How will the consumerisation of news impact PR?

Rising print costs, the impact of social media and consumer media consumption habits seem to have had a big impact on the type of stories the media wants. We spoke to a range of senior journalists and media watchers to try and understand the morphing and shrinking newsroom, the rising consumerisation of news stories and the type of stories they are hungry for.

The newsroom is changing

While there is considerable debate on whether the newsroom has shrunk or not, most agree that there is less space for stories.

Abhay Vaidya, former Resident Editor of the DNA, and the Times of India says: “Two divergent trends are at play: At one end existing newsrooms are shrinking and at the other end English and regional newspapers are gung-ho about expanding markets into smaller towns and cities.”

Vaidya adds: “The extensive retrenchment at Network18 (250+) is the most conspicuous example. Over the last year, similar staff rationalisation exercises have been conducted at other TV groups such as TV Today and NDTV. One business channel now sends just the cameramen to cover events in Mumbai and using the footage and wire reports, stories are prepared by the editorial staff at Delhi!"

"Outlook Group has discontinued foreign publications such as Marie Claire, People, Geo and the staff there have been retrenched. DNA newspaper run by the ZEE TV Group has undertaken a severe cost-cutting exercise, right down to closing their Pune press. The Pune edition is now printed in Mumbai and transported to Pune. At the same time, DNA has been keen to launch its Delhi edition to be counted among national dallies."

Vaidya points out that: “Network18 is rolling out a "newsroom integration" strategy where they want their journalists to work collectively for all news operations. Their stable includes CNN-IBN, CNBC-TV18, Forbes India,,, IBN-Lokmat, and IBN7 among other operations. This is seen as a smarter way of using staff optimally and is also a cost-cutting exercise in preparation for the economic slowdown and inflationary trends.

According to Dr. Vikas Pathak: Sr. Correspondent, Hindustan Times the shrinkage of newsrooms is something that can be understood only in the context of the particular organisation concerned. “TV channels are facing stress and are either downsizing (like the Network 18 layoffs) or have gently nudged reporters to be prepared for some layoffs after the 2014 elections. Magazines too are under stress. We may not openly want to say so, but even the likes of Outlook are having problems making payments on time.”

Pathak adds that: “Among agencies, UNI, it is said, paid its staff after 11 months. Newspapers like TOI or HT, however, are still spending a lot on news gathering, making people fly down to do special stories and cover state polls. However, there are concerns at times about the state of the economy and its impact on ad spends or input costs. The recommendations of the last wage board haven't been implemented yet, with newspapers claiming they would face a financial crunch if they did so.”

Indrani Sen, Media Consultant and Adjunct Professor, Media Management, SIMC, says that: “Yes, newsrooms are shrinking in India both in TV News Channels and Newspapers. TV News channels are still getting their live news across the country through tie ups with other channels. The programming strategy of the News Channels is also changing and more stress is given on analysis of news through discussions and debates. This is due to the rise in news consumption through websites which deliver the news faster than TV.”

Mala Bhargava, Senior Editor, technology Business World magazine says: “One of the reasons newsrooms are shrinking is that we're not planning stringently enough to begin with. So, many organisations do have an excess of manpower as they'd never worked out being lean. The state of the economy has forced them to think differently, and yes, sadly it means many journalists are out of a job. And many more could be. This is all only in addition to the challenges print has been facing from online content anyway.”

Regional Expansion of media

Even as newsrooms are shrinking, there is regional expansion of media by English language newspapers as well as growth of regional language media.

Vaidya says that since the Indian newspaper industry is projected to grow over the next decade (10% to 15%), print publications have been keen to enter into smaller towns and cities to get the early bird advantage. “Thus, in the last two years or so, the Dainik Bhaskar group entered the smaller cities of Maharashtra with Divya Marathi newspaper. It is now published from seven centres in Maharashtra such as Aurangabad, Jalgaon, Amravati, Nashik, Akola, and Solapur, Times of India launched editions in Aurangabad and Kolhapur and has a line-up planned for the coming years."

Kunal Kishore, Founder and Director, Value 360 Communications, believes that: “Regional media matters more than ever before. The phrase ‘regional is the new national’ has been popular in the communications and news industry for a while now and it certainly bears some truth. Over the years, the circulation, access and popularity of the regional media has skyrocketed in the country and also outdone the English media in terms of revenues. The explanation for this trend is obviously the fact that a considerably small percentage of our population speaks, reads and comprehends the English language. While the importance of the English media can’t be undermined in building an overall robust and well-defined brand image, the regional media is instrumental in leading to direct consumer engagement. Yes, the regional media will certainly grow in importance in the future as more and more marketers try to tap the markets in tier II and III cities."

What will the new newsroom look like: The consumerisation of news

Indrani Sen does not believe that the shrinking of newsrooms has led to less space for stories: “Newspapers are also allocating more space for reviews and articles instead of news. So, the shrinking sizes of newsrooms are not going to affect the space for stories in newspapers. However, the newspapers which have been seriously developing their internet editions, have hired new people or transferred the existing newsroom staff to their internet editions.”

Vikas Pathak believes that: “Newsrooms are evolving in many new ways. Editors are waking up to technology, though the process is still in nascent stages in print. There is increasing focus on uploading stories on the net as they break, with the belief that more and more people are accessing the media online. There is an aspiration to combine this with other elements like short videos. Editors are also looking at softening content even while reporting hard news. There is a strong defence of the market in the media, an obvious outcome of liberalisation. There is more focus on visual elements like graphics rather than plain text.”

Pathak adds: “Editors believe – with inputs from the marketing side – that audiences' interest can be sustained by providing interesting side angles to what were traditionally hard news stories. Like what is a politician's fashion sense. All this, they believe, can capture a young and changing audience. Editors are also focusing more on making the best use of the social media, like twitter, to create an online buzz around stories.“

Indrani Sen also feels that the newsrooms are definitely changing. She says that: “The media are looking for stories which have a human angle and interest their viewers/readers. They are probing more for behind the scenes news rather than reporting on the news. They are also programming their content to enable their viewers/readers to understand an issue from different angles and accordingly develop independent opinions."

N Madhavan, Senior editor and technology columnist, Hindustan Times points out that PR professionals need to retool their pitching: “They tend to focus too much on client hype rather than media needs. That's barking up the wrong tree. PR pros often supply standard template releases and pitches. More customisation might help.”

The Rise of Paid News

According to Dr. E Anand, Assistant Editor, The Tribune Chandigarh: “Paid news is increasing day by day. Big newspapers like the Times of India and the Hindustan Times are not free from blame. For example, the Times of India does not publish any achievement or success stories of any university even in the larger public interest as, according to its marketing mandarins, such stories, reports, news items or features directly fall in the category of paid news. Television channels do not cover a small politician even for a second if he/she doesn’t pay the prescribed rates (that differ from channel to channel) for footage per second. As the ruling party – at the Centre and in the states – and other political parties have a vested interest in this, there is no politician who will bring forward a legislation to curb the menace of paid news.”

Anand points out that a tough Editor can put his foot down and firmly check paid news. However: “this is not possible today because of increasing marginalisation of the Editor in the general scheme of things and the growing importance of the Marketing Manager who calls the shots in any typical newspaper/TV organisation. In fact, in TOI, it is the Marketing Department that appoints the editorial staff, including Editors and Senior Editors. In HT and Indian Express, the HR Department recruits staff. In Indian Express, the HR has the final say even with regard to selecting persons for internships. Surely, this has undermined the pre-eminent and exalted position of the Editor in both newspapers and television channels.”