The daily newspaper is a complex product, and to understand its governing dynamics, I dip into the combined wisdom of Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Milan Kundera, Salman Rushdie and Amitav Ghosh. These literary giants have an ability to bring out the salient features of a daily newspaper in particular, and the media in general, in their exploration of human experiences. The guiding principle of the Open House held last Saturday, where young and senior readers joined hands to express their views and opinions in a free and transparent manner, drew from Hemingway’s declaration: “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”
For me, the earnest engagement by the readers and The Hindu team was a humbling experience. Most of the readers came with a written note, which had minute details and sharp observations. Directors of Kasturi and Sons, the publisher of this newspaper, the Editor, the CEO and other senior staff were attentive to every syllable that was uttered by the readers. It was a fruitful exercise.
Readers expressed their considered opinions; editors and the senior management listened to them carefully and came up with realistic responses, including accepting certain shortcomings, and assurances to implement some of the suggestions at the earliest. While most details of the deliberations are in the report titled “Readers speak up at open house” (The Hindu, July 21, 2013) — http://bit.ly/17tJE5a — let me look at some of the issues that could not be accommodated in that report.
Dr. J. Jeyaranjan raised a very important question about the balance between local, national, regional and international news and felt that The Hindu is not fully leveraging its strength of having the highest number of foreign correspondents. Before embarking on an answer to this pertinent question, let me give you some raw numbers regarding this newspaper. This paper sells about 1.6 million copies a day. It has 42 different editions printed at 18 centres spread across the nation. About 250,000 words are processed and 250 different pages are being made. About 650 journalists and at least 30 outside experts contribute to its content every day. The paper strives to be as plural as possible, despite the plenitude; there is always a paucity of space. Striking a balance in this context is both an art and a science.
The Editor explained the steps taken to rectify this anomaly. “From last week, after the soft redesign, one full page is given to the international news. But, it is difficult to sacrifice regional and national news,” he said. One of the aspects that makes up for the limited space in the international page is the chance given to the foreign correspondents to write in the opinion pages and also featuring their stories in the front page. If the Editor finds more space for the reports from the foreign bureaus, I will also be pleased as much as Dr. Jeyaranjan.
One of the readers, Megha Aggarwal made some interesting observations about the supplements including the Metro Plus. Unlike supplements in other dailies, she felt, the supplements in The Hindu were full-fledged features and not mere celebrity watch. This is a very important observation. The magazine section of this publication looks at various engagements of society — livelihood, habitat, literature, the performing arts, popular culture, travel and leisure. Under less able hands, features can easily drift to fluff, gossip and sensational titbits. Here the lightness of these “soft” pages comes from its easy, accessible prose despite dealing with the subject with the same sense of rigour and purpose as the paper handles its “hard” pages of politics and economy.
Another young reader was perceptive enough to call the music reviews as a listing of ragas with very little insight into the art form and the way it was rendered. He rightly felt that neither the aesthetics nor the context of the art form was revealed in the reviews. This is a topic that deserves a full column and I will take it up in the coming weeks. The Editor was candid and conceded that the bar for performing arts review needs to be raised.
In a 1985 interview about his Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie talks about the oral tradition. He said: “It goes in great swoops, it goes in spirals or in loops, it every so often reiterates something that happened earlier to remind you, and then takes you off again, sometimes summarized itself, it frequently digresses off into something that the story-teller appears just to have thought of, then it comes back to the main thrust of the narrative. Sometimes it steps sideways and tells you about another, related story, then they all come back you see.” The Open House was in the best of the spirit of this oral tradition. From editorial process to printing technology, from redesign to late delivery of the paper, it went around many topics, only to come back to the core issue — the trust between this paper and its readers.