Its a paradox of monumental proportions. Every morning I wake up and in trying to stay connected with the homeland, turn to the internet. And try as I may, and this is the paradox – the best online newspaper I have found is not from India; it is from *gasp* Pakistan. Dawn has a wonderful website with up to date news which is very often non-partisan and non-ideological. Its opinion columnists are top notch – significantly more nuanced and self introspective compared t some of the trite that is published in the online versions of Indian news papers (more on that in a moment). I especially like Smokers’ Corner (Nadeem F Paracha), Ardeshir Cowasjee and Irfan Hussain. Top notch writers.
Perhaps it is the existential issues that Pakistan faces that motivates its columnists. But whatever it is, I find reading Dawn’s opinion writers a lot more informative and enjoyable than by-and-large those that are published in Indian newspapers online.
And then there is the website. Free of random popups, forced in-screen ads, videos that start playing without prompting, it is clean, well designed and professional.
Contrast that with major Indian publications. The worst of the lot is Times of India – it is hardly believable that a publication of such repute allows a website of such disgraceful quality represent its brand online. Lets start with the website itself. It seems the website wasn’t thought of as an extension of Times of India’s core news and journalism business; instead in my opinion, it was devised to extract as much advertising revenue by leveraging the Times brand. The website is a mess. It has more ads than news articles. It is aesthetically a visual disaster – with popups, bright garish colors splashed all over the page, popups, random in-screen sliding ads. Just an unbelievable mess. Next, even more surprising is the quality of “news” it purpots to publish. Single page superficial leaders into the headlines. More often than not, the headlines themselves are meant to shock (to draw clicks) than inform. Other than the top 10 news items, the online news paper includes articles of the nature of “How to give her an orgasm”, “Top 10 ways to pleasure your man” etc. You get the gist. Its a grotesque Cosmo meets Human Digest quality.
Marginally better is Hindustan Times – the layout is better. But that’s pretty much where the differences stop. Every click on that site will open a popup from shaadi.com (atleast in my case). The main news section is roughly one third of the page (with the same superficial news headlines and one -two paragraph columns). The rest of this stellar newspaper website is covered with Lifestyle, Tabloid and such – today’s Dont Miss section highlights “Why girls love bad boys”. Enough said.
And finally (of sites I regularly visit), and perhaps the most acceptable is Indian Express. Indian Express, in its print form is a serious newspaper known for its investigative journalism. And it DNA shows. The layout is intuitive. The news coverage is more extensive than the aforementioned stalwarts. And most importantly, the ads are under control – ads exist but not the in-your-face type that causes a disruptive experience like Times of India.
There are some sites that I occasionally visit that I will mention to round it off. The Hindu recently revamped its website from the older version– and it perhaps has the best website of all Indian newspapers. Logical, very well laid out, it also includes advertising that is non invasive and understated. Its news coverage is excellent, the opinions are well thought out. Excellent newspaper to browse everyday. I am just weaning myself from my old habits to read this newspaper more regularly. And finally, there is DNA India. Its more Mumbai centric and has an ugly brown text color – but overall, good news coverage. And no popups here also, thank god.
So there you go. Indians newspapers (other than The Hindu), has a ways to go both in web publishing and journalistic and editorial standards to even come close to world class.