Somya Sagarika, Dibyendu Mishra, Joyojeet Pal
(suggested citation: Sagarika, S., Mishra, D. and Pal, J. (2020) Influencers in Indian political journalism. http://joyojeet.people.si.umich.edu/influencers-in-indian-political-journalism/ )
We plotted the friends of journalists in India to understand who are the most “listened to” Twitter accounts among Indian journalists. In essence, we take all the accounts followed by journalists and provide basic descriptives on who has the most “reach” among journalists, insofar as “following” a Twitter account equates to listening to the content from that account. This is preliminary research intending to offer a small set of “lists” to allow for a lay of the land.
All data gathered are done so using the Twitter Public API. All the data included here is public data, and the individuals covered here are persons with significant engagement with public commentary.
While this is an uncritical description of actual engagement, it is useful as a metric of potential influence with the press. Subsequent work will offer more detailed analysis of what this reach does – such as accounts retweeted, median retweet rates etc. While we have not yet made the raw data public, we plan to, and offer a very detailed methodology for anyone who wishes to replicate the data and test results for themselves.
We used a seed set of journalists most retweeted by politicians, then found the friends of those journalists, and hand-annotated each of them to confirm if they were journalists. Based on this, we had an initial set of 2170 accounts – 1899 ground truth journalists, ie. confirmed by a human expert and 271 media collectives such as organizations, newspapers etc. This was done by individual verification by our in-house confirmation of their being journalists. We feel this is a better set than purely seeking Twitter verification status, since many journalists do not get verified (N. Ram of The Hindu, for instance). This seed set was tested to see if major journalists were covered, we feel confident that outside of a small number of possible exceptions, all Indian journalists with a significant Twitter presence were covered.
Based on this set, we used the Twitter public API to find friends of these 1899 (setting a maximum threshold of 4000 friends), and came up with a list of 46,855 Twitter accounts followed by at least 5 journalists from this initial set. This sample of 46,855 twitter accounts is then ordered on the number of the initial set of 1899 journalists following any account. Essentially, the highest score would be 1898 if everyone in the sample followed a single account. Consequently, the set includes anyone followed by five or more of the 1899 journalists and includes politicians, celebrities, influencers, institutions, media houses, and other journalists. While the overall sample may have false positives, all the accounts presented as part of the results are hand-checked for confirmation.
Our rankings are based on any individual Twitter account’s score on the seed set’s following. The most-followed account in our sample was that of Narendra Modi, with 1436 of the seed set following.
All categories are exclusive. Thus, inclusion in one category means exclusion from another. Thus an individual who is or was a politician, but is also a journalist is assigned to their current position. Thus Pritish Nandy is listed as a journalist, while Gautam Gambhir is listed as a politician. The categories are as follows:
Politicians: Includes any individual (not party) currently affiliated with a party, in public office, or having fought an election in the last two elections. These are culled from a set of ~18500 known politicians active in the 2019 general elections
Celebrities: Includes any individual active in public life including sports, business, entertainment, literature etc. Authors or media creators whose work is primarily in fiction are included here.
Academics and Public Intellectuals: Individuals in think tanks, academia, activism, or in professions such as historians or lawyers, who are commentators on public issues are included here. Authors, where their books are academic or quasi academic in nature are included here. We exclude any public intellectuals or commentators who are currently in active government, but include former civil servants who comment on public issues.
Foreign journalists: Any journalist whose location is listed outside India. This includes journalists for Indian news located abroad, but does not include journalist for foreign media located in India
Journalist’s journalists: Journalists who are highly followed within the community of journalists despite not having a very high following in the general public (threshold, minimum 300 journalists following)
While our set has a human annotator removing false positives, a limitation is that we do not have an effective method of catching false negatives. Thus journalists who do not have much of a network – ie are not friends with other journalists are excluded. Another limitation is with categorization, especially when individuals fit multiple categories. In the category “Academics and Public Intellectuals” we list anyone who is a faculty member at a university, a research body, or an intellectual who contributes to public discourse in the mainstream media. Here, we rely on individuals’ self-description on Twitter, but also on whether they are formally affiliated with an academic institution. Some of those listed here therefore may also see themselves as journalists by virtue of writing columns, but are listed as public intellectuals because of their affiliation. Thus Saba Naqvi, who is also a journalist, but as a self-described author and member of faculty, is listed as a public intellectual.
Most followed journalists
Figure 1 shows a visualization of the most followed journalists, with the number of followers on Twitter on the x-axis and the number of followers within the journalist sample in the y-axis. Shekhar Gupta of The Print is the most followed journalist from within the community of journalists, while Rajdeep Sardesai is relatively more popular in the general Twitter population. Some journalists have fairly high following among other journalists relative to their online following such as Siddharth Varadarajan and Naresh Fernandes, whereas others like Vir Sanghvi and Pritish Nandy. Since the visualization is on a log scale, the dots are not intuitive representations of their relative scale.
Most followed politicians
Figure 2 shows a visualization of the most followed politicians, with the number of followers on Twitter on the x-axis and the number of followers within the journalist sample in the y-axis. Narendra Modi is the clear leader and others like Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal are also popular among journalists. But the graph also shows that following among casual citizens bear a direct ration to following among the professional press. Some leaders with a relatively small following, such as Atishi and Manish Tiwari, have a reasonably strong footprint among journalists.
Figure 2: Indian politicians followed by journalists in the community (y axis scale starts at 500 followers)
Most followed public intellectuals
Figure 3 shows a visualization of the most followed academics and public intellectuals, with the number of followers on Twitter on the x-axis and the number of followers within the journalist sample in the y-axis. Ramachandra Guha is the clear leader, lawyer Prashant Bhushan is a distant second, followed by Ashoka University professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta. Public commentators like lawyer Gautam Bhatia and author Akshaya Mukul, who have relatively smaller following among the general public, are heavily followed by the professional press, thus have important spheres of influence in the public discourse.
Most followed foreign journalists
Figure 4 shows a visualization of the most followed foreign journalists, with the number of followers on Twitter on the x-axis and the number of followers within the journalist sample in the y-axis. This is the only figure in which the trend line is downward – essentially suggesting that some of the most followed journalists in the world such as Anderson Cooper, Ezra Klein, or Nate Silver aren’t necessarily those of most interest to the typical Indian journalist. On the other hand, journalists of Indian origin or foreign correspondents with Indian news tend to have more sway among Indian journalists.
Outsize popularity journalists
Figure 5 shows a selection of those journalists with the highest journalist follower to general follower ratio. Essentially, these journalists are relatively well followed among their fraternity, even if they do not have a massive following online. To arrive at this list, we took a ratio of the number of followers from within the fraternity to the total number of followers, setting a low threshold of at least 300 followers from among journalists and a maximum of a total of 60,000 Twitter followers for the account. This list offers a crude statistic to identify journalists whose work would appear to have strong purchase among other journalists. In this list, journalists like Raj Kamal Jha, Rohan Venkat, and Josy Joseph are outliers in that have they may not have the same name recognition as some of the most followed journalists, but are particularly well-followed within the fraternity.
Figure 6 shows a selection of those celebrities with the highest journalist follower to general follower ratio. Amitabh Bachchan has the overall highest following, but we see that the correlation between high following online and high following among journalists is not as clear. Akshay Kumar, for instance, is a very highly followed celebrity, but journalists don’t follow his tweets in the same ratio. Businessmen Anand Mahindra and Ratan Tata have far higher following than the ratio of numbers in the general population, which is understandable since entertainers generally do better in terms of overall popularity. Celebrities who tend to be more engaged in political content such as Swara Bhaskar, Kunal Kamra, and Javed Akhtar tend to have better following than celebs who eschew discussing political issues openly including Hritik Roshan and Alia Bhatt.
|Rank||Journalists most followed by journalists|
|18||M K Venu||mkvenu1|
|26||Hartosh Singh Bal||HartoshSinghBal|
|36||Raj Kamal Jha||rajkamaljha|
Table 2: Politicians (rank order based on how many follows by journalists)
|Rank||Politicians most followed by journalists|
|9||Smriti Z Irani||smritiirani|
|11||Priyanka Gandhi Vadra||priyankagandhi|
|15||Ravi Shankar Prasad||rsprasad|
|33||Lalu Prasad Yadav||laluprasadrjd|
|38||Shivraj Singh Chouhan||ChouhanShivraj|
|39||Dr Harsh Vardhan||drharshvardhan|
|41||Dr. S. Jaishankar||DrSJaishankar|
|45||Jyotiraditya M. Scindia||JM_Scindia|
|46||Vijay Kumar Singh||Gen_VKSingh|
|47||Randeep Singh Surjewala||rssurjewala|
|Rank||Academics & commentators most followed by journalists|
|3||Pratap Bhanu Mehta||pbmehta|
|7||Nirupama Menon Rao||NMenonRao|
|12||S lrfan Habib||irfhabib|
|29||C. Raja Mohan||MohanCRaja|
|38||Syed Ata Hasnain||atahasnain53|
|48||Dr. Shamika Ravi||ShamikaRavi|
|49||Manu S Pillai||UnamPillai|
|11||Raza Ahmad Rumi||Razarumi|
|29||Anna MM Vetticad||annavetticad|
|37||Thomas L. Friedman||tomfriedman|
|39||Omar R Quraishi||omar_quraishi|
|44||Nadeem Farooq Paracha||NadeemfParacha|
|5||Raj Kamal Jha||rajkamaljha|
|16||Vinod K. Jose||vinodjose|
|46||P Vaidyanathan Iyer||iyervaidy|
|2||Shah Rukh Khan||iamsrk|
|5||Ratan N. Tata||RNTata2000|
|27||Lalit Kumar Modi||LalitKModi|
|38||Kiran Mazumdar Shaw||kiranshaw|
|45||Mahendra Singh Dhoni||msdhoni|