By Caroline Paul Kanjookaran
The world has shrunk to a global village. Metaphor or not, the advent of modern Internet has made our lives easier and better. The Internet boom has reshaped or even bypassed the traditional news media by providing us with digital newspapers and books, online music, internet television, video streaming, and more. Newspapers are embracing website technology to include online news aggregators and webfeeds besides blogs. This is especially true for India, a country with 1.3 billion people and a huge digital potential.
Digitalization goes in line with people’s preferences, says Rekha Pulinnoli, an Indian journalist with 14 years of experience in print and digital. “People, especially youth, do not like the idea of poring over newspapers all day long. Why should they, when they have the option of reading whatever they want, whenever they want on social media platforms and the Internet?” she asks. According to Pulinnoli, people prefer short bites of information, especially visual ones because they have the needed solutions and explanations. The five-minutes videos are the best examples because they “can be uploaded online and accessed from anywhere in the world,” she concludes.
In India, digital journalism is an opportunity with great growth potential. The power of Internet began to show from 2011 to 2015. During the period, the amount of Internet users grew by 30%. By 2015, at least 400 million Indians were online. While journalists recognized the opportunity, India experienced a major growth of digital journalism start-ups and online versions of established newspapers. Rabin Gupta, India-based journalist with experience in Qatar and Bahrain, says: “Digital journalism has grown exponentially in India, to the extent print media have been affected with layoffs and other issues.” He concludes: “It has also brought immediacy to the news with people updated on latest developments and breaking news, as soon as they occur.”
Most of the digital ventures appear to have adopted a mobile-first strategy, always looking for readers on the go. Some of them have published daring stories; an example is The Wire and its exposing story on corruption. The medium showed how business turnover of a company owned by Jay Shah, the son of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s president, increased 16,000 times after the government led by Narendra Modi assumed office. The stinging story, which was well received by the readers, but created a political fury, was among the so-called “media operations.”. The mainstream media abandoned such “operations” nowadays in their bid not to shake up their revenue resources. Interestingly, the latest recipients of the online “sting” were the mainstream media barons themselves.
However, the transition to digital is not without inherent challenges. These are low advertisement generation, unwillingness to pay for news as well as the fake news issue, which led to severe unrests in parts of India. For instance, in May 2017, seven people were beaten to death in two incidents after a WhatsApp message. It made the villagers from Jharkhand state believe the people were child abductors targeting youth in the area. Without much experience with media and smartphones, the villagers did not doubt online messages. Everything shared on the phone is regarded as true, prompting people to react emotionally and at times, violently.
Another major challenge is accessing small towns and remote areas with poor Internet connectivity. Since modern platforms cater to those digitally aware, it means that the elderly, who have little or no knowledge of the system, may find it daunting. Therefore, it is likely that Indian media will do a juggling act by catering to the aspirations of youth and keeping the old school alive just for the sake of their senior readers. This is also why media professionals appear confident that newspapers will be around forever, but with a decline in readership, as is the case now.