101 Reporters is yet another new age startup from Bengaluru that is creating ripples in the media industry. Behind the venture is the unassuming B.Com graduate Gangadhar Patil; he worked with The New Indian Express, Economic Times and DNA for five years before turning an entrepreneur. In October 2015, the Belgaum boy founded 101 Reporters, a startup for field reporting of news stories. In less than three years since its inception, 101 Reporters has become 750 reporters strong, with an ability to muster hundreds of stringers around the country to provide grass root reporting and interesting and exclusive stories to established media houses. Among its customers are Firstpost and India Times in India. It has partnered occasionally with the The Times in the UK, Nieman Lab and CNN.
We met Gangadhar Patil at the Media Rumble in New Delhi. We spoke to him about the dismal state of field reporting in the country. Legacy media houses like The Hindustan Times, ABP and several others have been downsizing. To cut down on costs they have been primarily removing field reporters while leaving the desk intact. The desk reporters then depend on wire news, agencies and news aggregators to fill up the stories from outstation and the newspaper comes out the next day, leaner and meaner. But they lose out on quality and exclusive stories. So we quizzed Patil on the trend of media houses cutting costs by firing field reporters and what it means for his business.
Field reporting is expensive but offers exclusivity
“This trend is particularly visible in English language newspapers,” confirms Patil. “This is because the regional language papers are still making money from print operations where the digital invasion has been slow. Many media companies did not know what they were missing and how the digital platforms operated till Scroll, Firstpost and a few others were launched. It was only after a few years and the successes of these new age websites and the decline of their print circulations did the established media begin to feel that they are missing out on traffic.”
“Hence some of the large media houses have now started investing in digital platforms. But pressures on their print operations remain, because circulation is diminishing as the new age reader is not looking at print but at the digital media for information. On top of this, newsprint costs are rising. So they are cutting back on field reporters because they are not making as much profit from their print operations. And because they are cutting back on field reporting, they do not have exclusive content. They are relying on rehashing content from news aggregators on the web to create content,” says Patil.
Patil goes on to explain about the big void in field reporting that gave him the idea to step into the space three years ago. “Competing on the web with rehashed or wire content is a highly competitive field since everyone can open a free WordPress account and do the same and attract traffic. That does not give newspapers exclusive content. So they are not finding new readers who are really looking for original stories.” It is a void that 101 Reporters is filling up by providing media houses with exclusive freelance verified content from remote areas and only from experienced journalists.
Two rounds of angel funding
“We essentially employ only journalists or ex-journalists to report for us. We don’t engage with lawyers, activists or any other non-journalists. The format is very simple. The journalist pitches the story at our website, the media house commissions the story and a deadline for the same is set. When the story is complete, the journalist sends it to us. We do the necessary editing and pay him Rs 3 to Rs 5 per word depending on our editing input. The story is then forwarded to the client, and it is usually accepted unless the deadline is not met.”
101 Reporters has received two rounds of angel funding of US$ 125,000 (approximately Rs. 85 lakhs) from the US. Patil is happy with the progress that his fledgling organization is making, operating from a small office in a busy marketplace in Bengaluru. His journalists cover all types of news; they but boldly leave out travel, food and entertainment – the three segments that most digital media depend on to raise their page views. “We have a staff of 15 and are doing quality work producing news inputs from areas that no one covers. We want to be the Uber of field reporting, helping media companies source stories from journalists at an affordable cost,” says Patil. The small towns and cities do not have a steady stream of news stories. But when they do break, first-hand news with verification can be accessed with the help of organizations like 101 Reporters.