‘Future of Urdu media lies in going digital’
More about Urdu Press in J&K …
As the Urdu newspapers in Jammu and Kashmir, for quite a long time, are grappling with the existential crisis caused by certain reasons (many of them discussed by the experts ‘Monday Read’ on January 3, 2021 in Kashmir Images), the stakeholders believe the digital media holds a bright future for Urdu Journalism in this region.
Interestingly, some popular print publications including Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Life, Excelsior, and others, to attract a larger audience, have chosen Urdu/Hindi language to create content for their digital platforms, which experts believe is a good omen for the future of Urdu journalism in the UT.
They suggest that Urdu publications and Urdu journalists should harness the benefits from their better language skills to produce digital content to keep their traditional audience hooked.
To understand the various dimensions about the prospect of Urdu digital media in Jammu and Kashmir —where Urdu journalism is going to complete a century of its existence in the next two years (in 2024) – KASHMIR IMAGES spoke with some experts and concerned people.
Here are the excerpts:
There is a lot of pessimism about Urdu press. But I must say best ideas are mostly born in hopeless situations. I am not a pessimist about the future of Urdu journalism, though I agree that the end for broadsheet newspapers is coming closer. It’s not only true about Urdu newspapers; the print media around the world got severely affected by the pandemic. Various audience surveys by international agencies such as Comscore, Mobi-Insights and others have concluded that large number of newspaper readers have switched to mobile apps for consumption of news and other information. According to QuestMobile the daily screen time of mobile phone users has increased from a few hours to 7.5 hours a day. This significant shift in the audience behavior has forced media outlets to recast their output from print to the digital content. I believe this change is now permanent, although I am not here to write the obituary of the print media. Like the novel did not die by the advent of electronic media, the print media will not die due to the digital revolution. The print media will remain there because it is rooted in the habits of many of the readers, and because of the psychological belief that a word written in print is trustworthy than the word spoken or written in the virtual world.
That said, we must feel the speed of the change. The digital media has become as a new reality. Newspapers in any language are suffering because social media has overtaken them. The vernacular newspapers in J&K –whether in Urdu or any other language – are facing the same existential crisis as the newspapers like Times of India and Indian Express have been facing. This changing scenario, however, has opened up other opportunities for journalists and media organizations. They can now reach out to their audiences through the digital route.
In this context, I see a new hope and a golden opportunity for J&K’s Urdu newspapers and journalists reporting in Urdu language. But I would suggest they, first of all, should shun their traditionalist behavior of being one-language (Urdu) journalists. If you are a journalist, then behave like a journalist. If you know how to write a news story or an opinion piece, and you are capable enough to interview someone, then you are a journalist even if you have limited knowledge of the language. Your editor is there to fix the language and improve your copy. I strongly believe that those who have been doing journalism in Urdu language for years or decades and have gained enough experience in the field can easily, with some effort and dedication, catch up with the jargon and phrases used in digital media. They, necessarily, do not need to become digital experts. They only have to put some effort to become digital-literate.
I believe the Urdu language journalists enjoy an edge over those who are doing journalism in English language. I say this because the majority of news and information consumers in J&K prefer to consume news in Urdu or Hindustani. The loudest example of this is the current digital output from well-established English language media outlets. They have chosen Urdu, Hindi, or Hindustani language as a medium to reach out to their online audiences on their digital platforms. For instance, English language publications like Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Life, The Kashmir Walla, Daily Excelsior, Early Times and State Times are using Urdu or Hindi languages for their digital media platforms. I want to emphasize that there is not a single digital platform in Jammu and Kashmir, which is broadcasting over social media exclusively in English language. This much is enough assurance for Urdu language journalists and this much is enough to rebut the fears that Urdu journalism is dead. But they should get required training and try to make themselves fit for this transition. I remember when computers came into news rooms, the calligraphers felt threatened but at least 60 percent of them secured their jobs by shifting from calligraphy pens to computer keyboards. They learned the new skill and continued with their jobs. Those who shied away lost their jobs. Similarly, given the decline of Urdu print media in J&K, Urdu journalists can switch over to digital platforms. Fortunately there are abundant resources available on YouTube and Google, where one can learn the required skills.
The best thing about the digital spaces is that the returns are merit-based. Good content will fetch good money because good content fetches larger audiences. Now it’s an open secret that Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram etc. have monetized the broadcasts. As they say content is the new oil, Urdu language scribes have to dig a little deeper to grab the oil reserves available for free. They can feel born again if they work on the new style of digital reporting and new ways of production. This business model, in a way, is quite democratic. That is why we have been seeing new start-ups coming up on digital media with each passing day. The Urdu language journalists can become their own masters by creating quality journalistic content for their own digital media platforms. And, that is why I see a bright future for Urdu journalism in J&K, provided we produce quality content. Let’s forget about the newspapers for now.
I started my professional career with English language print media in 2004. In the early two years of my career, I worked with several newspapers including Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Images, Kashmir Times, and Early Times. Then, I joined JK News Point in 2016, where, besides working for its print edition, I started creating digital content for its social media pages as well. I was probably the first journalist in J&K, who started sharing video interviews of high profile politicians and other leaders of J&K on the social media sites; and received tremendous response from the audience to the extent that we got more than 1.4 lakh followers on our social media pages in just few months. Seeing this, many others also started sharing journalistic content on social media.
In November 2018, I got The Straight Line registered with the RNI, and since then I have been working without looking back. The Straight Line is focused mainly on public interest journalism. Since our work pertains to the ‘Aam Aadmi’, we have chosen to create our content mostly in Urdu or Hindi languages, simply because more than 90 percent population speak and understand these languages in J&K. For the initial two years, we ran our digital media platform almost on the losses, but then it started giving revenue.
On the basis of my experience, I can assure you that Urdu journalism on digital platforms has tremendous potential in J&K. However, I feel sad to say that Urdu medium journalists mostly have been focusing on politics only, all these years. Most of them think that journalism in J&K is about the Kashmir issue and India Pakistan politics only, which is not true. Urdu journalism can thrive here if we provide quality content on various issues to our audience. People want to know about Kashmir beyond its politics. I must tell you that Jammu and Kashmir is still a virgin market in terms of media coverage to the issues pertaining to culture, heritage, art, life, education, health, and so on and so forth. Urdu media has a huge audience not only in the UT but outside also. We have a scope to cater our quality content to our larger audience across the world. The new technologies have opened up the doors for new opportunities. Unlike in print media, there is nobody’s monopoly in the virtual world. If you produce good content, you will get your chunk of viewers and subscribers, and then eventually you will get revenue too. That is why I say digital media is the future of Urdu journalism in J&K.
I know a media entrepreneur and a trainer, who despite being a good English language journalist and having a Ph.D. from a reputed International University, teaches journalism in Hindi and Marathi languages. Once I asked him why does he focus on these two languages only, and he replied: “vernacular languages are growing in the new age of digital media.” Since then I have been observing and I find that he was right.
Urdu is also showing growth to a significant level on virtual platforms, while Urdu print is declining with each passing day. In the print world, there is stagnation. There is no growth because there is no investment. Since there is no investment in the print media, there is no career advancement for the content producers, and, thus a lack of motivation. I am not saying that curtains will fall on Urdu print media but the fact is that its chances of advancement are decreasing day by day.
However, there is a new kind of wave where people are showing an inclination to learn Urdu to create more and more digital content. In fact, all vernacular languages have been showing positive trends on online media for quite a long time. They are growing. Like Hindi is growing more than the English on Indian digital platforms. There are so many youtubers who are running successful shows, not only in terms of fame, but they earn decent money also. This trend is not only on online platforms but television has also shown favourable slide towards Hindi or vernacular market. Hindi talk shows, I think enjoy more TRPs than English channels. Likewise many youtubers and social media influencers, who can do well in English, also prefer to run shows in Hindi.
As far as Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, I have observed the number of Hindi, Urdu, and Kashmiri portals is more than the number of English portals. The biggest contribution and beauty of the online is that it has democratized the media. The new technology has changed the behaviour of consumers and we know for sure that the wheel of the technology always runs forward. It is quite clear that the golden age of Urdu print journalism is gone, and Urdu digital media is the future.
To conclude, I would like to tell you that I wish a better sense prevails and Urdu publications start investing in their human resources to enable them to produce digital content. The time has come when our colleges and universities also must create well-equipped journalism departments to teach digital Urdu journalism to ensure we have sufficient human resources for the jobs that would be created in near future.
The era of radio has gone long ago; the television era is also on departure; and, the newspaper industry is losing its significance rapidly. With Artificial Intelligence (AI) back-up, digital media holds the future. That is why we see all the major media houses across the world producing more content on their digital media platform than in their print editions. One of the key reasons for this is the fact that the advertising market, to a large extent, is also shifting from print to digital media.
In this changing scenario, regional languages are flourishing everywhere. It is because people prefer to consume the digital media content, which is produced in their native languages, or at least in the languages they are more familiar with. To consume information from the newspapers, one must be able to read and write the language. But as far as digital media is concerned, one necessarily does not need to know reading and writing. Anyone who understands and comprehends spoken form of a particular language can consume the digital content produced in that language.
That is why we see more and more artists, comedians, journalists, analysts, and so on coming on digital media platforms with the content in their regional languages. They do so because regional languages fetch them more viewers and subscribers.
In this context, journalistic content in Kashmiri or Urdu languages have a larger scope on the digital platforms in Kashmir. These two languages have a potential to reach out to more people in the Valley than any other language has.
As an expert on the subject, I would suggest that any news outlet or an individual journalist who wants to produce digital content must, first of all, have a website or a mobile App. Then he or she must create a YouTube channel, which is quite feasible and cost effective.
These initiatives would enable you to monetize your content on Google and YouTube, provided your production is attractive enough, engrossing and niche to hook the larger audience. For instance, Google counts clicks and the view time on your content to pay you. While YouTube monetization is based on the number of subscribers and viewers. For both, Google and YouTube, the number of your subscribers matters. More subscribers mean more earnings. However, to set up your channel for monetization on Google and YouTube, the producer has to meet some requirements and follow some rules and regulations set up by these companies. The content producer requires either a team of professionals to get the dividends from the business models of these companies, or needs to outsource the job to some digital marketing company. One can have an agreement with some marketing company and give them targets, in terms of enhancing subscriber base and for the search engine optimization. Also, Facebook can be the best and easiest platform to allure more and more subscribers to the producers’ content. A YouTube and the website or mobile app can also be promoted through the WhatsApp and other social media groups.
Last but not least, I must tell you that ideally a news outlet should have a million subscribers to ensure steady earnings; and the content must be alluring enough to keep the subscribers captivated.