‘Journalism has suffered as publishers chase eyeballs online’

Jayadevan PK February 27, 2017 3 min

Many publications spent a good part of the last decade bemoaning the death of print media and setting up “web or online desks” made up of 20-somethings who can churn out “content” as fast as they can type. In contrast earlier this month, Chennai-headquartered newspaper The Hindu overhauled its design, and reaffirmed its commitment to print media bulking up the paper, especially its Sunday edition.

Clearly, the paper (third largest English daily in India) is taking a different stance in the melee to win the battle for the reader’s mindshare even as it doesn’t stray too far away from old-fashioned journalism, the future of which is increasingly under threat.

Moreover, journalism that is almost entirely dependent on advertising can become compromised, become less independent. So, going forward, we believe that some form of subscription is required even in the online space  

We interviewed Mukund Padmanabhan, Editor of The Hindu on what this means for the Mahavishnu of Mount Road and its loyal readers. Padmanabhan, who was appointed editor in March 2016, says that the paper is tending towards strengthening its subscription revenues as free content is not a sustainable model and depending too much on advertising is risky. Edited excerpts from the interview:

You’ve strengthened your commitment to print. How will you look at investing in digital?

We plan to strengthen our digital offering, but unlike some news organisations, the focus will not be chasing eyeballs at any cost. I do not think there is a sustainable revenue model in a strategy that offers content free of charge. We find readers are averse to too much advertising on the web; also, the proliferation of ad blockers cast a shadow on any strategy that is dependent on advertising. I think the way forward is to explore niche products that people subscribe to and we are discussing a couple of ideas in this connection.


Also read: Turn off ad-blockers or don’t read us, say top Indian publishers


You’re tending towards strengthening subscription revenues. How?

Any revenue model that is overly dependent on advertising is risky. Ad flows vary, sometimes dramatically. Moreover, journalism that is almost entirely dependent on advertising can become compromised, become less independent. So, going forward, we believe that some form of subscription is required even in the online space.

What’s the reasoning behind a strong Sunday offering?

People have more time on Sundays and we thought a bulked-up issue with plenty of new special pages would be something of interest to readers. There are numerous examples of newspaper groups abroad, particularly in Europe, which run successful Sunday editions but don’t do so well during the rest of the week. We believe that people will be willing to pay extra for a strong Sunday offering.

People have more time on Sundays and we thought a bulked-up issue with plenty of new special pages would be something of interest to readers  

When do you think India will see print revenues taking a big hit? What are the solutions in your mind?

I think we are some time away from a tipping point. When this will come and what form it will take is unclear. All we can do is to have a strong online presence in the meantime.

What are your views on the falling quality of journalism in digital media and how it is damaging journalism?

The rush to grab as many eyeballs as possible and the focus on being the first off the block has led to journalism suffering in some respects. Many more mistakes are made, the news is sensationalised. Clickbait headlines are an example of this; often they have no relation to the story, and the distinction between news and opinion and the need to keep the two separate has been lost.

Also read: Indian Express group launches Malayalam portal; More regional language sites on the way