Newspapers should play up their opinions
Here is a paradox for you to ponder.
Most Indian newspapers are reducing the space given to editorial comment. The Times of India has tried to abolish its editorial page several times. And the conventional wisdom among newspaper executives – backed up by market research agencies – is that nobody reads the editorials.
What people read newspapers for, or so we are told, is hard news. They treat the editorial page as an anachronism and have no interest in the views of the paper’s editors. The only reason the editorial page survives is because it is a big ego trip for editors.
I have never bought this argument. A newspaper without an editorial page is like a human being without a soul. It is the editorial page that gives the paper its character. And even if readers tell market researchers that they do not read it, they certainly mind when it is removed or tampered with.
The Times of India had to reinstate the editorial page after readers complained. At the HT, a redesign that was supposed to make the page look younger and fresher, led to such an uproar that the design had to be changed yet again.
But even if you do not accept my view, there is something else you should think about.
Newspaper executives will tell you that papers have to change because of competition from television and especially, the Internet. The old ways will not work any longer.
But when you go on the Internet, what is it that you find?
Blogs, all consisting of nothing more than opinion and comment. There is not a lot of hard news on the Internet. It’s all opinion.
So, is it the case of the anti-edit page brigade that newspapers must change to be more like the Internet? But that they should eschew opinion because people who use the Internet love opinion?
Makes no sense, does it?
As important is the influence of television. The truth is that more and more people get their news from TV, not from newspapers. So, newspapers must do something different to distinguish themselves from television.
Even within the television industry, channels are distinguishing themselves through opinion. Fox News is a success in the US because people share its opinions. Times Now is the number one channel in India this week because it is not afraid to broadcast its opinions.
Why should the newspaper industry play down its opinions?
Surely, we should be doing the exact opposite.