Evaluating Attention and Influence for Development Topics in India

Aashka Dave, Anushka Shah, Fernando Bermejo


May 30, 2019

In a 2016 report, the McKinsey Global Institute selected five developmental opportunities in India including higher living standards, sustainable urbanization, Indian-based manufacturing, harnessing technological growth, and empowering Indian women.

Since then, the Indian economy — currently the fastest growing economy in the world — has outpaced its peers. A recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) highlighted how India’s economic growth exceeds that of every other G20 economy.

This unparalleled growth, in a country with a population of over 1.3 billion people, underscores the developmental opportunities the country faces; such economic growth enhances the need for development of key wellbeing indicators and resources.

To better understand the media discourse surrounding development topics in India, we investigated how the mainstream media in India covers development topics across a number of sectors in the country.

With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, our team of researchers at the MIT Media Lab and Media Ecosystems Analysis Group set out to explore how development coverage takes shape. We used Media Cloud, an open-source media analysis platform, to investigate mainstream Indian media news coverage of 11 development topics over the 18-month period between January 1, 2017 and July 1, 2018.

Our Methods

The topics investigated were:

  • State programs supported by the Indian government
  • Access to digital financial services
  • Women-led community organizations
  • Women’s economic empowerment  
  • Social determinants of health and wellness
  • Family planning, maternal and neonatal health, and children’s healthcare
  • Vaccination
  • Nutrition
  • Water, sanitation and hygiene
  • Diseases and conditions, including enteric and diarrheal diseases, HIV/AIDS, malaria, neglected infectious diseases, pneumonia, tuberculosis and polio
  • Agricultural growth development

We created robust queries for the above topics and searched Media Cloud’s collection of national Indian news sources for each development topic. This collection is comprised of over 130 English-language media outlets, including major daily print publications such as the Times of India and Indian Express, digital-native news outlets such as The Wire and Scroll.in, and broadcast outlets such as NDTV and Times Now.

We sought to analyze attention, influence and language for each of these topics in order to better understand (1) the volume of coverage for development topics, (2) the influence that various publications carry in regards to development coverage, and (3) key frames or narratives for development topics.

Our Findings


Our research revealed a marked increase in coverage of development topics in Indian news media over the 18-month period. This was measured as percentage of stories dedicated to the topic over all the stories published by the media collection in that time period. Between January 2017 and July 2018, each individual development topic received increased media attention. In other words, the volume of news coverage rose for each development topic. This increase was measured in six-month increments using the total number of stories found for each topic in our source collection.

Growth in media attention by topic

This finding demonstrates that development topics in India are receiving increased news attention. The development topics that attracted the most attention in total were water, sanitation and hygiene; government-supported state programs; and family planning, maternal and neonatal health, and children’s healthcare.


The three most influential Indian news sources were: (1) The Times of India, (2) Indian Express, and (3) The Better India. We reached this conclusion using a three-part methodology based on factors including the attention given to our selected development topics, digital audience size for each news outlet, and Facebook shares for selected topics.

To assess attention given to specific development topics, we used Media Cloud to determine the percentage of stories written about each development topic by each news source in our collection. Audience size was based on average monthly visits to that source using data from SimilarWeb. Facebook shares refers to the total number of Facebook shares received by a source for all stories on a given topic. We then aggregated the ranks across all three parameters to produce a list of the ten most influential media sources related to development coverage.


We found that media coverage of development topics is driven by three factors: political attention, research studies, and lifestyle and wellness frames.*

Political attention was defined as quotes about politicians commenting on development topics, development initiatives led by the government, and legislation that affected the selected development topics.

Research study-based coverage was comprised of reports on new research findings relevant to development topics. These were often the driving factor for editorial and feature pieces across publications. More specifically, reports were often used to cover family planning, child and maternal healthcare, vaccination coverage and coverage of various diseases.

Lifestyle and wellness frames were most often found when publications covered topics related to nutrition and state programs. Based on other Media Cloud research our team has conducted, lifestyle and wellness frames also trend more frequently on social media than the other frames and narratives found during this project.


These findings demonstrate that a variety of development topics are receiving attention in the mainstream Indian media. In addition, they highlight potential avenues for growth of development coverage and provide valuable framing insight that could be used to inform further news coverage and the communications strategy of development initiatives.

As the Indian economy continues its growth trajectory and development in the country continues, we expect development reporting to grow and expand accordingly. This research helps inform media and communications strategy going forward and will serve as the basis for further research on development coverage in India. Feel free to reach out with questions and comments on this project!

*We selected a random sample of 100 stories for each development topic. We then categorized the stories into a general news type category which covered the types of coverage (ex: straight/hard news, feature story, editorial) and a more specific subcategory which flagged types of stories within those formats (ex: news stories, profiles, opinions).