The more things change, the more they remain the same.
At ThePrint, the commitment to independent, objective and responsible journalism remains as firm as ever. However, discerning readers may have noticed some significant new features, introduced to offer better coverage of the news and the world we live in.
Is it my imagination, or has this been a particularly newsy first three months of the year? Think of it: January saw coronavirus cases surge across the globe and India during the third wave of the pandemic. Worse, it was one of the longest, coldest and wettest winters in north India.
Meanwhile, the hijab row over Muslim students’ demand that they be allowed to wear the garment to school/college rocked Karnataka and the country in January and February. In March, the Karnataka High Court disallowed the hijab in the classroom.
And then there was what is, delightfully, called ‘the festival of democracy’—elections in five states during February and March. It saw the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) record handsome wins in four states (Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur) while the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) pulled off a first and famous victory in Punjab.
Finally, we are now into the fifth bruising week of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – a conflict that has strategic, political, economic and humanitarian implications for the world. India had to arrange to fly out thousands of students from the country after hostilities broke out.
When so much news is rushing at you from all directions, all at once and jostling for space, a news organisation needs to be quick, agile and dynamic in creating a smooth flow of news, views and analysis for its readers. By a fortuitous coincidence, recent changes at ThePrint may have helped it do just that.
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Faster news and views
‘Please sir, can I have some more’ – That unforgettable line from the film Oliver Twist (1948) describes what readers want: More information, more in-depth analysis and opinion to help them make sense of things. And ThePrint is now putting out much more news than it did before. As of January, it has automated the publishing of news from leading agencies like PTI, Bhasha (PTI’s Hindi version) and ANI.
Previously, the editorial team would constantly browse through the agencies’ story lists, choose items it thought would interest readers, change headlines, add visuals and then publish the reports. This was a selective and time-consuming exercise.
The advantages of the automation are three-fold: ThePrint now automatically ‘ingests’ or publishes up to 700 agency stories daily, thereby offering readers a quicker and higher number of news updates, while freeing the editorial team for other work.
The drawback is that there is no editorial filter and PTI stories often appear without visuals.
The next big thing at ThePrint is the Speed News Desk, introduced in February. Here, a dedicated team of young reporters speed write 150-200 word stories and publish them before you can say ‘Jai Hind’. Not really, but you get the idea: Short takes on breaking news.
Earlier, breaking news took too long to break on ThePrint, so this is a welcome feature, although it still needs to gather speed and frequency. With constant news developments in the Ukraine war, the Speed Desk was useful in trying to provide the latest from the war front, in a jiffy.
Obviously, it’s work in progress, but along with the automation of PTI and ANI, it offers readers more news at ThePrint, and a platform to break quick stories from its own correspondents too.
Also read: ThePrint in Afghanistan and the value of putting boots on the ground each time
No boots on the ground in Ukraine
The last few months have been a time of rebuilding and regrouping for the website with new journalists joining ThePrint after a spate of departures last year. There’s now a fairly well-balanced mix of experienced editors, reporters and fresh graduates.
The importance of being back at almost full strength became evident during the fast-paced news developments of the last few months. It allowed for in-depth coverage of the elections campaigns as well as the Ukraine conflict: Up to 10 correspondents and editors travelled to Uttar Pradesh to report on the two-month poll campaign while others went to Punjab and Uttarakhand—ThePrint also had a correspondent in Manipur throughout the campaign. This hands-on knowledge of each state paid off in the election results coverage on 10 March – ThePrint had its highest election day readership ever.
Ukraine presented all news organisations with questions: How do you cover a war – something most journalists are now unaccustomed to – in a country most readers have not even heard of but which has a strong Indian connection with thousands of students stranded there?
Above all, what can you offer readers when the international media and Indian television news channels are already swarming all over the conflict?
For ThePrint, which prides itself on international strategic affairs’ coverage, a crucial question was whether or not to send a senior correspondent to report from ground zero in Ukraine? Remember, ThePrint is one of the few Indian news organisations to have sent an editor to Afghanistan last summer when US troops left the country and the Taliban strolled into power.
A reporter was not sent to Ukraine. In hindsight, given the levels of interest in the conflict amongst Indian readers and the strong Indian angle in the conflict, I think this was a missed opportunity –especially when there were few print media journalists from India in Ukraine, and television news coverage wasn’t granular.
Instead, ThePrint assembled a small, dedicated editorial team led by Praveen Swami, who joined ThePrint in January 2022 as National Security Editor. This team focused on everything Ukraine. It put out news stories, news features, in-depth analysis of various issues the conflict had thrown up – from medical education of Indian students in the country and why they went abroad, to NATO’s expansion into eastern Europe, the nuclear weapons arsenals in a possible face-off, to the implications of the war for India. There were also features on something as unusual as the idea of nationhood in Ukrainian cinema and Vladimir Putin’s Indian tailor.
These were supported by opinion articles from experts, video packages of the war, uncut speeches by world leaders, including Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Putin, explainers and analysis by Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, Praveen Swami and debates conducted by Senior Consulting Editor Jyoti Malhotra.
Reader/viewer interest ran high in the first few weeks – why even the Hindi ‘Aaj Ka Mudda’ about Ukraine was widely watched –so it seems ThePrint’s approach paid off. Still, boots on the ground would have enriched the coverage.
Also read: What our readers are telling ThePrint — the good, the bad and the headlines
Our premium offerings
Two other aspects of ThePrint’s coverage need to be mentioned before we come to what’s coming next.
First, along with new faces in the newsroom, the Opinion section has been busy looking for new voices of its own and has found some important ones: Respected commentator Vir Sanghvi who writes a weekly column and scholar and author Anirudh Kanisetti who writes a fortnightly history column. Do look out for their articles.
Also, you may have noticed that the weekend offers more of what we call ‘soft stories’ or the long form on subjects such as society, the arts, sports, etc. I have been a feature writer myself and think that this really helps draw in readers who are indifferent to politics or strategic affairs.
Before I sign off for the month, a little about ‘TFP’ – you may have noticed this printed alongside some stories in a tiny purple box. These are stories that will be included in ‘The Fine Print’ (TFP) – ThePrint’s Premium offering behind a paywall section where only those who subscribe will get to read the best stories.
Everyone in the business is doing it and so it was only a matter of time before ThePrint did it too. The idea is to develop and write high-quality journalism and showcase it behind a paywall. That’s the twist in the tale and the challenge: The content must be exceptional for readers to put their money where their eyes are.
Will ThePrint be able to create and sustain journalism of high excellence? Let’s wait and watch.
Meanwhile, do write in and tell us what you think about ThePrint—we would love to hear from you.
Shailaja Bajpai is ThePrint’s Readers’ Editor. Please write in with your views, complaints to email@example.com