Ifra India: Print 'going before I do,' says 68-year-old editor

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Journalism has a bright future but has print? Mahfuz Anam, 68-year-old editor of Bangladesh's The Daily Star doesn't think so.

"I don't see the need for print anymore," the founder of that country's biggest English language newspaper told the World Editors' Forum in Hyderabad last week.

"Print has been my life but at 68, I expect its demise before I die.

"I question the point of print as digital gives much more space for content, saves huge production costs, boosts interactivity and delivers hot news when and where the customer wants it."

Printed newspapers are merely a habit - as some people like the touch and feel - but there is no reason for it to exist any more: "It is just one way to reach your reader. Drop print and your whole cost basis changes."

He reassured his audience that journalism is not dead, with reporters "working now for your news hub not your newspaper.

"Good journalism is good business, and your team must innovate and innovate, show flexibility and more flexibility. Print has changed the world over the past 200 years, now is the time to change ourselves," he said.

"The future is digital and as a journalist, I see many more opportunities in digital than the restrictions of print but the digital space is going through regulation which we need to be aware of. In a conflict between journalism and government, government wins first but journalism wins in the end as freedom is vital to life."

In the same session, US consultant Steve Yelvington warned listeners not against measuring your digital results - this is vital, he says - but against believing "the stories you tell yourself" about how well you are doing. Knowing what not to do is as important as knowing what to do, he said.

The marriage of convenience between content and advertising has been broken up, with the carriage of advertising commoditised, driving prices down.

"Through the last century we told ourselves we were a unique business, reinventing our product everyday, but it is not true, we are a factory for making newspapers with regular stations along the line. Now the newsrooms in the US are half the size they were before the internet and the only way to survive is to change the way we do things.

"Everyone needs to be a photographer, to understand data journalism, be able to work outside the office, to work with specialists, be multi-skilled, to evolve a product portfolio, as a single product does not cut it in a targeted universe.
He says the new newsroom is a creative studio with a collection of diverse skills and digital first is not hard to achieve when print is out of sight.

However, resident editor of the Times of India KR Sreenivas blamed the decline in print readership on newspapers carrying too much "fluff", which he said was content such as entertainment news, and "drove readers away", he said.

Trust is the foremost factor in newsrooms and readers feel more empowered with interactivity and hyper locality - citizens want newspapers to have a voice and fight for them. Stories need to have value-adding and many of the team involved to build inspirational and aspirational stories.

Said KR Sreenivas, "people want happy stories in the morning but they do not want fluff.

"They want original stories and high value content. Print will survive in the digital era but it must connect with the community, including young people who are looking for background and perspective."

Maggie Coleman

Pictured: Mahfuz Anam

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