DNA refreshed its content and donned a new masthead as it launched an edition in New Delhi on Dussehra day. Shreyasi Goenka, Content Advisor - DNA, talks to about the challenge of keeping the Print medium relevant to a young audience
By Srabana Lahiri and Simran Sabherwal
On October 4, 2016, Shreyasi Goenka tweeted, “Delhi... DNA an English daily from Mumbai makes its debut in your city on October 11th. We are counting on your support.” Goenka, who had taken on the role of Content Advisor - DNA, earlier in April, was at the forefront of the new edition and relaunch of the English daily from Zee Media Corporation Limited (ZMCL). Since its birth in the maximum city in 2005, following a high decibel advertising campaign, DNA is yet to mount a formidable challenge to market leader The Times of India. In the meantime, DNA saw a change in management, ending ZMCL’s JV with the Dainik Bhaskar group, and transitioning editorial leadership as well. Now, while one has to wait and watch to see how it plays out between the challenger and established players, what DNA promises is a differentiated product, with Goenka, a self-confessed “news junkie with an interest in politics”, steering it ahead.
THE CONTENT MAKE-OVER
Goenka first got involved with DNA in 2013, when she helped put together the film and gossip section of the paper, After Hrs. She was part of the launch campaign with actor Shah Rukh Khan and also instrumental in getting celebrated names such as Twinkle Khanna to write for the paper, an idea which paid off extremely well. However, the editorial team went through a transition phase. Editor-in-chief CP Surendran quit in April 2015. An editor internally was given charge on an interim basis before the mandate was handed over to Rohit Gandhi who had initially been brought on board as editor-in-chief to helm Zee’s ambitious global news channel, WION. Deepak Lokhande has now been appointed as resident editor of the Mumbai edition. Goenka says, “When the management decided that we would remain in the business and not wind up the newspaper, it was clear that it couldn’t continue in its current form. There was a lot of brain-storming on how to make the paper stand out and how to redefine Print media specifically with the challenge of the incumbent leading daily, digital and breaking news.” Working on the critical insight that the reading time of newspapers has decreased, the focus was on giving people content that they would want to read. The strategy adopted was to replicate “a book” with interest-based pages, each with a specific theme, which Goenka believes “hasn’t been done in any newspaper globally”. Addressing a wide range of issues – religion, health, sexuality & LGBT, environment, education, animals - the idea is to provide readers with relevant content that would kindle their interest. With two pages dedicated to city news, Goenka has taken a conscious call not to devote space to routine civic issues like drains and potholes, but focus on “bringing positivity and vibrancy to the paper”. She calls it “the clutter-busting approach of adopting an interest-based segmentation as opposed to the traditional geography-based segmentation.”
While it took time for the editorial team to buy into the idea, key leadership appointments helped carry the message forward. “News has to be informative and talk about what is relevant today,” says Goenka, whose favourite page is dedicated to teenagers where once a week a history professor decodes events from the past and makes it relevant to the youth of today. On Sundays, the paper also has its opinion section curated by youngsters. The new-look DNA also has a trending page which covers not the obvious big trends, but the smaller interesting trends which many would have otherwise missed on social media. Says Goenka, “There is a lot of appreciation for the new pagination. If someone cares to read, then there is really plenty to read. If you were to open any other paper and compare, I guarantee you would read more stories in DNA than in any other paper. The front page of newspapers can’t look terribly different. A lot of times, in the pursuit of trying to be different, you may miss out on something. So our focus is on the treatment of headlines to stand out.” Another key change is the use of a bigger point size for copy to ensure easy reading of the newspaper.
THE DELHI LAUNCH
The entry of DNA to the capital, so far the bastion of Hindustan Times and The Times of India, was not really a surprise. According to Goenka, “Delhi was chosen as the first stop outside Mumbai, as it is a vibrant and evolving city, an important market with a huge presence of corporates and having a set of affluent people with a disposable income.” On how the Delhi edition has fared so far, Goenka says that the new paper has been accepted by the political class, the reading classes and literati, while candidly admitting that DNA in Delhi is the most expensive newspaper in India, priced at Rs 10 a copy. “The price is a deterrent. The numbers can be better and we are working towards it. We have seen steady numbers since the launch and will be coming out with a way to make it a little more attractive, price-wise,” she adds.
The launch in New Delhi and restaging in Mumbai was amplified with a 360-degree marketing campaign across OOH, Television, Digital, Radio and touchpoints like corporate parks, airports, premium malls and multiplexes. The campaign was rolled out in two phases – Announcer (with the theme Say No To Junk News) and Revealer (focusing on the brand proposition – More You Know, More You Become). It was outdoor and digital-heavy with Radio and other mediums for support. The teaser phase of the campaign ran longer in the capital city as it was unaware of the paper. The four-pager sampling exercise that the paper launched, which introduced the readers to the editorial team and asked them the pointed question whether the city had space for one more paper, was a success with readers.
The newsroom has been redesigned with each page being managed by a page head, with a clear mandate to get the best contributors across domains. Another addition is the “feature factory” – a separate features desk. Any news which is not topical is forwarded to the features desk where it is honed and worked on as a feature before it makes it way to the pages. Goenka says, “It’s a bit of an experiment because it’s not a traditional news room. We have fewer people than other publications but we are trying to make it work with newer and fresher ideas. There is a lot of zeal within the team to deliver because it’s something we have not done earlier.”
A “revolutionary” move according to Goenka is moving the opinion Page to Page 2. Says Goenka, “After the front page, Page 2 is the most important page in the paper and it gets lost amid classifieds and obituaries. We have given the opinion page its due respect on Page 2.” Committed to the new product, Goenka is hands on in charting DNA’s content strategy. She talks to the page heads regularly and is part of the brainstorming sessions with the editorial team. She also has the circulation and marketing teams reporting to her. “I am like the CEO without the title,” she quips.
While the ZMCL network consists of 11 news channels, including eight regional channels, DNA is its only initiative in the English space. Goenka acknowledges that driving synergies isn’t easy as the television news set-up is in Hindi. But, with WION now taking off and Rohit Gandhi leading both ventures, synergies between DNA and WION are being leveraged. The new DNA masthead sports colours in sync with the WION colours. “The colours – grey and yellow, are WION colours. Sublimely, we have conveyed that this is a synergized organization,” Goenka says.
A big driving factor for Goenka is the fact that despite social media and easy access to news, the youth today is misinformed. “Digital news has its advantages and also huge disadvantages as there is so much of un-curated content. People readily believe content put out on social and digital media and on websites, and that is really frightening. Sometimes, destructive competition puts out wrong news. It is the job of bonafide media to correct and rectify that. In the Print medium, fact-checks are more solid and we can be assured that the news is bonafide if it is in Print. This is important,” she says. Driving the point with the example of the Modi government’s recent demonetization drive, Goenka says that DNA has a page dedicated to dispelling rumours surrounding the entire process. Also, the digital platform is being used to do a “DNA fact check”. “All a reader has to do is tweet about any news or rumour they have heard and DNA will verify if the information is right or not,” she explains.
A big challenge, she says, is the fact that globally, readership numbers are declining and newspapers see de-growth with more and more people consuming content on digital platforms. Though DNA’s target audience is an aspirational 15+, Goenka honestly says that that she “doesn’t live in fool’s paradise” and knows that for the younger generation, it’s digital and not the newspaper which is the preferred medium for content. She adds, “A challenge is that there are more lucrative things to do for Print and other media. The challenge is the medium itself. Another challenge is the competition - there is just too much of that.”