The media landscape has undergone immense transformation in the past decade, and many legacy media brands have struggled to keep up. On Thursday, INMA members attended a Webinar to learn how Hindustan Times has adapted with these changes.
As one of the market leaders in the Indian news media space, HT Media leverages its rich legacy of more than 96 years to bring needed changes in the way news is delivered to the ever-evolving Indian news consumers. In the Webinar, HT Editor-In-Chief Sukumar Ranganathan and international media expert Mario Garcia, who worked closely with the HT team through its transformation, shared how they pivoted the brand to fit the changing ways of news consumption and give today’s readers what they are seeking.
Hindustan Times (HT) made its transformation at an important time, and the bottom line for media publishers is good journalism, Garcia said: “If you have a good story, the rest is going to come easy, regardless of the platform, regardless of the design. A good story is what remains the essence of journalism.”
The HT transformation was about how to tell the story across different platforms.
“When we talk about transformation in a media house today, what are we talking about?” Garcia asked. “We’re talking about multimedia.”
From print to desktop, smartphones, tablets, and even smart watches, people get their news across multiple devices — and they often move from one device to another throughout the day.
“The newsroom is now aware that one size does not fit all,” Garcia said. “You do not tell stories digitally in the same way you tell stories in print.”
Leaning forward and leaning back
The average person “leans forward” into their mobile phone 114 times per day. Because users are reading news multiple times a day with mobile — as opposed to reading a print newspaper once a day — a publisher cannot just publish one mobile edition each day and that’s it. The news must evolve throughout the day with the reader.
Readers also lean back, usually more in the evenings, to read longer stories. This can be on mobile, though it’s more likely to be on tablets or print.
“A modern news operation must cater to both,” Garcia said, adding that this was the focus of his work with HT’s transformation.
Today’s media is the journalism of everywhere — with interruptions. This means publishers must utilise shorter paragraphs and put sub-heds in the middle of the story to act as navigational devices. Stories must also be updated constantly.
With the old version of print, the news abandoned the reader each day after it was read until the next morning’s edition. Today, however, news and information never abandon the reader — although newsrooms do when they don’t keep updating their content.
“How we write, edit, and design stories must take into account where and when the reader will be consuming them,” Garcia said. “In many newsrooms, this concept has not taken hold yet. That has been the focus of our work with the Hindustan Times.”
This requires a change in philosophy and a change in culture.
Changing story flow
The old story flow was simple: a journalist wrote and filed the story, it appeared in the newspaper, and was read. Today’s story flow is completely different. It is adapted for various platforms and is constantly updated as the story evolves.
The way the user reads is also different. With print, the eye moves diagonally from the photos to the story. Once a person is reading the story, they don’t want the text interrupted. With mobile, people read vertically, and photographs and other visuals must be accompanied with the text as the story unfolds. Garcia explained it as you read and you see, you read and you see.
“Two very distinct concepts,” he said. “Designers need to understand that, editors need to understand that. It is a totally different dynamic.”
While mobile can’t compete with print when it comes to large photographs, the art must be adapted and optimised for the vertical mobile screen.
The Hindustan Times transformation journey
HT’s transformation all started with the brand, which enjoyed a long history and reputation. The Old English black-letter typography was a big part of this. The new digital logo kept that recognisable font from the print name.
HT’s print edition remains traditional and true to its newspaper roots, being newsy with long stories, while becoming more elegant. It also incorporates small visual links between the various platforms — for example, a “social card” graphic that appears in the print newspaper might also appear on the Web site, the mobile edition, or even Twitter.
It is the kiss of death for print to be stuck in the old ways, Garcia said. “In 2020, there is a place for print — but it is not the protagonist.”
“Everything follows a formula, nothing is left to chance. In a modern newspaper, you deal with a scanner and with a very faithful reader who reads it all. Both audiences have to be catered towards.”
It is not easy journalism to accomplish, Garcia admitted, and editors must work harder at it. “It is demanding journalism. Not everybody is up to this.”
HT extends this transformation into its magazines, such as HT City and HT Weekend. There is a formula and hierarchy, along with connections to digital such as QT scan codes and social media links.
“There has been no section of the newspaper that has not been touched by this transformation across platforms,” Garcia said.
The digital edition has its own hierarchy, with trending pieces at the top. “It’s very pictorial, very much look and read, look and read.”
“In all of this, the story continues to be the key, but now there are more platforms with which to present it with a technology that allows more choices for journalists,” Garcia said. “That is exactly what we have done with the Hindustan Times.”
The Hindustan Times journey in its own words
Starting the journey in January, HT had to deal not only with changing market pressures, but also the coronavirus pandemic along the way.
Sukumar Ranganathan said the transformation was about far more than just design — rather, they were creating something completely fresh and new.
“Many people make the mistake of viewing the design process as the end of the road, and it’s actually not. I think a lot of transformation exercises that involve redesigning typically fail because people believe that once you finish the redesign, that’s it, you’ve got it. In truth, that’s the beginning. That’s where your work starts from.”
Readers retain memories about media brands, he said. The transformation and new design is such that it will help audiences notice the quality of HT’s journalism.
Ranganathan mentioned HT’s new tagline: First Voice. Last Word.
“I think in many ways that allows us to voice immediacy, which is a sign of our times especially when it comes to online, and also authoritativeness, which in many ways is the big failing of many online media offerings.”
One of the primary things HT wanted to do with the transformed brand was to make it a newspaper for the digital age. In addition to reading news, today’s consumer also likes to share and to save, as well as enjoy the “second screen” experience.
“Through the use of barcodes, through the use of social media cards, through the use of fairly Instagrammable stories, that is what we’ve tried to do,” Ranganathan said. All of this makes the new Hindustan Times very interactive.
“It serves as a gateway to a lot of other content and much of it is produced afresh. The interesting thing about the process now is that someone who’s working on a story is not just working on one story. He or she is also looking at stuff we’ve done in the past to see if there’s something relevant that can be taken out, but is also looking at whether there is something fresh that can be done for the Web, which will give the reader much more value.”
It’s all about enriching the experience of the reader, Ranganathan added. This requires a fundamentally different approach than traditional newspapers.
“This changes how the [editorial] desk works, because now the desk is thinking not of how much more to put into page one, but what not to put in and what can actually go on page one-plus.”
Ranganathan acknowledged HT is at the very beginning of this journey, perhaps 10%-15% into it. He hopes within the next six months, they get closer to hitting 70% of their goals.