Can the written press survive the pandemic?
Som Nath Sapru takes stock of the current situation.
Everything must have a sunset – the glory of the Maurya dynasty, the glory of the Mughals and lately the glory of the British rulers in India all had their ups and downs and one day they were wiped out. Today’s print media enjoyed its glory days for over 120 years. It took its first steps with the sudden appearance of electronic media, then digital marches in various areas of publishing – be it texts, text editing or visual inputs like tables, graphics. , lines or halftones in black and white or even in color. As it is, the print media has been infuriated by the sudden invasion of digital forays taking a prominent place in the 21st century and now the unfortunate global Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected the print media, mainly in the form of ” a drop in advertising revenue and a sharp drop in readership due to traffic disruptions.
As one veteran journalist recently put it, “the darkest irony – the greatest story of a lifetime kills the very industry that exists to report it.” Without a doubt, the coronavirus is destroying newspapers almost all over the world. Major and regional newspaper publishers have found it uneconomically and unsustainable to continue producing newspapers without any financial return. To compromise with the situation, they reduced the number of pages, asked several of their staff to work from home, in addition to reducing the number of office journalists and freelancers – due to the reduction in advertisements. from most parts of the company and other allied agencies. multinational companies.
Nationally, the circulations of several major newspapers have been drastically reduced due to distribution issues due to the nationwide foreclosure for more than two and a half months and ongoing restrictions, removal of ads by advertisers who have created problems and newspaper publishers have found no viable solution or alternative to advertising revenue as the main source of financial assistance.
Could there be a post-pandemic revival of âold print mediaâ? This is highly questionable as most print media publishers find digital media more manageable and perhaps cheaper and might even create a more profitable situation. vis Ã vis print media, because print media establishments have suffered heavy financial losses during the pandemic period for more than eight months now.
Some of the cascading effects of the pandemic on print media include the dismissal of journalists; some news related publications folded to reduce the number of pages. Across the country, the newspaper industry briefly walked a tightrope – trying to keep itself afloat financially and at the same time keep readers informed. Despite the difficult times, newspapers remained determined to cover the pandemic widely, fight disinformation, provide public health updates, and not even bypass entertainment to help the general public cope with the outbreak. impact of the virus.
In addition to dealing with the financial blow, the newspapers were also trying to be cooperative with various government agencies to give pride of place in the pages to announce all the precautionary and safety messages to fight the pandemic. This fight against the pandemic was carried out collectively by all the newspapers regardless of the historical low circulation of their publications.
Newspapers in the small states and towns of Mofussil faced a horrific pandemic due to the reduction in ads, and due to the lockdown, large businesses and private sector companies did not operate, as did advertisers. private – for small town newspapers it was a precarious existence – while “Class A newspapers did not feel much pressure due to existing resources and provincial or central government publication of various placements. campaign advertisers related to Covid-19 from the ministry.
The nationwide lockdown was abruptly announced around the third week of March 2020, which surprised the entire industry. For most print media organizations, this lockdown has resulted in disrupted supply chains, a reduction in the number of copies printed and the shift from readers to digital media. However, after about six to seven weeks, the general public was informed that newspapers and news magazines were printed with the utmost care and under sanitized conditions – disinfectants were sprayed just during printing operations just before the newspaper delivery point for consolidation and even the delivery people received disinfectant sprays before dropping the newspapers on the reader’s doorstep. All of this has been widely disseminated through videos on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
Major newspapers like The time of India, The times of Hindustan, Indian express, and The Hindu made a joint decision that during the lockdown period that although the physical edition of the newspaper may not be available to readers, they will continue to produce every daily edition of these newspapers on the Internet. But soon the management of these newspapers realized that if the public is made to understand that newspapers are not contaminated with any Covid-19 virus, readers will be ready to buy them again.
Newspapers and news magazines began releasing print editions of their publications after the World Health Organization claimed newspapers remain safe for anyone, even though the coronavirus can live on a surface for several days. . The papers used by print media are produced by highly automated machines and the entire process hardly needs human hands. In addition, the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes Covid-19 from a package, newspaper or news magazine that has been moved, traveled and exposed to different conditions and temperatures is also low. – it’s confirmed.
As is the case with all news houses, newspapers, news magazines and other allied publications, faced financial crushing due to reduced advertising placements by companies and advertising agencies. It was further affected by the 20% increase in the cost of paper. Thus, the government has been approached by all newspaper publishers with a petition for a waiver of at least 5% on import duties to help reduce the costs of producing these publications as the industry has been hit hard. due to Covid-19.
Our country is the largest democracy in the world and it supports over 82,000 registered newspapers with a combined circulation of 11 crore (110 million) and is estimated to represent an industry with a turnover of around Rs 2,525 crore , which translates to over $ 5.1 billion. As the country’s literacy rate reaches 75.1%, more citizens have now developed the capacity and resources to access newspapers as well as digital forums. Many middle class families started using the internet for various activities for the first time and it was timely and useful for their school and college age children for online lessons, during the ongoing pandemic and the national lockdown, due to the closure of all schools, colleges and even professional institutions like medical and engineering institutions in addition to all universities in the country.
Print media professionals have played an important role in educating people across the country through all major newspapers and news magazines in all languages, in addition to mass-broadcast social media. India’s Press Council, which regulates the print media, said: âIn dealing with issues regarding Covid-19, the print media have played a crucial role in reaching the general public and advising on precautions to be taken. to save themselves and their families from the corona virus and mitigate the impact of the pandemic. “
The impact of the pandemic on the newspaper industry has been so dire that it has lost more than 4,000 to 5,000 crore in the two-month nationwide lockdown. The general feeling is that it is the print media industry that is surviving the situation affected by the financial crisis.
The growth in the number of Internet users was significant during the peak period of the pandemic, between June and September 2020. During this period, there was a downward trend in ad placement and ad revenue for all. newspapers and news magazines. in the whole world.
Let me repeat that the growth in the number of Internet users has been significant over the past 20 years worldwide. This has also happened in our country because of the lockdown and closure of all educational institutions, from schools to universities, in addition to professional institutions – students of all categories have used and depend on the use massive internet, which may be the payoff. of the pandemic.
While many newspapers have launched digital editions of their publications, which is an experiment with subscription content models, the digital media game is still largely powered by free online publications such as News 18, NDTV, Firstpost , Indian Express, Economic Times, etc.
The real question remains whether the print media can survive and enjoy its former glory, which is more than 120 years old, after the huge breach created by the ongoing pandemic.
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Can the written press survive the pandemic?