Rural newspaper Gaon Connection, recently launched in Uttar Pradesh, seeks to project the hinterland as it really is

For long the national media has been accused of shutting its door on rural news. And by now, the largely city-centric media has won the argument too that news about villages and small towns just do not bring them the advertisers. So we are in an age when the ‘business of media’ is that of big bucks and urban news, and pretty much goes by key words like ‘profit projection’ and ‘return on investments’.

Into this simmer enters a seasoned journalist along with an IT professional hoping to hold in their hands a glimmer of hope for rural news. Journalist and now a Bollywood scriptwriter, Neelesh Misra, and Karan Dalal have just started rolling out Gaon Connection, presented as ‘India’s only and biggest rural newspaper’. The 14-pager daily in Hindi is being brought out by “a core group of 15 people” from its headquarters stationed in Kunaura, a village 160 kms from Uttar Pradesh Capital, Lucknow.

Misra zeroed in on Kunaura because his father belongs to this village and “this is where he returned from America to start a school for the village kids 40 years ago.” On phone from Kunaura, Misra, the co-founder-editor, gives the genesis of the two-years-old idea for Gaon Connection. “The key to engagement with India is rural India because 70 per cent people still live in villages. But we Indians have never taken our rural heartland seriously. While the media is busy covering urban news, a fascinating change is taking place in our villages. Though we are not an activist voice, but this is what we want to document.” As a journalist, he says, “I have travelled extensively through villages and small towns” and felt the “need for better chronicling of rural India.”

“The highly urban mainstream media still looks at rural news stereotypically. They typically report ghastly things, crime, floods….” But the aspiration level in small town India is growing as much as in urban India and going pretty much unreported. “Lovers in villages are texting each other like in urban areas, are eating chowmein and momos, the youth are buying motorcycles, …the rural income level is rising too. But they hardly shape public opinion. I would say, we should not undermine this change. There are now village youths who are graduates but are misfits in the cities. They can’t take up jobs given by NREGA and don’t quite want to do the job of office boys in city offices. So our villages have a large number of white collar unemployed,” says Misra quoting the observation as a part of a survey Gaon Connection did in Uttar Pradesh villages recently.

Misra says, through the platform of Gaon Connection, they want to “channelise the aspirations of the village youth. The paper has columns which teach readers how to speak English, how to write a job application, etc.”

The team of reporters include youth from both rural and urban India, mostly trainees. Besides training them in journalism, it is also “giving youths an opportunity to get into distribution.”

“Ours is a two-pronged approach. While we are using the existing distribution network to reach all the 75 districts of UP, we are also creating connection centres in villages where educated youth can become citizen journalists and also distribute the paper. So far, we have tapped local talent in 40 districts,” he says.

About attracting advertisements, he is optimistic, “Gaon Connection was launched in the village by UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. On the occasion, two top names came from the village from the ad world, from ONM and Ogilvy. They were there to gauge the possibilities.”

Though only a few days old, Gaon Connection already plans to enter villages in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, etc.