Q&A with Nic Dawes: Helping India’s Hindustan Times Adapt to the Digital Age

Nov 232015

From web analytics software to social media monitoring tools, digital tools are transforming newsrooms globally.

Embracing a digital-first workflow "gives you more time to reflect and work you through the evolution of a story on multiple platforms," says Nic Dawes, chief editorial and content officer at the Hindustan Times in India. "You then have time to optimize [your story], improve it and get beyond the commodity style of reporting."

Dawes and ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellow Nasr ul Hadi have been helping to bring the Hindustan Times into the digital era, laying out a new publishing platform, rebuilding the workday and implementing tools like Dataminr, Atavist, Parse.ly and Sprout Social.

In hands-on sessions dubbed Digital Fridays and Demo Tuesdays, Hadi has helped teach some of the Hindustan Times' 800 journalists how to use the new digital tools, the effect of which "has been profoundly, to hack our culture and to start to accelerate our transition even ahead of the investments we have been making in tech and new work spaces," says Dawes.

IJNet talked to Dawes to find out more about the changes occurring in the Hindustan Times newsroom and the importance of adapting to digital.

How does the Hindustan Times (HT) compare to other newsrooms in India? Is digital an apparent trend, or is HT leading the way?

Digital consumption of news is absolutely exploding in India…But, very few [traditional news organizations] are pursuing deep digital integrations. Most of them continue to maintain very separate news operations between print and digital. That's where HT is a little different.

We are creating what I think will be the first integrated print and digital newsroom in India. I think that people are going to very quickly confront that it is first, very economically unsustainable to have digital and print newsrooms, and second, that the quality of digital and print suffers when you keep them completely separate.

So, we are bringing them all together, which is why we're building a new newsroom, putting in a new publishing platform, and creating a completely new organizational structure and new workflows across the board.

How do you think these changes are making a tangible difference for HT's audience?

They are helping us to be more relevant to audience members. We are seeing from web analytics that [when we] provide the news that matters and the explanation, insight and engagement that empowers audiences, that's what audiences respond to most.

That provides clear encouragement for us not to go down the path of just chasing empty digital calories and doing cheap clicks. We can see that we can get real traffic, real audience growth and real engagement for the kind of journalism that matters to us most. We see it accelerating our social performance, our basic metrics - like pageviews and users - and we also see it enriching the possibilities that our journalists see as available to them.

Print format, as Indian journalism has developed over the last decade, is becoming more and more restricted. Space for comment, insight and for going beyond the narrative that's already available on television has diminished in print, and the numbers teach us that the audience might want things to be crisp and brief at times, and other times they want them to be long and in depth, but they precisely want engagement, voice, explanation, some of the things that we have leeched out of print.

Why are these changes important for journalism in India?

We are being affected, just as everyone else in the world is, by changing audience habits and we need to be ready for that to ensure our journalism is sustainable. We can use the openness of our communities together with the other tools that digital gives us to help us reform our journalism and forge a stronger connection with audiences that will enable us to thrive in the digital future.

We have a few years to do that, and if we don't, traditional media houses will be swallowed up by new ones who are happy to use digital tools to reach this change.

This post has been edited and condensed for clarity by Margaret Looney.

This post is also published on IJNet, which is produced by ICFJ.

Image CC-licensed on Flickr via torbakhopper.