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The great Goa newspapers’ fight
Call it a David vs Goliath battle or the big newspaper versus the local small papers’ fight. But surely, the Goa newspaper scenario is set for a sea of change come April, like the rest of Goan life.
CALL IT a David vs Goliath battle or the big newspaper versus the local small papers fight. But one thing is sure, the Goa newspaper scenario is set for a sea of change come April. The winds of change blowing across the face of Goa in different walks of life have engulfed the newspaper industry too.
 
The Times of India (TOI) is to set up shop in the holiday resort state of Goa. The advent of India’s largest selling and oldest English newspaper in the tiny state has kicked-off a serious debate in media circles.
 
Journalists’ media groups’ internet mailing lists have been of late, full of messages discussing the pros and cons of the giant’s entry into Goa and the fate that will await the existing three local English newspapers.
 
Whether the three will survive competition from the giant or some of them may fold away with the TOI eating into their circulation is another issue, which is hotly debated.
 
But the advent of TOI has been a blessing in disguise for the under-paid Goa-based journalists. The sudden pay rise to the tune of Rs 40,000 has certainly dragged some 40-odd Goa journalists to jump on to the TOI bandwagon. For journalists who were being paid Rs 8000-12,000, the huge surge in salary is a carrot which they have grabbed with both hands.
 
As senior journalist Fredrick Noronha wrote in his open letter to Times of India, which has been forwarded to the Goajourno - the Goa journalist mailing list.
 
“Yes, low and stagnant salaries have been a problems here. It has forced many journos into changing their profession or even going into a kind of exile. Journalists have become a major export ‘commodity’ from Goa today. Whether they settle in Mumbai or the Gulf, or even places as unexpected as Bangkok, Sydney and Papua New Guinea, they have had to migrate far and wide to get access to better jobs.”
 
So what effect will the hiked salaries have on the media industry as a whole? Will they create ‘gilded cages’ which people can’t afford to leave? Will it heighten the servility that media-persons have to toe? Will it lead to the collapse of one or more newspapers in the State?”
 
The fate of rural village-based and even city-based part-time correspondents has been much worse when it come to payments. The Goan papers pay them according to the total number of inches of news, which has appeared in the paper. If in the late 80s and 90s rural correspondents were getting Rs 100 as retainership and Re 1 for every inch of appeared news, there is a marginal increase with Rs 500 to Rs 1000 as retainership now and the inch has made way for the centimetre – Re 1 for every centimetre of appeared news.
 
Almost for twenty years now, the situation has not improved for part- time journalists. No doubt, the English newspapers have been accused of not highlighting rural issues and giving more coverage for the city-based news. 
 
You reap what you sow and certainly the English newspapers have been neglecting the rural issues and news from the interior regions. The reasons for lesser coverage from the rural areas finding its way into print is attributed to the lack of interest by the managements towards the payments doled out to people who do reporting from the area.
 
Another issue in some cases is that the underpaid, neglected and untrained correspondent is hardly interested in news coverage but more keen on flashing his identity as journalist to seek his pound of flesh to keep the home fires burning and sticking to the journalist tag for prestige in the rural areas and thus the news tickling in from the rural areas is minimal. But there is another issue of Goa’s rural issues getting a backburner in Goa newspapers.
 
Of the three English newspapers, two of them were owned by mining magnets, till one of them Gomantak Pvt Ltd was sold out to the Union Minister Sharad Pawar’s Sakal group in the 90s.
 
Issues related to mining hardships for local residents in the form of dust pollution and issues arising from mining rejects finding its way into farm lands were systematically blackened out by the two mining owned papers. It was only after the advent of Herald that the suppressed voices in rural Goa got their grievances into print.
 
Goa now has the family owned Herald newspaper and Sakal group’s The Gomantak Times, besides The Navhind Times owned by the Dempo group who are into mining and other businesses.
 
The circulation figures of The Navhind Times and Herald is pegged at 35,000 and 30,000, respectively and that of Gomantak Times at 8000.
 
In addition to the three English language dailies, Goa has one Konkani language paper in Devnagiri script and one Goa-based Marathi newspaper and a few which are published from outside the state. The electronic media has also seen growth in recent times in the form of several channels, which have been trying to a get a foothold in the industry and are yet to reach professional standards.
 
The coming days and months will be yet another transitional face for the Goan media and a challenge for both the Goan media houses to hold to their circulation and revenue share and for TOI to break new ground on the circulation and revenue share front in Goa.
 
As Noronha says: “Some of my colleagues argue that your entry here would” mean a great deal of relief to underpaid, overworked journalists in Goa. Others see your arrival here as a reason for increasing media penetration and readership, reaching out to youth and neo-settlers in Goa, creating a bigger market, improve the salaries of journalists and the operations of ad agencies or improved national and international coverage (together with more sensational news, and more “Page 3 splashes”). Optimists see the arrival of the ToI into Goa as possibly contributing to better proof-reading, more application of the RTI Act, better advertising, better sponsorships (the equivalent of Ganesh in Goa), synergies with other members of your media empire (on the web with Indiatimes, and on radio with Radio Mirchi, and in the world of music with Times Music). But is the job of a newspaper one of staging “great year-end parties”? Hardly so....”
 
But there is yet another untold story behind the curtains, with such large of journalists quitting the Goan newspapers, the three newspaper rocky ships need to be steadied. How best they can manage their own show, will tell in the coming days. Till then Goan newspapers have a fight on hand.
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