Community press has to be more relevant

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Only a handful of publications deliver local content. Isn’t it time to ask questions?

We need a debate in the community on the role of the media in addressing our community’s needs. And it’s time we initiated this debate. Our political aspirations are growing. Our vision for the community is asserting itself. We need a voice that can represent this social dynamism.

At a time when the mainstream media is not addressing our concerns or not adequately representing our voice, what we need is a vibrant publishing community. No one has any doubts on this. Indians have a great love and respect for the media. This is something we cherish.

At social gatherings I often hear the dismissive comment: “There are way too many Indian newspapers in Melbourne?” Or “What’s the point in having so many Indian magazines in Melbourne? Do you really represent us? Or is it just about the advertising revenue?” These are valid questions, and I think it’s time we address them.
If you look at the Indian media space in Melbourne, there are roughly 15 Indian ethnic newspapers in circulation. This works out to over 900 pages dedicated to the community each month. Out of this, just around 15 to 20 per cent of the space gets dedicated to the community. This is a very disappointing scenario and it doesn’t do justice to the readers or advertisers.

The first two editions of The Indian Sun were well received by the community. We have delivered over 250 original stories in a very short span. Only a few of them were published in print. The rest were posted online.

According to me, this is a very vital service the community embraced before the election time. Our team of contributors and reporters did a great job working long hours, travelling around Sydney and Melbourne to meet and write stories about elections and the issues affecting us as a community. It’s not an easy task to hit these numbers or to deliver these stories. But we feel, like a few other publishers in the community, that it’s crucial. It’s crucial to say our stories and not just rely on the mainstream to give us a voice.

Small media businesses can deliver a voice to a community, and this is important when there is a growing and urgent need in the community to be heard. Most of us working in this space get phone calls and emails from members of the community on a regular basis to discuss their needs. Be it the issues facing seniors in the community or artistes looking for some exposure for their talents, or writers looking for a space to contribute. The community has grown in size and influence. Skilled media professionals can run these media businesses with sincerity and clear editorial values, raising the bar and enriching civil society and democracy.

We were told by some of our friends how size may matter in publishing. Really? My question to them is simple. In a viral world, are we still going to talk about size, page numbers, circulation, readership figures? I think these have very little relevance in our world. The reader has changed, the advertiser has changed. Moreover, these are old-school ways to understand a publication’s reach and influence. These tools can only be used to sell space but in the actual world, their relevance is very little. A publication group that influences its community has to deliver quality editorial. Only a handful of publications are committed to these values in the mainstream or niche publications.

Unless the advertisers ask the right questions, the community won’t get the solutions it desperately needs. Unless and until, as readers, you confront the advertisers in your social circles, you won’t get a solution to this problem. We need to have a vibrant space to discuss the issues and life of the Indian/South Asian community in Australia. We simply cannot just fill our pages with news on community socialites or stories from India. Simply because we don’t need that content from the local media in this digital age. And the Indian media in India does a great job in delivering stories about people and life in India. So let’s demand more local content in the local press. Let’s discuss our issues and concerns and then worry about the elephants and tourist destinations in India.

The people we feature in our pages and on our website are often overwhelmed by the response they get. How do these stories travel? Are they read in our print edition? Are they taken off our website? Do Facebook friends pass them around? We don’t know the answers. What matters is that the word is getting around. We truly believe that content is still king!

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