The Hindu, with its reputation for sober journalism, launched three new supplements in the tabloid format this September in Chennai. On the 7th, it released Cinema Plus, a weekly destined to entertain the readers every Friday. On the 22nd and the 23rd, two business initiatives followed: Idhu Namma Area and Retail Plus in that order. These supplements may be seen as The Hindu‘s bid to consolidate its position as the largest selling newspaper in south India.
A qualitative analysis is needed to check the readability of the contents dished out by these supplements. But to get an approximation of the readability levels, I have already done a quantitative analysis with a readability tool that I evolved. The Strain Index grades texts on a scale of 1 to 17+. The higher the score the greater the reading difficulty. Applying this formula on only the first issues (Tambaram edition), I got the following results: Cinema Plus (33 stories) — 7.9; Idhu Namma Area (13 stories) — 10.26; Retail Plus (17 stories) — 9.1.
The average scores reveal that the supplements are readable indeed. But statistics can conceal as much as they reveal. Let’s look at the scores of some individual stories to make the analysis more meaningful and useful.
First, Cinema Plus. With a Strain Index of 3.0, the story ‘Haute Shots’ is the most readable in this supplement. ‘Kollywood Goes The Corporate Way’ and ‘Cinema: Awara Paagal Deewana’ are the most difficult with respective scores of 13.2 and 14.9. In the Kollywood story, there’s a very long third sentence; in the other story, only the last sentence is short. The stories must be rewritten to get a better score. I myself can suggest a rewrite, but I don’t wish to get into any controversy.
Second, Idhu Namma Area (only the title is Tanglish). A score of 5.1 makes ‘Fashion Fiesta’ a reader-friendly story. Had it not been for it, this supplement would have scored more than 10.26. Five of the stories in Idhu Namma Area score more than 12. Of these, ‘Taking The Bull By Its Horns’ (15.7) and ‘Imparting Education’ (16.1) are inexcusable as they have nothing complex to say.
Third, Retail Plus. The column ‘Mobile Revolution’ gets a fine score of 3.3. ‘The Silken Heritage’ scores 16.2 and needs to be rewritten. So is the case with ‘Stylish Business Partner’, which has a score of 15.8. Though a technical report may need a long sentence, I find that the second sentence in this story can be easily divided into two.
The quantitative analysis tells us that The Hindu‘s new supplements are readable, but they need to do better. A word of caution: a qualitative analysis may fetch you different answers. But that is another story.
For those who are new to the Strain Index, I should demonstrate its working on this article itself. Find S3, the number of syllables in the first three sentences (96). Then, Strain Index = S3/10 = 96/10 = 9.6. William DuBay called the formula ‘remarkably simple’ and posted a note in the Plain English Forum. Martin Cutts and Thomas Sticht made memorable remarks. Ghantasala Sreenivas of The Hindu criticised the last sentence of the article that I wrote to popularise the Strain Index. I had written ‘more and more readable’ instead of ‘more readable’. Peter Griffin of zigzackly.blogspot.com applied the Strain Index on that article and found it had a dismal score of 17+. His comment: “What a businessman you are, Nirmaldasan!”