Environment reporting in digital media

When rated for the degree of original content offered, The News Minute and Catch News came out on top.
FATMA M KHAN and NANDITA JHA present a six-week survey

(Clockwise) Firstpost, Scroll.in, Catch, The News Minute, The Wire, The Quint

 

Given the emergence of several digital news sites the Hoot thought to monitor some of them for their environment coverage in the months of November and December. We took a six-week period from November 1 to December 13, 2015.
The sites monitored were Catch News, Firstpost, The News Minute, The Quint, Scroll and The Wire.

 

Number of Articles Per Category

  Catch News Firstpost The News Minute The Quint Scroll The Wire Grand Total
Chennai Floods 5 10 15 8 13 3 54
Climate Change 9 8 4 6 14 3 44
COP 21 17 30 3 17 10 22 99
Delhi Pollution 14 16 1 5 6   42
Miscellaneous 20 4 12 10 7 8 61
Nature 5 1 2   4 3 15
Pollution 4 5 2 1 2 1 15
Grand Total 74 74 39 47 56 40 330


This comparative study is based on quantitative data and a qualitative look at the nature of coverage. More than the print media, digital news sites do a fair amount of curating, some more than the others. When rated for the degree of original content offered, the News Minute and Catch News came out on top. Eighty seven per cent of the TNM’s coverage was produced by the site, and the figure was 85 per cent for Catch News.

 

Originality in Numbers

  News Agency Original Reprint Grand Total
Catch News 11 63 0 74
Firstpost 49 19 6 74
News Minute 0 34 5 39
Quint 8 34 5 47
Scroll 0 35 21 56
The Wire 1 29 10 40
Grand Total 69 214 47 330

Originality in Percentage

  Original News Agency Reprint
Catch News 85% 15% 0
Firstpost 26% 66% 8%
The News Minute 87% 0 13%
The Quint 72% 17% 11%
Scroll 63% 0 38%
The Wire 73% 3% 25%

 

"Catch News the only publication among the 6 to have an article on the pollution of other Indian cities, not just Delhi. "

 

HOW  THE COVERAGE BREAKS UP 

1. Catch News

 

Website Topic No. of Articles Percentage of
Catch News Chennai Floods 5 7%
  Climate Change 9 12%
  COP 21 17 23%
  Delhi Pollution 14 19%
  Miscellaneous 20 27%
  Nature 5 7%
  Pollution 4 5%
Catch News Total   74 100%


Originality:

  Catch News Percentage
Original 63 85%
News Agencies 11 15%
Reprints - -

Analysis:

With 74 articles, 85% of which are original, the coverage of Catch News is the best of the lot. Most of the articles begin with a "Quick Pill" which is a short summary of the points covered in the article. This is I keeping with the self-projection of Catch news as a platform which “provides news-on-the-run for an impatient new generation".

The site has done a very good job of breaking down the issues involved in COP 21 for the lay user - they have articles explaining the events in simple doodles, and the articles by beat reporter Nihar Gokhale are especially commendable for his uncomplicated and coherent style. Catch News manages to provide a balanced analysis of the key political and environmental issues in COP 21.

The coverage of the Delhi pollution also stands out as Catch News has articles on what PM 2.5 really means, case studies of previous cities where Odd-even car formula was applied, and is the only publication among the 6 to have an article on the pollution of other Indian cities, not just Delhi.

Catch News has a wide variety of topics covered in the Environment section, and provides good analysis of issues such as the India-UK Nuclear Deal and the harms of Climate Change.

2. Firstpost

 

Website Topic No. of Articles Percentage of Total Coverage
Firstpost Chennai Floods 10 13.50%
  Climate Change 8 11%
  COP 21 30 40.50%
  Delhi Pollution 16 22%
  Miscellaneous 4 5%
  Nature 1 1%
  Pollution 5 7%
Firstpost Total   74 100%

Originality:

  Firstpost Percentage
Original 19 26%
News Agencies 49 66%
Reprints 6 8%

Analysis:

Among the six websites, First Post stands out for having a whopping 66% of its environment coverage reprinted from news agencies including ANI, PTI, IANS, AFP, AP and Reuters.

Firstpost does best in its coverage of Chennai floods, with analysis including a newsroom video about its causes. In the COP 21 category, out of the five articles not directly from news agencies, one is simply the full text of PM Modi's speech on Day 1 of COP 21. Two of the articles have the same text, with slightly different headlines, posted within 3 hours of each other on Nov 30 (editorial confusion?). The articles read like a mish mash of facts from various sources. Instead of any credible analysis, the articles such as "solar energy, innovation summit and bilateral talks: Here's what PM Narendra Modi did in Paris" rely almost exclusively on direct quotes from Modi's speeches.

First Post’s coverage of Delhi pollution has four original articles, three of which read like a personal blog post instead of an analysis the issues at hand:
Does my Kid have to Suffer because Someone must Drive his Car Everyday?
Kejriwal’s #Odds-Even formula is meant to trap only you, everybody else in Delhi is a VVIP or knows one
Odd-even number plates: The Kejriwal govt in Delhi deserves cheers, not jeers
The fourth article presents prevention techniques as well as readers’ suggestions to reduce pollution.

New media which include online-only newspapers make an effort to be accessible. In the case of Firstpost, this is done at the cost of diluting the analysis.

 

3. The News Minute

 

Website Topic No. of Articles Percentage of Total Coverage
The News Minute Chennai Floods 15 38%
  Climate Change 4 10%
  COP 21 3 8%
  Delhi Pollution 1 3%
  Miscellaneous 12 31%
  Nature 2 5%
  Pollution 2 5%
News Minute Total   39 100%

Originality:

  The News Minute Percentage
Original 34 87%
News Agencies 0 0
Reprints 5 13%

Analysis:

The News Minute focuses on the southern states of India (Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Kerala, and Karnataka). In Originality, it tops the list of the six websites, with 87% of its coverage being original (Catch News follows close behind with 85% original articles).

38% of the total environment coverage focuses on the floods in Tamil Nadu. It’s one of the best analysis of the floods, with articles on how Chennai’s new urban jungles caused the flooding, including satellite images and specifics, such as why Chennai Airport’s position over the Adyar River caused the airport’s shutdown.

Because of its topical focus, The News Minute has one reprint from IndiaSpend about the Delhi Pollution, and only 2 original articles on COP 21. One of them is about a video message from citizens affected by climate change in Chennai, Colombia and Costa Rica. The other provides analysis of the Paris deal, and exposes its limitations.

"The News Minute covers many issues which completely fall through the cracks the rest of the publications--one example is the Sompeta Agitation over a thermal power plant in Andhra Pradesh"

 

The News Minute covers many issues which completely fall through the cracks the rest of the publications--one example is the Sompeta Agitation over a thermal power plant in Andhra, where the state government conceded to the villagers’ demands after an 8 year protest. Its articles on the Hyderabad waste disposal system, neglect of urban lakes in Hyderabad, and the issue of water scarcity are especially commendable.

4. The Quint

 

Website Topic No. of Articles Percentage of Total Coverage
The Quint Chennai Floods 8 17%
  Climate Change 6 13%
  COP 21 17 36%
  Delhi Pollution 5 11%
  Miscellaneous 10 21%
  Pollution 1 2%
Quint Total   47 100%

Originality:

  The Quint Percentage
Original 34 72%
News Agencies 8 17%
Reprints 5 11%

Analysis:

In its About section, The Quint calls itself a place where ‘hard news is made easy’ and which provides ‘media for mobile consumption – quickly, visually and socially’. Its approach to story presentation is primarily visual. Most of its articles are on the shorter side, with a large number of huge images and infographics which overpower the screen. Some even have short videos made with texts, images and expert comments, and this is unique to the Quint. Another unique feature is that it specifies the minutes required to read the article above the headline, based on the length of the article.

"Short videos made with text, images and expert comments are unique to the Quint"

 

36% of the coverage is on COP 21. Out of the 8 original articles, 6 are written by Shalini Iyengar, and provide a decent analysis of the issues involved. The attempt to make ‘hard news easy’ is clearly visible, and is not always successful, in contrast with Catch News, which also makes a clear effort to write in simple language, but still does not dilute the analysis. Most of the coverage on Chennai Floods are reprints from News Minute, though there is one original article by Sudeshna Chatterjee which has detailed analysis. Not much stands out in its coverage of Delhi pollution, except a video which includes comments from Anumita Chowdhury, director of Centre for Science and Environment.

The Quint also has a weekly newsletter on environment called EQ where short bullets accompanied by large images inform the readers of the latest news on environment.

 

5. Scroll

Website Topic No. of Articles Percentage of Total Coverage
Scroll Chennai Floods 13 23%
  Climate Change 14 25%
  COP 21 10 18%
  Delhi Pollution 6 11%
  Miscellaneous 7 12.50%
  Nature 4 7%
  Pollution 2 2.50%
Scroll Total   56 100%

Originality:

  Scroll Percentage
Original 35 63%
News Agencies 0 0
Reprints 21 38%
     

Analysis:

Most of the articles on Scroll are long form and seek to provide analysis, instead of simple reporting. Thus, even its reprints, which form 38% of its coverage, are mainly from sites like the Conversation and the Third Pole. Unlike the other five websites, the distribution of coverage is fairly evenly divided among the main topics.

Scroll’s coverage of the Chennai Floods is one of the best (along with News Minute), and has detailed articles covering the governmental failures, the issue of climate change, urban planning and the attitudes of Chennai residents.

Of the three original articles on COP 21, Lekha Sridhar’s article titled “Why Indians need to closely examine our government's sanctimonious rhetoric on Climate Justice” stands out among all the COP 21 coverage as unlike the others, it questions the convenient statistics cited in the Indian government’s rhetoric of climate justice.

25% of the coverage focuses on Climate Change. Scroll’s series called the Climate Conundrum is unique in its analysis of Udipi seawalls, social unrest in Punjab due to climate change, and the finances required for India to adapt to climate change. The five original articles on the Delhi pollution issue also provide a balanced analysis of the issues involved.


6. The Wire

 

Website Topic No. of Articles Percentage of Total Coverage
The Wire Chennai Floods 3 7.50%
  Climate Change 3 7.50%
  COP 21 22 55%
  Miscellaneous 8 20%
  Nature 3 7.50%
  Pollution 1 2.50%
The Wire Total   40 100%

Originality:

  The Wire Percentage
Original 29 73%
News Agencies 1 3%
Reprints 10 25%

Analysis:

The Wire stands out for its in-depth coverage, and packages itself for an intellectual audience.

55% of the coverage was on COP 21. The Wire ran a series called 'COP 21 Diary' where Anjali Vaidya, a contributor to The Wire wrote extensive articles. What is unique about her coverage is that she merges observations about the various documentary screenings and talks she is attending as part of the conference with interviews from artists and activists. Her articles include artwork, spoken word poetry, clips from documentaries, and even a Radiohead song. Another article which stands out is by Chitra Padmanabhan which considers the role of the artist in the current politics on the environment. The reprints from Business Standard cover most of the traditional issues. In general, the analysis is deep, and assumes an audience with a general knowledge of the issues involved in the climate conference.

"The Wire stands out for its in-depth coverage, and packages itself for the more serious reader"

 

In the case of the floods in Chennai, the Wire had many articles, but only the ones which covered the environmental aspects were considered in this study. They provide a very good analysis of the issues involved.

The Wire runs a regular series called Amazing Animals, where Janaki Lenin writes about the astonishing animal world, with articles such as How Do Chicks Raised By Parents of Another Species Know Who They are? and Why Did Snakes Forsake Their Legs?

The articles are in-depth and cover unique topics such as environmental law-making, the number of people who die due to natural disasters and why schemes such as Swachh Bharat are bound to fail. But sometimes the most obvious topics are missed out. The fact that the Wire runs on freelance reporting is clear by the fact that there isn’t a single article on the odd-even formula or the rise of pollution in Delhi this winter, during the period of monitoring.

Conclusion

2015 was the year when digital news media came into its own. Unlike broadcasting and print media which are bound by time and page space constraints respectively, digital news sites have the freedom to cover as many issues in whatever depth they want. But often, they are constrained by limited resources, as these are usually much smaller operations than mainstream media. As the number of users who prefer to get their news online increases, so will the size of these operations, perhaps.

What this limited edition monitoring shows is that based on their target audience, each of these websites is trying to define its identity by deciding what the balance will be between curating and original content, between reporting and explaining, and what balance to have between text and video. Thus, while websites like the Wire and Scroll are much more likely to explain than report, others like Firstpost function mainly on reporting. And Quint’s approach is more visual than that of the others under review.


Details of articles monitored

 

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