Lessons Mumbai Mirror has for future of digital news in India

Why did Mumbai Mirror go from being a daily to a weekly? The answers could lie in the changing medium of news dissemination.

Launched 15 years ago, Mumbai Mirror reportedly had a circulation of about 7,00,000 copies. The tabloid, which started as a daily, stopped publishing this month. It is all set to be re-launched as a weekly.

Media observers and readers of the newspaper lamented this shift especially because Mumbai Mirror had a rather excellent coverage of a complex city.

Officially Bennett, Coleman & Company Limited (BCCL), which owns the newspaper, blamed the losses on the pandemic. They even announced the closure of Pune Mirror. Curiously though, there was no mention of the status of Ahmedabad Mirror or Bangalore Mirror.

A report by exchange4media.com noted that the Mumbai Mirror’s parent company, the BCCL had registered a net loss of Rs 451.63 crores in 2019-20, as against a net profit of Rs 484.27 crores registered just the fiscal year before in 2018-19.

The Mumbai Press Club released a statement saying “If you have made good profits, then there are times when you must ride out the losses too. With the easing of the pandemic, one can see the economy and businesses looking up. For a small saving, it is not correct for the company to sacrifice such a powerful city brand and the jobs of so many employees.”

The statement went on read, “the BCCL is the largest and most profitable media house in the country with annual revenues of $1.5 billion, and an average of over 30% returns on investment (ROI) in previous years. All businesses have their ups and downs,”

According to a report by Newslaundry, Mumbai Mirror could have been affected because its low advertising rates were actually weaning away advertisers from the group’s flagship newspaper the Times of India.    

MJ Pandey, Executive Committee Member of the Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists (BUJ) and a long term media watcher says that Times of India has been the laboratory of dubious labour practices that tend to be subsequently adopted by others. Pandey says Mumbai Mirror was perhaps a part of an exercise to mop up advertising that was going to tabloids like Mid-Day and to take on newspapers like Hindustan Times and DNA, both of which entered the Mumbai market around the same time as Mirror did.

Advertising professional Pralhad Kakkar says digital is the future. “Only 5 % of the nation reads newspapers, 3% of which are youngsters below the age of 35. These youngsters have already moved on to the digital space. Even TOI is struggling as you can’t survive for long with just 2% of the advertising pie,” he says. Moreover, he says, the sudden anti-establishment shift and aggression shown by the Mumbai Mirror, was perhaps just a brand strategy to gain traction from the youngsters.

Senior journalist and dean of the St Paul’s Institute of Communication Education, Carol Andrade says that it’s time to shut city-specific newspapers due to the onset of the multiple news platforms online. “Technology has changed the news cycle completely making it difficult for city newspapers, since they were primarily planned as a bridge between news cycles,” she explains.

“The digital market has led to a change in the concept of breaking news, a flattening of the news design landscape, the introduction of multiple platforms and formats that are much in demand by varying demographics. What role can restrictive print offerings play in such a dynamic setting?” asks Andrade.

She also says the brick and mortar operations are expensive, especially in a city like Mumbai, thereby making the financial model even more unsustainable.

“Today, we find ourselves in the midst of real time news updates across multi – touch points. So how do we really expect the survival of the 24-hour news cycle? Mirror is not the first nor the last to fold up in India. Many more will follow suit as lack of advertising revenue will force the traditional print media to shut down,” says Sorab Ghaswalla, former journalist and founder of a digital marketing and advisory firm who had predicted the demise of the traditional Indian newspaper over a decade ago. “The only scope for a future in print is when real investigative or in-depth or original reportage is carried out,” says Ghaswalla.

Ghaswalla thinks the trend towards moving to the digital space was missed earlier by newspapers in India because of their rising circulation figures. That rise, however, was linked to an increase in literacy levels in India, but it also created a false sense of complacency in the market. “The magazines were the first to die and  that should have set the alarm off. Yet, nothing much happened except some token digital gestures here & there by managements,” says Ghaswalla.

“There will always be a market for local news consumption; only the platform of delivery of that news will be digital,” he adds. 

Pandey notes that the Times Group has opened and shut several publications in the past. “Sadly, none of their decisions regarding either launching or stopping of newspapers had anything to do with journalism,” he says.

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