Orissa’s new sms news service

BY elisa patnaik| IN Regional Media | 22/05/2008
Begun by a local scribe in November 2007, the service has close to 60,000 subscribers at present, some of whom have also begun to send news leads to the provider.
ELISA PATNAIK reports from Bhubaneshwar

Orissa, till now accustomed to  conventional media, has suddenly woken up to the novelty and utility of accessing exclusive regional breaking news through SMS. What heightens the popularity factor is that the breaking SMS news service is for free and has been providing mobile phone users with Orissa-related news as and when they happen. Interestingly, the service was started by an Orissa-based scribe and the SMS news alert is accessed not only by the general population but also by government and media personnel who find the service effective for their respective professions.


Odisha.com, the world’s first and only 24x7 Oriya news portal has tied up with SMSGupShup, a free group messaging service provided by Webaroo Technology India Pvt. Ltd. Mumbai. While Odisha.com provides the content, SMSGupShup provides the free group SMS technology and platform. Started in November 2007, the service has close to 60,000 subscribers at present.

"We started sending breaking news via SMS in English in November 2007 to around a hundred subscribers charging them one hundred rupees per month," says Jatindra Dash, founder, owner and editor-in-chief of Odisha.com.  The free alert was started during February 2008 and while there are nearly 200 paid subscribers, the alert is sent for free to over 60,000 subscribers spread across Orissa and elsewhere in India. Paid subscribers get at least three news in one SMS with 160 characters. Free subscribers get one SMS with only 140 characters. That means, paid subscribers usually get additional news or more detailed news than the free subscribers.   

According to Dash, news alert provided by Odisha.com is unique in the sense it provides local breaking news exclusively on Orissa and Oriya people. "The news alerts are not only instant but those who are on the move and hardly get time to watch news bulletins on television are benefiting from it," he explains. ¿A person in remote Kandhamal or Koraput districts of Orissa is not interested to know what the government announces in Bhubaneswar,¿ says Odisha.com editor Prasanta Patnaik.  "He is more interested to know what is happening around him. Similarly, Oriyas who live outside the state are more interested to know what is happening in their home state."

Says Monoranjan Das, Assistant Assignment Editor, OTV, a local Television channel of Orissa: "The fact that subscribers have been steadily rising reflects that the service is both popular and useful."

Many feel that such services will revolutionise the way people access ¿news¿. "You don’t need to sit before a television or wait for the news paper that come several hours after an incident occurs. Our service helps people know things instantly," reasons Dash. "On many occasions, our information has helped officials to act faster and save lives of people. During the recent heat wave in Orissa, the weather alerts sent by us helped people to prepare for their safety."


Agrees Mrinal Chatterjee, a faculty member of the Orissa-based Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), "subscribers get the news instantly where ever they are present. One does not have to access a newspaper or listen to radio or watch television to get news. You don¿t make any effort to get news. News comes to you. There is a role reversal there."

The SMS news service is also propagating citizen journalism in the State. "Although we have reporters in almost every district the preliminary information or news that we post, we get from general citizens," says Dash. The subscribers send news from the region and Odisha.com either cross checks from officials or through reporters stationed in various districts. "We receive around 100-150 news messages from across the state from our subscribers daily," says the editor.


However, notwithstanding its popularity there are reservations about the long-term existence of the service since the SMS news service is for free. However, the founders dismiss the doubts "Odisha.com and Webaroo Technology India Pvt. Ltd signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in January 2008. While premium service will continue to run without advertisement, Odisha.com and SMSGupShup aim to recover the cost of content and free SMS service by inserting targeted and contextual footer advertisement at the end of every SMS message," maintains Dash. 


It is also felt that the news alerts disseminated by the service is at times too localized. "People protesting at the block office of a particular district may not be big news for many people. It is much better when the news alerts have a state context to it rather than being too local."


Prof Chatterjee doesn’t see SMS news services as a competition to the existing conventional media in Orissa. "No new medium completely replaces the existing media. The new medium will find its place. The existing media will complement," he says. Rather, he envisages more such advanced services in the future. "I see more such services coming up. May be the next step will be a MMS news service with short news video clip."






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