Opinion: Will the 21-day lockdown change the way Indians consume news?


Balagopal Padmakumar, Branch Head – Mumbai, Brand-comm, Madison World discusses the change of news consumption patterns in the 40+ age group & its impact on newspapers .

Ever since various State Governments announced lockdowns and now with the Central Government officially declaring a 21-day lockdown, Twitter is abuzz with various journalists, notably print journalists stressing upon the fact that newspapers are safe and housing societies must allow delivery boys to deliver the same every morning. In some places, newspaper agents complained about how delivery boys are refusing to deliver newspapers due to the fear of getting infected with COVID-19. Several newspapers also had a half-page piece on this by including various expert opinions and infographics on how safe newspapers are and stressed upon the fact that the COVID-19 does not spread through newspaper surfaces. While this may be a genuine appeal from the print journalists, but there is much more than this. Many feel that 21 days is good enough to bring a habitual change among people and one such change can be consuming content digitally. While gen z and millennial may already be consuming more content digitally, the 40+ population still preferred the everyday hard copy in the morning in India. Several newspaper publications have also launched massive social media campaigns to bust this myth about the spread of COVID-19 through newspapers. Some have even linked the issue of fake news and are seen trying to emphasize that newspapers are the most authentic source of news. The Economic Times has launched an impressive social media influencer campaign where it is seen that several well-known entrepreneurs and CEOs across industries are sharing their videos mentioning The Economic Times as their go-to business newspaper and how they are missing reading the paper during this lockdown.                    It looks like that change has begun gradually. For example, my 63-year-old father, a retired bank officer, has begun to consume news digitally using his iPad for the past 2-3 days, who otherwise would be irritated if he does not get the newspapers by 7 am. He even enquired about this app called ‘Magzter’, which has a basket of newspapers and magazines for consumption at a monthly cost of Rs. 399.

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It is often said that last-mile delivery is the most important, and it is proving to be so. The distributor is ready but the delivery boys are refusing to deliver newspapers fearing getting infected with Covid-19. This could be a major influencer in determining the future of newspapers. If people get comfortable with the digital versions, it could arguably be the death knell for the print editions. The western world has already embraced consuming news digitally and many argued that India is still very far from that. Print relies a lot on the 40+ population for whom reading a newspaper along with the morning tea is a habit. Therefore, the argument of a habitual shift taking place among these audiences cannot be ruled and which is probably one of the reasons why Twitter is abuzz with appeals from leading print journalists. Should the lockdown continue beyond 21 days, then the probability of this hypothesis becoming true may be a reality. Would this mean that we as PR professionals should fast track our efforts in digital upskilling? Well, probably yes. At least the early days of this 21-day lock is a testimony to that. Brands who are strong digitally are still able to effectively communicate in these tough times and those agency professionals who are skilled digitally are able to service these brands effectively. This article piece is authored by Balagopal Padmakumar, Branch Head – Mumbai, Brand-comm, Madison World.



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