Like every other news media company, The Quint in India had to do a hard pivot when the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown happened in March 2020. On-the-ground reporters were suddenly unable to do their jobs in the traditional way, and everything about how the news was gathered, written, and published changed overnight.
“We really had to think about how we make the best of the stuff we have available at home, and shoot some of the content also,” Shelly Walia, executive editor at The Quint, told INMA members during a Webinar on Thursday.
To illustrate how The Quint team did this, Walia shared a story reported in May 2020 about a migrant worker who lost everything to COVID-19, including family members and his livelihood. This story ultimately raised money to help him.
“I’m showcasing this story because it’s one of our earliest learnings during the pandemic, that it’s the individual stories that propelled us forward,” she said. “It also embodies the whole crisis at one go, and at the same time it helps us capture the human tragedy that we saw in those months when the pandemic grew and migrants were left out on the streets.”
The Quint’s approach was to go after stories that no one else was telling and that resonated with the audience. In the migrant story above, the newsroom received thousands of e-mails overnight offering assistance.
“It turned out to be a great Quint impact story that no one saw coming,” Walia recalled. “This story was also a very good learning experience for us, in that we really needed to be on the ground.”
Of course, this entailed the entire team to decide what level of risk they should be taking to do on-the-ground reporting, and safety was the paramount concern.
“We started doing these stories and saw the impact they had, and we really never looked back. We’ve been consistent with our ground reporting, and even during the second wave our reporters went to the hospitals, they went to the graveyards and crematoriums, and they brought stories from all over.”
The power of video storytelling
Walia said these stories demonstrate the power that video storytelling has with the audience: “The response they invoked from our readers and viewers was just incredible.”
Another mission of these stories was to give a voice to the voiceless, reaching remote areas of India as well, to tell stories that no one else was reporting on.
Another example of this on-the-ground video storytelling revolved around a blind couple in Tamil Nadu, with a two-year-old deaf son. The couple had made their living selling publications on trains, which disappeared when public transit came to a halt.
“The biggest challenge was there was no one to help them,” Walia said. “They relied on touch to figure their way around, and touch had become such a dangerous thing. They could not go about their lives.”
Again, the impact was incredible, resulting in collected funds that provided the family with housing and living expenses.
Apart from these types of stories, The Quint also featured non-COVID coverage such as elections, natural disasters, and other news stories that needed to be covered. Again, the team had to learn to balance safety with ground reporting and the limited resources available.
The Quint produces about 300 video stories every month, most of which are ground reports, Walia told INMA.
Beyond ground reporting
In addition to the on-the-ground video reporting, The Quint also focused on stories that would inform and educate its audience. The team started a new “how-to” series that used the video medium — all shot at home — to share important information about COVID.
This entailed speaking to experts, filming, and producing videos for this informative series. In addition to the how-to series, The Quint also created other video storytelling projects such as explainers, opinion pieces, and interviews.
“The other area that we’ve tackled is misinformation,” Walia said. “Webqoof is one of the Quint verticals which tackles the problem of misinformation. Big stories that call out the fake news. This is also something that has been executed from home.”
These videos resonate well with the audience and are widely shared. They appeal to people who don’t want to read heaps of information, and who are drawn by visual storytelling.
Another vertical is My Report, which is community-based journalism to tell stories in areas The Quint is not able to reach.
“We invite our citizen journalists to send us what they are facing, to tell us their stories, which we can work into high-content videos,” Walia said. “That is another approach we are taking. And over the past year it has worked so beautifully for us because there were people who wanted to share their stories, and it was hard for us to access those stories with the restrictions in place.”
The numbers behind The Quint’s video storytelling are important, Walia said. The team produces an average of 300 videos every month and just over three million YouTube subscribers.
With India having the world’s second-highest number of Internet users, after China, this provides about 570 million — and growing at a rate of 13% annually. Video viewers in India also increased 15% in 2020 to about 468 million.
Because video is consumed across multiple platforms and frequently shared on social media, the growth in social media usage in India is also relevant. Around 448 million Indians were active on social media in 2020 — a growth of 21% over 2019.
“We share our video content across Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and also Snapchat,” Walia said. “In terms of total views per month, it’s about 80 to 90 million. Facebook is 33 million, Instagram is about 11 million, and YouTube is 42 million.”
The months of April and May gave huge surges to The Quint’s video views, far exceeding the 80-90 million average views.
Branded content videos are a crucial revenue driver at The Quint, showcasing the in-house production and storytelling strengths. Despite the pandemic, The Quint produced more than 35 branded videos in the last financial year.
These branded content videos have won awards and secured repeat clients.
“We’ve also realised that it’s really important to figure out a long-term, sustainable model for revenue,” Walia said. “That is the reason we have kept the focus on the video content, because it is also at the core of our membership model.”
Ground reporting is expensive, and The Quint’s membership model is backed by its strong editorial offering in videos.
What’s next for The Quint?
Walia outlined the priorities the team has for the strategy going forward:
More long-form videos, especially ground reports and documentaries — across regions, languages, and communities.
Leverage their loyal audience to drive the membership model. This will entail putting premium content behind a paywall.
Innovate with video formats and storytelling.
Drive audience growth.
“In the end, it’s all about driving audience growth, so that’s what we plan to do going forward,” Walia concluded.