Diminishing Returns

ScoopWhoop’s unending list of troubles

The founders of ScoopWhoop: Sattvik Mishra, Sriparna Tilekar, Rishi Pratim Mukherjee, Saransh Singh and Suparn Pandey, who is not pictured here. ADITYA KAPOOR FOR THE CARAVAN
The founders of ScoopWhoop: Sattvik Mishra, Sriparna Tilekar, Rishi Pratim Mukherjee, Saransh Singh and Suparn Pandey, who is not pictured here. ADITYA KAPOOR FOR THE CARAVAN
01 December, 2017

THE FIRST TIME that Sattvik Mishra, Sriparna Tikekar and Rishi Pratim Mukherjee discussed “listicles,” they were getting drunk in Mukherjee’s small apartment in Delhi’s Mayur Vihar area. At the turn of the last decade, the US-based website Buzzfeed had popularised the term for articles in the form of multimedia lists that could be effortlessly read and shared online. The company, which targeted what it called the “Bored at Work” audience, had been valued at $1.7 billion, and now wanted to expand into several other countries, including India.

At some point during the drunk evening, Mishra, Tikekar and Mukherjee began discussing how hard it could be to write a listicle. The banter culminated in them creating a blog and writing a listicle for it. The headline read: “These pictures from a Hindu lesbian wedding would make you go all aww.”

The next morning, they woke up to find that the post had over half a million views and that many of their other friends had shared it. Thrilled, they decided to create and post more articles on the blog. For the next three months, by day they worked in their offices, and by night they wrote listicles for “ScoopWhoop,” the name they had chosen for their blog.

Three of ScoopWhoop’s founders wrote a blog post, while drunk, that contained photographs of a Hindu lesbian wedding. The next morning, the post had over half a million views. COURTESY STEPH GRANT

By the time Buzzfeed announced the launch of its India edition, in 2014, ScoopWhoop had already published dozens of articles, many of which had gone viral. The format remained more or less the same: multimedia lists with minimal text and a headline designed to pique curiosity. Among these early articles were “14 Indian Politicians Who’ll Find Their Counterparts In Game Of Thrones,” “These Bruised Up Pictures Of Indian Goddesses Have A Point To Prove” and a video of an interview with the actor Kangana Ranaut. In many of their articles the team used images and material from other sources—in the case of the article on Indian goddesses, they were taken from Taproot India, a Mumbai-based advertising agency. The photos in the article showed models dressed as Hindu goddesses, but with bruised faces, in what was an attempt to highlight the issue of domestic violence and sexual abuse in the country.

At the time it was published, the article did not mention anywhere on the page that the photos had been sourced from Taproot India. Similar failures to attribute sources would go on to become a constant feature of the website. (Buzzfeed, too, had been involved in plagiarism-related controversies in its early days.)

In November 2014, barely 16 months after they had started their website, ScoopWhoop found an investor in Bharti Softbank, which acquired a 36.5-percent stake in the company for Rs 10 crore. It valued the company at Rs 40 crore, turning the young founders into millionaires overnight. The website soon became a leader in the viral-content segment. ScoopWhoop currently hosts around 21.7 million sessions per month. In its last round of funding, it was able to attract over $4 million from the Bengaluru-based investment firm Kalaari Capital.

This meteoric rise notwithstanding, ScoopWhoop’s journey has been fraught with crises that are unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Some of these problems are similar to those Buzzfeed faced in the United States. For instance, ScoopWhoop has also felt the need to diversify and be more than just a viral-content platform. Several similar websites have entered the viral-content segment in the past few years. Some of these, such as Wittyfeed and Storypick, already have a larger audience than ScoopWhoop. Many big Indian media organisations, such as the Times Group and NDTV, now have their own listicle sections. ScoopWhoop’s ranking among Indian websites has been on a downward spiral since 2015. While the website was once ranked among the top 20 Indian websites on Alexa—a platform for assessing web traffic—at the time this article went to press, it was not even in the top 500.

The dismal business figures recently released by some of the biggest American digital media start-ups, such as Buzzfeed, Vice and Mashable, have also rung alarm bells for ScoopWhoop. The advertising revenue of these firms has declined. Mashable, which was earlier valued at $250 million, has been acquired for just $50 million. With digital advertising increasingly being controlled by Google and Facebook, policy changes by these companies could seriously affect the fate of digital media start-ups that are unable to find stable ways of monetising their content.

American websites are thus trying not to put all their eggs in one basket by foraying into other avenues—mainly, journalism and video production. ScoopWhoop has tried to do the same, but its entry into hard news has been disastrous. Regular violation of media ethics has led it into many controversies, and it has been accused of peddling plagiarised, fatuous or insensitive content. On 28 November, as this piece was about to go to press, ScoopWhoop laid off several employees, including its entire news division. “Not only do we not have credibility but the investors want ScoopWhoop to be a purely viral-content driven company,” one of the axed employees told me on the phone. “They are scared the news segment, which is known for taking and making fun of the establishment, will be problematic. So to play safe they’ve asked the CEO to take news out.”

Mishra showed me a notebook that ScoopWhoop is planning to sell as merchandise. “Liberal is at the heart of what we are,” he told me. ADITYA KAPOOR FOR THE CARAVAN

The CEO of ScoopWhoop, Sattvik Mishra, confirmed to me that the website would not be covering news anymore. “We have a dedicated team which used to take care of political and current-affairs reporting and writing. We just are ceasing that,” he said. “We have realised it isn’t making us more profitable as our pop culture and entertainment news does.”

Even as there is little clarity on the company’s financial troubles, a former employee’s sexual-harassment complaint against one of the company’s co-founders, Suparn Pandey, has been handled in a deeply unsatisfactory manner. Facing challenges from all corners, ScoopWhoop’s leadership is looking inept and ill-equipped.

ON 25 SEPTEMBER, I drove out to Delhi’s Vasant Kunj neighbourhood to visit ScoopWhoop’s office—a building in a sprawling farmhouse in the area. Several farmhouses border each other on the lane where ScoopWhoop is located. It was difficult to distinguish one house from the other. The tall, thick, red-bricked walls of these posh farmhouses stood like medieval ramparts, overlooking dusty unpaved roads. My cell-phone signal became erratic, and I had to try many gates before I found the correct one. When the security guard led me inside, I saw several cars lined up in the driveway, which was adjacent to a neatly trimmed lawn. One side of the entrance of the main building was covered with graffiti—a collage of pop-culture figures including Darth Vader from the movie Star Wars and Walter White from the American television show Breaking Bad. The figures had been given an Indian twist—Darth Vader was carrying the kettle ubiquitous in Indian tea stalls, and Walter White was dressed in the uniform of a porter at an Indian railway station. I was there to meet Sattvik Mishra, who had been described to me by a former ScoopWhoop employee as being “not your usual suit-boot CEO,” but a “total desi guy.”

Among ScoopWhoop’s early articles was one featuring “bruised up pictures of Indian goddesses.” In many of their articles the team used images and material from other sources.
Among ScoopWhoop’s early articles was one featuring “bruised up pictures of Indian goddesses.” In many of their articles the team used images and material from other sources.
Among ScoopWhoop’s early articles was one featuring “bruised up pictures of Indian goddesses.” In many of their articles the team used images and material from other sources.

Mishra lived up to the description. Wearing thick glasses, a scruffy grey T-shirt, corduroy trousers and rubber chappals, he welcomed me into his cabin, a small enclosure with just a sofa, swivelling chair and desk. Two dogs played around near his feet. Mishra asked me for my visiting card and I told him I was not carrying one. “You don’t need to carry one,” he said. “Even I don’t have one. It’s after all 2017.”

Mishra was born in Bihar’s Madhubani district, but grew up in Delhi in a middle-class family. In 2008, he joined the advertising and public-relations course at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, where he befriended most of the other co-founders of ScoopWhoop—Sriparna Tikekar, Saransh Singh, Rishi Pratim Mukherjee and Suparn Pandey. He seemed set on a life of advertising work, and never had any plans of taking up entrepreneurship, which he considered too risky. The other co-founders, too, went on to work in various advertising companies. Mishra, Pandey, Singh and Mukherjee joined the advertising start-up Dentsu Webchutney, while Sriparna Tikekar joined McCann Erickson. By 2010, Dentsu Webchutney, run by Siddharth Rao, had become known for pioneering the use of digital marketing in the advertising space. Mishra had joined the company in 2009, and over the next four years, settled into the life of a copywriter. After their article on the Hindu lesbian wedding went viral, Mishra, Mukherjee and Tikekar roped in Pandey and Singh to write content and run the website. Debarshi Banerjee, also credited as a co-founder, was brought in for his technological expertise.

Initially, ScoopWhoop was hosted on a simple WordPress platform, with a dull black font against a white background, and snippets of articles running on both sides of the page. A few months into ScoopWhoop’s existence, the founders were considering shutting down the website and focussing on their day jobs. But then one day, Mishra recalled, he walked into the Dentsu Webchutney office and found that almost every employee’s computer had the ScoopWhoop site open and they were all busy tweeting and sharing the articles.

In early 2014, Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed, tweeted to another journalist, saying that while there were many Buzzfeed clones floating around, ScoopWhoop was his favourite. Shortly after the tweet, Mishra and the other co-founders got on a conference call with Smith. Worried that their company would fire them if anyone found out about their side project, conference calls like these usually took place during lunch breaks, in the parking lot. Smith, on one such call, offered the gang the chance to work with Buzzfeed on a project. However, neither side followed up on the offer. Soon, Times Internet, the digital arm of the Times Group, got in touch and offered to buy ScoopWhoop. The founders refused the offer as they did not want to cash out too soon.

Before long, Siddharth Rao, the CEO of Dentsu Webchutney, found out about his employees’ night-time endeavour. By this time, the co-founders had already started approaching angel investors. Rao sat the co-founders down and explained his assessment of the potential of their website. Rao decided to invest in ScoopWhoop and roped in the old media hand Haresh Chawla, who had also initially invested in Dentsu Webchutney. Chawla, who had just joined India Value Fund (now called True North) as a partner, also decided to invest in ScoopWhoop. He was the first CEO of the media conglomerate Network 18, now run by Reliance Industries. He is credited with launching the news website Firstpost.com, as well as buying out the business-news website Moneycontrol.com for the company. Chawla also oversaw the company’s diversification from pure news into entertainment, with Viacom 18, which was another staggering success.

“For Haresh, ScoopWhoop was a risk,” Mishra told me. “He had no idea who we were, and we ourselves had no idea what the future would have in store for us. But he understood what we were doing and what ScoopWhoop meant in the larger scheme of things.”

Chawla’s risk paid off soon. In the fall of 2014, the newly minted company made the Rs 10-crore deal with Bharti Softbank—a joint venture between the Bharti Group and the Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son’s Softbank. The deal ensured that ScoopWhoop was going to be around for the next few years.

DURING MY CONVERSATION with Mishra, I asked him about his and ScoopWhoop’s political and ideological leanings. In response, Mishra opened his drawer and pulled out a black notebook with the words “Kaafi Liberal” (quite liberal) printed in white block letters on the front. ScoopWhoop’s logo was embossed on the back cover. “‘Liberal’ is at the heart of what we are,” he told me.

As Mishra looked proudly at the notebook, I thought for a second that this was perhaps a prized personal possession. But then he told me that the notebook was, in fact, merchandise that ScoopWhoop was planning to sell.

He said that in order to cater to a young demographic, the website tries to hire young employees, who would be best placed to write about issues that are close to the millennial generation. According to Mishra, this demographic wants to eschew the sanitised image of India that the legacy media—traditional media such as television and newspapers—tries to portray by steering clear of certain topics. This was how ScoopWhoop branded itself. The more I spoke to Mishra, the more I realised that a discussion of ScoopWhoop’s ethos was only possible in the language of advertising. Ideas such as liberalism and feminism were important because they made good brands, or made a product more appealing to a younger generation.

Thus, guided by the ideology of a young, new market, ScoopWhoop’s content has oscillated between the frivolous and the serious. One of its most shared articles in 2014 was a listicle titled “20 Bengali sweet dishes you have to try once in your life.” That same year, one of their most viewed posts was a video titled “World H@tes Women,” on domestic violence and sexual abuse faced by women across the world. The video, however, was not ScoopWhoop’s own content. It was produced by the Mumbai-based YouTube channel called Video Daddy, and had only been posted on the ScoopWhoop website. In early 2015, ScoopWhoop hit gold again when it covered an open letter that Rupi Kaur, a poet, wrote after Instagram had deleted a photo of hers that showed her period stain. These posts established ScoopWhoop as not only an Indian variety of Buzzfeed, but as a website that explored topics that the legacy media shied away from, such as menstruation and sexual abuse. And it did so in a manner that relied less on text and more on graphics, photographs and videos.

I spoke to Adarsh Vinay, an editor at ScoopWhoop, about the website’s content-creation process at length. Vinay said that when the company started, the editors were not sure what content would go viral. But now, after almost three years in the business, he said the company has developed a few general tactics. “See, if someone is online at twelve in the midnight, it means either they have no social life, or they are lonely,” Vinay told me. “In such a scenario, I have the option of posting either serious stuff, or inspirational stuff about life, love, friendships. And you, as a reader, would choose from one of them and share. More often than not, it’s the latter that helps and has more chance of going viral.” Similarly, Vinay said, someone waking up in the morning to commute to work is also not likely to want to read serious material. The company, he told me, has a good idea of what kind of material should be shared at various points of the day.

ScoopWhoop covered an open letter that the poet Rupi Kaur wrote after Instagram deleted her photo with a period stain. Such posts established ScoopWhoop as an Indian variety of Buzzfeed, that explored topics, such as menstruation, often missing from legacy media. COURTESY RUPI KAUR AND PRABH KAUR

ScoopWhoop learnt that being the first to put out content is important if it is to go viral. For instance, Vinay recounted to me that the frontman of the popular British band Coldplay, Chris Martin, made a surprise visit to a south-Delhi pub one evening in July 2015. While ScoopWhoop knew about the story, it sat on it, waiting for more confirmation. By that time, other publications began to put the story out, making it the most viral story of that time. “We lost out on some vital metrics that story could have fetched,” Vinay said.

There are other ways to make an article more “shareworthy.” “No one wants to read a text-heavy piece these days,” Adarsh told me. “Particularly the demographics of 15 to 25 that we are trying to target. Call it attention deficit of this generation.” ScoopWhoop’s articles, therefore, have to be easy to consume. The headline must convey both the content of the article and the writer’s opinion of it. The stories are short blobs of text alternating with photos, GIFs or videos.

And yet, if one were to look at the traffic history of ScoopWhoop on the website rank2traffic.com, it seems to have peaked in 2015. With competition in the listicle space increasing by the day, ScoopWhoop’s ranking among Indian websites appears to have dipped considerably. Diversification is more a necessity than a luxury for the website.

IN ITS EARLY DAYS, ScoopWhoop was trying to branch out into the area of news. The employees I spoke to often brought up, with reverence, the kind of content Buzzfeed and Vice have produced.

In February 2015, ScoopWhoop hired the journalist Anuja Jaiman, who had earlier worked at Reuters and the Hindustan Times, to lead ScoopWhoop’s news segment. “They wanted the company to gain credibility in the eyes of its readers,” Jaiman told me in a phone interview, “which its viral content wasn’t delivering them.”

Jaiman said that she tried to be innovative with news at first. “We did short and entertaining coverage of the annual Budget,” she said, “breaking down the abstruse numbers to make it directly relatable to the readers.” But soon Jaiman realised that something was going awry. “In order to gain credibility, the news vertical had to stand on its own and not be subsumed under the viral-content division,” she told me. But the distinction between the two was increasingly blurring. For example, on 6 August 2015, ScoopWhoop put out an article with the headline: “‘I Came To Kill Hindus. There Is Fun In Doing This,’ Says Captured Pakistani Terrorist.” The article had repackaged a Zee News story about a shoot-out between two militants and the Border Security Force at the Jammu-Srinagar highway in Udhampur. After the shoot-out, one militant was dead and the other was captured.

When the article went up, Jaiman was not present in the office. When she read the headline, she found it highly inflammatory, and felt that the article had been written in a way that appealed to majoritarian and atavistic tendencies. I accessed a trail of emails that followed the publication of the article. “Yes, it will incite hate,” Jaiman wrote in an email addressed to Sriparna Tikekar, who was in charge of the website’s editorial department. “You won’t find this headline run by either BBC, Reuters or even Scroll. It is a decision the editorial needs to take. And no a Vox would not have done this, either.” In response, Tikekar wrote, “So we aren’t Storypick, NDTV, Times Now, India TV, Aaj Tak, India Today etc. but we also aren’t Reuters, BBC, Scroll. The former try too hard to sensationalise a story sometimes and the latter, I think pay with their readership by being so safe. All I’m saying is, we need to state facts. And I believe our readership is sensible enough to not go astray and indulge in unwanted hate.” Tikekar was arguing for relying on a reader’s good judgment, knowing well that the website targets a young audience—often cited to be between 15 and 25 years old—and that the website’s content could affect readers’ sensibilities.

ScoopWhoop’s management has been responsible for other journalistic gaffes as well. After a major earthquake in Nepal in April 2015, ScoopWhoop put out a post with the headline “16 Thoughts That Went Through Everyone’s Mind When The Earthquake Happened.” The post had entries such as: “1. I think I am feeling a little tizzy; 2. Checks Facebook for earthquake updates; 3. Is it just me or is the bed shaking.” Most of these entries were accompanied by popular Bollywood GIFs. The listicle drew flak on social media, with tweets accusing ScoopWhoop of insensitivity. When I asked Vinay about this incident, he said the article was put out when the company did not know about the massive death toll, and eventually took it down with an apology.

But a former employee told me that the issue had been raised in the office before the story was published. In this employee’s account, Sonali Mushahary, a senior editor in the viral-content segment, and someone who is purportedly close to Tikekar, wrote the article with a junior writer, Sukanya Banerjee, under whose name the article was published. When another editor, Raj Das, raised the issue about how such an article was deeply insensitive and unethical, he was told that the story would fetch them the numbers, and that “humour can never do any harm.”

Jaiman, who was working from home that day, told me she was shocked to see the article. “When I came back to the office the next day, I ensured the reportage is about the earthquake, we made a timeline, we gave regular updates on the relief measures,” she said. “In short, we did what a normal newsroom would do in such a situation.” Tikekar then put out a statement saying she would donate a month of her salary to the victims of the earthquake. “Point is all this was just unnecessary,” Jaiman said. “Any newsroom, you don’t have to be BBC or the Guardian to realise that when tragedy strikes, you don’t crack jokes. Period.”

This year, ScoopWhoop found itself grappling with a plagiarism-related controversy. On 8 July, a ScoopWhoop employee allegedly asked a Facebook page with a small audience called Andi Mandi Memes to get rid of a meme they had posted on their page, alleging that it belonged to ScoopWhoop. When the owners of the meme page refused to comply, ScoopWhoop reported the page to Facebook, and it was deactivated.

The meme in question turned out to have appeared elsewhere before it had been published on ScoopWhoop. It is, in fact, extremely difficult to point out with precision who created a particular meme, and the internet subculture of meme-creators has thrived on the use and reuse of meme templates. Soon, threads on networking sites such as Reddit sprang up, with a dozen screenshots of instances wherein ScoopWhoop had reused material previously used by another page on the internet.

Angry internet users and creators of memes descended upon the ScoopWhoop app on Google Playstore and downgraded it with unfavourable reviews. Within a day, the rating for the app fell to 1.2, with around 2,000 one-star reviews. The internet community had begun referring to the website as “ScoopPoop.” A parody site created under that name continues to publish listicles. “The senior management wasn’t responsible for the Andi Mandi Memes fiasco,” Mishra told me. “It was an employee of ScoopWhoop who flagged it off that they were stealing content. I do realise memes have no copyright. However, we were not responsible for Facebook banning their page. It was banned because it violated Facebook’s guidelines.”

ScoopWhoop going after the meme page was ironic because the website had risen to prominence partly by reusing content that was being passed around on social media. “ScoopWhoop is a product of the internet,” a former employee of the news team of the company told me. “And we have always reused material found readily online. That is the driver for content. ScoopWhoop cannot negate that fact.” While on the office premises, I witnessed employees hard at work, glued to the internet and digging for content for the website. As with most such sites, ScoopWhoop’s content comprises not only original, creative ideas, but reworked versions of content available online, and sometimes from traditional media. Many former employees I spoke to cited the pressure to repackage content from the internet as the reason they decided to leave the company.

Jaiman, in her resignation letter addressed to Sattvik Mishra, expressed her disappointment very clearly. She wrote, “It was after the initial conversation we had when you interviewed me, and the one that followed that I had a vision towards which you wanted to steer news—credible, no nonsense, serious, palatable content, simplified for the readership we have ... Six months down I can’t say the same.” She went on to suggest that the website had compromised on these values. “I am not sure how you wish to expand and grow news to be under the ScoopWhoop umbrella,” she wrote. “When you hired me, I was not brought in to compromise on editorial quality, or to do viral content, or bordering on viral-content. This place will never be able to be a Vox if a team is threatened with firing because we didn’t cover what Indiatimes did!”

She also wrote about constant ethical violations by the website. “How is it okay to use images without permissions, how is it okay to not source back? How are there spelling mistakes in every second story that is being published by main? How is okay to duplicate stories day in and out and then run them on an FB page that has a whopping number of readers, to compare with stories that barely make it to that page?”

She concluded by saying, “I am clearly not on the same page as you and Sriparna, because I do not think numbers should ever drive content. It is just wrong. Therefore, I wish to resign.”

IF SCOOPWHOOP'S LEADERSHIP has come across as callous in the way it has dealt with allegations of ethical violations, its handling of a sexual harassment complaint against one of the co-founders has been even more problematic.

In April this year, the portal Catch News reported that a former employee of the company had filed an FIR with the Delhi police, in which she alleged that she had been sexually harassed by Suparn Pandey while working for ScoopWhoop. The FIR states that the complainant’s ordeal lasted throughout her tenure at the company.

The complainant has stated that Pandey would often saunter into the company’s premises while drunk. He used inappropriate language, called the complainant names, commented on her sexual orientation and attempted to play with her hair. In another incident, which took place on 7 June 2016, Pandey walked up to the complainant after a meeting, told her to be less “aggressive,” and added that she should “learn to pour some sugar on it.” After this, he kissed her on the forehead and walked away. The complainant alleged that she raised the issue with Tikekar, who assured her that her complaints would be taken care of, but no action was taken against Pandey.

A day after the sexual harassment story broke, ScoopWhoop decided to put out a statement. The company claimed that it had an internal complaints committee, which comprised “two of our most senior and experienced women employees” and an independent observer who has served on ICC panels across various prestigious companies. Mishra told me that the ICC had existed from the very beginning of the organisation.

However, multiple former employees have refuted this claim. “If they are saying they had instituted ICC in 2014 when the company started, that’s a pure lie,” Jaiman told me. “I joined in February 2015 and I remember sometime in May-June, I had mailed them all with detailed links to the Vishaka guidelines, and what was needed to set up an ICC. Another employee too had a similar conversation about this. But the response from Sattvik and others was nonchalance. Dekh lenge kind of attitude. Point is they never took it seriously.”

The company claimed in its statement that it had “taken every step to ensure the complainant gets a fair hearing,” and that it was “following the rule book on workplace harassment.” However, a few days later, ScoopWhoop internally circulated emails which not only compromised the identity of the complainant, by revealing her exact position in the company, but also sought to paint her in a negative light by alleging that she had struggled to match up to the target numbers set for her and the team she was handling. These emails were leaked to the press later on

ScoopWhoop hired the journalist Anuja Jaiman in February 2015. In her resignation letter, she wrote about constant ethical violations by the website. ADITYA KAPOOR FOR THE CARAVAN

Months later, there has been no substantial action taken against Pandey, and according to Mishra, Pandey is on “paid leave” at the moment. “As a company, Scoopwhoop takes issues like these very seriously,” Mishra said when I asked him about the case. “I stick by the statement the company released to the media and the mails we circulated internally to employees.” Meanwhile, the police are investigating the case.

INSIDE MISHRA'S OFFICE, I asked him what he envisioned for ScoopWhoop’s future. To my surprise, Mishra interpreted the question to mean I was asking what ScoopWhoop needed to do to stay afloat. He said that the company’s survival rests upon two primary factors.

One, he said, the company needed to figure out how to translate the traffic on their website into revenue. For this, Mishra said, ScoopWhoop was planning to shift its focus and produce more videos. “See the main reason for that is because now people are finding it difficult to monetise from their viral content,” he said. “Fine your content has gone viral, so what? What next? Earlier this was a novelty, now it isn’t anymore. Which is why at ScoopWhoop, we are trying to diversify. There is a huge regional market still left untapped. We will push there. We will also ensure that our focus be on videos and less on texts.” It was unclear, though, how this plan was going to help generate revenue, since Western digital media companies that have successful video-production set-ups are still struggling to meet revenue targets.

The second step ScoopWhoop needed to take, Mishra said, was to “redefine” what content is, rather than just mindlessly produce it. However, his plan seemed to overlook all the problems that Jaiman had pointed out. “Take news for example,” Mishra said. “The legacy news companies have a particular way news is defined. You have the front page, which has all the political coverage, then you move into the inner pages. Sports gets the second-last page, the page before that is devoted to business and so on.” There was no need to arrange it this way, according to Mishra. “The reader of today does not want us to decide what he should read, what is important and what is not,” he said. “Hence in ScoopWhoop, we give equal priority to say a Game of Thrones story, and the Budget. The readers would decide.”

I asked him if such an approach to news was sustainable, and whether it was responsible for the ethical violations by the company. “Yes I agree in the past there have been violations when it comes to source attributions in our stories,” he said. “But these were done by junior employees, fresh from college. But as soon as these were found out, they were swiftly removed, and proper attribution placed.” However, many former employees I spoke to said that attribution is still not taken seriously at the website, pointing to some articles where YouTube’s image server has been cited as a source. This conversation had taken place months before the company decided to sack its entire news division.

Financially, too, the company is not in great health, although it is not facing an emergency either. According to the business-news publication Mint, in the financial year 2015 (the latest available figures), the company saw its revenues jump nearly threefold to Rs 10 crore. But its losses soared by over 150 percent, to Rs 6.4 crore, in the fiscal year ending in March 2016. Meanwhile, my interactions with the company employees, including a founder, suggested that its problematic journalistic policies would continue unchanged.

How ScoopWhoop will deal with its ongoing difficulties is unclear. However, a former employee offered an assessment. “ScoopWhoop doesn’t understand what it is and what it wants to be,” he said. “It seems the company is walking from one crisis to the next and each time it does, it’s trying to understand how best to deal with the situation.”

Mishra said that ScoopWhoop’s chances of survival depend on its ability to translate traffic on its website into revenue. It is planning to produce more videos. Mishra told me that the website would not be covering news anymore. ADITYA KAPOOR FOR THE CARAVAN

Correction: The print version of this article mistakenly spelt “Kalaari Capital” as “Kalaari Capitals.” The Caravan regrets the error.