Newspapers: Not a sign of the times
I was first infatuated with print as a kid when I came across the glossy pages of travel magazines like Travel+Leisure. The woody smell of books wafting in Crossword, for me, was always associated with the travel magazines section. I felt like I could hear my own eyes beam when I saw the blue section of Lonely Planet guides.
Very soon, I noticed all these words, phrases and metaphors coursing through my brain; like a rich, smooth, well-cooked, lightly spiced gravy with a sweet aftertaste. I had a new superpower. I was going to put it to good use. I was going to become a travel writer.
Half a decade has passed, and I’ve been stepping stones, with each one bringing me an inch closer to having my name in small, bold, black letters on one of the glossy pages with the straw-hat photograph. In a short span, I was shown the ways of this world. I learnt what paid and what didn’t: Print didn’t.
All these years later, after interning with media companies here and there, and getting my first print by-line in a city daily, I still believe in print. Four semesters in Journalism honours and we’re told repetitively how working for the print media will give us tedious hours of work, a bland wage and a terrible posture.
Why is print knocking on the doors of heaven?
Print media is dying because it refuses to evolve. We’re running on a system of newspapers that was set up more than a century ago. The format, number of pages, circulation, content style: nothing has changed. 12 pages of plain (and selective) reporting with a page or two for opinions. It is indeed true that the generation that religiously reads the newspaper at 8 in the morning with a cup of tea is getting wrinkly and saggy. If the newspaper wants to survive today, it needs to change.
As for magazines, they're barely keeping their heads above the water. Many do this by becoming sell-outs, which is done by dumbing down the language. There is a clear shift from substance to fluff with a spicy sweet aftertaste that allures readership. The line of difference between writing for print and digital is precariously getting blurred.
Print needs to do a detailed recon of their audience, circulation and their readership. There is no point in profusely manufacturing and disseminating the same paraphrased piece of news. Events and happenings reach billions in a flash, all thanks to digital. People don’t wait for the next morning’s 8 am to know what happened with startups that were laid to waste by the Silicon Valley Bank. Broadcast and digital have fully and efficiently taken over the reporting part of the news sphere. People don’t need 12 pages of the same 50 tweets that they just scrolled by and the Instagram post they just reposted.
What people struggle with, is putting the pieces of an ongoing event together. They know that the Union Bank of Switzerland acquiring Credit Suisse is breaking news because every 5th post on their feed carries the same headline, They want to know what happened, how it all started, and most of all, what these words even mean. They won’t necessarily google Credit Suisse and UBS, and then go to what happened to Credit Suisse and then go to why and how UBS took over. That’s a curious person’s rabbit hole. This is where print can come in. It can play the role of converting passive curiosity into active curiosity.
Newspapers aren’t exactly ‘compatible’ with our fast-moving lives. Every time I ask a youngster why they don’t read the newspaper, a recurring answer meets me: “Why should I? I don’t care what’s going on” And they’re right. In the grand scheme of things, am I, a 19-year-old, really affected by the 2nd greatest bank crisis in the States? Am I affected by what a politician said in one of the thousands of rallies that happen in hundreds of places all over the country on a daily basis? I’m part of the sadly small percentage of people who want to stay in the loop with all major events; reasons ranging from the need to be the smartest person in a room, active curiosity, and as is the case of lakhs of Indians, studying for UPSC.
Keeping up with the times
Here’s the thing about print: you need time, headspace, and a basic amount of curiosity or will to know new shit. College kids try actually try reading newspapers as a result of ‘FOMO’ and discard the idea very soon because it makes them feel “stupid”.
Instead of reporting all news menial and substantial, print can do the job of a compiler and analyzer. Its value can significantly be increased by changing its frequency from daily to weekly. This will result in an attitude shift pertaining to newspapers. People will start waiting for it. People will start making time for it. It can initiate actual conversations since it will truly equip its readers with all the information they need to make head and tail of the story. As the value of stories goes on the path of increment, so does the value for the people who write them. When I was interning for a city daily, although my mom was delighted she saw my name in print, she was never happy with the fact that I’d put all my heart and soul into the job every single day, in exchange for almost nothing. 90 English daily newspapers in India as per RNI report 2021, with nearly 40 articles in every newspaper, resulting in 5400 articles published every single day. I can’t be one of 5400 every few days in a week.
Print isn’t disappearing; with 105443 newspapers registered with RNI (as per the 2021 report), at least not anytime soon. People will always love print for its tangibility. It will always be their escape from their screen-bombarded lives. Reading habits have changed drastically. With this world mindlessly galloping towards everything and nothing, it’s time print picks up the pace, pivots a little and catches up.