From an early age I have adored the newspaper, inspired deeply by the home and the home city. Yet today I must confess that the newspaper is alarmingly dead yet throbbingly alive and this duality must be handled. Which equally means that while the format need not change, the content must be overhauled and an idea or two may emanate from this article.
Any form of editorial content can be divided into news and views, each commanding a domain of its very own. News thrives on immediacy, accuracy and credibility, whether the source is newspaper, radio, TV or digital. While the first two aspects are often commoditised, the third dimension credibility is what used to separate the BBC from the pretenders, driven by an assurance of lineage, Views, on the other hand, are cajoled by the spiritual stance of the ownership and occasionally the editors, thus blessing the brand with a certain socio-political leaning that defines its opinions. Once again, every vehicle carefully cultivates its views zealously just as Nike or UCB would do, for herein lies the source of its secret sauce.
But there is one obvious yet major development that newspapers seem to be missing out on, which is the inability to cater to immediacy or in other words, being the first point of information for consumers. In fact, on this parameter, today’s newspapers resemble the Daak editions of yore, carrying yesterday’s news in today’s date. For those not from that era, these were circulated in mofussil areas and released early off the press to catch the overnight trains. So be it cricket scores, Covid tallies, the Congress disintegration or the China situation, we have already received an accurate update from our mobile phones the previous evening and if the matter was volatile, Arnab would have dissected it with his barbarian precision. Thus Page 1 of the morning daily, earlier the Boeing 747 of the fleet, is now a dated embarrassment, expiry written plainly on its visage.
But just as the digital world has taken over this original functionality of the newspaper, the newspaper quite surprisingly is admirably poised to gain from the enhanced reading habits of society, courtesy the never-ending screens. It cannot be denied that we have become chronically views-hungry, eagerly seeking multifaceted opinions to enrich our conversations and worldviews. Now this is a role that the printed newspaper can perform with unmatched aplomb, not just from the credibility and permanence of the printed word but with the well-established legacies that they have earned. Thus the Page 1 narrative shifts from reporting of information to the analysis of that information as a logical progression from commoditised narratives, building fiercely on the values the brand wishes to nurture. In one fell sweep, the newspaper becomes a viewspaper and there is benefit for all in this valuable media continuum.
Those versed with management literature will be aware of the Negroponte Switch, conceived by the eponymous head of the MIT Media Lab. He suggested most wisely that cables which were limited should be used for TV channels while airwaves which were theoretically unlimited must be applied for internet, unlike the prevailing pattern of the early years in co-existence. What I am suggesting is a switch most similar and do hear me out very clearly. Let the digital media with unlimited capacities be the referred conduit for information, which can be potentially limitless while the newspaper, its predecessor in this regard, focuses on high-quality selective opinion mongering, currently domineering on the online platforms. As the latter will thrive on selective and discrete dispersion which is an unquestionable skill of the newspaper editorial cadre.
But for the newspaper to become a viewspaper as a fundamental cultural shift must happen as the transformation of a time-tested business model. The headline must now become a verdict and not just reportage while the content must resonate with a learned point of view, not just the depiction of data. Where immediacy and accuracy will still matter is hyperlocal content as that will be a domain of conversation which must be married succinctly with opinions. A rather far cry from the days of The Statesman in my formative era where the life of Leonid Brezhnev mattered more than the death of Charu Mazumdar as the legacy of both origins and customer influence equally. A necessary addendum in the new positioning will be the youth representation, well-honed purveyors of current day sentiments who will be empanelled in the new scheme of things. Essentially all significant digital influencers will be persuaded to make an apparently retrograde yet actually dramatic foray to the paper world with its inimitable professional and emotional currency.
In sum, it must be said that the newspaper must urgently transform to the viewspaper, as a relevant and inspirational representation of the tumultuous times. It will be fabulous for integrity, amazing for business and charmingly in tune with original legacy.
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