Newspaper Coverage of Dementia in India: An Exploratory Analysis (Part 1)

Everyone agrees that public awareness of dementia needs to be better, but is it improving? How good are the available ways of spreading information? After failing to locate studies on dementia awareness levels and trends, I decided to do a desk-based study to get some insight. This was my way to start understanding awareness levels and trends in India (some thoughts on this were shared in an earlier blog post.)

For this study, I tried to understand how newspapers in India mention and explain dementia and related care and how effective their coverage was for spreading awareness and useful information to laypersons.

Through my study, I looked at quantity, quality, and scope of coverage of the published articles. I then placed them in the context of awareness and support to laypersons.

The study approach, observations,and suggestions are detailed in this post and the next, along with specific data, but for a quick reference, here is a peek:

Key observations:

  • I found a vast difference between the coverage of dementia in Hindi newspapers and English newspapers. Coverage in Hindi was much, much lower. It was also different in the mix of article types. Given that Hindi newspapers lead in both readership and circulation in India, understanding more about this aspect can be very useful.
  • The scope of coverage of dementia and care omits many important aspects related to dementia: As such articles that mention dementia (or Alzheimer’s Disease) increase familiarity with the term ‘dementia’ and imply a serious medical condition. But in the articles studied, most stayed at this level–they just mentioned the words or added an accompanying shorthand phrase (typically “memory loss” or “भूलने की बीमारी”). That is, most articles did not provide any friendly description of the symptoms or other aspects of dementia or related care. Even the very few information-carrying articles available ignored or barely mentioned important aspects such as the range of changed and difficult behaviors, progression and duration of dementia, the critical role of care, and what caregivers need to learn and plan for.
  • Misinformation, myths, exaggerated claims, and misleading headlines were common. They could be seen in all types of articles, even informative ones. Such misinformation can mislead, or even harm, negating a lot of the benefits found in some of the more useful articles. Some stigmatizing depictions were also present, often in catchy and witty ways that can “stick”.

The findings can help identify many actions that can improve coverage in newspapers. For example, interviewees and speakers can counter stigma and debunk myths. They can be especially alert while communicating concepts that reporters tend to misunderstand/ misquote/ misrepresent. Reporters can be given supplemental written material to help them write more useful articles. Areas that are typically not covered in articles can be specifically included while interacting with reporters.

(Read the full blog entry for detailed observations and suggestions)

In this Part 1 of the two-part blog post, topics covered are:

The second part provides the content analysis (of 650+ Hindi and English articles), observations, conclusions, and suggestions. Sections in this are: (1) Approach to assessing a published piece, (2) Perspective 1: Article types, their relative proportions, and the way they cover dementia, (3) Perspective 2: Content effectiveness for each aspect relevant for awareness/ information, (4) Suggestions to improve the situation, (5) In conclusion, and (6) References. Read it here: Newspaper Coverage of Dementia in India: An Exploratory Analysis (Part 2)

Why study newspaper coverage

Common morning-walk sight: security guard reading a newspaper

The Neilson readership survey, 2014, shows that daily newspapers are a big part of media consumption. Reading newspapers is part of the morning ritual for many literate people across social and economic classes. Many readers any assume anything printed in a newspaper is correct. This makes newspapers a powerful medium for reaching out.

Editors commission and approve articles based on the availability of information and events to publish (supply) and what they think readers want or like (demand).

Useful articles result in desirable outcomes and form a reinforcing positive loop. Desirable outcomes include better diagnosis-seeking, better coping/ supporting/ living with dementia, openly sharing experiences, and removal of negativity and stigma. This means increased dementia-related demand, and perhaps some corresponding increase in the availability of services and events. All this in turn increases demand for informative articles and event reports, hence the chance of more pieces being published.

Misleading or stigmatizing articles form a reinforcing negative loop. Some articles are unproductive and harmful. They mislead readers by giving wrong or confusing information, or by stigmatizing the condition. This creates undesirable outcomes. Families may hide dementia and related challenges, or face criticism from others. Jokes and mockery pushes families into silence. Newspapers may pander to this aspect and increase sensational or stigmatizing portrayals, or may assume there is no demand and reduce all coverage.

My study looks at newspaper coverage in quantitative and qualitative terms to get some idea of the current status, and to explore how coverage can be changed to create a stronger positive loop.

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Highlights of the Approach Used

The objective was to understand what newspaper readers learn about dementia on reading the top newspapers of India. I looked for impact on two categories of laypersons: (1) general public, not particularly interested in dementia and (2) readers who want information/ solutions related to dementia (like caregivers). The steps followed were:

  • selecting the newspapers to study
  • collecting published articles that met my criteria
  • looking at the quantity of articles, trends, and also analyzing the content
  • using the observations to derive suggestions for making newspaper coverage more effective for dementia awareness/ support.

This was a single-person desk-based study, not validated by anyone. My observations on content are influenced by my perspective. I have shared my salient observations for others to consider, and explore further, or do independent studies, etc.

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Selection of Newspapers Studied

I considered the readership and circulation data available on the Wikipedia pages. Hindi newspapers top both the circulation and the readership lists, as do newspapers in other Indian languages. English papers occupy only 3 of the top 20 positions in circulation, and 2 of the top 18 in readership. I decided to study the top three English newspapers and the top three Hindi newspapers:

  • English Newspapers Studied: Times of India (TOI), The Hindustan Times (HT), and The Hindu (TH)
  • Hindi Newspapers Studied: Dainik Bhaskar (DB), Dainik Jaagran(DJ), and Hindustan (LH)

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Gathering Data on Published Pieces

To understand the way newspaper readers may encounter information on dementia and related care, I looked for published pieces available online that mentioned “dementia” OR “Alzheimer” using English and Hindi spellings. I did not attempt manually reading printed copies of newspapers. The steps were:

  • Obtaining links from the newspaper’s search feature using various search combinations.
  • Supplementing this set with Google advanced search where I looked for the words within the newspaper site.
    • For Hindi papers, I processed all results for all years for which data was available
    • For English, the results were too many and full of duds, so I confined myself to the past one year (2015). I checked each search result page from Google till I had processed all search result pages or reached a point where two consecutive search result pages yielded no new link.
  • Combining results and removing duplicates (identical title and content)

Limitations: (1) This approach cannot collect print articles that have not been made available online. (2) It depends on various search engines to locate relevant pieces.

Observations during the search:

Different newspapers used different approaches for their online presence. They differed in terms of what they make available online, how much old data was available, and their search interface and options. Searching the Hindi newspaper sites was especially tricky and did not work well for some newspapers, but fortunately, Google advanced search worked very well.

I obtained different but overlapping results from the two search methods I used (newspaper site search feature and Google advanced search).

Fortunately, by combining the multiple searches, I was able to get a good base of articles within and across newspapers. These results represent the type pf articles in the newspapers and also give an approximation of the proportion between various article types.

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Search Results Obtained (indicates quantity)

(all data was gathered during the project execution dates: January 11-31, 2016)

I got 234 articles from Hindi newspapers. These were the articles I retrieved from all the three top Hindi newspapers, spanning whatever was available online across the years. (Note: different newspapers had started their online archival in different years).

  • The newspaper-wise count: [DB]: 77 articles from 2012 to 2015, [DJ]: 73 articles, from 2011 to 2015, and [LH]: 84 articles from 2009 to 2015
  • Since all newspapers had archival in place for more than three years, I combined the results to see data for last three years (2013, 2014, 2015). The distribution was: 48(2013), 46(2014), and 78 (2015).

Search results were much higher for English newspapers, so I confined my English-article study to articles published in 2015. I got 419 articles from English newspapers for all the three selected newspapers, pertaining to one year (2015).

  • The newspaper-wise numbers of retrieved articles was: [TOI]: 134 articles, [TH]: 195, [HT]: 90, all pertaining to 2015.
  • To get an idea of trends, I tried searching for data corresponding to 2010 also, but was only able to obtain it for one newspaper, TH: I obtained 195 results (for year 2010).

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Summary of the Quantitative Analysis

Here are the preliminary observations, based purely on the quantity of coverage:

  • Hindi coverage (in quantity) is well behind that of the English coverage. The article count I got for 2015 was 78 for the top three Hindi newspapers, and 419 for the top three English newspapers. Even taking into account the fact that the searches may not have helped me retrieve all the articles, this difference is significant.
  • The data does not confirm that coverage is increasing over the years for either Hindi or for English newspapers.
    • The Hindi newspaper article counts for the last three years are too low to state that the 2015 figure indicates an upward trend in Hindi newspapers and is not just a fluctuation or a result of a changed archival method.
    • The only English newspaper data available (TH) showed no change from 2010 to 2015.

Note, however, that what really matters is good quality coverage and lack of stigmatizing coverage. All 650+ articles were analyzed to understand this, and I share my observations and suggestions in the next post. (the link will be included once the post is available)

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Thanks for reading!

Part two of this blog post is now available. Read it here Newspaper Coverage of Dementia in India: An Exploratory Analysis (Part 2)

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About Swapna Kishore
I'm a writer, blogger, and resource person for dementia/ caregiving in India. I have also been a dementia caregiver for well over a decade, and am deeply concerned about dementia care in India; on this blog I share my personal caregiving journey, my experiences as a resource person for dementia care, and musings on life, aging, dementia in India, and such sundries. More about me and the work I do for dementia care. For structured information on dementia, for discussions, tools and tips on caregiving issues, for resources in India, and for caregiver interviews, please check my website (or its Hindi version, For videos on dementia caregiving (English and Hindi), check the youtube channel here.

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