A comparative study conducted to understand how young professionals and college students in Mumbai and Kolkata access news from online and print sources reveals three major trends. While readers under 30 were chosen for the study, the test case was the historic Anna Hazare movement.
The penetration of online news websites among the youth is still limited. The latter rely largely on newspapers and television for their daily dose of breaking news as well as coverage of political or sports events. Online news websites are preferred only in the case of specific content such as sports or cinema. Politics is still largely read and accessed from traditional news sources.
There is a wide range of opinions among the youth regarding the Anna Hazare movement, which this study specifically analysed, and this was largely due to the posts on several websites catering to different ideological backgrounds. Social networking sites ensured that the news breaks from news websites were flashed on the walls of the users. Most users said that they went to a link on a news website primarily because it was posted and re-posted by someone else and not because they were reading the news from the news website primarily.
Online news websites focus on disseminating knowledge about an issue from scratch and then taking it on to the more complex areas. That means two things – one, they want to dislodge the newspapers and television as the primary source of news and two, they do not want to assume that the readership, that is largely the youth, has rudimentary information about the issue from before.
This study entailed mapping the accessibility and influence of various news sources on the study group with particular reference to the ten days of the Anna Hazare movement (April 2011). The hypothesis in both the cases was that the print and online news sources catered to different sections of the population and often served different needs.
The study was conducted keeping in mind those who accessed these news sources and if they accessed any other source the respondents were asked to name them.
Thirty respondents were interviewed in Mumbai and Kolkata. Ten respondents were interviewed in Kolkata out of which eight were students from Jadavpur University, Calcutta University, and Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute. The rest were media professionals. Of the ten, three were female respondents. At least seven respondents came from upper middle-class backgrounds having access to most of the resources including the internet. Of the 20 respondents interviewed in Mumbai, 13 were students from St. Xavier’s College, K.J. Somaiya College, and Tata Institute of Social Sciences. The rest were young working professionals. Nine respondents were female. At least 15 respondents came from upper middle-class background. There were two first generation learners in the group of respondents from Mumbai. While most of them accessed the internet from home through the computer or smart-phone, the rest used the internet facilities in their colleges.
Television, the primary source of information
The Anna Hazare movement was tracked largely through television and the print media. Most respondents in the survey said that they had followed the movement mostly on television. While some had read the details of the movement in newspapers, they considered it useless because they reasoned that one had already knew half the things that were published in print. In short, television was their primary source of information followed by print. The immediacy that TV news had created a significant impact on the youth. Breaking news was associated only with television, and the news websites were still positioned as a niche medium. A respondent from Mumbai’s St. Xavier’s College, said, “I feel that they are more introspective and they do not cater to the immediacy that was the crux of the Anna Hazare movement. Therefore, they lose to the constant television coverage.”
No specific opinion.
The respondents also clarified that they did not get specific opinion on news websites. They felt that most of the TV news catered to similar views but there was a large bouquet of information, often ideologically varied, that could be accessed on the internet. Readers did not seek those opinions from popular news websites such as Rediff.com or Firstpost.com, but would rather look at blogs of social commentators or websites such as Kafila or Pragoti. This could be explained by reasoning that the popular perception is that that these websites and blogs are not directly related to the news media and can be treated as presenting a view distinct from the journalistic point of view.
News websites link their content to social networking sites.
The respondents agreed that social networking sites were an important reason why they were attracted to the online news articles about the Anna Hazare movement. One of the respondents in Kolkata, a young film editor, said, “The good thing about these social networking sites is that condensed public opinion also reaches me through the medium of Facebook.”
Most of the respondents went to the links to the news on the Anna Hazare movement through the links on Facebook and agreed that they would not have had a clue on the links had they not been posted on Facebook. Online news websites are linked to the social networking sites and therefore opinions on what to read or view online are largely formed in that way, the research revealed. The constant updates on Facebook about the Anna Hazare movement and links that were posted forced the less-than-enthusiastic readers to form opinions, most respondents felt. A student of Tata Institute of Social Sciences said, “We followed every view that was being generated right from the leftists to the centrists. There was no one opinion we could subscribe to because every other person uploaded links to various pages espousing varied opinions on the movement.”
The Anna Hazare movement did not generate polarised opinions among the respondents because most of them read articles that approached the issue from several angles. This happened because the links that were put on Facebook or other social networking sites and that contributed to a wide range of opinions rather than a single stand of either supporting or opposing the movement.
The other part of the study focuses on the print and online coverage of the first five days of the Anna Hazare movement which started from the Jantar Mantar grounds on April 7, 2011. The objective of the study was to determine the various ways in which the print media selected and presented news articles and opinion pieces to the readers on the movement.
The two newspapers selected were the Mumbai edition of The Times of India and the Hindustan Times. The findings from the print media sources were compared with the coverage of the online news websites. The websites selected were Rediff.com and Firstpost.com.
The study found that both the print and the online publications focussed on the multiple ways in which the issue could be interpreted. In terms of coverage of news, it found similarities between the online and the print publications. Most of them covered all the important reactions from political parties and several sections of society.
The online news websites focussed on the way the young people were influenced by the movement.
Both the news sources covered the event in as many ways as possible. This also proved that the online websites were not only competing within themselves but were also competing with newspapers as the primary source of news for young people as the coverage of Firstpost.com shows.
The print publications carried several stories that were not related to the movement directly but they had one crucial difference from similar stories in the online news websites – that of a reliance on prior knowledge of the issues. The online news websites were more rudimentary in their approach. This can be attributed to two things. One, the online websites are specifically focussed on tailoring news for the youth. Second, the news websites can have several links to other sources and, therefore, have a support base of the rudimentary knowledge on the same topic.
The findings of this study suggest that young people are not that online news savvy as one would like to think. They do access the print media regularly although television seems to be the major draw for their news and information-related content. The coverage of the Anna Hazare movement in print and online media might have differences, but the findings do not reveal a perceptible difference in the opinion of the readers/viewers based on those observations. A significant portion of the young crowd is social networking savvy and that is what takes them to online media or print media. It is the links posted or shared there that are accessed. By and large, the young readers do not rely on the online media for general news updates.
(This study was supervised by Sameera Khan.)
Times News Network (TNN). 2011. Govt Laxity In Acting On Graft Sparks Protest. Times of India (TOI). April 7, 2011.
Country joins activist’s crusade against corruption. TOI. April 7, 2011.
Manjiri Damle, TNN. 2011. Anna: Can Die for India, Time for 2nd Freedom Movement. TOI. April 7, 2011
Manoj Mitta, TNN. 2011. United in opposition, civil society divided on alternatives. TOI. April 7, 2011
TNN. 2011. Pawar quits corruption panel as Anna protests gather steam. TOI. April 7, 2011
TNN. 2011. Govt bows to Janata mantra as Sonia too backs Anna’s crusade. TOI. April 8, 2011
Ashley D’Mello, TNN. 2011. Activists To Hold Candlelight Rallies At Railway Stations On Frday. TOI. April 8, 2011
Abantika Ghosh, TNN. 2011. Crowds Rally At Corruption Kurukshetra. TOI. April 8, 2011
TNN. 2011. India Wins Again. TOI. April 9, 2011
TNN. 2011. It’s the Anna Domino effect. TOI. April 9, 2011
TNN. 2011. Corruption Might Affect Investment: NRN. TOI. April 9, 2011
TNN. 2011. Battle Won, War On. TOI. April 9, 2011
TNN. 2011. Citizens break fast, taste victory. TOI. April 10, 2011
Agencies. 2011. Full Text of Anna Hazare’s letter to PM Manmohan Singh. Hindustan Times (HT). April 6, 2011
IANS. 2011. Bollywood extends support to Anna Hazare. HT. April 6, 2011
PTI. 2011. BJP expresses solidarity with Anna Hazare. HT. April 6, 2011
Agencies. 2011. Anna Hazare refuses to bend, Govt refuses to blink. HT. April 8, 2011
Nagendar Sharma and Saroj Nagi. 2011. Round One to Anna Hazare, fast ends today. HT. April 8, 2011
IANS. 2011 IITians for Anna Hazare. HT. April 9, 2011
Minakshi Saini. 2011. Now, a song for Anna Hazare. HT. April 9, 2011
Gautam Chikermane. 2011. The real impact of Anna Hazare’s success: Our freedom. HT. April 10, 2011
IANS, 2011. Need experts in panel for Lokpal Bill: Anna Hazare. HT. April 10, 2011
Rediff News Network (RNN). 2011. What Anna Hazare said in his letter to the PM. April 6, 2011. http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-what-anna-hazare-said-in-his-letter-to-pm/20110406.htm
RNN. 2011. Politicians cannot share dias. April 7, 2011. http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-hazare-fast-day-three/20110407.htm
RNN. 2011. Pranab against Hazare’s demand for a Joint Lok Pal panel. April 8, 2011. http://www.rediff.com/news/report/pranab-against-hazares-demand-for-a-joint-lok-pal-panel/20110408.htm
B Raman. RNN. 2011. Youth must be wary of anti-corruption ayatollahs. April 8, 2011.
Sunita Narain. RNN. 2011. Anna Hazare and his 80s revolution. April 9, 2011. http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-anna-hazare-and-his-80s-revolution/20110409.htm
RNN. 2011. Anna Hazare’s fast and the IPL connection. April 9, 2011.
Prasanna D Zore. RNN. 2011. As Anna breaks his fast, his village erupts in euphoria. April 9, 2011
RNN. 2011. You woke up the govt from slumber. April 10, 2011. http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-anna-hazare-breaks-fast-thanks-countrymen/20110409.htm