The Fall of the Newspaper: Mrinal Pande on the Metamorphosis in Media

Veteran press personality Mrinal Pande discusses why newspapers are destined to perish at the hand of ePapers, lending insight into the challenges faced by today’s media.

A person of bold beliefs can be instantly recognised by her speech and expressions. Television personality Mrinal Pande is such a person; she was profoundly daring in her thoughts when she came for the 18th Ramanlal Parikh Memorial Lecture held at Ahmedabad Management Association. Pande has spent decades in uplifting Indian media by contributing as Chief Editor at Hindustan, Chairperson at Prasar Bharati, show host at Baaton Baaton Mein on Lok Sabha TV, Editor at the women’s magazine Vama, and through other roles at Doordarshan and STAR News.

Like her mother Gaura Pant, better known as Shivani, Pande is also a Padma Shri laureate. She adopts a feminist and nationalist approach in her writings, be it in the critically-acclaimed Daughter’s Daughter, based on her childhood journey; or The Other Country, a book that discusses language divisions, water management, social polarisation and women’s objectification in India’s small towns and big cities. Pande’s lecture at India@70: Challenges Before the Media, held on November 21, 2017, focused on the challenges faced by the digital and print media of India. The hall teemed with media delegates and litterateurs who were utterly affixed to their seats till the end of the discourse.

From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg

The lecture began on a humorous note, with media pundit Pande describing the evolution of media as a journey “from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg”. While the German polymath Johannes Gutenberg had introduced the mechanical movable type printing press in Europe, Mark Zuckerberg is the ingenious billionaire who has encapsulated the world in a bijou jar of social media through Facebook. She added,

“Visiting Europe’s espresso bars today is much like watching a musician’s daily morning practice. Just like a connoisseur composer opens his harmonium every morning to practise his musical chords, cafes in Europe are brimming with people glued to their laptops; people who just decades ago were gingerly reading newspapers to gather their daily dose of global news.”

Intriguingly, as a side note, Pande pointed out that the Hindi Devnagri font type was actually invented in Rome, to meet the Catholic Church’s desire to circulate the word of the Bible in the Indian subcontinent. This is how the movable font first entered India, leading to the flourishing of journalism in the 19th century; when the nation chose Hindi, Urdu and the vernacular languages to communicate between citizens.

The Decline in Newspaper Sales

Although India is the second largest newspaper market in the world where, in 2016, more than ten crore copies of newspapers were sold every day, and where people still consider print media their only source of information; the global newspaper market is significantly declining. Pande points out that The Wall Street Journal halted its European and Asian print editions, which is a significant event. The News Corp cited significantly practical issues, which are faced by most media houses today – editorial restructuring and declining advertisement revenues. Unlike indigenous language readers, English readers are much more digital savvy and are turning their heads towards digital news portals. The digital way is a much-preferred choice amongst the below-40 age group, which comprises 80% of the world’s population. They are more impatient about sitting still while consuming information.

The digital portal allows for mobility – you can multitask between Facebook and YouTube while gathering information through notifications. It has portability –a user can consume news anywhere, anytime. And personalisation of content through recommendations is also something that newspapers cannot offer. In order to continue its sustainability in the market, the media business has a lot to handle – through its digital, print and even television channels – to maintain readership as well as viewership these days.

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The Machine Media

But everything fancy comes with a price. Mrinal Pande quoted Tim Berners Lee, the father of World Wide Web, who famously said, “I’m still an optimist, but an optimist standing at the top of the hill with a nasty storm blowing in my face, hanging on to a fence.” His words remind one of the sheer threat faced by digital media and net neutrality. Both of these are in grave danger because of proliferating fake news which, according to Pande’s discourse, is available for as cheap as $10 on the “Dark Web” today.

The USA government recently banned 2800 websites that were clones of legitimate media websites. It isn’t the first time that unauthenticated content, planted paid news and trolls are making the democracy quiver in fear. But the pace at which these can go viral today is a matter of concern. Algorithms now handle the scrutinising of content, which was a task once done by humans. The credibility of traditional media ratings like Television Rating Points (TRP) and Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) is being pushed towards oblivion. If a user is continually fed a single genre of content, then how will he be exposed to differing perspectives, find his niche, and develop a sense of equality for people with diverse choices?

In a Nutshell

It is inevitable that the e-Paper will take over newspapers in coming decades. According to Pande, a recent study conducted at Harvard, MIT and Florida University found that 65% of ‘national conversations’ like race, immigration, food, water, power distribution policies, and so on, are shaped through social media portals globally. Though consumers complain about contemporary media being loud and querulous, very soon the question of how we attractively parcel the delivery of information will no longer be as relevant as the bigger question – the authenticity of deliverables.

Padma Shri awardee Prof Anil Gupta, the founder of ‘Honey Bee Network’ and a faciliatator of grassroots innovation, concluded the lecture on a critical note, “Helping the audience through affordable devices and pocket-friendly digital facilities won’t be helpful until people are taught what they should be using it for.”

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