Ranchi, (WFS) - Among the numerous Hindi daily newspapers in India, there is one that stands out as a shining example of a newspaper that puts readers, not commercial considerations, first. Prabhat Khabar (Hindi for 'morning news') bucks the current trend in print media towards dumbing down and dishing out huge dollops of glamour and entertainment; a trend where profitability is all.

Despite this (or perhaps because of this), Prabhat Khabar - now in its 20th year - has grown from a circulation low of 500 copies in 1989 to about 2,70,000 and a readership of 9,52,000 (according to the March 2004 National Readership Survey). And its spread has increased from one edition in Ranchi to five editions in three states - Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. It is the highest circulated daily in the state of Jharkhand.

What makes Prabhat Khabar unique is its focus on people's issues and concerns. "For us, what matters the most is to depict reality accurately. Towards this end, we always check and recheck the contents of a story before publishing it. This has helped us gain the confidence of our readers," says Prabhat Khabar's Chief Editor, Harivansh. In the past 14 years of his editorship, the paper has played an important role in exposing multi-million rupee scams like the fodder scam, land scam and bitumen scam.

Exposes aside, Prabhat Khabar's emphasis on development issues sets it apart from other newspapers. Its five editions employ more than 600 journalists. In Jharkhand, it has a wide network of young reporters/stringers that covers all 212 blocks in the state. This has resulted in factual reporting from the grassroots.

Harivansh places great emphasis on training the young journalists on his staff and in-house training workshops were a regular feature until 2002, when the Prabhat Khabar Institute of Media Studies, a registered body recognised by the Mumbai-based Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan, was set up. Apart from training its own reporters/stringers from time to time to improve journalistic standards, the Institute, which takes in 35 students per batch, offers a diploma in journalism.

Prabhat Khabar's slogan, 'Akhbar Nahin Andolan' (Not a Newspaper, but a Movement), reveals its philosophy: to win readers' minds for a cause. For the paper, anybody's cause - accident, murder, rape, adultery, theft, dowry, misuse of funds by government functionaries, corruption and so on - is good enough for publication. Of its 16 pages (cost: Rs 3.50), four are full of articles on issues of local significance. As part of its focus on women, its op-ed page carries stories with a gender perspective once a week. This has helped it gain readership among Hindi educated women. In addition, positive stories on women entrepreneurs and self-help groups led by women - stories that rarely find space in most Hindi dailies -figure prominently in its pages.

Its pro-active role in highlighting the people's problems related with health, hygiene and education have also made the paper popular in Jharkhand. Several campaigns have been launched to bring to light the poor quality of road construction, poor quality of education in government schools, the dilapidated condition of schools and hospitals, etc. In Jamshedpur, its reporters not only came up with stories on filth, dust and garbage in government offices, but also went from one office to another whitewashing stinking walls that had paan (beetal leaf) and urine stains.

Prabhat Khabar is now the number one Hindi newspaper in Jharkhand and a prominent Hindi daily of eastern India; but the picture was not always this rosy. It was founded by the late Congress Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Gyanranjan in 1984. But in a span of just five years, its circulation dipped to 500, making it a sick newspaper. Gyanranjan then sold the paper to Usha Martin Industries Ltd [UMIL], the largest manufacturers of wire ropes in India.

Prabhat Khabar's slogan, 'Akhbar Nahin Andolan' (Not a Newspaper, but a Movement), reveals its philosophy: win readers' minds for a cause.

UMIL bought Prabhar Khabar and engaged Harivansh as its Chief Editor. The paper was given a new masthead and layout designed by a reputed Kolkata-based designer. Among other local Hindi dailies, the paper stood out for its modern look. This was in 1990. In 2000, the paper suffered a major jolt when 33 of its trained staff quit en masse to join rival Dainik Hindustan. Fresh graduates were employed to fill most vacancies. As a long-term strategy, the training Institute was set up. "Media studies became a necessity after the 2000 exodus. After all, in this age of razor-sharp competition, we need to attach importance to human resources and keep a battery of reporters ready for any exigencies," says Harivansh.

The paper has been successful in projecting itself as politically neutral in an area where other newspapers are known to patronise one political group or the other. To maintain its number one status in a market in which two prominent national dailies - Dainik Hindustan and Dainik Jagran - are its immediate rivals, Prabhat Khabar is following a two-pronged strategy: maintain quality and establish a rapport with newspaper hawkers (its energetic team of young executives organise meetings, discussions and lotteries and also give incentives to those who excel in sales).

To cater to educated youth, apart from carrying a full page on information technology every week, Prabhat Khabar brings out a separate weekly, 'Rojgar Samachar' (employment news). This supplies information about job vacancies in government and the private sector and also provides tips for taking written and viva voce examinations conducted by government and private bodies. This journal is very popular among the educated unemployed in this part of the country.

Much of the credit for the success of Prabhat Khabar goes to Harivansh, who began his career in journalism as a sub-editor of the once-popular Hindi weekly, Dharmyug. He subsequently worked as assistant editor in the Ananda Bazar Patrika group's Hindi weekly, Ravivar.

Few editors of the vernacular press in India have the credibility Harivansh has established. He commands respect among his staff, which calls him their 'media guru'. Among them are a dozen Adivasi (tribal) women who were encouraged to become reporters by Harivansh. They regularly contribute stories bringing to light, probably for the first time, the inside views of Adivasi society.