Influencers of opinion

The Indian Express had five times as many opinion pieces on politics/political history/political economy as the Times of India, and five times as many on economy/finance/ business.
NANDITA JHA and BHANVI SATIJA map the print commentariat over 6 weeks

Who writes for the opinion pages of newspapers? On what? What sort of character do different newspapers strive to give their opinion pages?

If  the opinion pages of newspapers explain trends in current events, and provide more information and argumentative depth than television discussions do, it is useful to map  the contours of this commentariat. Are there “same faces” here too, as there are each night on television studios? Whom do newspapers draw upon to explain the news?  Which subjects are more likely to feature in edit page comment?

This is a quantitative six-week scan of four newspapers, Monday to Saturday, June 1-July 11, 2015. The four newspapers taken were The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu and The Indian Express.

The Indian Express, the newspaper that recently packaged itself as being ‘for the Indian Intelligent’ offers the highest tally of opinion page commentary among four newspapers surveyed for six weeks.  Bolstered by having the most contributions from universities and think tanks (slightly ahead of the Hindu) as also the largest number of contributors located abroad, mostly on campuses and at think tanks.

 

Grand total of opinion page articles

Newspaper

Total on Editorial  pages

Total Op-eds

TOTAL

The Hindu

36

69

105

HT

79

 

79

TOI

57

 

57

Indian Express

72

81

153

 

The newspapers surveyed fall neatly into two categories. Those that offer two pages of comment every day, and those that restrict their comment pages to one a day. Those in the former category—The Indian Express and The Hindu—also stand out because of less reliance on journalists for these pages. They feature more writers who could be classified as academics, economists and experts.

 

Number of writers from academia and think tanks

Week

Hindu

Hindustan Times

Times Of India

Indian Express

1

7

0

2

9

2

13

1

0

7

3

6

3

1

12

4

6

1

1

10

5

6

2

2

9

6

8

1

0

4

Total

46

8

6

51

The single opinion page newspapers—The Hindustan Times and the Times of India—have journalists as the single largest professional category among their contributors. They prefer to offer opinion pages with less resort to intellectualism,less political content, more light or satirical pieces,and more TV anchors as commentators.(They also have the higher circulation among the newspapers surveyed.)

So if at one end of the spectrum you had Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express, and at the other end, you had Chetan  Bhagat in the Times of India.

 

Professional Writing on opinion Pages

 

Hindu

Hindustan Times

Times of India

Indian Express

Academics

46

8

7

51

Journalist

31

38

32

40

Politician

8

10

6

14

Economist

4

2

6

23

Expert

3

2

1

5

Lawyer

4

2

 

11

Diplomat

7

9

1

5

Activist

7

5

 

1

Writer

   

3

 

Medical Professional

1

   

3

Environmentalist

 

3

   

Judge

1

   

1

CEO

   

3

1

Scientist

1

     

Executive

 

1

1

1

Banker

 

1

   

Among the writers across newspapers there were twenty academics based on US campuses.

 

Commentators from abroad 

Week

Hindu

Hindustan Times

Times of India

Indian Express

1

5

2

3

5

2

4

1

1

5

3

1

6

1

6

4

3

3

2

4

5

2

0

1

9

6

3

1

1

4

Total

18

13

9

33

At 46 over six weeks, the Indian Express had five times as many articles on politics/political history/political economy as the Times of India, five times as many on  Economy/Finance/ Business  as the TOI, and 3.5 times as many on International Relations/Foreign Affairs.

The categories in which articles in the Times of India were more numerous than in other papers were satire, sports and nutrition/food/health, largely because of  the Maggi noodles controversy at that point as well as the Madhya Pradesh eggs-in –school-meals controversy.

The Hindustan Times had more than twice as many articles on the environment during this period than any of the others. On air quality, biodiversity, climate change, mass transit, managing waste, and so on.

The Hindu likewise carried substantially more pieces on law and justice than any of the other papers, as also on the topics of defence and urban development. It also had far more commentary on society and gender than any of the other newspapers.

 

 No. of articles, subjectwise

Category

Indian Express

The Hindu

Hindustan Times

Times of India

Politics/political history/political economy

46

12

16

9

International Relations/Foreign Affairs

35

21

12

10

Economy/Finance/ Business

20

6

8

4

Art & culture

2

3

2

2

Society/Gender

7

14

9

3

Media

3

0

0

0

Environment

4

3

10

3

Governance/Government policies

9

7

6

3

Defense

1

7

0

0

Law and Justice

5

9

4

3

Terrorism/Insurgency

4

3

5

1

Agriculture

2

0

1

0

Obituary

4

1

0

0

Urban Development

2

7

1

3

Science and Research

0

3

0

0

Cyberspace/Internet

0

2

0

0

Education

3

5

1

3

Satire

0

0

0

4

Sports

3

1

1

4

Nutrition /Health/ Food

3

1

3

5

Regular weekly columns affect the quantitative profile.  The Indian Express has several: one each from Pakistan and Nepal, one on political history, another by academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta on a range of subjects.

Political history received considerable exposure during this period  because of the 25th anniversary of the Emergency, and because the Indian Express has a  weekly column on the subject.

In qualitative terms two trends stand out.  One, the fact that in this six week period the commentary on current politics   approached the single topic obsession of TV. The Indian Express had four edit or op ed page articles on Lalitgate  in one week, three on the Bihar alliance in another week, and three on the Najib Jung-ArvindKejriwal conflict in a third week. 

Yet, except for the Hindu which took note of the first anniversary of Telangana with two articles on the opinion pages on Telangana and two the next day  on Andhra Pradesh,  politics in the Southern states did not get a look in.

The second trend is that 50 per cent of the foreign coverage in all the papers taken together is about the  neighbourhood, China included. Partly because of the prime minister’s visit to Bangladesh and the cross border operation in Myanmar. But also because the Indian Express has regular columns from Nepal and Pakistan.

 

Breakup of international coverage

 

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

total

On Neighbourhood

8

5

5

5

5

5

34

On India’s foreign policy

0

3

0

1

0

0

4

On rest of the world

2

4

3

6

13

8

35

International headlines determined the rest: in this six week period the Greek referendum, the US presidential elections and the Iran nuclear deal merited comment.

 

Note: the number of authors is greater than the number of articles because some articles have two or more authors.

The raw data on which this mapping is based is available here.

 

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