The proof of the promise is in the paper | india | Hindustan Times
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The proof of the promise is in the paper

india Updated: Dec 05, 2010 01:44 IST
Sumana Ramanan

Ayear ago, G G Wankhede, a professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, criticised city newspapers for barely taking note of B R Ambedkar’s death anniversary on December 6, when lakhs of his followers from all over the country converge on Shivaji Park.

“Is it bias or ignorance?” he had asked. “People say English papers are totally elitist and alienated from the masses and ground realities. This seems to prove that.”

When I had put the criticism to HT’s senior editors, they had pleaded guilty. Calling the newspaper’s coverage “clearly inadequate” Vaibhav Purandare, senior associate editor, had gone on to suggest interesting stories that could have been done around event.

This year, I knocked on Purandare’s door a couple of days before the big day. Did HT have anything planned this time? It certainly did, he said. He had assigned reporters to do the very stories he had suggested last year. They have been packaged together today as the newspaper’s Sunday special on page 2, ‘Mumbai’s Sacred Earth’.

This certainly represents a vast improvement from what appeared last year. But as I have said more than once before, newspapers need to cover and become sensitive to issues confronting marginalised groups, such as the urban poor, Dalits and women, not just once in a while but on an ongoing basis.

Measuring up

A few readers have said that they were confused about the readership numbers that HT put out on Friday. The report ‘Your favourite newspaper is No 2 in Mumbai’ (page 1) said that HT now had the second-highest readership in the city. On the same day, however, DNA also claimed to be the number two paper. What’s going on, these readers asked.

The HT report had actually pre-empted this confusion and explained the basis for its claim, but I will make a second attempt and include a few more details.

The Indian Readership Survey, the country’s only survey of newspaper readership, puts out two measures every quarter: Average Issue Readership or AIR and Total Readership or TR. These quarterly figures apply to a 12-month period. In this round, this period was up to July 31.

The first measure, AIR, captures the number of daily readers, while the second, TR, includes casual and infrequent readers. Usually, the TR for a newspaper is higher than its AIR.

In the latest round, HT Mumbai’s AIR figure was 5.92 lakh readers, higher than DNA’s 5.75 lakh readers. HT Mumbai’s TR figure was 8.95 lakh readers, lower than DNA’s 11.6 lakh readers. HT used AIR, while DNA used TR.

“Average Issue Readership provides a much more accurate measure of readership, which is why advertisers use this for their media planning,” explained Ajay Dang, assistant vice president, HT Media. “So that is what HT went with.”

To give readers a sense of the direction in which these two newspapers’ readership is moving, we can look at the last four rounds of IRS. DNA’s AIR figure has declined in all four rounds, in all by about 1.3 lakh readers, while HT’s has grown in three out of four rounds, in all by about 44,000 readers.

The reason DNA’s TR is still higher than HT’s is that AIR is a lead indicator while TR declines more slowly because people will cite a familiarity with a newspaper long after they have stopped reading it.

For those who want more details, let me describe how these measures get tallied.

In order to arrive at these measures for a particular newspaper, field workers show respondents its masthead and ask them: How many issues of this newspaper do you read in an average week?

Respondents must choose one of nine options as their answer: none, less than once (this usually applies to those who read only supplements with a frequency of more than one week), and the numbers 1 to 7. If a respondent answers anything other than ‘none’, then he or she will be included in the TR tally for that newspaper.

Such respondents will also be asked a follow-up question: When did you last read the newspaper? They must choose one of two answers: ‘yesterday’ or ‘before yesterday’. Only those who answer ‘yesterday’ will be included in the tally for AIR.

So AIR is not merely a more accurate measure; it also the more current one.