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What lies ahead for India’s digital journalism start-ups?

25 May 2016

India has the fastest levels of internet growth in the world.This recent explosion in internet use, sparked by the spread of mobile internet access, has meant a surge in digital advertising. And along with India’s established legacy media industry, there’s a host of new digital journalism start-ups pursuing the sudden opportunities offered by the growth. There are more new and interesting experiments in Indian journalism than in most other countries in the world. Who are these new players? What strategies are they pursuing when it comes to content, distribution and funding? And what are the economic, professional and political pressures that they face?

A new report from the Reuters Institute sets out to explore content-based, for-profit start-ups The Quint and Scroll, aggregation-based organisations Inshort and DailyHunt and non-profit start-ups The Wire and Khabar Lahariya, along with the wider, rapidly changing context in which they’re operating. Many are currently primarily serving English-speaking Indians, but most are keen to move into Hindi and local language content to reach a wider audience as more and more Indians come online.

Digital Journalism Start-ups in India, by Arijit Sen and Reuters Institute Director of Research Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, analyse this rapidly evolving situation, with the ambition of helping journalists, academics and decision makers learn from early experiences and understand where things are heading in the future. “We examine individual start-ups not to predict their eventual success or failure, but as examples of how digital journalism is being pursued in a context that is very different from that of high-income democracies,” explains lead author Arijit Sen, and continues, “With their mobile- and social-first strategies, some Indian start-ups have built considerable audiences very quickly, relying in large part on exploiting the potential of third-party platforms like Facebook and Twitter.” At the same time, Sen says, “digital journalists in India still face some of the same economic, professional, and political pressures newspaper and television journalists struggle with.” “Despite their often innovative approaches to content, distribution, and the business of digital news, the combination of low advertising rates, limited willingness to pay for news, and the dominance of legacy media and international technology companies when it comes to digital advertising means that most start-ups in India face a challenging environment commercially—even as they benefit from rapid growth in the number of users and in overall advertising spend”, says RISJ Director of Research Rasmus Kleis Nielsen.

Examining what sets those start-ups studied apart from other media outlets in the country, the report shows how a generation of journalists, technologists, and media executives are experimenting with new forms of journalism fit for a digital India, developing new kinds of content, distribution, and revenue models, while navigating between legacy media competitors and the global players who dominate digital advertising.

Download the report here