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Why do top media powerhouses seek to sell news to Counterview, a virtual non-entity?

By Rajiv Shah* 
Are India’s top corporate media houses beginning have some inexplicable financial crunch? I don’t know, nor do I have their balance sheets to say that this is indeed happening. No doubt, during and after the pandemic, most of them, especially newspapers (and perhaps newswires?), are said to have either resorted to salary cuts or, worse, retrenchments.  They are now resorting to innovative ways of earning money -- not by "selling" newspapers or other media products. 
A few days back I was personally witness to a top Gujarat-based daily organising a “Study Abroad” camp at a management enclave. I found it a very strange way to earn money. A lady who worked for this daily enlightened me that this is not the only media outfit in Gujarat which organised such non-media camp. “There have been cases when they, as well as others, have organised camps to promote real estate, for instance”, the lady, who held an important position in this outfit, told me.
Be that as it may, I felt quite flattered the other day – I received an interesting email from Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), which called itself “a media powerhouse” and India’s “largest independent newswire”, to offer Counterview with “news content (English/ Hindi/ photo/ video)”, which it said it was already selling to “all major leading media houses, apps data ports and TV channels in India and abroad” at a price.
This is the second such “offer” I have received. If earlier it was from India’s top daily, “The Hindustan Times”, for the news blog, counterview.net, which I have been running for the last about a decade, this time it was for counterview.in, which I recently began as an open forum for comments on different issues, mainly from non-governmental sources.
Let me first begin with what the “Hindustan Times” had to offer, about which I even did a blog. In the height of Covid, in October 2020, I received an email from the “Hindustan Times Media Group, India”. I felt a little strange – why was this top corporate media house was offering Counterview, a virtual nonentity, run on a voluntary basis, and edited by me, offering what was called “content subscription business”?
Addressing me by name, “Dear Rajiv/Editor”, and greeting me on behalf of the powerful media house (sic!), the email sender said, he wanted to “check” if Counterview was “looking to subscribe to more Indian content”. It underlined, “We can licence you our digital content. We have content from all genres – Politics, Entertainment, Business, Health and Lifestyle, Tech, Auto etc.”
It underlined: “We have launched an image platform called content garden where you can search and download all the images of your choice once you buy a subscription”, adding, “If you don't want to buy a subscription then you can let us know the images which you want to use for editorial or any other purpose and we will provide you he original image and you can pay us on per images basis.”
The person concerned sent “pricing for text news from Hindustan Times”, whose news, it said, would be shared with “through RSS feed,” adding, “Most of the stories will carry an image link also so you don't need to arrange for the images separately.” Awful I thought! The top business house was offering me so much!
Indeed, The email, by the Group’s “Content Alliances manager”, elated me somewhat – that a top media house has approached Counterview, suggesting, they seem to be closely observing what all is being published in Counterview, which mainly deals with current affairs blogs and stories, all on a voluntary basis. I wanted to know if they would charge.
It explained, the Hindustan Times (HT) content was important because it was 1- Well researched content written by experienced journalists and writers, 2- HT is one of the oldest media houses in India, so trustworthy and best quality, 3- Better than Agency content as agency content is available with every other news website, and 4- You don't need to arrange the photo separately as the photo will be a part of RSS feed.
Then it offered: Rs 18,000 per month for three stories per day; Rs 25,000 per month for five stories per day; and Rs 40,000 per month for 10 stories per day – all with text plus images and in English. It even appended the costs: Rs 18,000 per month for three stories per day; Rs 25,000 per month for five stories per day; and Rs 40,000 per month for 10 stories per day – all with text plus images and in English.
Now let me turn to IANS -- it seems, the person who sent the email to me (without naming mem as the emai to which it sent did not carry my name). Clearly, the person concerned did not seem to have cared to see what Counterview.in is about. In fact, it wanted “detailed information” about it and its “precise requirement of content” so that the top media house could “offer... the best possible service rate card”, adding, in capital letters, “WE ALSO OFFER FREE DEMO FOR EVALUATION PURPOSE.”
Then, it went to point towards why IANS was called a media powerhouse: It said, the “IANS India Pvt. Ltd. was established in 1994, with its registered office at New Delhi. It is one of South Asia’s leading media organization’s and provides news and information-related products across the full spectrum of old and new media platforms.”
It continued, “Newspapers and TV channels, portals, and web aggregators, mobile and digital spaces. IANS is managed by media and communications professionals who have worked in top Indian and foreign media houses and together bring to the table a huge amount of experience in all forms of journalism and in the wider area of content generation and dissemination.”
Then it went on to name the “subscriber base of over 400 premier clients”, which included “all major newspapers, websites and TV stations in India, as well as key ethnic newspapers and websites in the Gulf, the UK, the US and Australia”, including “The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The New Indian Express, DNA, Deccan Herald, NDTV, Star News, CNN-IBN, Khaleej Times, Gulf News, Gulf Today, Oman daily observer, Oman Tribune, Masala.com, News-India Times (New York), South Asian Times (New York) and Hi India (Chicago).”
It chose to record how close it is to powers-that-be: it is monitored in Prime Minister’s Office, Cabinet Secretariat, key ministries
Flattering, no? Counterview.in is being counted in the company of not just India-based top media, but also among the news media in the Middle-East, even New York and Chicago. The email went ahead with the list: www.yahoo.com, www.aol.com; www.msn.co.in and www.indiatimes.com, then then pointed towards the reason why counterview.in should also subscribe to IANS.
And for this, it chose to record how close it was to the powers-that-be: “The IANS wire service -- which operates 24×7 and puts out 250-300 stories every day -- is also monitored in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the Cabinet Secretariat, the Press Information Bureau, key ministries and departments of the Government of India, as well as top corporates and institutions.”
Pointing towards a “network of close to 150 reporters and a dozen bureaus across India” which “provides a comprehensive package of news, features, analysis, and comment that covers everything”, it underlined, IANS “also boasts of the largest foreign network among media in India, with correspondents, stringers, and contributors in key global capitals who cover all news and events that are of interest to India and South Asia.”
It went on to point towards how IANS Hindi has become No 1 “news service in Hindi ahead of PTI Bhasha and UNI Varta”, adding, not only does it bring out “150-175 stories on a daily basis from a variety of areas”, apart from high-resolution pictures, infographics and videos, is a “one-stop destination to not only get the live scores of all the cricket matches happening around the world, but the latest news, views, and interviews with the top stars across the globe as well.”
I thought: Why not seek the price list. I sent an email: “Hope you have seen Counterview. Kindly send us the price list.” And the response was prompt: The “package discounted rates for the single website / publication (Hindi English news + photos)” included INR 30,000 per month plus 18% GST for 200-250 news daily; INR 20,000 per month plus 18% GST for photo serviced; and combo offer of Rs INR 45,000 per month plus 18% GST – all with 100% access.
Then it went on to tell me about the payment mode: 1) Quarterly payment mode; 2) Half-yearly payment mode; and 3) Yearly payment mode, with a discounted offer: 15% discount on half-yearly in advance, and 2. 25% discount of yearly in advance plus one month subscription free, even as sending me the mode of delivery (login ID and password; direct uploading on your FTP (I don’t know what’s that!); and RSS feeds. It insisted, “The amount for entire duration has to be paid in advance. Discount is available only on half yearly/yearly mode of payment.”
Thereafter, I sent an email stating, “Thank you for your offer. We are a purely voluntary site. Hoped you had seen the site.Your response”, and the reply was: “Yes sir, I have gone through your site. Please share your budget will discuss the same with senior management and will get back with discount package offer.” I again sent an email, stating, “Apparently you didn't get what I said. We accept articles on voluntary basis only without making any payments. You may see About Us.”
And the final reply was, without editing: “Got your point sir but we been News Agency work on commercial term and provide News content to website, Aap, News paper and channel” (sic!). Would it need any comment? I don’t know... Except that it must have disappointed the commercial thrust from a site which, surely, is a nobody in the media world, as of today!
---
*Editor, Counterview

Comments

Surely someone in IANS should be able to understand your repeated assertion that your contributors are volunteers and the question of payment to anyone for any material is out of the question.

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