The dominance of Hindi publications in India is well chronicled. The country has almost 1,000 Hindi dailies claiming a circulation of nearly 80 million copies. That compares with about 250 English dailies claiming a circulation of about 40 million copies. The most number of newspapers in India are published in Hindi, followed by English, Gujarati, Urdu, Bengali and Marathi.
Hindi newspapers also enjoy the highest growth rate. There are two main reasons for this growth. First is the increase in the country’s literacy levels per se. The literate population is growing at a faster pace, expanding the universe of newspaper readers. Second, improved newspaper processing and distribution has allowed newspapers to penetrate smaller markets. Also, newspapers have far more printing locations that help increase their reach.
Today, stock valuations and advertising rates of Hindi newspapers are comparable with those of English dailies. But what—and how unusual—are the content presentation and priorities of Hindi newspapers?
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One surprising revelation by an annual media review by CMS Media Lab was the similarity of the front pages of Hindi and English newspapers. Since English and Hindi dailies are designed for different readership profiles and also targeted at different audiences, I was expecting differences in their priorities and selection of issues. But this was not reflected in the findings of the review. The newspapers covered by this review were national. It covered The Times of India, the Hindustan Times, The Hindu and The Indian Express in English; and the Hindustan, the Dainik Jagran and the Dainik Bhaskar in Hindi. (The Hindustan Times and Hindustan are both published by HT Media Ltd, which also publishes Mint.)
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What was startling was that the top 10 story topics on the front pages of both Hindi and English dailies were almost the same. The only difference was that health was one of the top 10 issues covered by Hindi dailies, whereas it was 15th on the priority list for English dailies.
Even in terms of layout, there were not many differences. English newspapers have a slightly more number of front-page stories illustrated with visuals (photos). However, Hindi newspapers had more stand-alone visuals compared with their English counterparts. Both English and Hindi newspaper front pages have the same percentage of space devoted to stories without any visuals. In a way, they are trying to adapt to changing reader habits today. Readership surveys have shown a drop in the average time spent by people on newspapers; hence, more emphasis on graphics and pictures to cater to readers’ shrinking attention span.
The big difference was the emphasis on local news by Hindi newspapers compared with their English dailies, whose outlook was more international. This accounts for the growing popularity of local language dailies in the country today.
Of course, the fact that it is in the language that readers are most familiar with is a primary reason. Hindi newspapers have a large readership to cater to because of the prevalence of Hindi and its various dialects in northern India. With multiple editions and local printing, the newspapers are covering local or regional issues more aggressively on their front pages.
For example, Dainik Jagran prints from 30 locations in 11 states and actually produces 204 sub-editions that adapt to different colloquial tastes.
What is really staggering is the high visibility of sports news on the front pages of Hindi newspapers—dwarfing even politics. Sports coverage is also a high priority for English dailies though it’s the fifth on their list, after international affairs, politics, national security and defence, and business. To some extent, the appearance of sports as priority on newspaper front pages in 2008 can be explained by the Indian Premier League cricket tournament and the Beijing Olympic Games held last year. However, last year also witnessed important state elections and debate on critical economic issues, some of which didn’t get adequate attention. This phenomenon calls for additional scrutiny.
Graphics by Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint
P.N. Vasanti is director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization, Centre for Media Studies.
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