What does the rural newspaper revolution achieve -- Part II

BY sevanti ninan| IN Media Practice | 12/10/2004
The indiscriminate nature of local news does not encourage purposeful reporting on the development needs of local areas, and their populations.

Does the rural newspaper revolution promote development -- Part II

Sevanti Ninan

Based on interviews conducted in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh by Sushmita Malaviya and Vasavi

Industry and trade perspectives

Rural newspaper expansion is achieved by aggressive marketing, but it has been made possible by development of communications: the improvement in rural infrastructure. ?With the improvement of road, rail links, the paper is reaching on time. Earlier, we had to rely on the sole Government bus going to remote places in the State. Over the last eight years, we are now in a position to ensure that the paper is in Jhabua at 6 am because of the increased use of taxis.? [i]  The  circulation manager of Deshbandu  in Bhopal makes the same point: ?There has definitely been a vast change in the access that the paper has ever since, roads, buses and trains improved. Earlier, there was only one bus and if we missed it, the edition never reached people. Today we have several options, we can send the paper by road, bus or by train. Alternatively, voluntary agencies subscribe the paper by post. For instance, Eklavya takes the paper in as remote an area as Khategoan in Dewas district.?[ii]

The last link in the supply chain is also falling into place with the increase in demand: In both Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, rural delivery of newspapers is increasingly becoming the norm with hawkers travelling considerable distances to distribute newspapers. In the villages of Mahasamund, newspapers are distributed from two centres. One at Pachera, and one at  Jhal Khamriya. Newwspapers sent by taxi to these centres. From there by cycle, boys hawk the papers. The hawkers are appointed by local agents.

But supply is a response to demand. The rural newspaper revolution has been fuelled by a qualitative shift in media consumption and preferences by a rural populace. Till today the cost of a  daily newspaper available in the village remains prohibitive. At Rs 3.50 a day, it is considered expensive. But people are increasingly beginning to think in terms of spending this kind of money. Partly because these papers are printed in colour, offer a lot of sports news and supplements of interest to different members of the family. And partly because there has been an increase in rural income in some areas.

Asked whether rural households are taking more newspapers a circulation executive for Nava Bharat in Itarsi  (MP) says there has been an increase. ?Earlier, 10 to 15 years ago only one newspaper used to go to two villages. Now nearly 20 to 25 newspapers normally go to a village and I can attribute this to the increase in education, the awareness  that the electronic media has created. The electronic media creates the atmosphere for people to demand more news.

Apart from this, today, thanks to the Tawa Dam Reservoir which has been 30 years in the making,  farmers have been able to improve their lot. There are a lot of well-to-do farmers here. Since they have been able to improve their economic capacity, they are in a position to buy newspapers.?[iii]

He adds that earlier farmers were able to raise only one crop and had to live on one meal a day. Today, farmers are able to take care of 20 acres of land and they have tractors, fridges, TVs and they like to read newspapers because people in the cities read newspapers. It has become a status symbol of sorts. 

An agent for Nava Bharat who also doubles as a stringer for the paper says, ?Readers are very difficult to please. Because of the competition in the market, they will drop one paper if the hawker brings it late and opt for the number of other papers that are available. Earlier, readers had limited choice. They would read the newspaper that they would be able to lay their hands on. Today readers are aware and want papers to cater to their tastes, to be on time. Apart from the local news, the supplements lure readers, because there is something for everybody - for intellectuals, for the elderly in the family, for youth, for women and for children. An ambience has been created and people now demand papers. And everybody wants their paper on time.?[iv]

Hawkers testify to an increased interest in newspapers in the villages: ?I have been distributing the paper for the last 15 years. People in the villages are buying newspapers and are willing to pay for it. People want more and more information, especially if it about match etc. The day after India won the match against Pakistan, newspapers sold much more. Similarly, during elections, important matches and when results are declared we ask for more newspapers. I takes me five hours to deliver all the paper.?  This from Kamlesh, a farmer who distributes newspaper in the rural areas.[v] 

But local news is the hook. The bureau chief of Nava Bharat who is also in charge of circulation says the regional pages have been the main reason for the increase in readership.  Nava-Bharat has been striving to give people of the region news with the flavour they like and are familiar with. Earlier, Nava-Bharat used to supply its single edition in Itarsi too, but now, the Itarsi edition comes with four to six pages for local news. Every attempt is made to ensure that the maximum number of stories from the region are packed into that edition. With separate editions, the paper has had to struggle for original sources and then sustain its coverage. [vi]

The ?original sources?  are usually a large number of local stringers filing a miscellany of small news  items. Here, for instance, is what a page meant for Sambalpur in Orissa carried  in the Raipur edition of Nava bharat:

A drop in the water table of Sambalpur district

Women protesting illicit liquor in Belpahar

A three column story on three people caught smoking in a public place at Duguripali

A woman dies after a suicide attempt in Sambalpur

The delayed construction of a local bridge in Veermaharajpur

A doctor caught taking a bribe in Sambalpur

A four column story how people are harassed by the lack of parking in Sambalpur.

A story on the open blackmarketing of kerosene in the same city.

A report on a Red Cross blood camp

The 8-point demand of the local railway union

An over-smart lover is arrested in Sambalpur for tricking a woman.

In Bamra women gherao a thana demanding action against the BDO of the area.

Rs five lakhs worth of wire stolen in Dhama

A case of suicide in Dhama.

A district gets its own website, dateline Anugul.

The roads of Sambalpur are being repaired as a festival approaches

Titligarh is in the grip of a heat wave.

The local people of  have formed a society in Khetrajpur.

A four column story from Rourkela on industrialists threatening to close their plants if a forty percent power rate hike is carried out.

A youth commits suicide, in Rourkela.

Three are caught stealing to finance their drug habit, same dateline.

A Rourkela boy dies in an accident.

The grain mandi will open on a specified day, Sambalpur dateline.

The state secretary in charge of women and child development visits Rourkela.

A three column story from Rourkela on a woman killed because of a doctor¿s negligence.  [vii]

The 25 stories on a single page documented above bear out the preceding statement, by a Nava Bharat bureau chief in Itarsi, that ?the maximum number of stories from the region are packed into an edition.?  You have local crime, local mishaps, civic problems, stories with implications for development (on the water table drop, the power tariff hike, the founding of a website for the district), and trade union demands. No story is too small to make it into the page.

Literacy and circulation

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