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The waves

As the Wind Blows

Name:
Location: Chennai, Tamilnadu, India

29 January 2005

Today - Jan 29th - is Newspapers Day. So to celebrate the aaniversary of the dawn of the First Newspaper in 1780, I publish here a piece from my Archives:

Published in Pioneer in Jan 1996. Nine years have gone by - but I guess the topic is still relevant. We have not come too far ?? !! Or did I travel into the future? :-)


The role of print media in a changing world.

You are rushing through your morning breakfast, giving a quick glance over your "on-line " morning paper. Even as the digital newspaper dutifully transmits the day's news through your PC monitor, you find that you don't have the kind of time to go through every "page". You wish that you were able to carry the " newspaper" with you - like the way you used to tuck it under your arm to read while commuting for work. But, notwithstanding the electronic notebooks, electronic newspapers just are not the same as the traditional printed newspapers. They cannot be tucked away under your arm.

Or that is what one thought, till recently. Enter electronic tablet- the new avatar in the electronic media which is still in its nascent stage of development. Now, this is a small news card - the size of a credit card which can be slotted into any Personal computer and get the front page of the "newspaper" on the screen. By touching different parts of the screen, you can also have access to different pages, complete with visuals.

Demonstrating the new invention at the first Asian Newspaper Publishers' Conference, concluded recently in Singapore, media consultant Roger Fidler, observed that online newspapers - a fast catching up phenomenon with most newspapers around the world - would not be the main form of electronic newspapers in the future. If digital newspapers were to succeed, they would have to be as portable and as easy to use as traditional newspaper. He pointed out that newspaper companies in future would sell their stories in memory cards which could be refreshed daily at homes or information kiosks. This technology also would serve as an answer to newsprint, he added.

However, notwithstanding the fast developments in technology which has brought in sweeping changes in newspaper industry, the group of about 200 newspaper publishers who had gathered from across the globe to discuss the future of newspaper industry were confident that the days of print media are not over - not yet. As Mr.Cheong Yip Seng, editor in Chief, Singapore Press Holdings observed, good newspapers are proven products and still do better than anyone else in commanding the attention of large numbers of people all at once.

The reasons are multifold. First, it is a matter of brand loyalty, as is the case with any other product. There are still many readers who wouldn't change brands of their morning newspapers, let alone changing the medium. Secondly, the electronic medium still does not provide that "comfortable reading" for many. For them, clicking a mouse and peering through the screen is not just the same as spreading the paper infront of you and reading it at your own pace( often with a pair of reading glasses.). Thirdly, the print media's far reaching effect. It is still the undisputed medium for the masses. The scope and canvas it provides for exchange of ideas between individuals or groups - the platform it provides for exchange of ideologies among the mass as well as the intellectuals is still unlimited. Last but not least, the cost factor. Again keeping in mind the perspective of masses, the newspaper as a medium by far is the cheapest for the reader. The entire world's news - often with in depth analyses and backgrounders literally is at your doorstep for a fraction of the amount one would otherwise spend for the electronic media which also involves certain amount of investment in the equipment needed to have access to the medium. ( The nuisance factor of maintenance and malfunctions are not taken into account here.)

Yes, the newspapers in printed form are very much needed still. But their roles have changed and so have their formats.Today it is not suffice if they just provide the news.
As mass media, they have great responsibility of moulding the destiny of a nation. Mr. David Bell, chief executive of London's Financial Times observed during one of the sessions, " It is imperative to concentrate on doing what we as newspapers can do best. This is providing information in context. Not just what happened, but what why and what does it mean........ The world is beginning to drown in information. Harassed and confused, the customer of tomorrow will want guidance and reassurance from sources that he or she can trust. A strong newspaper brand can be like a lighthouse shining through the mist and fog, warning of rocks and danger ahead, shedding light in places of darkness."

Newspapers are an integral part of an individual's lifestyle. For scores of people the morning cuppa along with the newspaper is a habit which definitely will not cease that easily. There is nothing like running a glance over the small printed lines devouring greedily all the things that made news.For many, the touch and even the smell of the fresh paper matters a lot - something that goes beyond the contents of the paper. They symbolise a morning ritual which throws open the window to see the rest of the world through the small printed words. Here, the feel is as important as the contents.

Discussing the pitfalls of today's media in general, Mr. Peter Kann, chairman and chief executive of Dow Jones, the publishers of Far Eastern Economic Review and Asian Wall Street Journal, observed that exaggerated pessimism is one of the disturbing trends in media today. He noted that while it was essential for journalists to be sceptical and critical, this was a mindset that looked for the worst and found the facts to fit. Even as we appreciate the virtues of press freedom, one tends to agree with him on that score. For, constant projection of negative image of one's country and society can create a negative attitude among the mass. And this attitude would naturally spill over in the individual's personal as well as work life, which might have repercussions on a larger canvas of the national scene.

This is more apparent in India. While every bit of negative news is blown up on the pages of newspapers, the achievements and the positive aspects of the country seldom make news. Consequently the world media too, picks up only the sordid stories, giving a bleak impression of India. Adding to the misery is the sorry state of Indian politics, which plays havoc on the already dilapidated image of the country. The achievements and the virtues are always overshadowed by the negative news of which there is never any dearth in India. Under the circumstances the media has a great role to play in uplifting the nation's image and there by boosting the average Indian's morale which is a very essential ingredient for a nation's progress.

Reflecting on the global society's responsibilities, Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke in his key note address to the convention highlighted the global issues of population explosion and environmental hazards. Emphasising the relationship between these issues and the allocation of resources, he said, " It is a matter of priorities - priorities between the allocation of resources for the destruction of humankind or for creating a socially and environmentally sustainable habitat on this planet.......The global perspective ..... can best be seen in terms of a paradox. ........It is as though we suffer from a collective cerebral dichotomy, with the right hemisphere of the brain working with furious efficiency in matters technological, while the left displays a flaccid incompetence in formulating appropriate social and environmental responses...." Mr. Hawke in his speech hoped that the newspaper industry would address the global concerns seen from a larger perspective - beyond the analyses and reports - and shape intelligent responses to create a better society. And that perhaps renders a peep into the future of newspaper industry.


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