These days, the ‘I’ problem in newspapers has nothing to do with the egos of senior editors. It’s a problem to which the business savvy of even Rupert Murdoch has still not found a fully satisfactory solution. (The other ‘I’ problem he took care of long ago.)
I’m talking about the Internet. The main challenge for newspaper managements today is coming up with a viable financial model for their online offerings, which might eventually be the only thing they have and certainly the only thing that many young people are reading.
The problem is this: most consumers of the Internet are loathe to pay for what they have become used to getting for free, yet online advertisements haven’t begun to make enough of an impact for newspapers to be able to depend entirely on them for revenue. Both these things might change, but for now they remain challenges.
But the Internet poses an even more fundamental problem to newspapers and journalists, fundamental because it challenges their raison d’être: it has eaten into their role as intermediaries between citizens and various institutions.
Governments all over the world and at different levels are putting up their resolutions, policies and notices online, courts are putting their judgements online, companies have made their financial data available on the web. And how can we forget Wikileaks, which is putting reams of classified information in the public domain?
I am no expert on the Internet (or anything else for that matter), but experts are probably what newspapers are going to need to keep themselves relevant: now that readers have easy access to the facts, they will want insights.
Overall, news organisations will have to raise their game, going beyond merely transmitting facts and producing much better journalism – detailed and engaging reportage, stylishly written and full of analysis. Journalists can yet provide this, if they will.
In the meanwhile, while some readers continue to cherish the physical form of the newspaper, journalists will increasingly have to provide alongside their published articles links to relevant information on the Internet.
Last week, for instance, a reader called G R Vora, felt that HT ought to have provided web links in two articles. The first was a story about the municipal corporation cracking down on illegal garages and food stalls (May 11, page 3) and the second was a high court ruling that a husband’s extra-marital affair amounted to cruelty (page 5). The web link to that day’s edition is http://epaper.hindustantimes.com/PUBLICATIONS/HT/HM/2011/05/11/INDEX.SHTML).
What the reader wanted were links to the specific circulars that the corporation had issued and to the actual court order.
“Giving links to important documents would greatly help readers who wish to take the issues forward with elected representatives and public servants,” he wrote.
He then kindly went on to provide links to the two civic circulars (which I’ve checked):
The circular on illegal garages: http://www.box.net/shared/9pladsxti2
The circular on illegal food stalls: http://www.box.net/ shared/inx5fy2177
As for court orders, not all are available online. HT’s court reporters tell me it takes up to two months for an order to go up on the web after it has been delivered. The order mentioned in the article, however, is available on the Bombay High Court’s website.
For readers who are interested, they can go to www.bombayhighcourt.nic.in and then click on the topmost button, ‘Case No. Wise’. They will be taken to another screen, where you will need to enter the following information in five fields:
1. Side: Bombay Appellate (Criminal)
2. Choose Registration No (not Stamp No)
3. Type: Criminal Appeal
4. No: 131
5. Year: 1997
I hope that helps.