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Is The Press Dead?

Is The Press Dead?

The Higginbotham Bookstalls used to display thick volumes of novels, glossy magazines, children’s cartoons, local and English dailies. Crowds of passengers around the shop used to flip through the pages and purchase one or another to pass their time in the train.

That was the scene till yesteryears. Now cream biscuits, potato chips and water bottles have come to occupy these bookshelves. “We need to at least earn our daily bread, sir,” laments the former bookseller at the absence of his literate customers.

Instead of reading magazines, newspapers or books, most of the passengers in the train are now busy browsing through their android mobiles. Definitely internet has better advantages than the printed medium. Faster in communication, the internet offers you what you ask at the mere click of a button. Internet has a much wider reach than print media. They are both audio and visual.

But does it mean the print media is dead and outdated? When Marconi invented radio in the 1920s, the world wrote obituary to the printing press. When television appeared with the visuals in the 1950s, people said that was the death knell of the radio. And when the internet came in the 20th century, it was thought to be the end of TV. In spite of the last hundred years of presence of these powerful media, the printed word has survived – and will continue to survive.

Readers believe print media as more trustworthy than radio, TV and the internet. Print is a long-lasting, cost-effective and aesthetically-pleasing method of communication.  Print media is popular because it is one of the easiest ways to reach the targeted customers. Many opt for physical copy, printed books for e-books. Print media creates a lasting impression. Magazines and books go deeper into a particular topic. Flashy magazines with vibrant photographs will always be popular. Print media give a customer relationship. Print media do not disappear immediately. It can be reviewed again and again.

And the print will continue to survive, even if the percentage of print users goes down. Scientifically the printed books are better for your eyes, brain and body. By reading printed books you absorb and remember more than e-books. Printed magazines are easier on your eyes and you are less likely to get distracted. We enjoy the smell of books and we get better sleep by reading a book than reading from the screen of a mobile or computer. Though e-text books are becoming available, do not the students use more the printed text books? Viewers skip ads in mobiles and TVs, yet newspapers carry plenty of advertisements because the publishers know people still read them, in spite of people getting the news from other channels.  For most of us the first inclination in the morning is to hold the newspaper.

Some print media like the Time, Times of India and the Forbes have huge followers. Print media are the most circulated media form. As a strong weapon print media was used during the Independence struggle. You cannot hold on to a mobile or computer screen for long hours to do serious reading. They trouble your eyes and body. Doctors discourage that. But you enjoy reading a book or a magazine for long hours. Scientific study reveals that the children have a taste for study in the families that cherish a shelf of books.

Printed word is one of the outstanding accomplishments of humankind and in India by Christian missionaries. The Catholic Church used to celebrate Press Month every February way back from 1950. But we don’t hear much about it these years. Is it because it has lost its relevance? Neither the Catholic Church nor the Catholics seem to take seriously of the press.  It is because not many Catholics are interested to read anything or learn more of their faith. They are carried on by the allurement of sensory pleasures.

It is the foreign Christian missionaries who first brought the printing machines to India. And they started first printing Bibles in various vernacular languages. They used the press for imparting Christian instruction and information, both to the baptized and non-baptized. The first Indian newspaper called Bengal Gazette was established by Christian missionary James Augustus Hickey from Calcutta on Jan 29, 1780. 

Besides promoting the faith by the press, the Christian missionaries also advanced the local literature and humanism for social change. Salesians launched their first publication way back in 1923 in the North East with the Khasi monthly ‘ Ka ling Khristan’ (The Christian Family). It was followed by other publications in the 1930s in Khasi, Garo, Mikir, Hindi, Lotha, Angami, Manipuri, Lalung etc. By establishing the St. Paul Society in Allahabad in the 1950s, the St Paul Fathers and Brothers spread the Christian literature both in English and Hindi. The handing over of the Examiner Press Bookshop to the Society of St. Paul in 1951 was another milestone in the growth of the Catholic Press in India. Though the Christian missionaries contributed much to the growth of literature in the initial stage, it has declined later on.

Way back in 1884 the US bishops recommended all households to subscribe at least one Catholic periodical of their choice. How many of our families subscribe to Catholic periodicals and purchase religious books? Even in many presbyteries and religious communities the church publications lie unopened. Why? How many of our publications attract the readers? They lose interest in reading, because they fail to hook them.

In running a publication our vision and mission should be clear. If the editors envisage to have a larger circulation of their publications, their products need to be attractive and worth their money and time. Due to lack of professionalism, many of our Catholic publications are not sought after. Responding to the changing demands of the consumers the printing industry needs to take steps as the Forbes magazine had done. With plenty of visuals and space, they should be attractive to the children, youth, women and family members and not boring treatises on some theological doctrines or high literature masterpieces.  The catholic press should disseminate the gospel values to transform the society. It has to be the salt of the earth and light to the world.

Priests and nuns need to encourage their parishioners, students to subscribe to at least one Catholic magazine which would be relevant to them. Media training should form an integral part of religious formation. Why not our profit-making institutions offer at least one adverti sement in a year to any one of our Catholic publications to supplement its cost? Though we offer many mundane and expensive gifts, why not offer others a gift subscription or books, besides renewing yours in time?

“The pen and the written word hold a great deal of power,” says Andy Biersack.
Will the Catholic Press Month invigorate our readership and publications?

(Published on 10th February 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 07)