Digital news media has to innovate and connect to flourish

Wan-Ifra Digital Media India 2023, New Delhi

Winners of the South Asian Digital Media Awards 2022 gather for a group photograph after the presentation. Photo Wan-Ifra

Wan-Ifra’s two-day Digital Media India 2023 conference, held on 16 and 17 March at Holiday Inn in New Delhi’s Aerocity business district, threw up some interesting topics for debate and discussion. The key takeaways included challenges in the growth of digital news, a few success stories, the role of artificial intelligence, if ChatGPT would lead to job cuts, how to reduce dependence on Big Tech, alternative sources of revenue other than paid subscription and ads, finding newer ways to get and retain audiences, talent acquisition, innovation and much more.

The 12th edition of the conference had speakers from Indian and international legacy and digital-first news organizations sharing their insights on these topics, the latest trends, strategies, and best practices.

On Day 1, after the welcome address by Wan-Ifra South Asia managing director Magdoom Mohamed, Wan-Ifra president Fernando de Yarza delivered the presidential address. Yarza, who is also president of Henneo, a news media group from Spain, spoke on India’s emergence as a global media player and the rise of his organization as a leading group in the media space in that country.

Getting the revenue right

A major part of the deliberations on both days centered around generating alternative sources of money and traffic to reduce dependency on the Big Tech giants such as Meta and Google, which take away a chunk of the revenue, leaving almost peanuts for news publishers.

A panel discussion moderated by Ritu Kapur, co-Founder and CEO of The Quint, came up next, where Mariam Mammen Mathew, CEO of Manorama Online; L V Navaneeth, CEO of The Hindu Group; and Bharat Gupta, CEO of Jagran New Media shared their growth stories, how to build a sustainable digital news media business, the strength of content, the importance of credible journalism in an era of fake news, the future of audio and video, the need to find and retain the right talent, and the need to collaborate to take on the Big Tech.

Kapur raised the issue of press freedom and the new tough digital media guidelines but most panelists choose to tactfully ignore the contentious topic. Though everyone present on the podium agreed on the need to join hands to take on the social media giants, they merely skimmed the surface rather than go into details.

In another session on revenue, A B M Jabed Sultan, chief business officer of Prothom Alo Digital, the largest digital media portfolio in Bangladesh, shared the growth journey and the revenue model of his organization, which also has one of the country’s largest daily newspapers with a daily readership of 5 million.

The focus areas that help Prothom Alo stay on top included content around fashion, teenagers, and science as well as eCom, OTT, branded content (both text and videos) events, job fairs, etc. The gamut of ideas has put on top with 300 million page views, 17 million monthly readers, and 1 billion monthly ad impressions in a 2,000-crore Bangladeshi Taka digital ad market.’s new media editor and business head Nandagopal Rajan explained how they leveraged the legacy of the newspaper to go digital-first, launch premium sections, and build a separate identity for the digital section, a strategy that helped add and retain subscribers as well as scale up revenue.

Lucio Mesquita, senior consultant, Innovation Media Consulting Group, United Kingdom, stressed the need for digital news to innovate and differentiate to stay ahead in the race. His key focus areas were membership rather than subscription, new audio formats, the importance of newsletters, and the retention of audiences.

Getting and retaining audiences

Another topic was how to get newer audiences and retain them. Building up the debate in an interesting slide that was full of representations from popular movies, Saurabh Dwivedi, Editor of The Lallantop, a vernacular digital-first news venture from the India Today group, explained how digital news organizations, or all journalists for that matter, have to be real, raw and relatable and get cracking on the ground to get the nerve of the masses rather than thrusting news on the audiences.

News publishers and representatives of media organizations from Europe and South Korea elucidated how a differentiated strategy that included the adoption of newer tech, better search facilities, an efficient content management system, artificial intelligence, and audience engagement helped their organizations stay ahead of the curve.

Konstantinos Zachos, Chief Technology Officer of CebAI, demonstrated a creative AI-based intelligence tool that helps journalists discover new angles to stories and connect more diverse voices. Hanna Israel, head of My Country Talks, Zeit Online, Germany, presented an innovative case of audience engagement at scale and connected readers of opposing views from across Germany. It helped the audience to strike conversations, and exchange ideas, and helped reduce polarization while enabling the publisher to build its brand image, Israel said.

Then Janni Frederiksen Kalafatis, User experience lead, Verdens Gang (VG), Norway’s premier news source, explained how they are making strides in retaining young users by using AI to tailor articles to suit their needs. Ola Henriksson, Wan-Ifra’s Expert advisor from Sweden, gave a round-up of digital subscription success in Scandinavia while Saemmool Lee, head of Digital Innovation of Dong-A Ilbo, South Korea’s leading media group, underlined the importance of data to harness and engage new readers.

AI and Chat GPT

Will A-I and ChatGPT, the most-debated language platform, take away jobs or will these help improve the efficiency and quality of news publishers? The jury was out on this contentious issue.

A panel discussion chaired by Siddharth Varadarajan, founding editor, The Wire, and attended by Sohini Guharoy, head of Audience Growth & Platforms, Network 18 Group, and Sunny Sen, founder, CEO,, a subscription management and analytics platform downplayed the worries about job losses and concluded that such tools can be used, though under human supervision, and free up trained human resources for more productive content-related work.

Pradeep Gairola, vice-president and Business head, Digital, The Hindu Group, and Deepit Purkayastha, co-founder of short news app Inshorts, elucidated the use of AI in personalizing news experience.

Nivash Jeevanandam, a senior research writer at INDIAai (The National AI Portal of India), a joint venture by MEITY, NEGD and NASSCOM, however, focused on ChatGPT’s shortcomings, and the challenges it poses to human intelligence.

Nikhil Pahwa, founder and editor of wen platform MediaNama, spoke on web 3 and its likely impact on the news media business, the potential use of blockchain to track the source of fake news and build trust in a trust-less ad environment.

Awards night

A highlight of the event was the presentation of the South Asian Digital Media Awards 2022, the sixth edition of the awards that recognize the outstanding digital media projects delivered by news publishers from across the region.

The Gold of the best news website went to; Silver went to TV Today Network Hindi; and Bronze to TV Today Network English. The 2022 edition saw news publishers competing in 13 different categories for Gold, Silver, and Bronze. The ‘Gold’ winners automatically enter Wan-Ifra’s World Digital Media Awards competition.

In 2024, we are looking at full recovery and growth-led investment in Indian printing

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India is a large and tough terrain and while its book publishing and commercial printing industry have recovered and are increasingly embracing digital print, the Indian newspaper industry continues to recover its credibility and circulation. The signage industry is also recovering and new technologies and audiences such as digital 3D additive printing, digital textiles, and industrial printing are coming onto our pages. Diversification is a fact of life for our readers and like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

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