5 random observations on the design & content of mainstream English news brands of India

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It’s obvious that the internet, smart phone and the rise of social media have had a huge impact on news brands. Both print publications and television channels had to adapt to a new world and changing consumer preferences. The speed of news dissemination, ubiquity of the smartphone and some characteristics of social media platforms (two-way communication, making dishing out opinions easy and viral potential) have forced media brands to make changes to their service and delivery. They had to create a presence across platforms and devices – including a portal, social media feeds and create ‘content’ to ‘fill up’ this space. These disruptions have had far-reaching impact on the business of news.

Some changes over the last few years are common to many mainstream English news brands from India:

What’s the product – serious or vacuous news?

It’s natural that takers for serious news will be far lesser in number than those who prefer light, ‘fluffy’ or sensational news related to the entertainment industry. It’s true of cinema or literature. In the pre-digital era too, establishing a mainstream news brand with wide circulation was tough. Niche news brands existed back then also. I would imagine creation of the latter kind is relatively easier nowadays as witnessed by so many portals catering to interests such as movies, tech, celebrities, gossip, cricket, golf and more. If such brands were chasing buyers and circulation earlier now it’s about page views and stickiness. In this battle, which is linked to monetisation through advertising, brands are willing to compromise on everything from their core service to how it is presented.

The old world avatar of a serious news daily would have sections dedicated to business, sports, entertainment or even casual games such as crossword puzzles. General interest magazines would lead with a cover story across topic of the day. In the early days of television news, the tone of voice and presentation was very different compared to what it is today. In the digital world, the erstwhile ‘serious’ mainstream news brands with only a printed version as a product have been forced to adopt and ‘adapt’ to the pressures of the online monetisation business.

Advertising and paid subscription are the two avenues available for such brands. The former is relatively easier to implement (I guess) – inserting ad codes in every nook & corner of available real estate. Since it is linked to attracting viewers with ‘content’ – there too the easy way out is being adopted. Click bait headlines, titillating visuals and gossip from the entertainment industry are standard fare. Maybe all this is meant to appeal to demographic who has no residual positive imagery of a serious news brand. Who knows? I am not a millennial- who seem to be the most sought after target audience for everybody. I understand that PR industry folks are at play and content creators ‘manage’ and feed social media timelines across sports & entertainment industries. But for someone like it does feel jarring to come across such in one’s social media timeline. The dumbing down of news is truly upon us.

Taimur Ali Khan social media

And then’s there’s white noise galore – stuff meant to just fill up space and time.

Rashmika Mandanna wins hearts with her sweet gesture towards a fan.


All she did was reply to a fan post on with two heart emojis. There’s a minute-long video produced on this ‘news’. And if you see the page title, it adds another sentence before the headline: ‘Rashmika Mandanna Oops Moment’. The article itself has no mention of the ‘oops moment’ but one can guess the intent behind such tactics. Every trivial activity of a celebrity – visiting a gym to posting something on Instagram is news worthy.

Ranbir Kapoor opens car door for mom-to-be Alia Bhatt at Mumbai airport, fans say ‘best couple ever’


The footer at the portal of a leading news & TV channel looks like this – reminding me of the SEO tactics adopted by leading hospital chains too, cramming their pages with keywords like ‘Best orthopaedic surgeon in Bangalore’.

And then there’s the art (if we can call it that) of writing headlines. Writing headlines for the ‘entertainment’ section of India’s leading news brand is about stringing a sentence by choosing one of these templates:

  • breaks the internet
  • turns up the heat
  • raises temperatrues
  • gets brutally trolled
  • gives befitting reply to troll
  • spotted at the gym

Here’s another example of a video ‘produced’ for such news portals:

And the voice over of the video and the web-search friendly ‘description’ (source) is:

Pakistan is currently going through massive floods and landslides triggered by unprecedented monsoon rains. Amidst this, many Pakistani celebrities, including film ‘Raees’ actress Mahira Khan urged people on social media to extend their support to flood victims by contributing money. However, as soon as Mahira and others dropped a tweet appealing to contribute, Pakistani users started trolling them, asking what they were doing other than just putting up tweets. While one wrote, ‘only tweeting for what?? When will showbiz people contribute??’ while another said, ‘Mahira if you can help people in the flooding area, you do.’ For more news and updates, stay tuned to ETimes.

Obviously there is a huge ecosystem which creates such ‘content’ for established heritage news brands and I guess the brand managers are not seeing a problem here. Isn’t there a dichotomy in a brand straddling two kinds of news? As a reader, when I see the ‘anything goes’ approach to news, it impacts the brand perception as a non-serious’ brand. As a result I am hesitant to subscribe or opt for a payment slab as I fear no escape from trivial, vacuous stuff passing off as news.

Intrusive design with no concern for the user

When I say intrusive design, I don’t meant just the random placement of ads on a portal. Auto-playing videos, cluttered-layout, unending rows of sponsored posts, cramming every available space with text, video or animated graphic are all hallmarks of news portals. Their television avatars are an assault on the senses – blinding graphics, high decibel levels, breathless reporting, cantankerous panel ‘discussions’ and every news development as ‘Breaking News’ are hallmarks of virtually every channel (except WION perhaps).

Disjointed user experience across platforms

Some of the global news brands such as NYT, FT and The Economist have a bias against India by way of news reports. But there is no denying that in terms of user experience across devices they are leagues ahead of Indian brands. In fact, a unified user experience across versions – web, print and mobile does not seem to be a key concern at all for mainline news brands (with some exceptions).

Self-promotion as part of brand voice

The TRP ratings war and claims of who is No.1 is nothing short of comical in our news channels. It is one thing to claim leadership but to have interstitials which take a swipe at a competition channel during serious news coverage is something else. The tone of voice of such claims is so aggressive and rude that it makes me cringe. And to see it played out in-between news of tragic deaths or crimes shows no one is paying attention to context or holistic user experience. In the context of self-promotion one can’t help notice how every channel showers praise on itself claims exclusive credit for an ‘impact’.

I understand that the stakes are high and in a battle of survival, all is seen as ‘fair’. And I doubt if brands see any need for course correction as the observations above must be seen as a sign of success.

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