Gorkhapatra's Technological Transformation- Harsha Man Maharjan | 2021-09-24
Harsha Man Maharjan
Gorkhapatra Corporation, which publishes Nepal’s oldest newspaper, Gorkhapatra, could be the best organisation to know how technological transformation took place in news media in the country. This is a transformation from handwriting to computerised writing and to online newspaper. And, this transformation was perilous. This is one way to know the relationship between news media organisation, technology and society.
Domination of handwritingIf we compare the use of typewriters and computers before newspapers in Nepal started to make available their content on the Internet, we see the domination of handwriting. Even in 2017, a few journalists preferred handwriting and could not use computers inside the Gorkhapatra Corporation. It was natural for journalists to prefer handwriting, as they felt easy to do so. This was so also because they mastered writing alphabets and words after practicing them for long time. Usually journalists wrote on the wastage pieces of newsprint. Often such pieces were easily available in Gorkhapatra Corporation. In his article, Tek Bahadur Khatri reminisced the moment in the 1950s when he hurriedly wrote an editorial on such news print when a compositor requested him to provide the editorial fast.
Handwriting was also dominant in Kantipur Publications till 2000, too. This practice ended after the newsroom decided not to entertain the content written by hand. Then some journalists who could not type learned typing in typing institutes. So, many Nepali journalists directly moved to computers than typewriters, the medium that bridges the move to computer.
Typewriters: Underused Analog Technology In Nepali newsrooms, typewriters were underused analog technology. They are analog as they belong to natural world, not the world of computer called digital. The early typewriters invented around 1860s were very crude in nature and the typewriters that could be sold for mass consumption, appeared in the US market in 1880s after Remington Company made them available. According to David Arnold, the mass import of typewriters in India began in 1901. Typewriters were in use in Nepali government offices from 1940s. So, it is safe to say that typewriters entered into Nepali newsroom after 1950. Only a few early journalists who worked in The Rising Nepal (TRN) in the 1960s knew typing. There were typists inside the newsroom who typed news content.
Even some journalists who did not know how to type learned typing themselves and encouraged new generation journalists to type using two fingers. Thus, many journalists who worked in TRN could type on typewriters.
However, the vast majority of journalists who wrote in Nepali did not learn typing and depended on typists. There could be at least three reasons for under used of typewriters by journalists. One, the type of typewriters used in the Corporation was manual and they were not digital in which, journalists could not save what they had typed. This demanded typing twice: first by journalists and then composers. Two, these journalists were ease with handwriting than machine writing. Third, many journalists did not want to type as they related it with the work of typists, the class lower than journalists belong. Typewriters were bridges to computers. One who can type on typewriters can easily type on computers as both have same QWERTY keyboard.
Computers: Underused Digital TechnologyThe Gorkhapatra Corporation utilised a crude computer in 1982 for pre-press functions that was not directly used by journalists. According to Kamal Dixit, a board member of Gorkhapatra Corporation, the company was trying to buy a similar kind of machine called a photocomposing machine in 1981. In 1982, the Gorkhapatra Corporation started to use a crude kind of photo typesetting computer for pre-press work under General Manager Bharat Dutta Koirala. In an article, Koirala explains that, unlike an ordinary typewriter, users could type, edit, correct, and save the text on this machine. Koirala also expected that more journalists would continue to work on the photo-setting machine. Later some journalists did. For example, Gopal Sharma, a journalist who worked for The Rising Nepal, wrote a few reports on the machine out of curiosity. In the late 1980s, desktops were made available to the journalists who worked in English. Though the Corporation sent many journalists working in Nepali to learn computer in a computer institute, many did not use the machine.
Online Newspapers: Slow but distinct transition The transition to Gorkhapatra Corporation to online began on 23 February 1997 when Internet Service Provider, Mercantile Communications (MC), approached it. Then, the Corporation took the service from MC to make available some content of The Rising Nepal. In 1999 the Corporation made an agreement to provide all content of its publications to MC. This is the first phase of digital transition of the Corporation.
In the second phase Gorkhapatra Corporation launched its own website www.gorkhapatra.org.np on 7 May 2002. It was possible as the General Manager of the Corporation, and editor of Gorkhapatra, Kishore Nepal took initiative and made the team having journalists from The Rising Nepal and Gorkhapatra and technical team. The team also uploaded fresh content. Then after about a year when the term of Kishore Nepal ended, the new management decided to call back the journalists and relieved technical staff members. The Corporation took services from technological companies till 2012 July to upload contents and focus mainly on the content printed on newspapers. There after the website remained un-updated for few months. In 2012 December, the new management took initiative to start the online again and a team of journalists and administrative staffs were created to work on the online. At that time, the domain name was changed into www.gorkhapatraonline.com. The website for The Rising Nepal, www.therisingnepal.org.np was launched in 2014.
The websites of Gorkhapatra Corporation are elegant and distinct. One of the features is they don’t contain commercial advertisements. This becomes interesting when almost all Nepali news website had roadblock advertisements, which do not allow users to access news content before they view or skip advertisements. These websites serve to users all over the world who are interested to know about Nepal. Due to the lack of human resources and information technology infrastructure, the two websites are also slow in comparison to other online newspapers, and do not contain any audio and video content. Therefore, the online of Gorkhapatra Corporation stands out in the crowd of online news media that give priority to crass commercialism, sensationalism, popular content and fast news, inundating users with information.
Technology and News Media OrganisationThe nature of its ownership that is government-owned public media, politicisation in this organisation, affordance of technologies has shaped its technological transformation from handwriting to online newspaper. The innovations in this Corporation were possible due to the collaborative activities of some of leaders in the management who took initiatives and risks, and people who supported them.
(Maharjan is associated with Martin Chautari)