Pratibadh, a 13-year-old publication distributed in 53 districts across Bihar, Punjab and Haryana, is bringing about an information revolution in villages. From humble beginnings in 1996 with just 1,000 copies, the fortnightly is now read in Hindi or Gurmukhi by not less than 800,000 people in 35,000 villages.
But the reason it got a Manthan Award last year in the e-news category was because of the publication’s efforts to use information and communication technology tools such as mobile phones, digital cameras, email and cyber cafes to communicate between reporters, subscribers and readers.
Pratibadh has a network of at least 500 reporters in villages, who are provided intense three-day trainings to understand the nuances of reporting, use of modern gadgets, writing for print, mobile phones and e-newsletters.
It gets reports on success stories, photographs, issues related to local governance, village sanitation, right to information, suggestions to improve rural living, corruption in various government scheme, agriculture and dairy innovation through the use of these modern tools, said Anupam Shrivastava, 44, editor and founder of Pratibadh.
Shrivastava, a journalism graduate from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in New Delhi, said: “Although our operational geographical domain is rural India, Pratibadh is very much a profit-making venture, with approximately Rs60 lakh annual turnover.” At least 90% of the revenue comes from subscriptions, he added.
“Generally we get letters from the readers by post. But we follow up the stories with reporters on mobile. Photos are now being scanned and sent through email. Digital cameras are also available in the villages and as such, soft copies of the reports are emailed directly to the office in Delhi,” he said.
The main cost for Pratibadh is for delivering the fortnightly. Reporters are paid for the articles they file but still want to be associated with it because they get additional work through it.
The reporters are potent agents of information, knowledge, advocacy, investigation and surveys, Shrivastava said. “We have already started incentivizing rural reporters by using them as investigators for quantitative data collection for rural research and deploying them in rural communicative events,” he added.
The success of Pratibadh can be gauged not only from its financial sustainability but also because it is a tool of empowerment, rights, and access to information for its rural readers.
The wall newspaper is typically put up on village council offices, offices of milk societies, agriculture offices and agriculture technology management agencies, and on the walls of the premises of some influential non-governmental organizations and individuals.
Its subscription rate varies between Rs5 and Rs8, depending on the circulation of each edition and the regions it is subscribed from. Although the subscription is paid by the concerned societies and village councils, each local agency collects it from villagers associated with them.