Science Coverage in Leading English Dailies

Prof. Manoj Dayal*
Ms. Prem Monga**

ABSTRACT

The phenomenal growth in the world of science and technology has drastically improved people’s lives manifold. In India, both government and non-government agencies are trying to create better scientific understanding amongst common people. Media also have responsibility to gratify the needs of masses and therefore coverage of scientific issues ought to be a priority of media. Newspapers, being one the oldest and authenticate mediums of presenting news, have shown a downward trend in publishing science issues. The present study focuses on the science coverage in two leading English dailies in India.

INTRODUCTION

The unprecedented scientific progress, and its importance in people’s lives, has generated an essential demand for public communication of science. India has witnessed a rapid growth in the field of science during the last few decades. Government as well as non-governmental organizations are putting best of their efforts to promote science cultures in the country in general and to help community to be scientifically aware in particular.

People learn science through formal studies in school and college. But for most of us the best sources of science content are the mass media. Mary L. Nucci and Robert Kubey have confirmed this in their study titled ‘How the Media Shape the Public’s Understanding of Crucial New Developments’ (TELEVISION QUARTERLY), “In the U.S. television news serves as the primary source of science content for most Americans”. Many studies in the US and European countries have concluded that as a mass medium, television has the greatest likelihood of influencing public opinion about science.

An unfortunate truth about our country is that most Indians are “scientifically illiterate”. We are unprepared to understand the basic scientific concepts or the applications of science and technology. This situation is not unique to India. Scientific illiteracy is prevalent all over the world including the most advanced nations. The general public, all over the world, gets most of its scientific, environmental, and health information from the news media. Media have a responsibility to provide latest developments in science to their audiences which can fill the information gap and spread scientific literacy.

In India, the situation is slightly different as television is basically a medium of entertainment. Television news is watched for its immediacy. Print media especially newspapers have great influence on the masses as it has great social and educative value. Moreover, newspapers are read for their in-depth coverage and analysis. Our day begins with newspapers and ends with television. But newspapers are more credible because of the ‘printed word’.

Science and Newspapers

“One of the objects of a newspaper is to understand the popular feeling and give expression to it; another is to arouse among the people certain desirable sentiments; the third is fearlessly to expose popular defects.”  – Mahatma Gandhi

The word “Newspaper” comprises of two words News and Paper, so it is usually taken as a paper which contains news only. But the newspaper structure today is not merely that of a piece of paper with news. It has a vast scope for presenting massive information and educating its readers. American Academic Encyclopedia (1989: 171) describes the newspaper in a broad sense as “an unbound publication issued at regular intervals that seeks to inform, analyse, influence and entertain.” Newspapers generally include important news stories as their headlines. They usually cover political, sports, economic, natural disasters, major mishaps and other stories which have an immediate effect on the masses.

During the last century newspapers have emerged not only as a major source of information but as a tool of social change and nation development. Despite various challenges from Internet in general and social media in particular, newspapers have not loosened their charm. After economic liberalisation in the eighties, newspapers have witnessed a phenomenal growth in India. Also change in readership interests stipulated that newspapers contain more and more subjects besides news stories.

The newspaper industry tries to understand the feelings of the readers. That is why stories of common interests like politics, economic, sports and crime get abundant space in the newspapers. Science is a subject which has not gained much interest of the general reader. Despite its crucial role in our daily lives, science does not get much attention. Newspapers can play significant role in communicating science. Coverage of science can help in increasing awareness about major social, health and environmental issues. Further, as the pace of new developments in science and technology quickens, journalists are increasingly confronted with covering complicated technical events and issues like embryonic stem cell research, genetic engineering, global warming, bio-terrorism, etc.

But coverage in newspapers seems to be more event-based rather than scientific content-based. When some natural disasters like cyclone, flood or cloud bursting happen newspapers publish more stories and articles about these events. Major events like space expeditions, solar eclipses, comets and earthquake hit the front page but are otherwise not reported by newspapers.

Science journalists have covered some of the most momentous events in human history. Science reporters were the first to tell the public of the “splitting of the uranium atom and of the consequent explosion of the first atomic bomb” as well as the discovery of antibiotic “wonder drugs” that could cure deadly diseases. Everyone understands the need for science coverage in media. But many studies tend to reveal that mass media coverage of science and related issues is moderate in this country. A cursory glance at media content tells us that there is hardly any coverage of science even in television which is considered to be a widely used media. Barring a few traditional newspapers, most newspapers also fare badly in terms of science coverage.

There have been two major shifts in terms of science coverage in newspapers. Less space is available for science coverage in newspapers and there is a shift from hardcore science related issues to specific fields like medicine and personal health. In a Joan Shorenstein Center Working Paper on the ‘Press, Politics and Public Policy’ titled “Covering Controversial Science: Improving Reporting on Science and Public Policy” (2006), the noted American freelance science writer Christine Russell has opined that, “Newspaper science sections, once a popular venue for in-depth reporting, have been declining in number and size and shifting toward consumer-oriented medicine and personal health coverage”.

Science sections remain vulnerable to cutback because they do not attract strong advertising. Number of staff science writers and newspaper science sections are continuously on the decline. There are hardly any newspapers that have dedicated science journalists. Generally, reporters are hardly able to present science stories that hold interests for readers. Moreover, the existing coverage of science is biased towards personal health and medicine. This leaves the audience less informed about many other important aspects of science and technology that may affect their lives.

Review of Literature

Many studies have been carried out to know the better way of communicating scientific inventions to common people. Media plays an important role in disseminating science news having vast and deeper reach among masses. Science coverage in print media is 3.4%, TV 2.18% and radio 5.84%, which is abysmally low and needs to be increased to 10% (Manoj K. Patairiya, 2009). Some major studies in India on science coverage in news media include:

The study by Bharvi Dutt and K. C. Garg on “An Overview of Science and Technology Coverage in Indian English-language Dailies” has shown that The Times of India gave maximum coverage to science issues amongst the 37 English newspapers studied, but it is still less compared to sports news. Another study by Meenu Kumar on “Comparison of Science Coverage in Hindi and English Newspaper of India: A Content Analysis Approach” has concluded that English newspaper are devoting more space to science coverage as compared to Hindi Dailies. The study has also shown that health and medicine are the major issues covered amongst all science issues.

“Coverage of Research News in Indian Newspapers” by Dr. Umesh Arya revealed that the frequency of scientific research news in five newspapers studied was negligible. New inventions in natural science and health science were prominent amongst the research news published. In a study “Science and Technology Coverage in Print and Electronic Media: A Case Study of Gujarat” carried out under a project supported by RVPSP, DST, New Delhi, by TALEEM, Ahmedabad, Indu Puri, has observed that 7.5% of newspapers did not have any science and technology coverage. Four items related to science and technology were published on an average, in which 33% percent of coverage was in the form of news, 29% in the form of articles and 6% coverage was in other types.

A study “Reporting Science and Technology in Print and Electronic Media” by Swati Jaywantrao Bute, concluded that space devoted to science coverage in The Times of India is not sufficient as compared to The Hindu which publishes a special page on science and technology every Thursday.

Studies have also been carried out in foreign countries keeping in view the popularity of science. A study by Marianne G. Pellechia, “Trends in Science Coverage: a Content Analysis of Three US Newspapers” covered three major daily newspapers, The New York Time, The Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post which were studied for three decades. It concluded that the science content represented only a small percentage of the total space, though this percentage steadily increased over a period. One of the significant findings of the study shows that methodological and contextual findings were missing in most of the science articles.

Another  study on “Covering Scientific Research in Dutch Newspapers”, by Ellen Hijmans, Alexander Pleijter and Fred Westerd, concludes that “Dutch newspapers pay a relatively high attention to scientific research, but little information is given on research backgrounds and methodological aspects of the research project. The relevance of the findings is hardly discussed.”

Methodology

Keeping in view the importance of science communication in newspapers, this study was undertaken with the following objectives:

  1. To analyse the content share of science in newspapers
  2. To study the presentation of science issues in newspapers.
  3. To draw a comparative analysis of science content in newspapers.

The present study is confined to analysing the coverage of science in the Times of India and Hindustan Times which have high circulation figures. The study was undertaken during the last quarter of 2008, from October to December 2008. A total 30 newspaper items were selected randomly over a period of three months, 15 each from The Times of India and Hindustan Times.

Findings

Table 1
Total science items published

Newspaper No. of science items %age
The Times of India 85 66.4
Hindustan Times 43 33.6
Total 128 100

Table 1 indicates that more science items were published in The Times of India as compared to Hindustan Times, during the period of study

Table 2
Type of science items published

Type The Times of India Hindustan Times
No. of Items %age No. of Items %age
News Report 61 71.8 27 62.8
Article/ Research Paper 12 14.1 14 32.6
News Analysis 0 00 00 00
Story/ Fiction 0 00 00 00
Interview/ Discussion 01 1.2 01 2.3
Editorial 07 8.2 00 00
Latter to Editor 00 00 00 00
Poem/ Cartoon 04 4.7 01 2.3
Queries 00 00 00 00
Total 85 100 43 100

Table 2 shows that news reports were given maximum priority in The Times of India as 71.8% of science items were in the form of news reports. Interviews were almost negligible. Science articles were the second highest published items by both the newspapers. Whereas The Times of India had published 8.2% editorials on science issues, not even a single editorial on science was published by Hindustan Times.

Table 3
Space devoted for science items

Newspaper Space in sq. cms. %age
The Times of India 17102 69
Hindustan Times 7694 31
Total 24796 100

The Times of India leads Hindustan Times in terms of allocation of space as it provided more space to science items, as per Table 3 above.

Table 4
Placement of science item

Placement The Times of India Hindustan Times
Frequency %age Frequency %age
UL 21 24.7 06 13.9
UR 11 12.9 07 16.3
ML 19 22.4 11 25.6
MR 14 16.5 09 20.9
BL 13 15.3 03 7.0
BR 07 8.2 07 16.3
FP 00 00 00 00
Total 85 100 43 100

No science issue had received front page attention in either newspaper as per Table 4 above. However, science stories were spotted on almost every part of the newspaper as far as their placement is concerned. The Times of India had published approx. ¼th of science stories at Upper Left of the paper whereas in Hindustan Times, almost ¼th of science items were placed in the Middle Left. Science stories got least placement at Bottom Right of both the newspapers.

Table 5
Subject Area for Science coverage

Subject/ Area The Times of India Hindustan Times
Frequency %age Frequency %age
Health & Medical 34 40 05 11.7
Information Technology 12 14.2 03 7.0
Nuclear Power 01 1.2 01 2.3
Environmental 17 20 07 16.3
Agriculture 02 2.3 01 2.3
Telecommunication 01 1.2 01 2.3
Media communication 03 3.5 02 4.6
General Science 05 5.9 09 20.9
Automobile 02 2.3 01 2.3
Cyber Crime 00 00 04 9.4
Aeronautics 02 2.3 03 7.0
Veterinary 02 2.3 00 00
Space 04 4.8 06 13.9
Solar System 00 00 00 00
Total 85 100 43 100

Reports on health and medical issues were higher among all the other science issues in The Times of India as Table 5 indicates, whereas Hindustan Times had devoted attention to almost every subject. Environmental stories were the second highest in both the newspapers. General science stories took the majority in Hindustan Times as almost 21% items published were devoted to subjects like electronics and architecture. Whereas space related stories were widely published in Hindustan Times (13.9% items), The Times of India published less (4.8%).

Table 6
Approach (Treatment)

Approach The Times of India Hindustan Times
Frequency %age Frequency %age
Scientific 07 8.2 00 0
General 78 91.8 43 100
Total 85 100 43 100

Table 6 shows that complex issues like science were presented in a general way to the readers. Hindustan Times had published the science items with a general approach. 8.2% of science related stories were published with a scientific approach in The Times of India as scientific terms and mathematical/statistical formulas were used in presenting these stories.

Table 7
Presentation Style (Inferential)

Presentation The Times of India Hindustan Times
Frequency %age Frequency %age
Interesting 46 54.1 20 46.5
Just Informative 39 45.9 23 53.5
Total 85 100 43 100

Table 7 suggests that The Times of India presented 54.1% science stories in an interesting manner, whereas Hindustan Times presented more than half the stories in an informative way. The table also clearly indicates that science stories are not presented in an interesting manner that can grab the attention of the readers.

Table 8
Illustration

Presentation The Times of India Hindustan Times
Frequency %age Frequency %age
No Illustration 34 40.0 25 58.1
With Photo 40 47.0 12 27.9
With Chart / Graph 00 00 00 00
With Cartoon 05 6.0 02 4.7
More than one Illustrations 06 7.0 04 9.3
Total 85 100 43 100

Table 8 suggests that The Times of India published science issues with photographs in 47% items, but in Hindustan Times 58.1% stories were published without any illustration. However, no science item was presented with a chart or a graph by the two newspapers.

Table 9
Space allotted to Illustration

Newspaper Space (sq. cms.) %age
The Times of India 3836 87.8
Hindustan Times 533 12.2
Total 4369 100

Illustrations were given more space in The Times of India as compared to Hindustan Times as per Table 9 above. Out of the 4369 sq. cms, Hindustan Times had given only 12.2% space to illustration.

Table 10
Source of the science item

Source The Times of India Hindustan Times
Frequency %age Frequency %age
Byline (Name) 35 41.2 24 55.8
Staff reporter 00 00 01 2.3
Agency news 31 36.5 04 9.3
News service of the newspaper 09 10.6 04 9.3
Not mentioned 10 11.7 10 23.3
Total 85 100 43 100

Table 10 above clearly shows that most of the stories were published with a byline (name) of the correspondent. However, Hindustan Times did not mention the source name in 23.3% of science stories. The Times of India had taken 36.5% science stories from various news agencies whereas only 9.3% stories were taken from news agencies by Hindustan Times.

Table 11
Main Actor (subject) of the science item

Subject Actor The Times of India Hindustan Times
Frequency %age Frequency %age
Equipment 28 33.0 12 28.0
Nature 13 15.3 06 13.9
Scientists / Doctor 00 00 05 11.6
Automobile 05 5.9 02 4.6
Common Man 27 31.7 07 16.3
Plants/ Seeds 02 2.4 01 2.3
Govt. policy or project 07 8.2 07 16.3
Animal / Birds 03 3.5 03 7.0
Total 85 100 43 100

The Times of India presented most of the science items where common man was the main subject while equipment was the main subjects in most of the science stories published in Hindustan Times. Table 11 above also indicates that plants and animals were least discussed in the science stories published in the newspapers.

Table 12 
Level of reporting of the science issue

Level The Times of India Hindustan Times
Frequency %age Frequency %age
International 66 77.6 15 34.9
National 17 20.0 28 65.1
Regional 02 2.4 00 00
Local 00 00 00 00
Total 85 100 43 100

Table 12 depicts that The Times of India published 77.6% science items but Hindustan Times published only 34.9% items of international level. Hindustan Times placed more emphasis on national level scientific issues as compared to The Times of India.

Table 13
Editorialisation (views presented) in the science item

Views presented The Times of India Hindustan Times
Frequency %age Frequency %age
Views of main actor/ subject 01 1.2 00 00
Views Public 00 00 00 00
Views Journalists 20 23.5 15 34.9
None 64 75.3 28 65.1
Total 85 100 43 100

Most of the science stories published in both newspapers were without any views i.e. they were presented as flat stories. However, some of the editorials and articles presented were the views of the journalist. Only 1.2% stories in The Times of India were with the views of main actor involved..

CONCLUSIONS

The qualitative approach of content analysis gives a clear picture about the way of presentation of science issues in newspapers under study. The study also authenticates the previous studies that The Times of India tops in coverage of science issues.  News reports got more coverage in comparison to other formats like articles, editorials and cartoons etc. This shows that newspapers are following the format of presenting science news to their readers. Editorials based on science issues are published only in The Times of India.  Science stories are placed in every part of the two newspapers. But it is unfortunate that none of the science issues could take the front page placement.

It may be concluded from the present study that there is a wide scope of science coverage in newspapers but scant attention is paid to the way of presentation of science issues. Science coverage in newspapers needs to grab readers’ attention so that benefits of this complex but interesting subject could help in overall development of the society.

References:

  1. B. Dutt and K.C. Garg. ‘S&T coverage in English-language Indian dailies’, JCOM 11(03) (2012)
  2. I. Puri. ‘Science and Technology Coverage in Electronic and Print Media: A Case study of Gujarat’, Indian Journal of Science Communication 5(2) (2006)
  3. M. Kumar. ‘Coverage of Science & Technology in National Regional Newspapers: A Comparative Study, Indian Journal of Science Communication 4(2) (2005)
  4. M. Mazzonetto. ‘Science Communication in India: Current Situation, History and Future Development’, JCOM 04(01) (2005)
  5. Manoj K. Patairiya. ‘Science and Technology Communication Studies in India: Policies and Experiences’, Science Communicator, Vol.01(01) 2009
  6. Mary L. Nucci and Robert Kubey ‘How the Media Shape the Public’s Understanding of Crucial New Developments’ (TELEVISION QUARTERLY)
  7. Marianne G. Pellechia, Trends in science coverage: a content analysis of three US newspapers, Public Understanding of Science , Jan. 1997, Vol. 6 (1), 49-68
  8. World Development Report 2002, New York, Oxford University Press, 2002
  9. U.K. Arya (2007), Coverage of Research News in Indian Newspapers, Mass Communicator 1(2)
  10. http://www.iscos.org

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