What Drives Media Reporting?

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Media plays an important role in informing and shaping public opinion around major issues. Media, thus, has the ability to 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 ideological inclinations of the media houses to covert or overt pressure from stakeholders like the government, businesses, and communities. The demand side—what the readers prefer and want to read—is largely missing in this narrative. Being a competitive and profit-making industry, the demand dynamics play a pivotal role in deciding what gets covered by the media, and what issues get more space than others.

The paper has two main conclusions. First, reader interest plays a key role in shaping coverage. Second, what readers want to consume may or may not be in consonance with reality and with what needs more urgent redressal from a larger, country-wide perspective. For example, 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 tweeting pattern would appear to suggest. In a sense, the system was let off the hook by the media once the crisis neared resolution in Delhi, even though scrutiny of public health management should have continued until the problem was fully addressed for the entire country. This may have been sub-optimal from a societal perspective. It is, thus, a tough balancing act for the media industry—how to stay profitable by giving people what they demand, while simultaneously covering information that people ought to know.