“Selfless samaritan. Voice of the poor. Striding for the masses. Voice of the voiceless”: How Kannada newspapers have torn apart the wall between editorial and advertising to generate revenue in COVID season

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Desperate situations call for desperate solutions, and Kannada newspapers are leaving no stone unturned to find their way out of the severe financial squeeze prompted by the COVID pandemic and the continuing lockdown.

With corporate and retail advertising all but dead, with government ads few and far between, with distribution still not completely back to normal, with expenses piling up, media houses across India have had to hunt up new ways to generate cash-flow.

Kannada newspapers have veered around to the view that blurring the line between editorial and advertising, to the point of making it disappear, is a surefire way of keeping the kitchen fire burning.

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Vijaya Karnataka, the Kannada daily of The Times of India group, naturally led the charge in this noble endeavour on 19 April.

It produced a 24-page tabloid supplement titled ‘Corona Guide’ (in picture, above), with messages from Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa and the state’s medical education minister.

A tweet by Narendra Modi on an initiative by The Times group to promote masks was artfully dressed up to look like it was a message to VK’s guide from the prime minister.

The ostensible purpose of the “Corona Guide” was to provide news readers could use during the lockdown—FAQs on the virus; online resources for information on COVID; tips on yoga, ayurveda, etc—much of it courtesy Wikipedia.

But the real objective of this “Consumer Connect Initiative” was advertising revenue: a few ads looking like ads, but mostly advertorials from quacks, clinics, hospitals, doctors—and politicians who wanted to tout their service to society at this critical hour.

An interview with a “Dr” Ch VSV Prasad: full-page advertorial.

Q&A with “Dr” M. Savitarani: quarter-page advertorial.

“Dr” Vivek Udupa on how to parcel your time during Corona: half-page advertorial

How the Karnataka Congress working president Eshwar Khandre helped his constituents: full-page advertorial.

Good samaritan even in the time of Corona, SG. Giridhar: half-page advertorial.

JDS social worker B. Subramanya striving for society’s wellbeing: full-page advertorial.

The voice of the voiceless Beerihundi Basavanna: full-page advertorial.

A unique personality in our land, Bogadi Rajanna: full-page advertorial.

Exclusive helpline for the poor, Gejjagalli Mahesh: half-page advertorial.

Let’s be cautious of Corona, not afraid, Niranjan Kumar: quarter-page advertorial.

MLAs, ex-MLAs, corporators and heaven knows who else all immodestly make their claims in the Vijaya Karnataka supplement. In all, you can see at least 15 pages of paid ads and advertorials in the 24 pages.

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Since every marketing trick of The Times response team has to be blindly copied and given legitimacy, Praja Vani, the respected Kannada daily from the Deccan Herald family, followed suit with its own supplement on 30 April.

Titled “Corona Gellona” (let’s win over Corona), this 12-page supplement left even less to the imagination than the Vijaya Karnataka pullout.

Barring the front page, every page in the Praja Vani supplement was either a paid advertisement or an advertorial inserted by a politician claiming to be doing stellar work in the Corona relief efforts.

The headline of each advertorial presented by “PV Brand Spot”, a terminology readers are unlikely to understand, takes your breath away. Only minute font and design tweaks indicate that it is not news.

Some of the advertising has spilled over on to the news pages in recent days.

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With the two top Kannada newspapers setting the benchmark, the floodgates are now open, and every day in this newspaper or that, politicians are buying their way into the consciousness of readers—and the pockets of publishers and managers—with spectacular claims of the work they are doing. Or, think they are doing.

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