When more is less

A.S. Panneerselvan
There is an amazing variety in this newspaper for readers. I conducted a straw poll among my family and friends to find out which section they read first when they get their morning edition of The Hindu. Some said they prefer to start with the Faith column. Some said they begin with the crossword puzzle, some others with sudoku, and some with the sports pages. There seems to be a tendency to warm up before turning to the main pages. Personally, on weekdays, I start with major political stories and then move on to other sections. However, on Saturdays, my first destination is Weekend Sport, and on Sundays, I start with J. Mathrubootham’s letter.
Information overload
This column has celebrated Weekend Sport for its innovative design, writing style, data crunching ability, and its idea to move away from reportage alone to providing insights into specific games and sportspersons. However, I was bit taken aback with the Indian Premier League (IPL) special that appeared on April 7. It was a meticulous compilation of statistics of different aspects of the short form of cricket that has captured the imagination of the people. It had a historical analysis of the game since its inception. It spoke of how an IPL innings progresses in terms of run rate, what an over-by-over analysis tells us, and who dominates in which phase of the innings. So far, so good. But the moment the section decided to mine the micro details of the game and stack the pages with infographics, it was a bit overwhelming.
It would be prudent for the team that puts together this engaging weekly feature to remember the term “information overload”. An American political scientist, Bertram Gross, coined this term in 1964. He said: “Information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. Decision makers have fairly limited cognitive processing capacity. Consequently, when information overload occurs, it is likely that a reduction in decision quality will occur.”
One of the finest aspects of this section is its central image, be it a photograph or an illustration. Images have an arresting quality and provide some breathing space to the reader. With the accent on various elements of the tournament, many players had to be included and the size of the images shrunk in this particular edition. There was no single central image. It looked as if the team was trying to squeeze in the material meant for two issues into a single edition.
Carrying capacity
In ecology, scientists use the term ‘carrying capacity’ to explain sustainability. They argue that the carrying capacity of an ecosystem is the size of the population that can be supported indefinitely with the available resources and services of that ecosystem.
According to them, living within the limits of an ecosystem depends on three factors: the amount of resources available in the ecosystem, the size of the population, and the amount of resources being consumed by each individual. In other words, it is a reiteration of a sense of balance.
For a newspaper, carrying capacity means balancing words with images and data on a page in such a way that readers can process all the information without much strain.
It does not mean that readers are passive consumers.
There are moments when less is more. Had the feature on the IPL looked at five or six defining elements of the tournament instead of adopting an encyclopaedic approach, the page would have stood out as it did when the team did the features on Usain Bolt and Roger Federer. Pruning is an act of editing. It is neither censorship nor does it deny readers additional information.
The page got back its vitality this week (April 14). It was not crowded with several plotted dots and stamp-size photos. The feature on Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic returned to the basics and made this section a
talking point.
The photograph of a despondent Djokovic mirrored the decline in his form and his struggle to recapture his magic touch. V.V. Krishnan’s iconic photograph of Jonty Rhodes restored the balance of text, data and images.
The quantum of prose was significantly higher than the previous week and this added to one’s reading pleasure.
There is a limit to which one can scan graphs, tables, pie charts and maps.

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