Observations on the Editors Guild Conclave

From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg – the digital desk is now in command

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Editors Guild
(L-R) Siddharth Varadarajan of The Wire, Suhasini Haider of The Hindu; Hartosh Singh Bal of The Caravan and senior journalist Smita Gupta discuss nationalism, propaganda and the role of media. Photos IPP

In the past week, there have been two gatherings of the Indian news media in New Delhi. The first was the two-day Wan-Ifra Digital Media Conference held at Aerocity on 13 and 14 March that, as reported by us, discussed several topics such as the digitization, subscriptions and monetization of the news media and the seemingly inescapable hot topic of artificial intelligence. The second was the Editors Guild of India’s Conclave on ‘Press Freedom in India – present and future’ held at the India International Center.

An in-person event after several virtual events, the EGI Conclave was by and large ignored by most of the publishers and editors of the larger print news media although KN Hari Kumar of The Deccan Herald and Tathagata Satpathy of Dharitri and Orissa Post were speakers in a couple of important sessions. Also present in strength was the Delhi Press Group whose print periodicals include The Caravan. In the well-attended conclave, there was no shortage of active, concerned and experienced print or new and alternative media owners, editors, and journalists participating as moderators, speakers and delegates. Press associations and journalists from across the country beamed into the livestream of the event. Given the program’s commitment to press freedom, the topics were crucial to the relevance, survival and growth of the country’s news media.

Mrinal Pande’s talk revealed that although there are rapid and seemingly incomprehensible changes in context, technology and audience in the contemporary Gutenberg to Zuckerberg era, these are well within the grasp of a cogent journalist. “Understand the new technology,” she said, urging the audience to be pragmatic and practical. “Let’s take a piggyback ride on the book of the new media such as gaming and sports.” Speaking of the 30% growth of digital media, she pointed out that the Hindi channels represent 93% of successful YouTubers in the country, lamenting however that, “80% of the revenue goes to big tech, why are we selling ourselves so cheap?”

Editors Guild
(L-R) Abhinandan Sekhri of Newslaundry, Sabrina Daryanani of FT Strategies; Meena Kotwal of Mooknayak, MK Venu of The Wire and Navin Kumar, founder of YouTube channel Article 19 India at the Editors Guild of India conclave discuss how independent journalists and organizations can be empowered to become self-sufficient.

Pande suggested that the role of editors needs to change and be updated. Editors are sandwiched between the pressures from their owners and publishers and from their staff as well – who have a direct line to powerful people, she said. “Editors may be important but the hub of activity now is online, and we haven’t adapted to the new 24/7 workflow that it demands. The digital desk is now in command.”

Inqlusive newsrooms

The conclave was inclusive as far as the topics discussed – notably including the introduction to the Inqlusive Newsrooms – LGBTQIA+ Media Reference Guide. The 94-page guide which is now available in English and several Indian languages has been written and put together by Queer Chennai Chronicles and The News Minute and supported by the Google News Initiative.

In his introduction to the manual, Sudipto Mandal of The News Minute briefly spoke of the need to align both the skewed composition of newsrooms and the need to democratically cover the issues of caste, class, gender, and ethnicity. Mandal also suggested a country-wide survey on the inclusivity of newsrooms. Sessions and speakers addressed the challenges of news coverage in the context of prevailing prejudices and insensitivities throughout the country and perhaps more blatantly in the hinterlands.

Fracture and democracy

Restrictions on democratic expression were the overarching concern in most of the sessions throughout the day. These concerns ranged from, “The disappearance of the public that reacts,” to the lack of government access, “that leads to mere acceptance rather than real coverage,” and the government setting up a fact-checking unit of its own when the Press Information Bureau already has one. The web of new, revised, and weaponized regulations and compliances are being assembled into an incomprehensible but dangerous arsenal against citizens’ and journalists’ rights of expression. Hartosh Singh Bal, editor of The Caravan likened this to a boa constrictor around journalist’s necks, “The breath is being sucked out of us.”

The media and laws panel in its worthy attempt to decode the legalities of freedom of expression only brought forth the unlikely possibilities of success in challenging a majoritarian government hell-bent on creating a web of revisions and new laws. As the panelists pointed out, the revisions seem to contain 75% of the old stuff with a general broadening of the parameters and procedural changes that make harassment, seizure of equipment and detention in jail, easier for various functionaries of the government against citizens and with no special protection for journalists.

The objective of government officials seems most often to be harassment where “the process is the punishment.” Senior lawyer Abhishek Singhvi noted, “There has been a regression in the freedom of the press.” The small bit of hope he suggested might come from consistency in the various courts. “Do not be overly concerned with the law – the issue is its expression and practice.”

Ananth Nath, in his closing remarks, was nevertheless optimistic in his suggestion of better networking and community building for practical reasons by the industry as he might well be. The publishers, editors and journalists at the conclave remain determined to practice their craft and art by all means, going to court, building communities, resisting real and perceived threats, taking on tech and AI, and the lack of funding and access. By and large, they are looking for and sometimes finding, new ways of continuing to tell their evidence-based truths and stories to what may be either an ever-growing or increasingly fragmented audience.

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

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. It created the category of privately owned B2B print magazines in the country. And by its diversification in packaging, (Packaging South Asia), food processing and packaging (IndiFoodBev) and health and medical supply chain and packaging (HealthTekPak), and its community activities in training, research, and conferences (Ipp Services, Training and Research) the organization continues to create platforms that demonstrate the need for quality information, data, technology insights and events.

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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