We must lend a helping hand to an industry that has served us through the best and the worst of times
A few weeks back a local news channel aired a report on the plight of newspaper hawkers of our valley. These struggling souls are battling to make both ends meet as their sole source of livelihood is succumbing to digital media pressure. Being a regular reader cum customer of local newspapers, I was taken aback by their plight, and to give vent to my emotions I decided to write this eulogy in support of newspapers and why newspapers need our support for survival amid these tough and turbulent times.
My tryst with newspapers started when I was quite young. Those days my father, a banker by profession, used to fetch me one English and one Urdu daily newspaper every day. Being too young I couldn’t appreciate the written content of the newspaper but I was fascinated by the images of sports personalities on the penultimate page. I used to admire the pictures and often used to cut them to show them as my prized possession in front of classmates, who often envied me for having them. Time passed by, I reached college, but my bond with newspapers kept getting stronger with time. During my college days, unlike most of my batchmates who preferred to sit idly in the green lawns, I used to spend my spare time in the library to read newspapers. It always gave me an edge over other batchmates in being more updated and informed about daily happenings throughout the globe. Then came university but nothing changed my thirst for newspapers. I was one among the very few hostel boarders who had subscribed to a daily newspaper. Every morning the loud siren of the delivery boys’ motorbike would wake me up from sound sleep in my room number 308 of MA Boys’ hostel of Kashmir University. I made sure to get my daily dose of news much before my breakfast.
Cutting a long story short, times are changing fast and fashions in vogue yesterday are becoming obsolete. Same is the story with newspapers; they are in competition with digital media. Gone are the days when newspaper hawkers used to be the cynosures on our streets in early morning hours, the days when employees used to travel in public buses with their faces hidden behind newspapers, when shop fronts used to be crowded with people reading newspapers – nothing distracted them from reading, so engrossed they were in it. Now digital zombies are ruling everywhere, be it on our streets or in public transport, their eyes glued to glittering screens, their thumbs and fingers scrolling up and down and shifting from one minimised tab to another.
One can’t stop people from using digital media, nor can they be compelled to read newspapers, but we must not forget the role played by newspapers in archiving our chequered history since times immemorial. Newspapers have stood the test of time, be it under rulers who used them to reach out to people, or in times of the distressful armed conflict of the nineties or the recent uprisings of 21st century, when rulers sought to prevent the truth from coming out. How can we forget the role played by the print media post August 5, when the whole state was in a state of incommunicado? The individuals running newspapers never gave up in these circumstances, and stood like a rock amid adversities. We must not forget that the newspaper business is the source of income for many people and they need the business to flourish to be able to feed their families.
Seventy percent of the revenue of newspapers comes from advertisements, with the government acting as the biggest source. Just twenty percent of the revenue comes from subscription and single copy sales. Thus, more circulation isn’t the answer to the problems of struggling newspapers, but advertising clearly is. Of late the government has discovered an innovative method to censor news content of newspapers by banning issuing of advertisements to the valley’s newspapers. Newspapers whose reporting isn’t in line with the state narrative are thus being pushed to the wall. Right now several newspaper owners are at the receiving end of this ad ban and they need revenue to survive. Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. With advertising revenues falling fast, if we don’t lend our helping hand by subscribing or by buying newspapers from street hawkers, we have to pay the price of losing them sooner rather than later.
A small token of 3 rupees every day on buying newspapers can prove to be a gamechanger in preventing this sinking business from further sinking. The current state of newspapers is being reflected in the quantity and quality of content. Newspapers which printed 18 pages once are today printing just 12, besides compromising on quality of news content. Reporters are not getting paid what they deserve and page 3 news is getting published on page 1. If we don’t do what we are supposed to do, then the only market left for newspaper business will be street vendors, bakery shops and fruit vendors which use them for packing purposes instead of reading. We need to rise to the occasion by providing support to our newspapers before the newspapers themselves become NEWS.