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The growth of digital news outlets

Siddharth VaradarajanMUMBAI: A year ago, former editor of The Hindu newspaper Siddharth Varadarajan started a news portal, The Wire, along with fellow journalists Sidharth Bhatia (one of the founding editors of dna) and MK Venu (former executive editor of The Hindu). This move by these print veterans marks the wave of change that is evident in how traditional news is being disseminated to the masses.

Gone are the days when stacks of newspapers arrived in almost every Indian household. News today is being consumed on the move, marking the advent of the digital world. Traditional print media companies have had little choice but to adapt to this change. Consequently, the big daddies of the industry such as The Times of India and The Express Group are focusing resources and strategies to build their digital news portfolio. It began with e-papers to dedicated news websites and now apps.

Anant Goenka“If you are here to stay in business for a long term, then you have to invest in digital, either directly or on a shared basis,” said The Indian Express whole-time director and head of new media Anant Goenka, during a panel discussion on ‘Who moved my news’ at the FICCI Frames.

The 29-year-old, who joined the group in 2012, has since changed the face of the group by focusing on digital news.

“Digital has altered the editorial terrain in fundamental ways. The ability to tell stories has been enhanced due to multimedia—through interactivity and reach. Editors have realised the future lies in going digital,” said Varadarajan.

Ravi AgarwalTo be fair, it isn’t just print media; news broadcasters too are going digital. Not too long ago, print and TV journalists didn’t lock horns over stories as evidently as they do now, courtesy of a common ground in the digital space. How else can you explain TOI, Express Group and NDTV all being ranks under one system in the digital world for their share of unique visitors (on their respective websites)? “Digital news is the present, not just the future,” said CNN International New Delhi bureau chief Ravi Agarwal.

Ros AtkinsIn the bargain, media companies—print, TV and online—have realised the importance of sharing stories done by the competition when they miss a story or when a good story is done by the competition. “At BBC we understand that good content should be shared even if it isn’t our report. Given how news is consumed on the social media, if we don’t do this, people won’t come to us,” said BBC World News TV presenter Ros Atkins.

Extentia Information Technology CEO Umeed Kothavala added that this is essential considering some news is being consumed on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

A few forward thinkers such as Azhar Iqbaul took the plunge and launched news digest apps. Azhar’s News in Short is a news discovery and distribution application that gives out news in less than 60 words. While Azhar was fortunate to have been able to find VC funding of $4 million, traditional media companies are banking on advertiser money and, in due course, subscription revenue, which is a long haul.

Bhaskar DasWhile digital journalism seems to be the way forward, “Creditability of news is non-negotiable,” added Zee Media Group CEO Bhaskar Das.

Is there a business model in digital news? Goenka believes that digital can stand on its own legs, though it can’t replace the kind of revenues that media barons earned from their print businesses.

Varadarajan, however, does not agree that digital outlets on their own can support the kind of news gathering expenses that traditional media can. “As a business proposition, it is still very difficult to be profitable. For a pure digital news outlet player, it is impossible to match the expenses that traditional media have towards news gathering or their news staff. We are a non-profit organisation,” he said.

Are print companies willing to put their exclusive stories on the digital medium first? “We prefer to put them on our newspaper first. If we put it first on our portal, that exclusivity will be lost in a matter of minutes,” he said.

Agarwal said that CNN’s approach to news has changed forever. “We now don’t think of which medium we should disseminate the news first. We as an organisation think of being the first to put out the news. We then decide on how news can be distributed across the various delivery platforms.”

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