What drives the media's coverage of social issues? | IDR (2023)

Media plays an important role in informing and shaping public opinion around major issues. Amartya Sen has argued, “It is not likely that India can have a famine even in years of great food problems. The government cannot afford to fail to take prompt action when large-scale starvation threatens. Newspapers play an important part in this, in making the facts known and forcing the challenge to be faced.” It has been found that Indian states with a higher newspaper circulation rate perform better in terms of providing calamity relief and distributing food under the public distribution system. Media can impact large-scale outcomes through its reportage. This, then, begs the question: How does the media decide which issues to raise?

The answer commonly veers from the media picking sensational topics to the ideological inclinations of media houses and covert or overt pressure from stakeholders such as the government, businesses, and communities. The demand aspect—what readers prefer and want to read—is largely missing in this narrative. Being a competitive and profit-making industry, demand dynamics play a pivotal role in deciding what gets covered by the media and which issues get more space. There is a significant and persistent trust deficit between the people and the media in India—only 38 percent of Indians trust most news, compared to 65 percent in Finland, 54 percent in Brazil, 50 percent in Thailand, and 43 percent in Australia. Low trust is usually ascribed to media bias, and this perception is natural in a country where close to 70 percent of media revenue comes from advertisements and 30 percent from reader subscriptions.

At the Centre for Social and Economic Progress, an independent public policy think tank, we explored this demand-side relationship and attempted to understand what influences media reporting. Focusing on English-language media, using land conflicts involving communities as the focal point, and comparing the occurrence of conflicts vis-à-vis coverage, we found that reader interest plays a key role in determining media reporting. Reader interest, in turn, is driven by the location of the conflict and of the reader, the intensity of the conflict, and the involvement of a known entity (person, corporation, etc.). This does not mean that reporting may not be ‘influenced’ or ‘sensationalised’, but rather that there are other, more objective reasons as well that play a key role in deciding coverage.

(Video) How reliable is media in regard to its coverage of current social issues?

Upon analysing 714 ongoing land conflicts involving communities tracked by Land Conflict Watch, we found that disputes occurring in rural areas account for more than two-thirds of the total. This seems intuitive, since larger conflicts involving communities mostly pertain to issues such as land acquisition, which are more likely to occur in rural areas than in areas that are already urbanised. However, the location of the conflicts reported in the media present a different picture. Leveraging the Global Database on Events, Language and Tone, arguably the world’s most comprehensive database monitoring news media, we derived a list of 58 land conflicts that are covered by the media and found that 39 of them were urban issues. Thus, while rural areas account for 70 percent of the actual occurrence of land conflicts, nearly 67 percent of the conflicts reported by the media are from urban centres.

Upon delving deeper into seven illustrative case studies, we found that each urban conflict is also covered more deeply, despite the fact that rural conflicts impact a larger number of people.

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These seven case studies comprised three urban conflicts—Alibaug Illegal Structures, Thoothukudi Copper Plant, and Kathputli Colony; and four rural conflicts—Mumbai–Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Corridor, Amaravati Capital City, Manipur Bills, and Forest Rights Act.

The four rural conflicts were about 15–20 times as large as the three urban conflicts in terms of the number of people affected, and yet they received around 20 percent less coverage. For example, the Manipur Bills conflict, despite potentially impacting the largest number of people among all seven conflicts, was covered the least. On the other hand, the Alibaug Illegal Structures conflict was the third most widely covered, despite impacting a significantly smaller number of people.

What drives the media's coverage of social issues? | IDR (2)
What drives the media's coverage of social issues? | IDR (3)

Conflicts involving known entities tend to be covered more, irrespective of their role in the conflict. The Alibaug Illegal Structures conflict, for instance, involves people (presumably) from a certain wealth-based class. The core conflict pertains to the demolition of 160–170 illegal structures that had been built in violation of environmental norms. However, one of the bungalows belonged to Nirav Modi, and therefore a large chunk of coverage was driven by his name in the headlines. The reporting was thus driven by a known name, irrespective of the scale, severity, or, most interestingly, the role of that well-known person in the conflict.

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The next critical driver of coverage is the severity of the conflict. Among the conflicts we chose to study, the Thoothukudi Copper Plant issue was covered the most. In addition to being an urban conflict involving a known corporation, a key element driving its coverage was the fact that 13 people unfortunately lost their lives protesting against the plant. This particular event garnered the highest share of the coverage. Likewise, in the Manipur Bills conflict, nearly 60 percent of the coverage was devoted to the incident where several people were killed at the Churachandpur protests. While we may argue that the severity of the conflict is a contributing factor for wider coverage, it does not seem to be uniformly applicable, which brings us back to the potential urban–rural divide. In contrast to the Thoothukudi Copper Plant conflict, the Manipur Bills conflict, which affected the largest number of people and involved the loss of several lives, received the least coverage.

Media reporting is driven by reader interest

This disconnect could be attributed to the fact that the majority of the 40 million English newspaper readers reside in metropolitan centres, whereas the 470 million readers of regional newspapers are largely concentrated in smaller towns and rural areas. Since a majority of the readership of English-language media is centred in and around urban areas, covering issues that occur in close proximity to these readers is more important to them than potentially bigger conflicts that are unfolding in a distant, rural setting.

Our framework of reader interest driving coverage was applied to other contexts and issues, which revealed that the framework holds up. We studied the media coverage and response to the COVID-19 oxygen crisis. During the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in India, several fault lines, such as inadequate provisions of medical-grade oxygen, came to light. However, the talk on the oxygen crisis seemed to be centred around a few metropolitan areas, even though the problem itself was presumably nationwide. In order to confirm this and to derive insights, we examined the Twitter handles of nine media houses by scraping their tweets from the beginning of April 2021 to the end of May 2021—arguably the worst-hit period during the second wave. We filtered the tweets to see how many of them were related to the oxygen shortages; another round of filtering gave us tweets specifically about Delhi’s oxygen shortage.

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What drives the media's coverage of social issues? | IDR (4)

Of all the scraped tweets mentioning ‘oxygen’ during this time, Delhi’s share was about 30 percent. Considering that Delhi accounts for only 1 percent of India’s population, a 30 percent share seems inordinately high. The crisis would have been much worse in other, less urbanised regions, since health infrastructure in smaller towns and rural areas is likely to be poorer than in big cities like Delhi. Despite making up only 1 percent of the country’s population, Delhi accounted for 3.2 percent of total hospital beds, 2 percent of ICU beds, and 2 percent of ventilators available at all hospitals across India.

The spotlight given to Delhi confirmed the urban-centred nature of reporting driven by the preferences of an urban-based readership. By highlighting Delhi’s oxygen shortage, the media exerted its influence and pressure to force a response from policymakers. However, an improvement in Delhi’s oxygen situation may not necessarily have reflected a pan-India improvement of the crisis, which is what the tweet pattern would appear to suggest.

Our study presented two primary conclusions. First, reader interest plays a key role in shaping coverage. Second, what readers want to consume may or may not align with reality and with what needs more urgent redressal from a larger, countrywide perspective. Therefore, the media industry must perform a tough balancing act to stay profitable by giving people what they demand, while simultaneously covering information that people ought to know. A critical question to pose here is, even in an ideal world devoid of inherent media biases or influences, would reporting still be perfectly reflective of reality? Our research suggests that it would not; a wedge between reporting and reality would persist on account of the heterogeneity of readership.

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Know more

  • Watch this video to view the report’s primary findings at a glance.
  • Readthispaper to understand how audiences determine which news is relevant to them.
  • Read this article to understand how the focus on oxygen during the pandemic skewed donor priorities.


What is media coverage? ›

The term media coverage is used to refer to all blog articles, RSS feeds, video content or other types of digital content (produced by individuals or organisations other than your own company) where your brand, products or services are discussed or shown.

How do you get media attention for your cause? ›

Follow the three steps to set your cause up for better media coverage:
  1. Position yourself or others within your cause as experts.
  2. Stay in contact with relevant reporters.
  3. Make your website media friendly.

How do I get news coverage? ›

25+ expert tips to get press coverage
  1. Build rapport with journalists long before you need them. ...
  2. Pitch journalists rather than publications. ...
  3. Target freelance reporters. ...
  4. Digitize your press releases. ...
  5. Leverage Twitter. ...
  6. Stay on top of trends. ...
  7. Provide background information and visuals to the reporter. ...
  8. Offer product samples.

What are the types of media coverage? ›

What are the three types of media coverage? The three types of media coverage are owned, paid, and earned. Owned is your own media, paid is promotional media, and earned is unpaid coverage from other sources.

How do I attract social media attention? ›

11 Ways to Grow Your Social Media Audience
  1. Hold contests. ...
  2. Include a visual with every post. ...
  3. Share more video. ...
  4. Be proactive in listening to and responding to your online community. ...
  5. Change your Page profile photos and cover photos. ...
  6. Give people a reason to follow you. ...
  7. Encourage tagging. ...
  8. Use hashtags to get found.
24 Jan 2020

How can I promote media coverage? ›

  1. Send a handwritten thank you note to the blogger, editor or journalist. ...
  2. Ask your community to thank the blogger, editor or journalist. ...
  3. Connect with the writer on LinkedIn. ...
  4. Add the writer to your list. ...
  5. Invite the writer to your next event. ...
  6. Send the article to other journalists, press outlets and bloggers.

How do I increase media coverage of an event? ›

8 Tips to Get Your Special Event Covered by the Media
  1. Create a press kit tailored for the event. ...
  2. Send invitations to appropriate media outlets and press. ...
  3. Lists of story ideas or angles that will help journalists cover your event. ...
  4. Consider a public service announcement if your event is philanthropic.

What is another word for media coverage? ›

“The press coverage the event receives is invaluable, she said, but she suggested the industry also consider the strength of the subliminal message.”
What is another word for press coverage?
102 more rows

How is media coverage measured? ›

Another smart way to evaluate your media coverage is to compare it with other campaigns. That's where Share of Voice (SOV) comes in. SOV is a metric used to determine how you weigh up next to your competitors. It can provide insight into how much coverage your company receives in relation to that of your competitors.

What news coverage means? ›

News Coverage means any news program, news update, or news story, in any media format, devoted solely or primarily to the broadcasting or distribution of information about current events.

What is media coverage analysis? ›

Media coverage analysis allows you to measure the effectiveness of your communications and compare their performance against your peer group. Its reach spans owned, earned and shared media.

Why is media coverage important for an event? ›

It gets your message across to a wider audience.

The various forms of media – primarily television, newspapers and radio – spread and disseminate information. Getting your information into the media will spread your group's story further than it could be spread without media coverage.

What is media coverage bias? ›

Coverage bias when media choose to report only negative news about one party or ideology, Gatekeeping bias (also known as selectivity or selection bias), when stories are selected or deselected, sometimes on ideological grounds (see spike).

What is the role of media in our society? ›

The media plays an important role in shaping public awareness and providing information that shapes attitudes and public opinion. Media is an increasingly powerful tool whether it's television, radio, or the internet. Social media is quickly expanding its influence on all aspects of our lives.

What are the 3 types of media effects? ›

Lesson Summary
  • The direct effects theory, in which the media has direct effects and is responsible for society's ills.
  • The indirect effects theory, in which media exposure affects people in different ways.
  • The agenda-setting theory, in which the media determines what is important.
29 Oct 2021

What is the purpose of media? ›

However, the basic function of mass media remains the same: to provide audiences with information they need and want to know, for both informative and entertainment purposes. Communication professionals still rely on the media to distribute their company's news to large audiences.

What drives your attention in social media? ›

Reputation and social rank.

You don't just want to know how people feel about you, you also want others to know how people feel about you: How many friends and followers you have, and where you rank against others (leaderboards) feed into our sense of self-worth.

What techniques are used to attract and hold attention in media? ›

Marketers use these techniques to attract audience attention:
  • Rule of thirds and the golden ratio.
  • Color psychology.
  • Testimonials.
  • Placement and typography.
  • Visual path.
  • Association.
  • Emotion.
  • Demographic positioning.
11 Mar 2022

How do you use media coverage in a sentence? ›

There was extensive media coverage. But the new media coverage also signalled a new populism. Such criticism has received wide media coverage and is taken very seriously politically in donor countries. It was a case that generated hysterical, daily media coverage and comment.

What is the meaning of coverage in advertising? ›

Coverage is the percentage of ad requests that returned at least one ad. Generally, coverage can help you identify sites where AdSense isn't able to provide targeted ads.

How do you measure media impact value? ›

To calculate the impact of advertising campaigns, the MIV takes into account four main factors: the reach, prices charged by the media, quality of the media/platform, and quality of the content.

What are the three main factors that affect news coverage? ›

  • Consumers. Among the three major factors affecting news coverage are politicians, journalists, and. ...
  • right of rebuttal. ...
  • Fairness Doctrine. ...
  • Consumers. ...
  • politicians. ...
  • tends to be dominated by conservatives. ...
  • a news leak. ...
  • they are really an industry.

What does coverage area mean? ›

The geographic area within which a carrier provides service. The area within which a phone will complete calls using that carrier's network, or partner networks.

How do I check my media coverage? ›

Here are a few of our favorite free and easy options for tracking media coverage:
  1. #1: Google Alerts. One of the easiest — and best — ways to start tracking media coverage is to set up Google Alerts. ...
  2. #2: Talkwalker. ...
  3. #3: Bookmark Key Websites and Outlets. ...
  4. #4: Reach Out to Journalists.
1 Feb 2022

What is media coverage in sport? ›

They usually include interviews, match reviews and information on the team. Players and teams often use social media to engage with fans and keep them up to date. Podcasts can be listened to online and discuss various topics in sport. A blog discusses different topics in sport, they usually focus on one sport.

How do I get national media coverage? ›

Six Steps for Getting National Media Coverage
  1. Brand Your Message. Be crystal clear about who you are, what makes you unique and why the media should care. ...
  2. Develop Your Pitch. ...
  3. Find the Media. ...
  4. Respond Immediately. ...
  5. Be Prepared. ...
  6. Keep it Simple.
10 Jul 2022

Why is media coverage important in media relations? ›

Securing positive media coverage is an excellent way to establish credibility. An article in which you are positioned as a key opinion leader on a relevant issue can ultimately turn your potential customers and stakeholders into advocates of your cause, whatever it may be.

What is media's role in society? ›

Advances in communication, largely through the internet, have improved community access to information. Therefore the media play an important role in society as a source of information, but also as a “watchdog” or scrutiniser.

What changes might you need to make to help take steps toward increasing media coverage for female athletes? ›

It can be done though publishing great stories about women, through raising awareness on social media, through hiring more women, through making an unapologetically feminist sports podcast, through supporting new websites that give platforms to women's sports and female journalists, through publicly calling out news ...

How media coverage can positively affect sport? ›

Media focus can lead to increased standards in performance as well as improved behaviour as a result of increased media focus, thereby creating positive role models and sporting celebrities.


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