Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 2 : 1 March 2002

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editor: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.




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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai


V. Geetha Kumary, Ph.D.


Hardt (1981) writes, 'Communication becomes a sine qua non of human existence and growth of the society. The newspaper press rises to a powerful institution in the development of western civilization; it is the medium for exchange of ideas and it facilitates the time-and space-binding activities of the society. The press, as a technological invention or as a political medium, plays a major role in the definition of the reality for the individual as well as for a nation; it supplies identification and formulates public opinions; and it supplements industrial and economic progress as an indispensable organizer of public sentiments.'


Newspapers in Indian languages have played a very crucial role in the history of modern India. The British India administration was always worried about the impact of the vernacular press in India, and the then rulers saw in it potential threat and present danger to their authority. The Vernacular Press Act promulgated by the British in early twentieth century sought to regulate the vernacular press, but it led to greater awareness among the Indian masses about the need to attain freedom from the British rule. During the 1977 national emergency also, there were attempts to muzzle the vernacular press. The Indian vernacular press has grown tremondously in the recent past and they adopt various styles and methods to enlarge their readership. One of the ways that they seek to achieve a larger clientele for their papers is to present catchy captions with valuable information. In this paper I propose to study the captions adopted in the Indian vernacular press and relate these captions to certain underlying variables that regulate the coinage and use of the captions. I do this with a focused study of three leading daily newspapers published in Malayalam in the state of Kerala.

In Kerala, there are approximately 1576 newspapers in circulation! Among these, only a few newspapers are widely circulated with a good number of readers. The major newspapers in Kerala include Malayala Manorama Malayala Manorama, 10,13,590 copies!with 10,13,590 copies,

Mathrubhumi Mathrubhumi, 7,18,729 copies! with 7,18,729 copies,

Kerala Kaumudi Kerala Kaumudi, 1,46,051 copies! with 1,46,051 copies, and Deshabhimani with 1,49,037 copies as per the ABC report for January-June 1998 (Publications Division, 2000. p.435).


What qualities contribute to the popularity of a newspaper? Obviously, within the Kerala context, the communal history or origin of the particular newspaper or the political affiliation of the newspaper has played a crucial role in the past. However, as these newspapers have grown into larger institutions, the importance of the communal background of the readership is steadily declining, and other factors such as the way the news is presented, how soon the "news" is put out, and how innovative is the presentation and coverage of the news become very important.


For finding an answer to the question of popularity, I began to analyze some selected news items reported in the first three newspapers (Malayala Manorama, Mathrubhumi, and Kerala Kaumudi) mentioned above. My purpose in doing this analysis was to bring out the salient features or the distinctiveness of the individual newspapers that might have had a direct bearing on the popularity scale of the individual newspapers. Specifically, I employed the following important factors to analyze a particular news item.
  1. What are the different techniques these papers use to attract the readers?
  2. To what extent they have succeeded in retaining the originality or the fundamental aspects of the particular news item even as they seek sensationalize or do something to it to attract a wider readership?
  3. Whether there is any personal interest or political bias in reporting?
  4. How much or what kind of freedom the reporter has taken to report the item?
  5. Whether the readers of these news items are able to get a clear and true picture of the situation through the reporting?
  6. Other relevant questions.


According to the Whorfian framework, the categories of language impose a mental/ideological grid on its speakers' perception of reality. 'Language and ideology are thus inseparable, and given the present relations of ownership and control of the press, newspapers are likely to present a version of social conflict that is ideologically biased in favor of the existing socio economic order and its concomitant relations of power and privilege. However, to conceive of news reports as ideological also implies that their accounts of events appear, as a natural unquestionable truth' (Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, Vol.5). I believe that this statement is largely true. A news reporter is very much part of the social milieu, and he has internalized assumptions that may color his reporting.


All the newspapers may be equally in a hurry to report an important news item. Thus in the first day what comes in the front page may usually contain some assumptions of the reporter also. In the following days, when the news gets analyzed by the experts the first day's assumption may be changed.

According to Simon-Vandenbergen (1981), there are two types of headlines, namely, news-style headlines and free style headlines. News-style headlines are given on the front page and are of purely informative in nature. Headlines that express the editor's views or comments on a particular situation are of free-style type. Different papers use different techniques to make a headline effective. Mostly they use attractive terms and interrogative forms, etc., as headlines in order to attract the attention of the readers.


The following illustration may be noted as an example. On June 23, 2001 the Mangalapuram-Chennai mail met with an accident while crossing the Kadalundi Bridge in Kozhikode district of Kerala state. In that accident around 45 people had lost their lives.

Three different newspapers published in Kerala carried this news as given below.

  1. Kerala Kaumudi came out with the caption train pulhayileekk maRinnu niravadhi maraNam. 'So many people died as the train fell into the Kadalundi river'.
  2. Malayala Manorama reported through the caption cenne meyil kaTalundipulhayil viiN 35 maranam. '35 people died as Chennai mail fell into Kadalundi river'.
  3. In Mathrubhumi, the title reads as cenne meyil kaTalunDipulayil viiN 43 maraNam. '43 people died as Chennai mail fell into Kadalundi river'.


All the three papers had given front-page captions followed by pictures. As opposed to Kerala Kaumudi, the other two newspapers gave even the approximate number of people who have lost their lives. This type of reporting always could give maximum information to the reader at a glance.

The front page of all the three newspapers on that day was carrying only this news. Except Kerala Kaumudi, the other papers continued to explain the same news with more tragic pictures in the inside pages also. Malayala Manorama went a step further by giving an editorial with the heading reyilve: alambhavam tanne ka:ranam, 'The reason is railway's negligence'. Here the editor is taking his own freedom to say something about the reason for the accident.

We notice here that these papers used different techniques to attract the attention of the readers and the potential buyers of the newspapers to the news. All the three papers had given the news in big and bold letters. Except Kerala Kaumudi, the other two papers used red colored fonts or background to highlight the subheadings, and had given colored photographs of the incident.



While analyzing the lexical items selected by the three papers for the headlines, it becomes clear that the headlines given in Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhumi were more effective. These papers could succeed efficiently in summarizing the news item and the heading carried a good catchy word that enabled the readers with quick reading and comprehension. For instance, the entire news item was captured in the following heading, cenne meyil kaTalundipulayil viiN 35 maranam. '35 people died as Chennai mail fell into Kadalundi River'. In addition to this, the editorial that appeared in Malayala Manorama carried a viewpoint that was the result of the situational analysis by the editorial board. This technique too attracts the readers.


The news of the arrest of the former Tamil Nadu chief minister also was reported differently in the three newspapers. On June 30, 2001, K. Karunanidhi, the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, was arrested and imprisoned by the Tamil Nadu police in a manner that was widely viewed as ruthless. The three newspapers reported this news of midnight arrest differently. All the three papers reported this news in the front page with big captions and subtitles. Each paper had taken its own freedom to select the lexical items, and by that way each paper tried to make the headlines attractive.

All the papers had given importance to the main news- - the arrest of Karunanidhi - - in their captions. But Kerala Kaumudi had given more importance to the manner of arrest by giving the caption as, karuNa:nidhikk kru:ra pi:Danam: jayililaTaccu 'Karunanidhi cruelly harassed and imprisoned.' And this paper deviated from the Simon-Vandenbergen's definition of news-style headlines by using the caption that was similar in appearance to the first headline: kriminalino:Tupo:lum ka:Tta:tta kruramuRakaL 'subjected to cruelties unfit for even third rate criminals', which is having some rhetoric sense. Photographs of the agonized Karunanidhi were given here.

Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhumi had given importance to the arrest by giving the captions like (b) and (c) respectively. (b) karuNa:nidhiye jayililaTaccu 'Karunanidhi imprisoned.' (c) karuNa:nidhiye jayililaTaccu; raNTu ke:ndra mantrima:rum aRasRRil. 'Karunanidhi imprisoned; two central ministers also got arrested by the police'.

Malayala Manorama and Kerala Kaumudi present the news item with headlines that are straightforward and readily accessible to the readers. These captions succeeded in conveying the news in simple words to the general public. Kerala Kaumudi, on the other hand, used a substandard lexical form like alinna:Ttam in its caption as, ne:ta:kkaLkk ne:re po:li:sinRi alinna:Ttam ('D.M.K. leaders face police atrocities') that brings the emotional and dramatic elements to the news.


The news related to American war on terrorism came with different titles in these three newspapers. The news story was about the American president's rejection of the proposal made by his Pakistani counterpart to stop the war during the Ramzan time, and the reinforcement of their aerial attacks with much more intensity even on the previous day. This news reported in these papers may be analyzed as follows.

The news came with the caption Ramasanu munpe: yudham ti:Rkka:n, 'America is planning the cease-fire before Ramzan' in Malayala Manorama.

Kerala Kaumudi reported the same as parakke bo:mbing, 50 maraNam 'Bombing everywhere, 50 killed'. This was the main caption. A second caption related to the war was as ramza:n ve:Layilum a:kramaNam tuTara:n sa:dhyata, 'War possibility is there even during Ramzan time'.

Mathrubhumi used yet another style in its caption as ramza:n ka:latt a:kramaNam pa:Tillenna pa:k nirde:sam ame:arikka talli, 'America rejected Pak's proposal of ceasefire during Ramzan time'.

Here the three papers used different titles to report the same news. Malayala Manorama's caption suggested that America was planning to have a ceasefire before Ramzan though there was no positive sign from the USA for a ceasefire. Probably after observing the sudden increase in the intensity of air strike, the reporter must have foreseen a decision by the USA to stop the attack before Ramzan. Such type of speculation is also part of the techniques adopted by the newspaper to attract the attention of the readers. That may be the reason to give the title as Ramsa:nu munpe: yudham ti:rkka:n ni:kkam, 'America is planning the ceasefire before Ramzan'. Here the caption appears to have been given as a result of the news analysis and not as an attempt to report the incident.

The captions of Kerala Kaumudi and Malayala Manorama are general in the sense that they used the real happenings as heading. Kerala Kaumudi's main caption is different from the captions given in the other two papers; Kerala Kaumudi tended to give the importance to the loss of lives during the bombing. Kerala Kaumudi had given only a second preference to the news that America rejected Pak's proposal of ceasefire during Ramzan time. That is why the paper had given the news as a second caption, ramza:n ve:Layilum a:kramaNam tuTara:n sa:dhyata, 'War possibility is there even during Ramzan time'. Here the reporter is assuming that, due to the rejection of the ceasefire proposal, the war might continue even during Ramzan time.

Mathrubhumi's caption also give importance to the ceasefire proposal but the focus was on giving the main news straight as caption without any further deliberate analysis, ramza:n ka:latt a:kramaNam pa:Tillenna pa:k nirde:sam ame:arikka taLLi, 'America rejected Pak's proposal for ceasefire during Ramzan time'.


The analysis of the captions used in these three newspapers makes it evident that the newspapers were trying to cover the main news giving it prime importance. In giving the captions, the three papers had adopted at least two different styles. Malayala Manorama and Kerala Kaumudi were giving different statements in their captions for the same news. These captions were given after analyzing the main news and the developments in the war thereafter. Each paper was giving some clarification for their statement. But the analysis made by Malayala Manorama proved to be wrong because the war continued with the same force and intensity during the Ramzan period also. Even though the analysis was wrong, it could attract people's attention through this different and hopeful caption.


Another news related to the war that was given on October 30, 2002 in these three papers may be analyzed as follows. On October 30, the Pakistani supporters of the Taliban captured or took over a border town. This was the main news in the media. The three newspapers reported this news with different captions. Malayala Manorama had given the main title as pa:kk vimataR atiRtti paTTaNam piTiccu, 'Pakistani dissenters captured (or took over) the border town'. Kerala Kaumudi reported the news with the caption ta:liba:n anuku:likaL pa:k vima:natta:vaLam piTiccu 'The Taliban supporters captured (or took over) the Pakistani aerodrome'. Mathrubhumi used yet another caption to report the same news as ta:liba:n anuku:likaL pa:k paTTaNam piTiccu. 'The Taliban supporters captured (or took over) the Pakistani town'.


In these reports, Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhumi did the same type of lexical selection in their captions. Here Malayala Manorama's caption carried more clarity (by way of additional information) because the captured town was Shilas, that is situated near the Afghan border. Therefore, by the addition of the lexical term atiRtti 'border,' the reader may able to situate the town more easily than by using only pa:k paTTaNam 'Pakistani city' as in Mathrubhumi. The caption given by Kerala Kaumudi is vague because it was only saying that a Pakistani aerodrome, not the whole town, was captured or took over by the Taliban supporters. In this reporting also, Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhumi had given better captions than Kerala Kaumudi. Note, however, that one could also argue as to whether such specificity and additional information about the location, etc., was indeed necessary for the readers. It is possible that, in the perception of the editors of Kerala Kaumudi, their readership was interested in the basic theme of the news and not the actual location, etc. Perhaps the editors would have taken greater interest in specifying the location of the town if this incident had happened in some Persian Gulf countries where there is a substantial Malayali population. The readership profile of Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhumi perhaps could have influenced their editors to choose a different coverage and style.


Yet another analysis reveals that Malayala Manorama tends to give more importance to the international affairs in their main captions, than the news about the state (Kerala) affairs. On October 27, these three papers analyzed different news items in their main captions. Malayala Manorama gave prime importance to the American war on terrorism with the caption kama:nDaReta:liba:n vadhiccu, 'The Taliban killed the commander appointed by the U.S.' Kerala Kaumudi's main caption was maNDyayil bas taDa:kattil vi:Nu 50 maraNam '50 people killed in Mandya when the bus fell into a river'. In Mathrubhumi, the main caption was bhi:karavirudha niyamattinu van etiRppu, 'Big protest against the antiterrorist law.' Here we see that these three papers took different subjects for their headline reporting. Except Malayala Manorama the other two papers selected national affairs for their main news. Mathrubhumi tried to highlight the provincial affairs by reporting on the happenings in the State Legislative Assembly, while Kerala Kaumudi chose to report on the bus accident that occurred in the neighboring state of Karnataka.


I selected three kinds of news items for our analysis: local news, national news, and international news. We noticed that the captions chosen by the news papers for each group appeared to be deliberately different lexical choices and different styles, according to the reporters' skill or the editorial board's policy, perhaps based on the perception the writers and the decision makers had about their clientele. The analysis reveals that the reporters in general are competing to use more attractive lexical terms in their captions to attract the attention of the readers. In addition to this, they seem to avoid any negative reporting and they try to add some positive punch to develop some solidarity with the reading public. This is clearly seen in Malayala Manorama's reporting about the ceasefire as follows Ramsa:nu munpe: yudham ti:rkka:n ni:kkam, 'America is planning for the ceasefire before Ramzan'. With this kind of speculated reporting, some kind of hope or expectation is created in the readers regarding the ceasefire before Ramzan. It is observed that with this type of analytical reporting that keeps in mind the mood of the readers, the reading public may get attracted towards the newspaper. This definitely contributes not only to the sale of the paper but also to the popularity of the paper.

From the analysis it is evident that the newspapers are competing with each other for their popularity. For fulfilling this need, they try to become more people-friendly in their reporting. To attract the readers, they use different techniques such as giving speculative captions that carry positive thoughts, which may please the general public.

Clarity in reporting is another feature that the newspapers are trying to develop in order to attract the readers. The analysis of different types of captions presented in this paper indicates that the circulation of a newspaper may be related to the clarity in their reporting. If the caption given about an important incident is clear, while being comprehensive, in some sense, with all the relevant information, ease of reading and better comprehension may result. This, in its turn, may keep the readers glued to their chosen newspaper.

The newspapers are keen in reporting the current news item as fast as they can, and as comprehensive as they can make it. In this they compete with each other. The readers will always look for the news once it breaks, and they will prefer the paper that satisfies and meets their need and expectation.

The captions in the newspapers tend to change according to the situation. The newspapers will give priority to the current incidents to get people's attention. They may change the captions according to the situation, mood and environment.

*** *** ***


Hardt, Hanno. 1981. Introduction to social theories of the press. In Mass Communication Review Year Book. Vol. 2, pp.50-72.

Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. 2000. Mass Media in India.

Simon-Vandenbergen, A. M. 1981. The Grammar of Headlines in the Times. Paleis Der Academien, Brussel.


I express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Sam Mohanlal, for his help and suggestions in completing this paper. This paper was presented in the 28th All India Conference of Linguists, held at the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, India from January 28 to 30, 2002.

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