IT revolution and Regional Newspapers: Let’s harness it!

The regional print media in India has a responsible role in the society. Being in the midst of local issues and developments, they have a huge responsibility to play a nationalistic role. This puts them on an interesting platform, differentiating them from English print media. The ongoing information technology (IT) revolution is bringing sweeping changes at lightning speed. So, the regional media has to adapt to the challenges and harness the advantages. On one side, Shri Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister has embarked upon an ambitious Digital India Campaign. He is determined to show some tangible results in the months to come. Regional print media cannot afford to lag behind when the whole nation is reverberating with the Mantra of Digital Age.beluru-blog-icon-2014As we know, the internet revolutions are marked by specific periods of innovations and are termed as Web. X.0 revolutions. Here is a snapshot of the advent of internet revolution: From Web 1.0 (1989, the year of Tim Berners Lee’s World Wide Web that is www) to the Web 2.0 (2004, identified by Dale Dougherty of O’Reilly Media) and then to the present Web 3.0 (2006, structured by John Markoff of the New York Times) revolution, Internet revolution is interlaced with interesting developments across the globe. The present scenario is still Web 3.0 revolution, which, according to Markoff “tries to link, integrate, and analyse data from various data sets to obtain new information stream; It is able to improve data management, support accessibility of mobile internet, simulate creativity and innovation, encourage factor of globalization phenomena, enhance customers’ satisfaction and help to organize collaboration in social web.”

Though nobody is sure of what are the takeaways of Web 4.0, we all call it symbiotic web. The goal is to achieve interaction between humans and machines in symbiosis. Building more powerful, minds controlled interfaces is the main idea. Slowly, the web is moving toward using artificial intelligence.

So, Information Technology revolution has a direct connection with Internet Revolution. Coupled with Cloud based technology parks, the whole world is now moving fast towards a virtual, real-time world.

With this little background on the back of our mind, let us discuss what stakes Indian regional media has in future. The stakes are high and are varied: from simple technological issues to larger social dynamics.

The challenge of Language and technology

Regional media invariably uses region specific languages and related fonts. Though few media houses have developed their own fonts, the keyboard drivers are basically proprietary ones. To compose content in these fonts, most of the media houses use proprietary pagination software’s like Adobe InDesign, Quark Express etc., These private tools are primarily created to fulfil the needs of English fonts. Usage of regional language ttf (True Type Fonts) fonts has been so far relatively easy. Most of these tools render the fonts correctly onto the PDF (Portable Document format) formats for printing.

But the regional print media houses cannot continue this for long as the era of Unicode has arrived. All those newspapers which have text based websites, have to use Unicode based text rendering system. So, while the DTP (Desktop Publishing) is happening in ttf fonts, the websites use Unicode! This strange status has created lot of difficulties to the print media houses. They are forced to convert all their text into Unicode and publish online; Unicode’s advantage of universal acceptance and convertibility into any other script on the fly is the reason behind this act. Additionally, search engines can easily grab Unicode texts. To convert an automated page and section-wise content, the media house has to develop in-house software. As media houses have been using multiple commercial fonts and multiple pagination software’s, a single, automated font conversion has become very difficult. Only handful of newspapers which have huge financial resources have developed their own converters. Other newspaper houses have resorted to PDF based e-papers. Though the look and feel is good, these papers leave no digital footprints, which is essential in digital marketing of the newspapers.

This is a real technological challenge before all the regional media houses. The solution lies in uniform technology tools, uniform inter-convertible fonts with a uniform glyph mapping and a unified Unicode converter interface. This requires a mammoth campaign by the regional print media houses. Anyway, here is a task list for them:

  1. Establish a consortium consisting of all the regional media houses for IT related issues.
  2. Create a team of technologists to develop all the necessary tools for universal cross-platform fonts, keyboard engines.
  3. Make a powerful impact on the private / commercial pagination software developers to develop a fool proof Unicode rendering on their software’s. (Adobe InDesign version 6.0 has a facility but it is a long way to use it on the fly). Parallel, this consortium can also approach open source software developers like Scribus, Inkscape, Gimp etc., to support Unicode rendering for regional fonts.
  4. Alternately, develop an open-source Desktop Application, which will be India specific.
  5. Additionally, develop open-source Unicode fonts as per the needs of the industry, applying appropriate font making tools like Metafont by Donald Knuth, Font Forge etc.,
  6. Though one can accept commercial tools for the time being, I strongly appeal to all the regional media houses to organise themselves and create indigenous tools, share it publicly. This is also a social responsibility on the part of the media houses. They cannot merely stand silent when it comes to applying technology to their own products! Any Governmental support is welcome, but the overall control of these projects should be with media houses only.

The challenge of Content Management System (CMS)

The other major challenge for the regional newspapers is content management. This too, like the above issue, is ruled by commercial players. Only big media houses have developed a sort of databases to fulfil their internal demands. But every media house needs a robust and real-time content management system in place to monitor the news and also to rule the organisation. With the advent of LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and Php), open source tools can be easily developed to manage the pre-publication content, proper approval process, production, last minute data management, mechanical corrections, adherence to the newspaper’s style-sheet, documentation of information dossiers and post publication archival & retrieval mechanism. Proper development of a system of content management will ensure high quality of content. For example, the database will always show you the topics of articles published; you can set aside published topics and search for new ones. Thus, a truly multi-functional Content Management System will raise the editorial quality, which in turn will enhance the readership. This will be a major game changer in the coming days, as the future demands analysis of thousands of words in real-time.

The advantage of Citizen Journalism

Citizen Journalism or community participation is now inseparable part of journalism. The social media revolution (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc.,) have resulted in bringing out journalists out of every netizen (Persons who are active on internet). Citizen journalism, now a decade old phenomenon in New Media (Internet is also referred as New Media). Citizen journalism simply means peoples participation in news gathering and news making. The news reaches the people even before reaching the media houses. In fact, many a times, citizen journalism has alerted media houses on many big news developments. It has also brought revolutions across the globe, especially in Arab World.

The main advantage of internet and citizen journalism is its eternity. No news is lost, unlike printed pages, which have a shorter, almost a day’s shelf life. Searching is instant. Responses can be received in seconds. There is no space constraint unlike printed pages. Replication and distribution is easy and eco-friendly, whereas newspapers have become natural resource guzzlers. Anybody can participate at any level, whereas print media restricts the participation by social status of the writer. Most importantly, this is a round the clock coverage, while printed news becomes stale. I am not going to belittle the analytical insights provided by newspapers but even this may face a stiff challenge in the coming days.

In all, citizen journalism has actually strengthened the pillars of democracy, albeit with aberrations here and there. Regional print media houses can always benefit from this. They can appoint citizen reporters; find out the developments worth monitoring and printing the next day; aggregate the opinions which are known as Crowd Sourcing. If this is done with some professional filtering for truthfulness and factual, regional media houses can bring about a radical change in their pages. It is all about how to participate online and bring the worthy content in print. It may be preposterous to say this, but I am sure the traditional reporting will be tested for its neutrality. No reporter can ignore the people’s opinion.

As a corollary of this idea, newspapers can rethink about their strategies of news-making itself: Do we need routine news items just for the sake of it? Don’t we need to enrich the news after mashing it with citizen journalism? But this challenge should be addressed taking into the account of upcountry readers, who have just begun to join the citizen journalism / social media campaign. Since newspapers are mainly addressing literate population, they can definitely come up with new ideas with citizen journalism. Civic activism breeds citizen journalism. There is no harm in taking the best out of this.

The advantage of CONVERGENCE

Thus internet brings a radical revolution: CONVERGENCE. Media Convergence is the new Mantra. It means optimum utilisation of all the sources of information and dissemination of the same on multiple platforms like newspapers, TV Channels, Online fora, Radio, Mobiles and all such communication tools. The idea of convergence has taken the western media by storm, but it is yet to take off in India. Mere publication of FB posts and Tweets in print media cannot be an act of Convergence. But providing analytical, integrated news report is Convergence. I wish our regional newspapers develop a culture of Convergence; enhance their news quality and reduce their expenses in news gathering. Many media houses in the west have profited hugely by successfully applying the process of Convergence.

The challenge of e-paper era

Though almost all the online regional newspapers are available for free, days are not far off that they begin charging. This being the transition era, it is quite natural for them to offer online content for free. But this cannot go too far. When Narendra Modi’s Broadband connectivity project connects India’s villages with high speed internet access, regional newspapers cannot afford to lose their print subscriptions. Community subscription and other innovative methods can be applied here to survive. The main advantage of printed paper is its ease of use. Computer screens cannot replace fold-able, easy to carry newspapers.

What if newsprint itself becomes a thing of the past? What will happen to the print media then? Dr. Leo Bogart, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Newspaper Advertising Bureau, USA, has enlisted the following predictions for newspapers in 2084 (he wrote this essay in 1984).

  1. Newspapers will still appear in a printed format,
  2. The substance on which newspapers are printed will not be based just on wood-pulp, but on an amalgam of raw materials selected to minimize both expense and effects on the environment.
  3. Newspaper organizations will be comprehensive providers, rather than publishers.
  4. Newspapers will market a high share of the input available to them.
  5. High quality colour will be universally available
  6. Decentralized production will make possible the up-to-the-minute, round-the-clock newspaper.
  7. There will be a revival of newspaper competition.
  8. Distribution systems will be competitive and comprehensive,
  9. Newspapers will include a high proportion of individually customized content
  10. Newspapers will still be a mass medium,
  11. Readers will pay a larger share of the newspaper’s income than they do now, and advertisers less

Thus, while newspapers in general have a bright prospect, our regional newspapers cannot afford to lag behind.

Hand held e-papers?

Personally, I expect digital, opaque; Wi-Fi enabled wafer thin electronic papers, based on advanced graphite technology in near future. This paper will do away with the actual printing on the paper. The subscriber will have a single set of this digital paper, and the news, layout, photographs and all such items will keep on updating. This e-paper can play audio files, videos and what not. It is only a matter of time! All the cultural and sentimental attachment held by printed papers can be preserved, including the nostalgic ink smell!

The challenge of MNCs

Regional media houses are usually run by independent private organisations or group companies. The shareholding in Indian newspapers is still restricted. But one cannot rule out 100% / majority foreign participation at some point of time. When this comes true, it will ring danger bells for regional papers. India does not run any independent, community driven newspaper; so, this eventuality may even be welcomed. But as torch bearers of nationalistic, locally rooted issues, regional papers must not succumb to the shameless consumerisation campaign by MNCs. I am witnessing commercial mega events conducted by newspapers which raise an eyebrow. Technological advancements support such activities. It is in the national interest that regional newspapers come out with an organised localised strategy and live longer.

Beluru Sudarshana
Media consultant and Chairman, RIVERTHOUGHTS MEDIA PRIVATE LIMITED
72/1, Floor 3, 1st Cross, Shankarapark, Shankarapuram, BANGALORE 560004
Hand phone: 9741976789 email: beluru@beluru.com
website: www.beluru.com

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