Access to Indian online
newspapers: problems and prospects
At IFLA (The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) International Newspaper Conference 2010 on ‘Digital Preservation and Access to News and Views’, organized jointly by Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and IFLA Newspaper Section in February this year, several research papers were presented by Indian and overseas authors. Here are excerpts from Avijit Chakrabarti’s paper on ‘Access to Indian online newspapers: problems and prospects’.
ccording to Napolean Bonaparte (1769-1821), ‘Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets’. A newspaper is a publication containing news, information, and advertising. General-interest newspapers offer feature articles on political events, crime, business, art, entertainment, society and sports. Most traditional papers also feature an editorial page containing columns that express the personal opinions of writers. Supplementary sections mostly contain advertising, comics and coupons. A wide range of material has been published in newspapers, including editorial opinions, criticism, arguments, obituaries’ amusement features such as crosswords, Sudoku and horoscopes; weather news and forecasts; advice, gossip, food and other columns; critical reviews of movies, plays and restaurants; classified advertisements; display advertisements, editorial cartoons and comic strips (Wikipedia). The new ICT (Information Communication Technology) came as both an opportunity and a risk from the point of view of the traditional printed newspapers. As a form of computer-aided communication, the WWW (World Wide Web) is equally a competition for the print media. Its technical potential greatly surpasses that of the printed newspapers in a number of ways. WWW has the advantages of being interactive, multimedia, of providing internal and external networks and offering selection functions, the possibility of regular updates, access to archives, rapid access to a large number of newspapers, and being paperless, thus creating no problems of waste disposal. One advantage left to newsprint is that reading it does not require any sophisticated, bulky technical equipment. This offers the reader a high level of flexibility: newsprint can basically be read in any place at any time. The reader can absorb the information offered at his own pace. Even the fact that the reader can touch and feel the printed paper while turning the pages may be of some importance. On the one hand, WWW presents a threat to the traditional distribution system; on the other hand it gives publishing houses the opportunity to offer up-to-date information, advertisements and additional services via a further communication channel (Van Oostendorp 1998). The aim of this write-up is to take a look on the newspapers published from different states of India and in different languages with problems and prospects with respect to access.
History of newspapers in India
Newspapers in India started with William Bolts, an ex-employee of the British East India Company who attempted to start the first newspaper in India in 1776. In 1780, James Augustus Hicky started Bengal Gazette, a two-sheet newspaper that publicised the private lives of the ‘sahibs’ of the Company. In the newspaper, Hicky even dared to mount insulting attacks on the governor- general and chief justice, for which he was sentenced to one year in prison and fined Rs 5, 000, which finally drove him to poverty. These were the first tentative steps of journalism in India. B. Messink Welby and Peter Reed were workable publishers of the India Gazette, unlike their infamous predecessors. The colonial establishment started the Calcutta Gazette. It was followed by another private initiative, the Bengal Journal. The Madras Courier was started in 1785 in the southern stronghold of Madras. Richard Johnson, its founder, was a government printer. Madras got its second newspaper when, in 1791, Hugh Boyd, who was the editor of the Courier quit and founded the Hurkaru. Tragically for the paper, it ceased publication when Boyd passed away within a year of its founding. It was only in 1795 that competitors to the Courier emerged with the founding of the Madras Gazette followed by the India Herald. The latter was an ‘unauthorized’ publication, which led to the deportation of its founder Humphreys. The Madras Courier was designated the purveyor of official information in the Presidency. In 1878, The Hindu was founded, and played a vital role in promoting the cause of Indian independence from the colonial yoke. Its founder, Kasturi Ranga Iyengar, was a lawyer, and his son, K Srinivasan assumed editorship of this pioneering newspaper during the first half of the 20th century. Bombay surprisingly was a late starter. The Bombay Herald came into existence in 1789. Significantly, a year later a paper called The Courier started carrying advertisements in Gujarati. The first media merger of sorts happened with The Bombay Gazette, which was started in 1791, merging with The Bombay Herald the following year. Like, The Madras Courier, this new entity was recognized as the publication to carry ‘official notifications and advertisements’. Compared with many other developing countries, the Indian press has flourished since independence and exercises a large degree of independence (Stephens 2008). Among the newspapers from Bengal, Yugantar and Amritbazar Patrika played a crucial role in freedom struggle. Today India has more than 2000 daily newspapers with a combined circulation of 88 million and some of leading dailies are The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Telegraph, Asian Age, Indian Express, The Economic Times, The Pioneer and many more. With the introduction of the internet, web-based ‘newspapers’ have also started online-only publications. In India, major newspapers went online to provide latest and most updated news from them. Some newspapers even provide e-paper which is regarded as the digital replica of the newspaper. The demand for online newspapers has been increasing for the past few years with the growing reach of internet. India’s 70,000,000 internet users comprise approximately 6.0 percent of the country’s population and about 4,010,000 people in India have access to broadband internet as of 2008 figures (Wikipedia).
An online newspaper, also known as a web newspaper, is a newspaper that exists on the WWW or internet, either separately or as an online version of a printed periodical. Going online created more opportunities for newspapers in presenting breaking news in a timely manner. The credibility and strong brand recognition of well-established newspapers, and the close relationships they have with advertisers, are also seen by many in the newspaper industry as strengthening their chances of survival. The movement away from the printing process can also help decrease costs. Online newspapers are much like hardcopy newspapers and have the same legal boundaries, such as laws regarding libel, privacy and copyright, also apply to online publications in most countries, like in the UK (Wikipedia). Some newspapers have attempted to integrate the internet into every aspect of their operations, i.e., reporters writing stories for both print and online, and classified advertisements appearing in both media; others operate websites that are more distinct from the printed newspaper. Physically on the basis of publication policy, online newspapers are of three types –
- Online-only newspapers – Online-only paper is a paper that does not have any hard copy connections. It is independent web-only newspaper.
- Hybrid newspapers – There are some newspapers which are predominantly an online newspaper, but also provide limited hard copy publishing.
- Soft-copy news sheet – A news sheet is a paper that is on one or two pages only. Soft-copy sheets are like online newspapers, in that they have to be predominantly news, not advert or gossip based. These sheets can be updated periodically or regularly, unlike a newspaper. They must also like a newspaper be regarded as a news outlet by media groups and governments. (Wikipedia)
There are some advantages of online newspapers for their users: online newspapers are still mostly free of charge, often updated throughout the day, easily accessible for everyone with an internet connection; and they can be visited while working at one’s PC. As of 2009, the collapse of the traditional business model of print newspapers has led to various attempts to establish local, regional or national online-only newspapers - publications that do original reporting, rather than just commentary or summaries of reporting from other publications (Van Oostendorp 1998).
Problems of online newspapers
Today Indian online newspapers are facing many problems. Some of these are –
Prospects of online newspapers
- The number one problem with online newspapers published from India is the font problem. Basically the problem arises in the case of Indic languages. Sometimes people need special software to read these newspapers. It is not possible for everyone to download software for each newspaper in a particular language. For example, one person can read Anandabazar Patrika by downloading Bitstream’s Web Font Player software. But to read Bartaman Patrika, he/ she have to download another software though both are in Bengali language.
- The second problem is the presence of loud and stylistically unpredictable advertisements on the main page. Readers don’t visit these sites to be overwhelmed by hectic colours and dizzying arrays of advertisements. Rather, they visit to read news and be informed. These ads distract and they destroy the design and the layout of the pages. The worst offenders are animated advertisements. Trying to read the headlines with one of these animated advertisements next to it is like trying to read the headlines of a real newspaper within a fish market.
- In almost every case the layout and design of online newspapers is very poor. Very few online newspapers employ intelligent use of grid, colour and content hierarchy. Most have a flat aspect with no visual clues as to how the page and its information are supposed to be consumed.
- With most online newspapers, the site navigation is horribly confusing and inconsistent. Furthermore, the link text on the page is often disguised, easily confused with non–link text, and provides little or no visual feedback when used.
- Online newspapers often have questionable typography and paragraph configuration. Some have quite a horrible mismatch of font styles, coupled with poor font selection. Proper typography is more important in the low–resolution online environment than it is in the high-resolution environment of print. Too often, online newspapers have bad line–height (leading) in their paragraph copy, making it more difficult to read on the monitor.
- Although the internet can help online publishers save the cost of printing and delivering the hardcopy newspaper, online newspapers have yet to generate sizeable revenues by charging their readers.
- In India, ICT infrastructure is very poor. To access online newspaper the first thing we need is a computer with internet connection. It has been found that most of the villages in our country do not have any internet connection. Electrical power supply is also erratic.
Online newspapers in India have much business potential because -
- The cost of starting an online newspaper is much lower than that of starting a traditional print newspaper. For newspapers already available in a print version, the added cost for maintaining an online version is really minimal. Considering the limitless space provided by the internet and the increasing cost of newsprint, online publishing is much more cost effective.
- The country’s population today has crossed 1.1 billion; out of them almost 70 percent live in rural areas. The literacy rate which was around 17 percent at the dawn of independence, stood as 66 percent as per census of 2001 and would have further improved since. In absolute numbers, people are gradually rising above the poverty line and with passage of time, more literate and educated people and economic growth are reasonably expected. This change and progress will improve capacity to purchase and read. Though the computer literacy rate is still very low and only 6.12 percent of total population are computer educated. More people want to gain computer literacy with time (Lalwani 2009). Probably in near future more people will get accustomed to live and work in a networked environment.
- Government of India now gives emphasis on the development of infrastructure including ICT. This will create facilitate spread of the online newspapers.
- An online newspaper has some advantages which include:
- given the short concentration span of internet users, concise text captures more attention;
- forums create an environment where people entertain people, making the media a sideshow;
- feelings expressed in the forum cannot be matched by journalistic interpretation and writing skills;
- the internet users include an untapped generation of non-readers who will try everything, only once, which makes scouting for them out not worth the effort.
These advantages plus others will no doubt give online newspapers enough reasons to stay and be further explored. Indian online newspapers can adopt these advantages to increase their readership base.
People believe that the printed newspapers would not be replaced by the electronic newspapers. They believe that electronic newspapers would be supplementary to the printed copies (Bogart 1984). But the publishers believe that both print and online newspapers would flourish together (Mueller 1995). In general, Indian online newspapers seem to be more optimistic about their future. The current development of web newspapers is underlined by newspaper publishers’ desire to turn the internet into an opportunity to help reverse the trend in declining readership rather than a threat to the print newspaper. The newspaper industry seems to be more confident about the future with the development of online publishing (Boczkowski 2002). Publishers and online editors believe there is little chance for the print newspapers to be replaced by the electronic version. Instead, online publishing is seen as having the potential to open up broader prospects for the newspaper industry (Fransen 1998). The future of a new medium depends on whether it is simply a replica of an existing one and to what extent it can add value to it. In this regard, online newspapers clearly enjoy some advantages over the print newspapers. First and foremost, online newspapers are gradually building up a readership of their own. The readership of online newspapers is composed of a special group of newspaper readers who differ from those who read the same newspaper in its hard copy. They are more likely to be those who read more than their local daily and need to read other newspapers but do not have direct access to hard copies. Whatever the reasons, online newspaper readers are more likely to help swell the ranks of existing readers rather than reduce them. Also, online newspapers provide new services that could not be a part of traditional newspapers (D’Haenens 2004). The searchable archive and classified ads can help each newspaper become an information databank in addition to its role as a deliverer of news. The hyperlinks have changed the newspaper from a single source of information into a hub of information networks without a clear ending point.
New technologies can bring new opportunities as well as threats to existing media. The newspapers play an important role in crystallizing public opinion. The forums, chat facilities and e-mail contacts allow greater interactivity among the community members and between the readers and editors than the traditional print newspapers (Bogart 1985). As far as business is concerned, very few online papers are actually making money. Compared with the print paper, the online paper is clearly at a disadvantage in maintaining the traditional sources of newspaper revenues - advertising and subscription charges. Newspaper advertisers are mainly interested in local customers within their reach, but online readership tends to be away from the local market. Only multinational corporations and companies catering to the international market may find the online paper useful to carry their advertisements. As a result, small local online newspapers find it hard to generate advertising revenues. It may be still too early to conclude that advertising will not become a major source of revenue for online papers. On the one hand, it takes time for advertisers to assess the online readership and the effectiveness of online advertising. On the other hand, online newspapers have to make full use of the advantages provided by the internet to offer better services for advertisers. For instance, the limitless space provided by the internet will allow advertisers to have their ads carried by online papers for as long as necessary. As a result, it may be more cost effective to advertise in online papers than in the print. In addition, online search engines will also make it more convenient for readers to select what they need. As far as subscription is concerned, the situation is not optimistic for online papers. The internet culture is characterized by free information. Some newspapers are limited to certain uses such as access to archives. There should not be fixed means for online papers to generate revenues but papers with a large readership base and more specialized orientation tend to be more successful with advertising and subscription charges while smaller papers tend to rely on Internet services for revenues. Considering the relatively small amount of costs for online papers and the additional benefits brought about by online papers such as promoting the print product, online papers should not be considered simply as money losing operations by the publishers. If online publishers can focus on turning out a value-added product rather than a replica of their print product, online papers will become cost effective operations with the development of new technologies and growth of the internet community. That probably explains why few online papers have closed shop since they were started.
An online newspaper, also known as a web newspaper, is a newspaper that exists on the world wide web or internet, either separately or as an online version of a printed periodical. Going online created more opportunities for newspapers in presenting breaking news in a timelier manner. The credibility and strong brand recognition of well-established newspapers, and the close relationships they have with advertisers, are also seen by many in the newspaper industry as strengthening their chances of survival. The movement away from the printing process can also help decrease costs.
Indian newspapers have 230 years of history and the first newspaper the weekly ‘Bengal Gazette’, also known as Hicky’s Gazette was published in January 1780 by James Augustus Hicky, an Englishman. India has more than 2000 newspapers in 21 languages with a combined circulation of 88 million, and some of leading dailies are The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Malayala Manorama Dainik Jagran, The Telegraph, Asian Age, Indian Express, Economics Times, The Pioneer and many more.
Indian newspapers cater to the demand for information on local issues, politics, events, celebrations, people and business. Information about holidays, vacations, resorts, real estate and property together, finance, stock market and investments reports, theatre, movies, culture, entertainment, activities and events are all covered in Indian newspapers.
In India, major newspapers went online to provide latest and most updated news to the net savvy people. Some newspapers even provide e-paper which is regarded as the digital replica of the newspaper.
The demand for online newspapers has been increasing for the past few years with the growing reach of internet. India’s more than seventy million internet users comprise approximately six percent of the country’s population and about four million people in India have access to broadband internet as of 2008 figures.
Online newspapers are much like hard-copy newspapers and have the same legal boundaries, such as laws regarding libel, privacy and copyright.