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Fair and participative journalism needs resources

High-quality journalism does not come free of cost
Following The Hindu ’s Open House in Kochi, many wrote to us seeking more details about the increased space for contributions from readers. Some raised a few questions about the idea of an interactive readers’ mail, which will deal with local and civic issues.
R. Sivakumar from Chennai suggested that the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section on the editorial page should allow more space for letters. Jayaprakash Reddy from Nalgonda wrote: “It is most gratifying that the Editor has given his approval to start edition-centric letters to deal with local and civic issues. But whether this is confined only to the Kochi edition is not clear. I request the Editor to clarify this. There was a local letters column in the Hyderabad edition long ago, but it was stopped after a few months due to reasons better known to the Resident Editor.” S. Malathi from Bengaluru asked to extend the scope of the readers’ mail section to include social and political issues too. It is heartening to note the growing interest among readers about the economics of news production and the cost of journalism. Chidambaram Kudiarasu from Thoothukudi wrote: “At a time when the previous revenue model of advertising money is getting fragmented across platforms, readers should not grudge a few bucks more for high-quality journalism and baulk at pay walls.” Rajiv Lochan felt that my claim that the revenue model for news publications was led by advertising for a century was not correct. He argued that till the market leader started the undesirable price war in 1990-91, the revenue model of the newspaper industry was reader-led, which covered operating expenses. He wrote: “Ad revenue was the surplus that would be reinvested in the business, paid out to employees and dividended out to shareholders. To claim that for a century the revenue model was led by ads is both misleading and incorrect.” Mr. Lochan’s argument is partially true. In the pre-liberalisation era, there was better balance between reader-led revenue and earnings from advertisers. It is also true that the circulation figures before 1990 were substantially low, which meant a limited operational cost. The transformation of the Indian media led to growth and proliferation. Every new platform — from privately owned TV channels to FM radio stations — expanded the market during this phase and advertising became the bedrock of financial sustainability of the news media industry. In his working paper, “A magic system? Print Publics, Consumption and Advertising in Modern Tamil Nadu”, historian A.R. Venkatachalapathy observed how advertisements were critical inputs in the widening world of journalism. He cited the doyen of Tamil journalism, T.S. Chockalingam, to establish this point. Chockalingam wrote: “Without advertising revenue journalism simply cannot function”. Chockalingam’s essay also explained the role of advertising in keeping the cover price considerably lower than the actual production cost. Mr. Venkatachalapathy’s footnotes clearly indicate that Chockalingam made this observation as early as in 1943. Robin Jeffrey’s path-breaking book, India’s Newspaper Revolution, also confirms the role of advertising in the spread of the newspaper beyond the metropolitan centres.

Source : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/fair-and-participative-journalism-needs-resources/article28817291.ece

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