Prabhat Khabar : Expanding in Reach and Relevance

IN Media Practice | 02/09/2002
Prabhat Khabar : Expanding in Reach and Relevance

Prabhat Khabar : Expanding in Reach and Relevance

By Sevanti Ninan


The Indian newspaper which broke the story of the fodder scam in Bihar eight years ago now has a new role as the voice of the state of Jharkhand. And it focuses squarely on issues which affect the rural majority.

The latest findings of the National Readership Survey published in June 2001 had very good news for Jharkhand’s biggest newspaper. It found that its readership had gone up from 3.64 lakhs in the previous year to 8.68 lakhs in this one. Two things had happened in the interim. The state of Jharkhand came into existence, and the Hindustan Times also began publishing from Ranchi. But despite competition from a powerful publishing house, Prabhat Khabar’s readership saw a huge jump. Partly because it began a Calcutta edition at the end of last year, but also because, as its editor in chief Hari Vansh puts it, it has identified itself as the newspaper of Jharkhand. "We identified ourselves with the dreams of the new state."

On the day the new state was born, Prabhat Khabar published a 76-page special edition. It was Birsa Munda’s birth anniversary, and the paper carried the legendry tribal leader’s agenda for Jharkhand, an article by anthropologist Kumar Suresh Singh, and several other special articles. The entire issue was a discussion on what the indigenous model of development for the state should be.

The paper covers its territory at the level at which coverage is needed if media is to be an agent of change at the grassroots. It has stringers in 70 out of the 114 blocks of this state, 30 per cent of them adivasis. Its editor has learnt from other success stories in the country that you win over a readership by focussing on issues which affect people’s lives. "We carried a photograph of a school in Palamu Pahadi where the teachers employed labourers to teach the children."

Hari Vansh has had an eventful innings at this newspaper. When he took over eleven years ago the paper was published from Ranchi and had a circulation of 500. Today it has editions in Patna, Jamshedpur, Dhanbad and Calcutta as well, and an Internet edition. Its circulation is well over two lakhs. Over the years the man who runs it has travelled across the country to discover what makes a newspaper succeed. " I visited the Malayala Manorama, the Maharashtra Times, Eenadu, Nai Duniya and studied them, and then formulated my success strategy."

The paper is promoted by the Usha Martin group, and he says there is no interference. With its readership up it has now broken even, attracting advertising for big ticket consumer items such as cars, because the electronic media is weak in Bihar. It maintains a marketing office in New Delhi to woo major advertisers. And it has taken a bank loan to build a printing press in Jamshedpur.

But it built its reputation as a courageous investigative newspaper with the fodder scam which has brought the state of Bihar world wide notoriety. The Rs 700 crore scam first began to be reported by Prabhat Khabar newspaper in 1992. The first FIR in this case had been filed by the state vigilance department in 1990. As Hari Vansh puts it, every body in the city knew about the scale of loot, and once the paper started writing about it people would walk in to give information. In the beginning it was thought to be a Rs 8 crore scam, but as the details trickled out its true scale began to be uncovered. Prabhat Khabar went on to carry some 70 reports, publishing documents, and waging a sustained campaign despite threats and pressures. It had four or five reporters working on the story.

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