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Aayush Soni
Media Minutes

Aayush Soni is a journalist based in New Delhi. Follow him on Twitter at @aayushsoni.

How India’s news magazines can survive the Internet

few columns ago, I'd mentioned that the Indian media would be hit by certain "tectonic changes" once the general elections are over. One of these, being spoken about in loud whispers, is the exit of Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, who will move to the India Today group as vice-chairman along with senior editorial hands at the Express.

If this rumor is indeed true, then India Today might have taken the first step to reinject the vigour and energy it was famous for through the '80s and '90s. During the 2000s, after the departure of some of its most talented writers and editors, the perception crept in that India Today lagged behind as it faced competiton from Outlook and Tehelka. The magazine's cover stories started becoming "softer" and focussing more on corporate tycoons, Hindi movie stars and the sexual proclivities of urban Indians. Aroon Purie, India Today's editor-in-chief, even admitted to senior journalists that the magazine "has lost its punch". Shekhar Gupta's possible recruitment, therefore, is an attempt to revive the magazine's agility.

Except, I don't know how successful this attempt will be. The migration of readership and news consumption to the Internet, where the flow of breaking news, analysis and columns is so rapid that by the time a magazine hits the stands every Friday, the stories sound stale. In other words, the newsweekly format has now run its course — not just in India, but also abroad. In the West, legendary weekly magazines like Newsweek and Time have struggled to remain relevant. According to a report by the Pew Research Center, Newsweek's readership halved between 2007 and 2010, while Time's audience declined by 27% in 2012.

To ensure that they remain relevant, both these institutions have brought about some radical changes. Time is focussing its energies on building an audience on the Internet for its content. The magazine's website has a dedicated videos section and has also started experimenting with multimedia features such as an interactive map of New York City. Newsweek, on the other hand, is back in print after a brief sabbatical and, if its inaugural 3,400-word profile of the Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto is any indication, the magazine is taking a turn towards literary long-form journalism.

The manner in which Time and Newsweek have reinvented themselves has lessons that India Today (and other weeklies) could benefit from. Chief among them is the radical move to reduce its frequency from a weekly to a fortnightly, perhaps even a monthly. It will give writers the time and mindspace to think more critically about story ideas, report a piece in depth and craft a compelling narrative. After all, some of the best India Today stories were published in the 1980s, when the magazine was published once every two weeks. Whether it was the fall of the Soviet Union, the Tiananmen Square crackdown, or the ban on Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, all of them had a sense of ambition and depth that weekly magazine stories today are deprived of. Simultaneously, it could do breaking news, videos and interactive graphics on its website to build a solid readership on the Internet.

Most importantly, India Today should go back to being the large-hearted and generous magazine it once was. I recently met a journalist who worked at the magazine in the '90s, who told me that he and his colleagues were free to pursue any story in the country without ever thinking about travel costs. This magnanimity made those reporters love their jobs, and it showed in their journalism.

 
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