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Political magazines on revamp spree to expand readership

Political magazines on revamp spree to expand readership
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First Published: Mon, Nov 07 2011. 09 46 PM IST

 Photos by Priyanka Parashar/ Mint
Photos by Priyanka Parashar/ Mint
Updated: Mon, Nov 07 2011. 09 46 PM IST
New Delhi: On the second floor of his office building Sanskriti Bhavan, Aniket Raja helps colleagues fish out a spiral-bound volume containing old editions of the weekly Organiser. The pages inside have turned yellow; they are so brittle with age that they would crumble into pieces if touched a little too hard.
Raja is one of two sub-editors at the publication, mouthpiece of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He has worked for 19 years at Organiser, which styles itself as the “oldest and most authentic weekly of India” and has been published since just before the subcontinent’s partition in 1947.
Raja doesn’t talk politics or about the Hindu cultural renaissance the RSS espouses. Instead, he speaks animatedly about the children’s page and the book reviews page in the magazine that has introduced changes in its format to appeal to a broader, more contemporary audience while staying true to its ideological agenda. The magazine is also available in an online avatar (http://organiser.org). “Earlier, ours was a 16-page black and white copy, now it is a 20-page colour copy,” says Raja. “In terms of content, earlier it was only political, now we are trying to make it more social.”
Photos by Priyanka Parashar/ Mint
The book reviews page in the latest online edition, for instance, includes a critique of a self-help book called Job Interviews. The children’s page carries a Hindu mythological tale. There are, of course, the usual anti-establishment staples including an editorial critical of “misallocation of capital” by the Congress-led coalition government. A media watch column decries trial by media. An e-paper is coming soon, the website announces.
“Earlier, we were seen as a paper for a committed reader with a particular ideological line,” says R. Balashankar, editor of Organiser. “Now we are trying to present it in such a way that it should be read by every member of the family.”
His publication isn’t the only organizational mouthpiece that’s trying to change and expand its audience as rapid technology advancements alter the way people communicate in a highly politicized society, where every piece of breaking news gets saturation media coverage. The file of decaying old editions that Raja dug out is a relic of the past.
Sandeep Bhatnagar/Mint
For instance, both Congress Sandesh and Kamal Sandesh— appendages respectively of the Congress and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—are available online and so are Panchajanya, another RSS publication, and People’s Democracy, a weekly organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), besides Organiser.
Kamal Sandesh and Congress Sandesh offer user-friendly flip-through viewing of their e-magazines. Organiser, Panchajanya and People’s Democracy upload their magazine articles in the form of web story links. All these publications have links to archives on their websites, which makes browsing through older issues simple.
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BJP has a dedicated information technology (IT) cell that looks after its Internet presence. The IT cell also keeps a watch on the online magazine.
Kamal Sandesh is now available on the iPad, says Arvind Gupta, national convenor of the IT cell.
“You can access the party website on your iPad, which will direct you to the link of Kamal Sandesh,” Gupta says.
Paying attention to the Internet and technology has also led to changes in the print editions. In terms of reportage, the editors of these magazines indicate that there is a shift from political issues to social issues and from analytical pieces to more reporting.
“Earlier, we used to carry more analytical pieces, now we pay equal attention to reportage. We get news from everywhere, easily available on the Internet, via phone and fax,” says Shiv Shakti Bakshi, executive editor of Kamal Sandesh.
The quality of printing and layout of Congress Sandesh has changed for the better, says Anil Shastri, former editor of the magazine.
“Another thing that we recently started doing was to reproduce articles written by non-Congressmen published elsewhere,” he says. “We want our party workers to read things that might be important for them even if it is written by someone else.”
Shastri lost his job as editor in August after a controversy over editorials that criticized the government’s handling of yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s anti-graft protest and blamed coalition partners for the Congress loss in the Tamil Nadu state election.
Graphics and data presentation are gaining attention at the in-house magazines, particularly in illustrating election reportage.
“The whole team comes together to make something different, something worth stacking in the library,” says Dharmendra Kaushal, creative editor and head of the design team at Kamal Sandesh.
The audience these publications address include organizational workers and mainstream media as much as committed followers and potential converts among the electorate. To be sure, RSS, which publishes Panchajanya and Organiser, isn’t a registered political party despite its links to BJP.
For Sitaram Yechury, editor of People’s Democracy, the main purpose of the magazine is to give a “voice to the party cadre”.
“It is not a mass paper. It feeds to several levels of the public. It not only talks about the immediate reaction of the party, but also (carries) analysis on important issues,” he adds.
After the CPM parted ways with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance in 2008, People’s Democracy has been highlighting issues such as the alleged stashing of money in foreign bank accounts by Indian citizens, irregularities in the allocation of second-generation (2G) telecom spectrum and rising prices.
For the organizations, the stakes in getting their message through are considerable. Crucial state elections are due next year, including in the country’s largest state Uttar Pradesh, ahead of general elections in 2014. And in any event, the reinvention of their propaganda machines has been long overdue, some analysts say.
“These publications have not been able to revamp themselves in the light of television coming in a big way,” says N. Bhaskara Rao, a psephologist and chairman of the Centre for Media Studies. “They have lost importance in the sense that their relevance is not the same after the 24-hour news television boom.”
anuja@livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, Nov 07 2011. 09 46 PM IST