30 October 2013

Nepali Online News Portals in Fledgling Stage

By Harsha Man Maharjan

Note: This is the draft of my article I sent to Republica on 2 October 2013 but remained unpublished till today. So I have decided to upload it on my blog.

Though online news portals are mushrooming in Nepal, their content and operation show they are in fledgling state and are fraught with problems. Yes, the demands of these portals are increasing day by day as these new media have advantages over traditional media-they are highly interactive or participatory and instant. Among all, online media made possible multimedia technology marrying text, audio and video. None the less many of Nepali online portals could not shoulder the burden of providing instant and interesting news. Either they lift news/features from online or other sources with or without proper courtesy or update other’s news which is a kind of tinkering.

It is difficult to present the exact picture of online news portal in Nepal as no authority has the information of the exact number of these portals. According to the statistics of Online Media Association there are over 100 such media. When the Press Council Nepal opened a call to submit online news portals for a listing by publishing a notice on Gorkhapatra, Nepali daily, about 56 such portals provided information till 22 September 2013. Many of them have not provided the exact location of their offices in their website. One reason for this might by they don’t have offices and even if they have it is only on the websites. According to information collected through website www.alexa.com, which does free website analysis, on 24 September 2013, top five news portals in Nepal are onlinekhabar.com, ekantipur.com, nagariknews.com, setopati.com and ujyaaloonline.com simultaneously. Only onlinekhabar.com filled the form for the listing. And the list contains news portals like dhadingnew.com (from Dhading about Dhading), janamanch.com (of Dhorpatan weekly from Dhaulagiri zone), Kchhakhabar.com (Itahari), newsatnepal.com (Nawalparasi) which are operating from out of Kathmandu. These portals are basically based on news agencies and other sources for national news.

Mainly Four problems are prevalent in overall Nepali online news portals besides the lack of proper regulation for online journalism in Nepal. Many of them are also related to the top five online news portals I just discussed above.

First, though the penetration of internet is increasing day by day due to the use of internet via mobile phones, still its reach needs to be increased. So, there is problem of Internet access. The Census report of 2011 has showed that 3.3 percent of total households of Nepal’s population has access to internet whereas the data from Nepal Telecommunication Authority this access has reached to about 19 percent. According to Dharma Raj Bhusal, editor in chief of onlinekhabar.com, the flow of visitors per day in his news portal is about 170 thousands usually and among them 55 percent are from Nepal and others; abroad. Similarly in case of Nargariknew.com, Krishna Dhungana informs that the flow is 160 thousands and among the ratio of visitors from Nepal and abroad is 60: 40. Both Bhusal and Dhungana believe that had there been improvement in the access, it would make online media market bigger.   

Second, except in the case of onlinekhabar, it seems that advertisers are less interested in online news portal. Even this news portal started to target Nepali advertisers forcefully after the google ad sense stopped its advertisement to this portal perhaps after complaints were lodged against the onlinekhabar.com before about eight months. During an interaction program organized by Martin Chauatari on Online news portal, Bhusal had informed that this cessation of the google ad sense made this news portal to think more about Nepali market. Within eight months this website has succeeded in getting the most advertisement among Nepali news portals. On its home page there are about 25 advertisements. Ekantipur only has about 10 advertisements on its home page whereas nagariknews has about 5 advertisements. After not displaying ads from the day it was started on 1 april 2013, Setopati.com has vouched to go for advertisement from 27 September2013 and earmarked 10 places for advertisement. But getting advertisement for online is not easy. Advertisers are less enthusiastic in using online media to promote their services and goods and it is weakness of the online portals and its managers of not being able to convince the power and reach of online to advertisers. Online media is the most transparent media-one can exactly find out the number and location of viewers and media owners could use this characteristic to persuade advertisers.

Third, as many online news portals are economically unsound, they lack trained and energetic human resources. So, they either post news using sources like the top five online news portals and portals started by big media houses, news agencies, press releases and news from radio networks. Main source of them is monitoring these sources-they would just tinker other’s news. Except for few online news portals being operated professionally and managed by committed media people, other news portals are shunning from arduous journalism and pandering news related to sex and crime available on internet. In popular portals started by committed team of journalists or media houses, the number of dedicated human resource is comparatively good. No doubt, among the top three news portals, ekantipur and nagariknews exceed in terms of the number of human resources, yet onlinekhabar is ruling Nepali market. There are 26 committed journalists for onlinekhabar in Kathmandu where as these numbers for ekantipur and nagariknews are 10 and 5. All together there are forty journalists working for onlinekhabar in Nepal whereas ekantipur.com and Nagariknews.com are using all journalists working for their print newspapers.

The fourth and the biggest problem is lack of planning and research. Due to the lack of planning and research, many portals are copying the layout and content. After onlinekhabar promoted contents related to sex to attract Nepali people working in gulf countries, many other portals copied it. Similarly after setopati came up with news layout similar to online huffingtonpost.com, not only portals with similar name like ratopati and khabarpati were established, their layouts were also similar. Many of news portals being operated by big media houses are running glamorously -media owners are seemed to be less interested in planning and research.  Their priority is on other media; they have started online portals because operating online has become a fashion. The media owners of these portals have to invest on planning and research. They must have better plan on how to make their news portals, different from other media they own.

Online media have better future in Nepal and many portals are on the gold rush. The environment is being favorable-the access to internet is increasing, users of android and smart phones are increasing and internet is being cheaper. Not all portals would succeed and only those who succeed in overcoming these four problems could secure the gold.


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