As journalists, we sometimes envy our readers. They know us better than we know them.
They identify many journalists by their bylines; they can put a face to many of us since our photographs often accompany the articles we write, or they see us on YouTube and social media and hear us on podcasts.
Readers learn a fair amount about our professional lives, too, through our work: The subjects we write about, the people we meet and speak to, even what we think – say, about the forthcoming Uttar Pradesh elections or the Aryan Khan case – since increasingly, journalists write opinion articles or are very active on social media, and we don’t hesitate to air our views on a large variety of topics.
On the other hand, our audience is relatively unknown to us—they may comment on our work or are social media butterflies (like us), but the majority remain in the dark, watching us, reading or listening to us, anonymously.
Who are they, we wonder.
Google and YouTube analytics provide invaluable audience information, but over the last four years, ThePrint has become curioser and curioser about the people who visit the website and make the effort to read and support our journalism. With so much media content available, why do they come to ThePrint?
In September 2021, we set out in search of our readers, their likes and dislikes, conducting an online Readers’ Survey between 10 and 20 September. At the time, I had promised to share the findings with all of you and that is what this column is about.
About the survey
Before, we get into the nitty-gritty of what you have told us, a big thank-you to all of those who took time out to participate in the survey. The response has been overwhelming, exceeding all expectations, and provides invaluable feedback.
As a result of the survey, I am now able to picture–sort of–ThePrint reader: There he is—yes, more men read ThePrint than women but that’s true of all news readership—in his mid-20s to 40s, either in a corporate-bureaucratic suit and tie, or in student jeans and T-shirts. Sometimes he has a professorial air about him, other times, he’s a journalist just like us, but he’s someone with his finger always on his iPhone/android and on the pulse of the world. Hello, Mr Reader.
Also, given that ThePrint’s core focus areas are politics, governance and strategic affairs, this reader is well-educated, and intellectually inquisitive about India and the world. That is both a compliment to and a challenge for ThePrint: Its content must be informed, in-depth and of a high standard to satisfy such readers.
Back to the survey: It was in two parts and could be accessed on the website and through promos on social media or by way of ThePrint’s daily and weekly newsletters to subscribers. In addition, there was a series of social media poll questions that covered the same ground as the overall survey. The objective was to capture as wide an audience as possible.
And oh my, how it succeeded: Over 1.35 lakh of you responded–the majority of replies were to social media poll questions, but over 4,000 people did answer the full survey—as a sample size that is very respectable.
There were 12 questions, simple and straightforward, which sought to find out whether ThePrint was on the right track, who were its readers, what did they read at ThePrint, how satisfied they were with what was on offer, and crucially, what more did they want, from us?
Well, quite a lot, as it happens.
But before that, let’s try to understand why readers come to ThePrint.
What you told us
One of the reasons why people read our news, according to the Readers’ Survey, is that most readers (above 80 per cent) trust ThePrint’s journalism. Admittedly, there is a section that doesn’t, but in these politically polarised times with deep communal, social and economic fissures running through the country, and, with a media that is divided in its support of different ideologies – I have received readers’ complaints that ThePrint is ‘biased’ – this is not surprising.
In terms of content, the survey tells us that what readers like to read most at ThePrint are news and views on politics and governance, diplomacy and strategic affairs – readers say they are keen to increase their grasp of such matters. ‘Cut the Clutter’, ‘National Interest’ – both by Editor-in-Chief, Shekhar Gupta – as well as opinion articles and explainers draw in many readers, probably because all four fall into the ‘knowledge’ category, our readers value.
Health, science and education, crime and justice also figure on the list of ‘must reads’.
But readers are looking for more. In reply to questions like, ‘How can we enhance your experience?’ and ‘What more should we do?’, the answers came back thick and fast. At one level, the requests related to technical and design issues, which they were dissatisfied with: Give us a mobile app, ad-free content, cleaner web design, better quality video and podcasts, faster site speed, et cetera.
Some complained that ThePrint wasn’t digital enough, that it was more like a newspaper, online. That’s why the requests for greater graphic, audio and video content.
ThePrint needs to respond positively to this feedback, since there was a sizeable section of respondents who complained about the unsatisfactory ‘digital’ experience.
But those wanting an app will remain disappointed for now: ThePrint has no immediate plans to launch one, though it is always on the cards.
On the editorial side, the demands ranged from wanting more stories on economy, business, technology, infrastructure, sports, China and the region and on the Indian diaspora (an interesting request), to a daily video/audio news bulletin, deep dives, investigations and more ground reports. Noted.
Well, ThePrint does considerable ground reporting already and has increased its sports coverage: During the recent T20 World Cup and Indian Premier League in Dubai, it carried daily news, data or feature stories on the competitions.
Also, in the coming months, I am told by the editors that coverage of the economy, business and infrastructure will increase as ThePrint adds more specialised reporters to its team.
There was a clamour for more shows like the immensely popular ‘Cut the Clutter’ and a knowledge section—these suggest that many students, would-be civil service aspirants come to ThePrint. Again, we need to listen to them.
A repeated request, and one I receive in Readers Editor mail too, was to restore the ‘Comments’ section with individual articles. In the summer, ThePrint removed this facility because journalists were being trolled with a lot of abusive comment, often personal. ThePrint is open to criticism, but abuse is uncalled for.
This has caused considerable heartburn for readers who feel they ought to be able to respond, immediately, to an article they read. There is a strong case for having a ‘Comments’ section again but given the volume of vicious messages received, it’s on hold for now.
However, please send all and any feedback to the Readers’ Editor, on YouTube or social media.
We are listening
From ThePrint’s perspective, another finding is heartening: Up to 25 per cent of respondents said they would be willing to pay for content. Thus far, ThePrint has been free but going forward the only independent, sustainable financial model is for the audience to pay for what it reads, watches or listens to. This has been a stumbling block for digital portals, since readers are reluctant to pay for online consumption when there’s so much ‘free’ news available.
That even one-quarter of our readers say they will pay something, is, therefore, a big step forward.
The Readers’ Survey has been an important reality check: It tells Team Print that the job is well begun but says readers want it to improve in lots of ways. It makes valuable suggestions on content, design, accessibility and reader usage.
However, for it to have any meaning, ThePrint must listen to its readers and implement ideas that are doable and fit into the editorial profile of the website.
Let’s hope this is the beginning of better things to come.
Shailaja Bajpai is ThePrint’s Readers’ Editor. Please write in with your views, complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org