Asia’s oldest newspaper Mumbai Samachar (previously known as The Bombay Samachar) celebrated its 198th anniversary on 1 July 2019 by hosting a series of events and programmes in Mumbai to mark their astonishing achievement. With a circulation of 1.5 lakh, Mumbai Samachar is one of the leading vernacular newspapers in India read by a large section of Gujarati-speaking community, and one of the oldest Indian newspapers in circulation today.
“It is a matter of immense pride for all of us at Mumbai Samachar to reach this milestone,” says Nilesh Dave, editor of the paper. “There are very few publications across the world that have managed to survive for 200 years and continued to stay relevant.”
History of Mumbai Samachar
Established in 1822 by a Parsi scholar and priest, Fardunjee Marzban, and currently owned by the Cama Family, Mumbai Samachar was first published on 1 July 1822. It comprised of three small quarto sheets and a half sheet supplement, published in a 10x8 inch format, containing overall 14 pages of printed matter.
The newspaper, born as a weekly, was published till 1832; post which it transformed into a bi-weekly till 1855 and a daily since then. The newspaper continued to grow to become one of western India’s premier newspapers, which was read by a large segment of Gujarati-speaking people in India and abroad.
Fardunjee Marzban, a pioneer in Gujarati language media, founded the first native press in 1812 and introduced a Gujarati calendar in 1814, six years before the first Bengali calendar was printed and published in Calcutta. Post this he ventured into publishing his newspaper – The Bombay Samachar - in 1822.
The paper exchanged several hands before the Cama Family took over in 1933. Hormusji N Cama is its present director. Since then the publication has steadily grown and today it boasts of having the most advanced technologies available in the field of publishing.
Unique ways to celebrate 198th anniversary
“We have been celebrating the newspaper’s anniversary in unique ways for quite a few years now. This year, too, we tried to do something that would make a difference to the community,” says Nilesh Dave of Mumbai Samachar. This year, the newspaper felicitated 10 Mumbai traffic constables for their stupendous job of keeping one of the busiest road traffics in the world run efficiently.
The paper also hosted a musical programme titled Ek Varsadi Sanj (a rainy evening) by singer Parthiv Gohil. “The show was houseful within an hour despite the heavy rain that Mumbai witnessed on 1 July 2019,” says Dave with pride. “It was grand and successful musical evening.”
Notable changes made in the newspaper
Dave says that they have always kept things novel and interesting for their readers by introducing new elements to their editorial every year as part of their anniversary celebrations. This year, they have introduced 20 new columns, which will be penned by a “completely new and young generation of writers”.
“By design, a majority of these writers have been selected from Gujarat for our readers to have a better feel of the real Gujarati. It will resonate and reflect the modern language, culture, thought, values and trends in a Gujarati majority,” he explains.
Hurdles during the journey
With success comes struggle. Dave says that the paper faced some hurdles at some instances during the journey. “However, over the years, we have overcome hurdles with sheer dedication and reader’s trust, which is paramount,” he adds.
Survival of print industry
In an era where time is of utmost importance, instant news plays a crucial role in bringing the latest news to people as quickly as possible. Social media and television has enabled a platform to reach out to people with quick and live updates of what’s happening around us. But, Dave believes that this has also given rise to fake news. The reason? Dave answers, “Maybe they (social media and television) are doing it to remain competitive since time is of the essence and, hence, verifying the authenticity of the story takes a back seat.”
However, he asserts that in print media, we have the benefit of time, which allows us to crosscheck, verify and confirm the news. “It is due to this very critical advantage along with quality work, we believe that print media continues to survive and will remain subscribed by the discerning reader.”
Dave makes a strong point: “Print media's biggest asset is credibility. And, credibility and authenticity are Mumbai Samachar’s main and biggest strengths.” This statement holds true for the 198-year-old newspaper. “Our readers firmly believe that if it’s published in Mumbai Samachar, then it must be true. Our credibility is high and rare, which is unparalleled in the industry,” he adds.
Acceptance of Gujarati newspaper among the youth today
“We are constantly innovating and trying ways to increase awareness for the mother language among young Gujaratis,” says Dave, explaining Mumbai Samachar’s strategy to increase their readership among youths.
For accomplishing this task, the paper created a campaign — Romerom Gujarati. Under the initiative, they distributed three crore books, organised dramas, kavi-sammelans, mushayaras, sports tournaments, drawing competitions, drama workshops, singing competitions, story writing competitions among other such activities, which were all free of cost to the participants. “We are also starting Gujarati learning classes for students at10ding convent schools on Saturdays and Sundays, which, too, will be free of cost,” adds Dave.
Some popular sections of Mumbai Samachar
“We are the only newspaper to start a weekly supplement on men – Purush,” says Dave. The section deals with issues, aspirations and problems related to men.
“We also started a column — Yuddh Kesari — dedicated to army soldiers and martyrs, which was quite appreciated. We have two very popular columns — Extra Affair and Sukhno Password — and then there are many other columns in daily supplement segment,” he adds.
Explaining the growth of readership and circulation of Mumbai Samachar in the past couple of years, Dave says that the paper’s online edition has been received well among the readers. Hard copy numbers have also risen owing to the initiatives that the paper has been implementing during each anniversary.