Taking stock

Published : Jan 15, 2010 00:00 IST

A QUICK look at the distribution of Frontline stories by broad content groups brings out a few interesting features. In an exercise undertaken in-house, all the stories that have appeared in Frontline since the inception of the magazine were categorised as belonging to a few broad content groups. It needs to be kept in mind that some arbitrariness is inevitable in any such exercise at grouping.

The stories were initially classified into the following groups: National issues (primarily political issues); world affairs; economy; environment; gender; social issues; communalism; public health and medicine; education; science and technology; nuclear issues; history; judiciary; culture; and others (a residual category).

Subsequently, some categories were combined. Gender, social issues, communalism, public health and medicine, education, history and judiciary were brought together under the category social and development issues. Science and technology, nuclear issues and environment were combined into one group. Culture as a category was retained, but it must be noted that the bulk of this category consists of book reviews.

Table 1 shows the distribution of Frontline stories by the broad content groups. Several interesting points emerge from the table. First, Frontline must be rather unique among the print magazines in India and possibly elsewhere in that between half and three-fifths of all stories that appear have to do with national issues or global affairs.

Interestingly, the share of stories classified as concerning world affairs, after dipping from 22 per cent in 1985-89 to around 18 per cent during the 1990s, is back again in the decade of 2000-09 to the same level as in the second half of the 1980s. Even 18 per cent of all stories being on world affairs is extraordinary and brings out the importance rightly assigned by Frontline to keeping its readers informed of global developments through analytical articles and stories.

After an initial period of exceptionally generous coverage of issues relating to the economy, the share of stories relating to the economy has remained steady at around 5.5 per cent to 6 per cent. Keeping in mind the analytical character of Frontline stories on the economy, one can see that this is indeed a major contribution to public education. The share of stories on the environment, science and technology remain consistently significant at 7 to 8 per cent over the past two decades, after having been a little higher in the early period of Frontline.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the evolution of Frontlines story profile is the remarkable increase in the share of stories pertaining to social and development issues in recent years. This is brought out both in Table 1 and even more distinctly in Table 2, which compares the shares of stories classified into different content groups during the decades 1990-99 and 2000-09.

The information brought together in Table 2 shows the significantly greater share of stories on social and developmental issues in the current decade as compared with the 1990s. This can be interpreted as reflecting the widely shared concern over the social, political and gender dimensions of mass deprivation in India despite rapid economic growth.

It also reflects the impact of the widening and serious engagement of eminent social scientists and thinkers as well as activists and policymakers across the world with the social dimensions of development as much as with its economic dimensions. This is also reflective of Frontlines commitment to the creation of awareness and the promotion of reasoned discussion on such issues.

The fact that the political agenda in India, thanks to the active intervention of both the political Left and a large number of social movements, has expanded in recent times to include issues of gender, caste, education and health, should also be seen as a factor contributing to the changes under discussion. It is a fact, nevertheless, that such concerns rarely find prominent space or presence in most of the print media in India.

With inputs from S. Dorairaj, Romila Sudhakar and Sashikala Asirvatham

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