Between January 2017 and January 2019, the Science section (excluding health, environment and technology) on The Hindu website got on average 5 lakh readers per month. And even on certain days when important news were breaking out, science articles were highly read and ranked among the top ten most read articles.
On Sunday May 19, when the seventh and last phase of polling in some parts of India and results of the exit polls were major news, the last thing I expected to see was a science news being one of the top ten articles that got the most online traffic (therefore the most read news items) on The Hindu website. And to double the surprise, there were two science articles that made it to the top ten.
That readers are hungry for good science news and articles and go online to read them is already well known. It is also well known that the science section on The Hindu website attracts lakhs of readers each month. Yet, to see two science articles getting more traffic than others on a day like that is indeed surprising. It is highly gratifying, too.
One of the top ten science news items was an article that I wrote. It was about IIT Bombay researchers fabricating wearable supercapacitors.
With over 21,100 page views, it was the seventh most read news item. In the eighth position was a Reuters news item on Big Bang theory (Big Bang Theory bids farewell after 12-year run) with more than 16,500 people reading it. Of course, the news item on General Election and results exit polls was the most read with readership of several lakhs.
It goes without saying that the IIT Bombay story attracted plenty of readers because of the excellent work done by Prof. Chandramouli Subramaniam and Mihir Kumar Jha from the Department of Chemistry. And the fact that the readers spent an average time of 3.98 minutes on this news item indicates that they did not just click on it and leave but stayed on the page and read the full news.
It has nothing with do with the fact that I had written it. No, I am not being modest. I am being very frank and honest. Unlike columns, readers don’t care who has written a news items to decide whether to read it or not. For instance, many of my articles have been read only by a few thousand people.
That said, On April 21, at 1.11 pm when the news about bomb blasts at two churches reported from Sri Lanka was the main news on The Hindu website, and other news such as sexual harassment allegation against the Chief Justice of India and Pragya Thakur seeking an apology from people who tortured her in jail were one of the most read news articles, my piece on IISc team directly delivering proteins into cells (work carried out by Prof. Govindasamy Mugesh’s team) occupied the top slot on the website. It had a readership of over 26,700. The average time readers spent on this news page was 4.33 minutes, meaning most read the entire article.
During the last week of March, we looked at the traffic that the Science section gets per month. And I was in for a pleasant surprise. From January 2017-2019, the Science section (excluding health, environment, technology) on the website was getting around 5 lakh readers per month on average, which is quite high compared with certain other sections.
Most of the articles published during this period were not “soft science”. Yes, we critically assess a research paper for several aspects such as impact on people, topicality, relevance to people in India (if it is a health story) and how much interested readers would be in reading it. The science team tries its best to do justice and write about basic research. It’s a policy decision to focus on research done by scientists based in India. But surely, we need to publish at least online interesting and important science done outside India. The science team at The Hindu should do much more to improve science coverage and engage with more people, including people who have not studied science after school. We still have a long way to go to communicate the science done by researchers here. We will improve, we surely will.
And before I end, let me thank every researcher I have interacted with for co-operating with me. These people have patiently explained their work and answered all my queries and clarified all doubts.