Archana Gautam, around 15, knew nothing about how a newspaper is produced. A Dalit from a village near Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, she excels in studies at school. Saumya Tandon from Lucknow, around the same age, knew little about rural India. Neelesh Misra, scriptwriter and India’s most famous storyteller, and the host of a show on 92.7 Big FM, met Archana and Saumya when he was travelling across Uttar Pradesh looking for talent to fuel his media enterprise, Gaon Connection.
Archana and Saumya are now reporters of the Hindi weekly that will cover rural life—to begin with, in Uttar Pradesh. Misra, the editorial director and pioneer, and his team will launch Gaon Connection in Uttar Pradesh on 2 December.
Gaon Connection is meant to be a serious, conscientious broadsheet, with accessible and eye-grabbing design—reminiscent of what Tehelka was like in its early years. Its content won’t be what you read in the extremely scarce space devoted to rural affairs in the mainstream media. Gaon Connection’s readers will be in the villages where it will be circulated (the digital version will be at www.gaonconnection.com). So there will be stories of entrepreneurship, positive stories about success in agriculture, growing businesses, shortcomings in infrastructure and local essential services, and stories about women’s achievements. The language will be conversational and friendly, reflecting Misra’s storytelling abilities—a raconteur meets rookie journalism. Note the semantics in the section titles: Gaon guhaar, rangbaazi, hunar, parikrama, duniyadaari.
The paper is self-financed, and not for profit, although it does not strictly follow the NGO model. “All reporters are first-timers, both from villages and cities. They are mentored through every story they report and write. I want reporters to be away from the marketing side of things, contrary to what is happening in many local media—reporters also work as marketing agents,” sa ys Misra.
Gaon Connection has 10 permanent staff members. “The paper will be distributed through connection centres set up in various villages across half the state—essentially shops or small enterprises run by educated people. The owners of these places will pick up the paper from local train stations and sell it from their outfits,” says Misra. Distributors too can become reporters.
Gaon Connection will cost Rs.5 and will be available online for free.
Gaon Connection launches in Uttar Pradesh on 2 December.