
There are some newspapers like The Times of India that publish e-mail ids of reporters of local pull-outs such as Pune Times. These are not seen in the main print edition or online edition.
It is striking that senior executives including editors and owners of English newspapers in Jammu and Kashmir, the farthest state in North India and Assam, Northeast, did not respond to the numerous appeals to join the readership survey. These appeals were made through e-mails and telephone calls on landline and mobile numbers. (Only honourable exception was The Daily Excelsior. Its executives responded to the mail quickly and offered help to the study without any delay.)
Internet connectivity in India is expected to be available in smaller towns and even villages. Broadband being made available in the near future by service providers and cable networks will make it possible for even school children in rural India to surf the Net. Industry expects that there would be over 100 million Internet users with 20 million broadband connections by 2010. Huge investments are being made by local service providers Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. and Bharat Sanchar Nigam to upgrade broadband infrastructure.
It's not merely Personal Computer screens but delivery over mobile screens which the Internet service providers find exciting. Yahoo, in a market research report, has estimated mobile value-added services to rise to $600 million in 2010 from $210 million last year. Mobile phone users are willing to pay for humour, cricket scores, stock market quotes and spot news of great importance.
Even this is old news. Farmers, who do not understand English, have subscribed to the SMS (short messaging service) offering prices for farm products in other markets so that they can get better returns. The Reuters service launched on October 1, 2007 at Rs. 60 per month has been providing commodity prices, crop and weather information in Marathi and English. At the launch itself, there were 7500 Maharashtra farmers who signed up for the service. This is a pointer to the shape of things to come for the Information and Communication industry, including the newspapers on Internet. It is an untapped huge market particularly for non-English newspapers that can launch services for millions of readers.
Newspapers can think of value-additions to their existing contents, and not remain content with introduction of e-newspapers and blogs that several dailies have begun attempting. Many dailies, like TV news channels, have been encouraging news, photographs and video-clips to be sent by citizens for publications in their print and Net editions. Convergence of media has thrown open many challenges and opportunities. Newspapers that exploit the technologies will survive and prosper.
This researcher is grateful to co-investigator Dr Ms Ujjwala Barve, and Mr. Ganesh Puranik who worked as research associate for the project for over 18 months. We are indebted to University Grants Commission for extending financial assistant to carry out the study.
About the author: Dr Kiran Thakur worked as professional journalist for over 30 years in India. He joined academics in 2001 and retired in March 2007. Among the books he wrote is Dr N B Parulekar, A Pioneer in Modern Journalism in Indian Languages. Dr Thakur's doctoral thesis was on online journalism in India during the initial phase (1995-98). He, along with colleague Dr Ms Ujjwala Barve, continued to study web journalism with support from University Grants Commission. The present paper is based mainly on their findings of this study.