Goan Connection Wins India's Highest Journalism Honour
Started after selling an apartment because no one would fund it, India's first comprehensive rural newspaper Goan Connection has won India's highest journalism honour, the Ramnath Goenka Award, as it ends its pilot phase and prepares for scaleup to 1.4 million readers next month.
The award was presented to Goan Connection journalists Neelesh Misra and Manish Mishra by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan. Goan Connection won the award in the 'Uncovering India Invisible" category, for which the newspaper competed with papers in not just Hindi but English and other languages.
Neelesh Misra, who founded Goan Connection www.gaonconnection.com) in December 2012, is India's most famous storyteller. His national radio storytelling show Yaadon Ka Idiot Box with Neelesh Misra on 92.7 Big FM reaches 45 cities, 1,200 towns and 50,000 villages. He is also an acclaimed Bollywood scriptwriter-lyricist, author and journalist. Neelesh Misra won the Ramnath Goenka award in the same category for the Hindustan Times earlier, for a series reported from insurgency areas. Manish Mishra is an associate editor with Goan Connection. He has reported widely on rural issues.
The newspaper is now working to achieve its next big milestone-to become a daily.
In its first year of existence, Goan Connection Editor-in-Chief Dr. S.B. Misra also won the UNFPA-backed Ladli Award for writing on gender issues, in the "Best Editorial" category. Dr. Misra, an author and retired geologist, also won the same award for North India in the Best Editorial category.
The Goan Connection newspaper is a 12-page, all-colour, broadsheet weekly. In its pilot phase, Goan Connection reached out to 40 districts across UP, six districts in western Bihar, and Ranchi district in Jharkhand, with 15,000 copies. The newspaper will now assume planned levels by scaling up to 100,000 copies - reaching out to 1.4 million readers every week with at least 14 readers reading every copy of the weekly. Goan Connection seeks to fill a huge vacuum in the Indian media space - there is no prominent voice for rural India, which makes up more than 68 percent of the country's population, in the mainstream media. According to a five-year study of mainstream Indian newspapers by the think tank CSDS, mainstream papers devote only two per cent of space to rural India. Goan Connection is bridging this gap.
"The Ramnath Goenka Award is a huge boost of strength for us at Goan Connection, and it validates the fact that good, honest content done with conviction always finds its rightful place," said Neelesh Misra, founder of Goan Connection. "We aim to, with all humility, continue our work to do good old-fashioned honest journalism."
The biggest battle has been the distribution of the paper to remote, media-dark areas where newspapers either do not reach at all, or reach sparingly in miniscule numbers when someone goes to the rural hubs where the markets are located. "I think the one operational achievement that we are really proud of over the past 20 months has been that we have created new distribution verticals deep into rural areas," said Yamini Tripathi, head of operations at Goan Connection. "We have been using innovative ways - whether it is partnerships with local self-help groups, farmer clubs, schools and colleges even as we create new distribution verticals or offer the opportunity to our own journalists to do reporting."
Additionally, as it works with major brands, Goan Connection has also created something unique for the Indian media space - customized distribution plans in keeping with the priorities of the respective brands. Several brands have listed their priority areas - down to village lists - where the newspaper is being delivered.
Goan Connection content includes rural reportage ("Goan Chaupal"), agriculture issues and innovation in agriculture issues ("Kheti Kisaani"), a page dedicated to women ("Nari Diary"), skills and aspirations ("Hunar"), top notch editorial page content by leading experts, iveting stories of the transformation of rural India ("Badalta India"), useful information from beauty tips to the use of mobile phones and the internet to health guidance ("Baat Pate Ki").
"We are really, really proud of our small but extremely dedicated team that has done the undoable. Their level of passion and dedication inspires us every single day," said Neelesh Misra.