Mostafa Kamal Majumder
The New Nation was at a high trajectory in respect of its circulation through the Internet. But at least 14 years of soft copies of the paper were lost as the website from where it was available to readers from all over the world was abruptly stopped twice first due to family feud in the later part of 2009 and second, inept handling four years after. I got the second website developed for the paper in early 2010, which was more attractive than the previous one, without any monetary involvement of the proprietors. But there was no scope to regain the database of the previous 10 years that made a wealth of resources. The IT firm which gladly did develop a fresh second website wanted to make sure that it got 50 percent of revenue that might be generated through the site by way of advertisements. The selling point I utilised to get this done without spending a farthing was the age of the paper which was over three decades then.
One can get an idea of the strength of the paper had on this score from a conversation that took place at the National Press Club on one day. A senior editor of a one-time influential broadsheet English weekly and I were sharing a table at the dining room of the club when I was asked with an aura of not much of respect, ‘what’s the circulation of your paper?’ By then I had just passed one year as editor of the NN. My answer was, its circulation was rising. Within minutes Ahmed Nurey Alam, a senior journalist of the now-defunct Dainik Bangla came from nowhere and started spelling out words of praises for NN. He said he has set an alert for Bangladesh news through his email account and found that most of the items generated were from the NN. Quoting another largely circulated English daily he said its news items did not make even a half of those that came from the NN. I needed not to speak further in reply to the question from the senior editor who looked feeling uncomfortable because he did not expect anybody to speak so highly of the NN within minutes of his query.
I recall Mahbubul Alam Bhai, editor of The Independent for nearly two decades, who expired on June 6, 2014, after leaving the paper. He used to enquire about the closing time of NN’s night edition. Because with that, the uploading of its news items on the paper’s website was linked to some extent. He was the joint editor of The Bangladesh Times when I joined there as a beginner, and was very nice to me all along, but wanted to be sure The Independent comes first in Internet circulation.
Before the abrupt closure of the New Nation’s first website sometime in 2009 news uploading to the site was outsourced on contract. The news items published in the paper used to be emailed to the contracted man who in his turn uploaded those on the site in the early hours of the day. Sometimes if he failed to upload the matter, the online edition used to remain backdated.
Before the development of a new website, NN Director Javed Hosein had negotiations with an IT firm at Karwan Bazar. I, as editor, was present at one of the meetings. The firm submitted a proposal to develop the website at a cost of taka 1.5 million. Soon after another IT firm started showing interest in it and had a number of meeting with me at the NN office giving demonstrations of what it might be like. I floated the idea of partnership. Mr. Rousseauu who represented the firm agreed to the suggestion because his organization had not developed any newspaper website despite having the expertise to do so. He was optimistic about the prospect of the paper making money from its web page because it had a big selling point of being the oldest surviving English daily of Bangladesh.
The deal with Mr Rousseauu was a big improvement on the working relationship NN had with an outsourced firm before. Mr Rousseauu said instead of uploading matter on the webpage from his firm he would train up some hands from the NN to do the function from the paper’s office. No Dhaka newspaper had advanced to this stage at the time. To facilitate the work I divided the computer section into two. Both the sections used to do desktop publishing work till 11 PM. From then onwards the IT section used to start uploading the day’s news. The uploading work used to be finished between 1 am and 2 am. No other newspaper in Dhaka was that fast at that time to complete the online edition.
The NN website, however, did not generate revenue. The advertisement section did not have a drive to collect ads. Online advertisements had also not developed much by then. The e-paper of the online edition used to carry all the advertisements, classified or display, on its pages thus adding value to the ads. Anybody could see the advertisements by going through the e-paper. So Mr. Rousseauu started demanding some charges for his services. The general section was not cooperating as the entire development had taken place beyond their control. There developed friction between Mr Rousseauu’s IT firm and the NN over settlement of service charge. Somehow the proprietor also became anxious to know about the entire functioning of the website. From time to time I used to show him the different uses of the site. At one stage I thought it’s better for him to deal with the IT firm directly and introduced Mr Rousseau to the proprietor. After my departure from NN the relationship did not continue. Some vested interests told the proprietor they can get another website done at limited costs and run the same for a monthly rental of Taka 25,000. Mr. Rousseauu used to take service charge on a yearly basis and his demand was less than what the proprietors later started paying on a monthly basis.
The development of a third website for NN meant the loss of more than four years of soft copies (database) of the paper. Mr Rousseauu ran to me and offered to make the webpage of GreenWatch Dhaka on the three years’ database of the NN. I firmly rejected the proposal because as a former editor of NN using its database for the benefit of my own online paper would not be morally right. I felt the pain that due to inept handling NN lost nearly 14 years of database which could have made its website three times as resourceful as it is now.
18 June 2020
Mostafa Kamal Majumder