A passage to India, where print newspapers and magazines thrive

Top editors and staff from the Mathrubhumi Group of newspapers and magazines discuss progressive publishing techniques with great enthusiasm, during our training workshops in July 2017 in Kerala. [Photo by Ron Reason]

[August 2017] While newsroom training is mostly a thing of the past in the U.S., it remains alive in India, where I’ve just returned from two weeks conducting workshops in visual storytelling, UX design, and innovation in publishing news across print, digital and social media. Some observations:

Print thrives – for now

I directly taught and/or rubbed elbows with nearly 100 journalists, and the picture was pretty much the same. Circulation is holding quite steady if not rising across print media. In India, multiple members of a household will read the same copy of a newspaper or magazine. (Remember the 1950s, in America?) But, the industry knows the trends bend toward all things digital. During the first week of my visit, an Indian tycoon announced plans to provide free mobile phones (with a deposit) and up to 4GB data, across the country. Yes, there are connectivity and cultural concerns that may suggest India will hold on to print longer than, say, the States, but this news can still be viewed only with concern.

Visual journalists have fire in their belly 

And it’s not just from the spicy food like the delicious “beef fry” I enjoyed in Kerala! No, the 16 or so editors, photojournalists, artists and page designers who gathered in Mumbai for my newspaper publishers workshops, and a similar number for a separate confab for magazine publishers, as well as the dozens of staffers with the Mathrubhumi Group in Kerala to the south, were all well aware of the challenges to print around the world. Still, they were hungry to know more about how to make both print and digital products better.

Produce an app for news and features content in just two days? Heck yeah you can! Participants in my workshops in Mumbai show off the prototypes for tablet and mobile sites they produced in just a matter of hours. In addition to UX design strategies, they learned advanced creative strategies for print as well. [Photos by Ron Reason]

From a week with journalists from top news organizations around India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and a second week with a private publisher in Kerala, enthusiasm was high and progress was quick in terms of considering new and more effective ways to gather, edit and present information, whether text or visual, print or digital or social.

At the Mathrubhumi Group of newspapers and magazines, in Kerala, editors gathered to brainstorm more dynamic ways of presenting complex political and other stories. Hands-on exercises helped them quickly turn hypotheticals into reality. [Photo by Ron Reason]

One highlight of any training work that I do is when a private publisher brings me in, allows me to show examples of inspiration from far and wide, and then the same day, puts that thinking to work. At the Mathrubhumi Group, newspaper editors attending my workshop were also preparing stories for the next day on the arrest of a local politician of note. During our conversations of how to make a serious, monotonous front page more visually dynamic (and yes, perhaps, more attention grabbing on the newsstands, or of interest to younger readers) the editor of the paper encouraged the staff to get creative. The result?

This intriguing combination of headline lettering (in the alphabet of the local language, Malayalam) and stock photo of the subject, creating the illustration of being jailed. (The headline reads, more or less: “Jailed.”)

Graphics, photos, text, social: Blending them together is no big deal

Upon departure from the country I picked up a copy of that day’s Mumbai Mirror, a snappy tabloid whose creation, its design director Amit Khosla told me in our seminar, was “directly inspired by entries on tabloid designs on the Ron Reason Blog!” (Thanks.) I was struck by this inviting spread inside the paper, chronicling in text, photos and graphics whether it was more efficient – in the chaos that is Mumbai traffic, during monsoon season – to drive your car to work or to run.

The visuals team work in consort with the reporters, who actually ran four different commutes, to see which was the faster option. Clever idea for a story, and great execution by the team. (Kudos to the chief coordinator of this package, Dharmesh, as well as Amit and their colleagues.)

* * *

While this trip was a whirlwind of work, I was allowed a brief time to tour the region in Kerala, about two hours south of Mumbai, on the coast. It was my third trip to India, and of course I was left wanting more. Luckily “Grace Travels” and so, on occasion, does this journalist-educator-consultant.

A travel agency next to a diner in the Kerala countryside where we stopped for a delicious coconut rice lunch and chai. (I wasn’t driving the cycle, are you crazy?)

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