What are India's newest news sites

Digital media
New online newsrooms in India

India is one of the largest media markets in the world and has unique online newsrooms. Still, it is time for traditional media to start thinking about digital innovation and integration.

By Nimish Sawant

With almost 200,000 print products and more than 400 TV news channels, the media landscape in India is very diverse. The number of online news websites has also grown steadily over the past few years. Existing news websites belonging to newspapers or TV stations are in competition with those news providers who operate according to the motto digital first, i.e. in the online sector. According to a study by ComScore from 2019, India is the second largest online news consumer in the world with 287 million individually counted users.
 
The growing number of online news sites in India must be seen in the context of the development in the mobile device sector. According to a study by Cable UK, India pays an average of $ 0.09 per GB of mobile data. This is currently the cheapest tariff in the world. Here you consume an average of 9.8 GB of mobile data per month. 500 million people in India own a smartphone. So it is not surprising that these devices are a very important medium for news dissemination.
 
The age of digital news was ushered in India by the mainstream media when they came up with their own news websites. These should actually only be a product extension, i.e. an additional online offer in addition to the print and TV formats. The concept of the editorial offices specially geared to digital content then prevailed around ten years ago, when Network18 launched the site in 2011 Firstpost.com started. Since then, a new type of news website has grown rapidly that has no established media behind it.

Online Newsrooms: Implications and Challenges

“If you look at the groundbreaking investigative stories of the past year, you see that most of them came from those same new media organizations. That says a lot about the mainstream media houses, ”explains the freelance journalist Kunal Purohit.
 
The journalist, author and former news editor Samrat Choudhury believes that the long-established news providers have the capacity to research such stories, but lack the will to publish them. According to the industry expert, the editorial offices are under immense pressure to maintain the status quo and not to bring those in power into trouble. Two independent online news editors, The Wire and The Quint, have been at the forefront of investigative reporting for some time and are not afraid to ask important personalities uncomfortable questions. As a result, the editorial offices of both organizations encountered a lot of resistance and defamation and even had to accept attacks on their offices.
 
Purhohit often reports from the rural areas of India and believes that the independent online news sites here have limited coverage and are little known outside of the big cities. “Many of these websites are partly in Hindi or a regional language. A lot of mobile data is used in rural areas, but when it comes to news, only the mass media are influential, ”says Purohit.
 
While news sites in English - a language spoken by only a fraction of the population - are only noticed by a limited readership, they still have the most impact as they ultimately reach the right people. “Such online sites in English appeal to key decision makers and other people who have a lot to say. That's why they're very influential. In the newspaper sector, the Indian Express only a small coverage, but the newspaper is very important because it is read by many politicians ”, says Manisha Pande, editor-in-chief of Newslaundry, an ad-free online news site.

Special online newsrooms

Aside from pan-Indian news websites, there is also some new media aimed at a niche audience. So focus The Better India in terms of content, for example, on positive, solution-oriented reporting, while The News Minute primarily aimed at the states in southern India. EastMojo is headquartered in Assam and mainly brings news from the north-east of the country, a region that otherwise does not receive much attention from the national news media. The news page IndiaSpend has committed itself to data-based journalism and, above all, produces extensive reports enriched with data. Old news has established itself as the fact checking website in India.
 
The page Newslaundry ("News Laundry") clearly stands out from the others in this area, because the medium is not only ad-free, but also the only website that comments on the news landscape in India as such. Here you try to make it clear to people that you have to pay for news if you don't want to only consume mainstream media financed by advertising, in which the public interest is not the first priority. "In the past four to five years the mainstream media has become extremely dependent," explains Pande, "and the readership is slowly realizing that they are being ripped off."

Online media: There is also political pressure here

Against the background that the online media do not necessarily belong to the wealthy media houses, one could assume that the political pressure here is rather low. However, the reality is different. The editor-in-chief of IndiaSpend, a data journalism website, quit after the site discontinued one of its projects called "Hate Crime Watch". With the help of the project, crimes committed through hatred or prejudice were documented. He cited political pressure as one of the reasons.
 
“It also depends a lot on the supporters and investors of such online sites. Political pressure will always prevail. If you turn against the establishment, all supporters of the medium are seen in the same light, ”explains Pande. So ethics often only play a subordinate role. Choudhury believes that the online media should be mutually supportive and collaborative.
 
 
For the owners of such a medium, journalism is just one of many business interests. One of India's largest media companies, Network18, is owned by India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries (RIL). The other main business areas of RIL are the petrochemical industry, textiles and telecommunications.
 
Would regulatory guidelines help in this area? Currently, Indian online media must adhere to the Technology Act 2000, which many think tanks believe is much more stringent than the TV and print media. For Choudhury one thing is clear: any form of government influence is undesirable. “Whenever politics interferes, in the end you play the game in the interests of the ruling party,” he said.
 
Despite all this, it is clear that online media have become indispensable and that the long-established media have to face digital innovation and integration. Because the way the current newspapers and TV stations work, they cannot survive in the long run.
 
"The current corona pandemic, due to which many newspapers in numerous parts of the country had to be closed, clearly shows that long-established publishing houses have to rethink their digital strategies," says Pande. However, they are faced with the challenge of developing a robust business model that protects against existential threats.

author

Nimish Sawant is a freelance journalist from Mumbai with over ten years of experience in print and online media. As part of the Robert Bosch Stiftung's “India-Germany Media Ambassador” program, Nimish lived and worked in Berlin in 2017, from where he wrote on topics such as the energy transition, surveillance and the refugee crisis.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editors.

Translation: Sabine Bode
Copyright: Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi; This text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Germany License.

September 2020

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