Opinion » Readers' Editor

Updated: August 22, 2013 16:00 IST

The centrality of readers’ engagement

A.S. Panneerselvan
Comment (5)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
The Hindu

One of the most important elements of my work is to respond to readers’ complaints and redress them. The most recurrent among the complaints is about the “Letters to the Editor” section. I receive at least 50 complaints a month about non-publication of letters.

The joy of seeing one’s name in print is boundless. I vividly remember what I did when my first article was published nearly three decades ago. I went around my neighbourhood news-stands and picked up a dozen copies of the publication that carried my article. I bought a clear plastic binder to protect the magazine for posterity. Despite innumerable bylines, the desire to see what I have written in print has not diminished a bit. It is not vanity but a public validation of one’s point of view. Hence, I recognise the sense of loss and the weight of their grievance when readers complain about the non-publication of their letters to the editor.

Every letter, a new dimension

Before going into details, it is imperative to place the role of readers’ letters in the broader context of interactive journalism and participatory democracy. I know that a reader’s letter is a not a mere feedback mechanism. It is an act of engaging the public sphere. Every letter brings in a new dimension. It adds a nuance that may not have been hitherto fully explained. Sometimes the letter becomes an encouragement and at some other times, it is a rap on the knuckles.

The overwhelming desire of the readers to respond makes the narrative of the newspaper dialogic. It keeps the space for constant weighing of facts and opinions open. The myriad aspirations and expectations articulated by the readers mirror the complex, multilayered socio-political reality of our society.

I believe that the media is a site for democratic mediation of ideas. It is important for any politically-sensitive person to reach out to the public directly, to bare open his/her ideas and views through the dynamics of the media to ensure a place for those ideas to germinate into something more concrete in the public sphere. Not for a minute had I any delusions about the media being free from ideas and political orientations. The centrality of readers’ engagement gives the newspaper its character as a site for mediation of ideas.

The Editor, the Readers’ Editor and the readers are on the same page when it comes to active participation of the readers — in both the print and the online platforms. Over the last decade, the space for readers’ participation in this newspaper has increased many fold. First, the “Letters to the Editor” section was extended to other sections beyond the edit page. Today, the readers are able to share their views in the magazine section, city pages, Metro Plus section and various others. The online platform provides space for comments, and usually accommodates hundreds of readers’ views in the comment section. This moderated section rejects only a few comments that are abusive, incendiary or irrelevant. It demands a very basic writing style: “Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (Example: ‘u’ cannot substitute for ‘you,’ ‘d’ is not ‘the,’ ‘n’ is not ‘and’).”

Letter selection

Coming to the main area of grievance: the “Letters to the Editor” section in the edit page. I shared the complaints of some of the readers with the editor-in-charge of the section and discussed what can be done to redress them. She explained the process of selecting the letters and the limited space at her disposal. This section can accommodate a maximum of 1,300 words a day. She has an unenviable task of selecting 10 to 15 letters out of a daily average of 250 letters. She reads all the letters and deploys a filtering mechanism to sift through hundreds of thousands of words. She uses the following criteria: relevance, topicality, regional balance across various cities, avoidance of repetition of arguments and providing space for new writers.

Now to an oft-repeated question: will the readers’ letters be acknowledged? I am happy to inform you that all electronic mails to the “Letters to the Editor” section will soon get a computer-generated response and the readers can take comfort that their mail has not gone into a spam box.

There are requests from readers in other parts of INDIA requesting for
THE SAME early morning delivery of THE HINDU like in Southern INDIA .
Now a days , THE HINDU is available after 24 / 36 / 48 hrs if not more
due to stopping of air editions / air delivery of THE HINDU .
Readers from North east of india to Gujarat and from Kashmir / jammu
to southern maharashtra want regional print centers at many northern
cities . TIMES OF INDIA is made available at many cities of india and
is available all over india - so to say . HINDUSTAN TIMES IS AVAILABLE
It is high time THE HINDU fulfil the requests of the readers and
launch more editioons in north india also .

from:  Victor R
Posted on: Dec 17, 2012 at 19:58 IST

No doubt editor's responsibility is daunting, particularly handling readers' comments. Nevertheless, it is the medium's image building and sustenance task, alongwith the selection of columns. The medium needs to ensure balance between the contradicting views expressed in comments selected for publishing. The Hindu does it reasonably well. Not publishing a letter isn't as disappointing as publishing a less-qualified or apparently-biased comment. The medium should also try to balance its immediate interests (publishing space-eating occasional advertisements) and long-term interests (satisfying regular readers). The medium should at least publish a summary of comments on important topics with the count of comments received, of those in favour and against, and medium's view. It should also justify why its view does not tally with majority view, if so.

from:  VMN Sharma
Posted on: Dec 17, 2012 at 19:09 IST

Facts have this 'filtering mechanism' in somewhat poor light,
suggesting it is fixed! Topicality? Sometimes, it is just one topic
that takes up the entire space. As for 'arguments', it is
predominantly approving and fawning endorsement of the source article
that sees the light in dark print!

Perhaps there was no such 'mechanism' when I could have three of my
letters published every week for several weeks on end, in 2001-02 (I
cannot be lying!). That 'accommodation' changed drastically later,
maybe because I was critical of unnecessary editing and worse,
'refining' and sanitising, of submissions.

It seems a different set-up 'online', which is welcome. I can write
this and still expect to have it published. Commendably, even harsher
stuff gets through, as I could, one, a couple of weeks back.

Yet, I wonder why The Hindu does not correct its repeated 'Rupee
Exchange Rate' mistake, despite publishing my several corrections
online, and after one of your staff acknowledged the mistake.

from:  Devraj Sambasivan
Posted on: Dec 17, 2012 at 18:39 IST

Hindu has maintained high standards in journalism all along and the readers editor has
Cleared the role of the paper to the readers and on the issue relating to the publication of
Their letters. This writer has shown more preference to hindu, than the morning coffee, and
like my father, had the thirst to read Hindu from the student days till date . The decision to
Send electronic acknowledgement is a welcome move . Neither Justice Lord Leveson of
UK or Mr Justice M Katju can make any adverse remarks on the role of Hindu towards
The nation till date.

from:  C p Chandra das
Posted on: Dec 17, 2012 at 06:30 IST

Salutations to the readers editor, for explaining the stand of Hindu, on the issue relating to
The letters and the connection between the paper and the readers. I have no complaint as
So many of my letters, book reviews, comments and articles have found a place in Hindu.
The paper has maintained very high standards in journalism all along and in that backdrop
Need not be worried about Justice Lord Leveson of UK or Justice M Katju of Bharat.

from:  C p Chandra das
Posted on: Dec 17, 2012 at 04:39 IST
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