World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

The digital promise: 'In India, we have a brief, valuable window of opportunity'

World News Publishing Focus

World News Publishing Focus
Your Guide to the Changing Media Landscape

The digital promise: 'In India, we have a brief, valuable window of opportunity'

India is one of the few countries in the world where news publishers are still experiencing growth in print. Even double-digit growth, for instance, as far as HT Media Hindi newspapers are concerned! As a result, many Indian newspapers still display a rather laid-back approach to digital, in the absence of a real feeling of urgency to transform their business models.

The growth rate of English-language papers in print is nevertheless declining as more affluent and urban readers make the shift to digital. Advertising is beginning to shift too, although digital revenues remain small. As for mobile audience growth, it is explosive and should only accelerate as better data connectivity becomes more widespread.

A narrow window of opportunity

“It would be a huge mistake to delay investment in digital until it makes up a larger share of revenues,” says Nicholas Dawes, the Hindustan Times’ Chief Content Officer. “In India – and some other emerging markets – we have a brief, valuable window of opportunity during which we can innovate from a position of strength.

"In time, the window will close, and those companies which have failed to transform will find themselves not only strapped for cash but also saddled with weak technology, broken processes, and unsustainable cost structures. We need to use our strong cash flows and balance sheets, as well as the resources in our large newsrooms and sales teams, to bring change before it is too late,” he says.

Appointed at HT Media in 2013, Dawes capitalised on his experience as Editor-in-Chief at the Mail & Guardian – which is South Africa’s leading political and investigative newspaper and a digital pioneer – for driving a decisive transformation across the group’s flagship titles.

As a result, the Delhi operations of Hindustan Times, Hindi Hindustan, and Mint are currently moving into a new, common open space that prioritises ready communication, access to data, and quick decision-making.

A new publishing platform

“Every journalist and editor in the building, bar a few specialists, will work across platforms, and learn best how to optimise for each of them, says Dawes. Engineers, videographers, and data visualisers will sit alongside reporters with decades of experience.”

As part of this change process, HT is also rolling out a new publishing platform.

“There have been loud, and justified, complaints, about the quality and character of digital tools afforded by large publishing systems,” says Dawes. “However, we did not want to undertake a complex integration with a separate digital-only CMS.”

HT opted for EidosMedia’s CMS, Méthode, which, they felt, responded creatively to the demands that both traditional and digital-native outlets are now bringing to bear.

“(Méthode) offers strong planning tools, and transparency across all of our multiple locations and editions that should help us to limit duplication of effort, and support our efforts to get beyond commodity news,” Dawes says. “(…) Running one system across our titles should, of course, enable us to create a strong capability in design, editorial, product and tech to make the most of the system.”

New organisation structure

HT is also implementing a new organisation structure and a new daily production cycle that aims to align newsgathering and production resources with digital audience habits. This means a clearer set of responsibilities for editors and reporters, as well as responsibility for their journalism on all platforms.

“We have created three new senior roles,” explains Dawes. “The planning editor is responsible for ensuring that long-range and medium-term planning takes place, with the emphasis on lifting our journalism above the routine. Daily editors, meanwhile, are empowered to deploy all of the resources of the newsroom across platforms throughout the day.”

“Section heads are now given responsibility for developing stories appropriately across mobile, web and print, and will increasingly be responsible for their digital performance,” Dawes says.

With a mobile-first focus, the new organisation also implies a much earlier start to the day, and a more structured approach to planning and news conferences.“Mobile traffic starts to build rapidly around 7 a.m., so we need people in the building well before then,” says Dawes. “Our first traffic peak of the day is at 11 a.m. Our first physical news meeting will now take place at 9 a.m. instead of 12:30.”

Data driven journalism and training

Data is now crucial for optimising content and increase its reach. “Did a particular post reach the audience it deserved? If not, why? If so, how did it get there?” asks Dawes. “Are we alive to the concerns of our audience today? Who is engaging with our stories most on social? Did we lose a reader after the first paragraph, or the first five seconds of video? Why?”

“We use Parsely for real-time web analytics, sproutsocial for social, and Google Analytics for historical data,” explains Dawes. “We are currently exploring a range of additional tools, although we want to ensure that the data we provide is sharply focussed and relevant to the decisions editors and reporters make.”

“New technologies, workflows, and approaches to our journalism have the potential to greatly benefit our print businesses through enhanced efficiency, quality, and crucially, relevance.”

The implementation of such radical changes across the newsroom implies the need to educate the workforce to this new journalistic culture and to constantly upgrade its skills.

“Training on an ongoing basis will be woven into the schedule to sharpen both our basic skills, and teach us new tricks,” says Dawes. (…) “Our journalists are begging us for more training. They all realise that in order to remain relevant to audiences, and indeed in the job market, they need to be doing great digital work. We are investing multiples of what we have in the past in training, and our new newsroom has a generous dedicated training space.”

While few Asian news publishers have undertaken such a radical newsroom transformation so far, the real originality of HT Media’s digital revolution is probably that – far from signifying a move away from print – it is guided by the faith that new digital tools and technologies will improve journalism quality and production efficiencies on all platforms, including print.

This story appears in the September/December issue of WAN-IFRA's Asian News Media Focus, which can be viewed in ePaper form free of charge.


Gilles Demptos's picture

Gilles Demptos


2015-12-10 11:53

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