Only fair then that the sales team was having a tough time selling. So very little advertising money: just under Rs. 7 lakh per month. (Not to put too fine a point on it, but one knows things are dire when a ‘World Famous’ astrologer occupies premium ad real estate on a news portal) Anyway, costs, salary of editorial staff and other expenditure was out of whack: anywhere between Rs. 70-90 lakh per month. The dilemma before Kothari, the owner of Catch was this: If the burn rate is way ahead of the ad earning, then does it make sense as a business? Just to keep a brand alive? To what specific end, really? Hence, the trudging visit to Delhi, from Jaipur, where Kothari and Rajasthan Patrika are based. And the plan.
Let’s bump up the numbers. More stories = more clicks = more advertising money.
How exactly would that pan out? Well, this is what Kothari told the editorial staff. Starting tomorrow, first thing in the morning, reporters at Catch should call up the editors of the various city editions of Rajasthan Patrika. Ask them, what are the three to five big stories of the day that they are planning. Next, call the individual reporter on the story and chat them up. Take notes. Throw in some of your own research and file a 200-word copy. Every reporter should do this. Every day.
Problem solved. Productivity goes up at least 3X. More stories = more clicks = more advertising revenue.
Needless to say, the editorial staff at Catch was aghast.
They had questions: What the hell? Five stories a day…what exactly is the value add here? Why would any reporter give away his story? Maybe one day, maybe a few days, but every day, why? No chance in hell of that happening. No chance in hell that we are doing this. So, they hemmed and hawed. Some complained. And a few quit, thinking of the move as the “last straw” at Catch.
“For the last three weeks, we’ve been in a state of shock,” said an employee, who requested not to be identified because he didn’t want to get into any trouble with the management. “Only a few days back, the move was rolled back but you can never be sure if it is dead for good.”
This is not an isolated incident. Not at Catch News. Not in the media business in India or the world; where every media organisation wants to be in on digital. Somehow, figure out the internet. Because that’s where the audiences are. Stroll through any media newsroom today and you will overhear hushed chatter of page view targets — anywhere from 4 million to 80 million per month. Of course, everyone has heard or read about the prize money:
The problem is not so much about the target, as it is about, how do you get there.
Which brings us back to Rajasthan Patrika and Catch News.
Rajasthan Patrika is a 60 year old media group. In these years, it grew from a quarter-sized evening paper to a national publication. Its Hindi daily, called Patrika, is sold across eight states, and has more than 250 editions. According to data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, Rajasthan Patrika is the seventh largest newspaper in India, with a circulation of 18,11,758. Catch News was the group’s foray into digital media in June 2015.
The initial plan was something along these lines. There’d be three divisions. Speed news: instant news updates from agencies or breaking developments. News plus: deeply researched pieces and exclusive stories. Content marketing: social stories told in a way to get advertisers to sponsor. The overarching theme – let’s unlock the infinite potential of the Internet, unlike television or print and build a differentiated product, which combines old values of journalism and new ways of telling stories — researched, informed and conversational. The start was sure-footed.
“In the beginning, I was allowed to experiment,” said Shoma Chaudhury, former editor of Catch News. (Before Catch, she was the managing editor at news magazine Tehelka) “So bring numbers to quality and we were doing long, short, informed stories with background. It went well and we got good feedback.” Yes. Catch News, in late 2015 and early 2016, was clocking around 3 million page views. That’s a good number for a year-old media website. Enthused by the response, there were other plans — a Hindi website, which was launched in December and another portal, specifically for non-resident Indians in the US and Gulf, which never saw the light of day.