Reflections and Questions from Kochi, Day 2

Participants at the Kochi program on March 24 weren’t shy about posing questions and challenging some of the faculty’s ideas.  Tom Huang captured the questions and concerns that the participants raised:

  • One journalist said there is a real issue in India about media companies refusing to publicly share consumer and business data. In U.S., many of these companies are public companies, and so they must share information. This reminded Howard Finberg about how a lack of trust can hinder innovation. He brought up one example of an opportunity missed in the U.S.: In the mid-1990s, there was a consortium of several large publishers who wanted to create something like Google News (before Google News existed). “That fell apart because of cultural mistrust,” Howard said. “What could we have achieved had we built trust?”
  • In India, many of the newspapers are still growing in circulation, especially the regional newspapers. The English-only newspapers are starting to face challenges. But what are the incentives to change? Do media companies need to start to fail in order to change?
  • One journalist raised the issue of political parties that own newspapers and media houses. The implication was that these printed products will survive because the political parties need them and support them.
  • Several journalists raised the issue of “paid news” – companies and politicians paying journalists to plant certain stories in their newspapers. We learned that India recently criminalized this kind of activity. It’s not clear how common this is, though. This is something we want to learn more about.
  • One journalist asked whether the decline in U.S. newspaper revenue was due mainly to the recession. We wanted to emphasize that there’s something larger going on here – it’s a secular trend, not cyclical. It’s part of the larger digital disruption.
  • What happens to narrative non-fiction as we go digital? Tom Huang said: “You can see the incredible popularity of digital narrative series like NYT’s Snowfall. People still want in-depth, emotional stories, and multimedia can add other dimensions to the storytelling.”
  • One journalist said he was hungry for more data on consumer use of tablets and online. Howard Finberg referred him to a State of the Media report that is about to come out. There’s evidence to support that there’s a mass adoption of other forms – but it’s not necessarily a reduction of print consumption. You need to do journalism on multiple platforms. Readers are adding mobile to their news consumption.
  • Where is the place of TV news? What’s happening in terms of broadcast? We told that audience that broadcast is going through digital disruption, as well. In U.S., there’s a lot of discussion about unplugging cable and going to the streaming model off devices. Whether that happens in India, hard to say.
  • With BBC or CNN, we see one big headline. One journalist asked about the effectiveness of website design. How do you look at design in terms of one headline or a lot of headlines? Casey Frechette said: You need to create a visual hierarchy on the page, through fonts, etc. By having a clear hierarchy on the web, phone or tablet, it becomes easier to read and understand the priority. We also know that readers aren’t necessarily coming to your story through the front page. Article pages are the new home page – everything is being driven by search.
  • A younger journalist said: What scares me is there’s decreased home delivery in U.S. and I couldn’t imagine it happening in India. Howard Finberg responded: Newhouse stopped delivery for 4 days in New Orleans. The paper is printed only 3 days a week. There was a major outcry in community – a newspaper centric community. The Baton Rouge newspaper, maybe 80 miles away, started delivering in New Orleans. A consistent product 7 days a week is a better strategy than sporadic approach.
  • Howard Finberg said: It’s about starting now before it’s too late. If we don’t find ways to keep the journalism, we won’t survive. There’s not going to be a single solution. For example, WebMD started with digital, and then produced a print magazine. It’s not about either/or, but finding the right approach to deliver journalism across multiple platforms.
  • There was great interest in the idea of editors and reporters filing directly to the web. In India, there’s still a separate print and online staff and desk.
  • How do you handle negative and nasty comments online? Vidisha Priyanka said: One strategy – we participated in the comments and let people know what was acceptable. Then we invited the “trolls” into our newsroom, introduced them to the people who work in the newsroom, and that helped. Casey Frechette: More sites are moving to Facebook comments, where in most cases there’s a real identity behind the comments.
  • How do the BBC and Al Jazeera survive? Howard said: BBC is government funded with tax from Brits who have TV; sell programming to U.S. and world. Al Jazeera has funding from government. These are not typical cases.
  • The journalists expressed a common fear that if they begin to “hunt” for revenue, that the quality of their stories – good journalism – will decline.
  • With the use of social media, what’s the balance between individual journalists promoting their stories (on Twitter) versus the company’s account promoting the news? We talked about how in the U.S., individual journalists as well as the news organizations tweet news and information. There’s no one or the other, but both.
2014-03-24 14.31.01

Zella Bracy teaching at Poynter India Workshop. In foreground is Tom Huang and Vidisha Priyanka; in background is Jeff Couch


One thought on “Reflections and Questions from Kochi, Day 2

  1. I could not be part of the workshops but a friend who will attend it in Bglore led me to this space and it has been educative. Though I, as publisher of 3 local free English newspapers for three areas of Chennai ( our first came out 21 years ago) have been looking for info on new digital tools and skills to deploy, newer ways to design the paper and simple improvements we can do in our journalism. We are small teams; 7/8/9 people make the whole staff. Hope we can continue the dialogue after this Poynter team has left India.
    Just now we prepare to launch another edition of our annual Summer Camp in the Basics of Journalism. Here is the web link to little things that the kids did at the 2012 camp and in the years before.

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