“Are you targeting only the college-going crowd these days?” asked one reader. “When you lift HT today, you find reports about what Katrina [Kaif] is wearing and what Deepika [Padukone] is doing.”
The reader seems to be saying three things: first, that HT gives over too much space to Bollywood; second, it appears to be targeting young people; third, that the young are frivolous.
Let me say bluntly that I disagree with the first contention. While it is true that I might want even less space devoted to Bollywood starlets, how much of Katrina Kaif or Deepika Padukone does HT really end up having in the main edition? Very little.
Moreover, even Café, HT’s daily entertainment supplement, has recently become more eclectic.
“Since we relaunched the paper in July, Café has become more broad-based,” said Mayank Shekhar, who edits the supplement. “It now looks at pop culture beyond just Bollywood film stars.”
About the second contention, there is no debate. It is quite obvious that the paper is consciously targeting youth. The paper’s re-design is clearly aimed at the young, if not the restless.
“Yes, we are targeting young people,” said Soumya Bhattacharya, HT Mumbai’s editor. “Young people are India’s future, and we want to embrace the future.”
Indeed, why should a newspaper not target young people? India is an incredibly young country. The median age in India is just 25 years, compared with 33 years in China, 37 years in the United States and the United Kingdom, 39 in France and Russia and 43 in Germany and Italy.
But targeting the young does not at all mean becoming trivial. In the eyes of the not-so-young, young people are always likely to appear more frivolous than they ever were in their youth. But that is just a perception.
“We are certainly not dumbing ourselves down,” said Bhattacharya. “Our youth is prodigiously talented. We aim to be intelligent without being stodgy, credible without being pedantic.”
Moreover, being young is not just a physiological fact. It is also a state of mind. One could be in the 50s and still embrace change, novelty, excitement and all the other things that young people seem to do better on average than their parents.
“We want to be a complete newspaper for the young at heart, one that provides news that is central to people’s lives in Mumbai,” said Bhattacharya. “Our offerings reflect that.”
For instance, on Thursday, the Body and Soul pullout of Café featured gadgets tailored for old people, such as a nail-cutter with a magnifying glass see pictures. Yesterday, in the Rush page of the Sports section, HT carried two letters by people over sixty.
Targeting young people is the only way for newspapers to survive in India at a time when they are under tremendous threat in advanced capitalist societies such as the United States and United Kingdom. In July, The Ann Arbor News in the US shut down, leaving a major city without any newspaper. In the UK, the Guardian Media Group is thinking of closing down The Observer, the world’s oldest Sunday paper, whose influence on global journalism is hard to overstate.