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On News & The Internet: Jeff Jarvis, Raghav Bahl, Siddharth Varadarajan and Sanjay Salil


Speaking at a panel discussion at Google’s Big Tent Activate Summit, Buzz Machine’s Jeff Jarvis, The Hindu’s Editor-In-Chief Siddharth Varadarajan, Network18′s Managing Director Raghav Bahl and MediaGuru’s Managing Director Sanjay Salil talked about whether the Internet is killing the media industry, the need for editorial processes and the role of journalists. Here are some notes from the session:

Jeff Jarvis, Buzz Machine:

- On the idea of Media: “The opportunity going forward is that this device knows where you are and who you are. We have to change our idea about media. India has the population to leapfrog the web based world. You can move from mass media, to knowing and serving people as individuals. You have to base your idea on the service business, or in the content manufacturing business. There’s a great population here (in India) to do just that. You can rethink what you do. Newspapers here are so successful. Print can blind you to the strategic news, but I also know that people here recognize that need. It’s about cannibalizing yourself with new forms and new devices.

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- On news as a service business: I don’t think we’re in the content business. Our job is to inform the public, as individuals. If you say that’s our job, you don’t measure us as unique users. You measure us as each individual who is serviced. You augment that and add value to that. I don’t think it is heretical. We got seduced as an industry, as manufacturing. We were run by our industrial process. We think we make articles to fill space. (However) We inform the public. We help the public inform themselves. We need new metrics. We still have responsibility. It’s not just pandering. It’s also serving.

- On Form: The New York Times does a good job. I see a lot of examples. I see newspapers trying to imitate TV, and that is a mistake. They should reinvent: that is the opportunity. We should question the form of the article. The article doesn’t die at all: it’s an industrial artifact. The background could be Wikipedia, and news is from twitter. We have an opportunity to rethink the forms.

- Not everyone deserves to be paid: I think that we need to pay for journalism, but we also need to recognize that the Internet brings more efficiency. You can have collaborators across the world. I think it’s a mistaken notion that every one who puts fingers to a keyboard deserves to be paid. We have to say that social media isn’t just media. It is also conversation where there is value. We have to protect speech. The very first talk was that about Sibal saying that they want free speech, but via Twitter, we found links that indicate that they want to censor the web.

Siddharth Varadarajan, The Hindu:

- There is growth left: All forms of media seem to be doing quite well, but that sweet spot is coming to an end. That is hastening the demise and forcing us to reinvent the way we look at news. The moment of realization was when I held the iPad for the first time. We thought it would be fatal for the printed form. 3G delivers the Internet, but the migration process is quite slow. I think there is still some growth left, and the writing is up on the wall. The print industry is in a revenue model which dependent on advertising. A paper that costs Rs 20-25 to print is delivered for Rs 3. For what we read about ad-yields online, unless there’s a huge transformation, the general feeling is that ad revenues online will never reach the same volumes. Our readers are used to paying Rs 3 per day. How do you make a profit? We may fall between two stools of advertising and subscription.

- On consumption of TV: Today i’m quite comfortable calling ourselves the editor of a newspaper. My view on TV is that it is equally legacy. In households, the entire family isn’t watching TV, but they go to their iPad or PC. As newspapers like The Hindu, as we get more adept using multimedia, you have the tech and ways of delivering the news. For instance, most TV stations are focused on chat from 8PM-11 PM, but this can also be set up through a Google Hangout. For us, there is a way that we can harness these technologies. We think of it in a static way but if we embrace different media forms, that helps us to navigate our way through this uncertainty.

Where do I get breaking news from? It’s TV. A running story is on TV. The medium is not so important. For instance, when I was in China, when Bombay was attacked by terrorists, the first thing I did was to log into TV on my PC. The requirement or ability for TV is to deliver an editorially driven package.

- On the need for editorial: (On a computer) You might still want to open 10 screens. That underlines the need for strong editorial processes to be put into place. It’s the fact that people will come because they respect the curatorial and filtering process.

- On form factor: We are preparing ourselves (for the web). We tell a correspondent that do one version for the web and one for print. On the web, you can expand certain points. You have 2000 words but a reader can choose to see just 500.

- On social media: If traditional media has a crisis, a lot of it has to do with under-resources, but it’s also unethical practices. Social media calls out TV channels that do this sort of a thing. The Hindu does invest in news reporting. There is a problem in general, but it’s not the only reason.

Raghav Bahl, Network18:

- We’ve missed the desktop disruption, but frightening change is coming: We’ve had poor infrastructure, and the migration to the web hasn’t happened. The disruption was brought out by a desktop Internet device to a legacy business. We’re in a mobile world. The desktop disruption is done with, and we’ve missed that disruption. We’ve learned from that experience in the West. As Internet infrastructure catches up, the change will be frighteningly fast.

- Print is a legacy player: There is only one legacy player in India – Print. TV started late, as did radio. There’s not that much disruption to be done. It’s not just about the age in terms of legacy. By legacy, I meant exactly what you’re saying. The mindset of delivering news. It’s the newspaper that is delivered every morning. That’s the legacy. It cannot be one to many.

- On the role of journalists: The journalist has now become the catalyst. He’s the deliverer of news. He’s the expert navigator. I see news, and we’ve seen that. It’s a giant matrix, but the journalist is at the core. He’s delivering one to one and navigating that. It’s no longer a single point transition.

- On TV and the Internet: TV is an old medium. It’s a half legacy medium, it uses rich content, and is online. It’s not so much behind. Personally, I believe that it will be about community and consumption of content, and it’s family consumption of live content. These two three things will keep things surviving. The Internet is one on one. TV has made an easy migration to the internet.

Sanjay Salil, MediaGuru:

- Video will be important, in whichever format. Video has to be delivered, which has to be in Internet format, and far different from what is being done now. Most of us are still doing it in the same format there. Video has to be the central focus.

- (For a print player he knows) the daily circulation is more than the monthly unique visitors. If you look at top ranked people in tier two and tier three regions, there is a disconnect (with the web). They look at one additional edition, which will give them money that they don’t get from TV or Internet.