Last week, we looked at the possibility of coexistence between the print and the digital platforms. How does it work in The Hindu across its two platforms? This week’s column is an attempt to answer some of the questions I received in the recent past and to clarify a few facts about the paper’s digital platform, www.thehindu.com
While some stories meant for the next day’s print edition appear in the web version, many are not up till midnight. Is it a policy to release interesting stories after the prime-time television news to beat the competition? The Hindu’s Internet Editor contends that the paper follows a policy of web-first in terms of content publication and reporters and correspondents are urged to file at least a preliminary report for the web. She adds: “The Hyderabad and Bangalore bureaus have begun the process of early filing for city stories and the city pages of these editions are now being updated through the day — reporters file copies to the online desk in Chennai, which edits, value adds with photographs, etc, and publishes the stories. The next step would be for them to have their own net desks.” However, exclusive stories are still embargoed till print.
There were questions about why sometimes there are two different versions of the same story — one in print and a different one on the web. According to the Internet Editor, availability of space offers an opportunity for reporters to file a different version, where additional details, pictures and sometimes even backgrounders are added.
Over the years, the digital platform has evolved its own idiom, building on its strengths and moving away from weakness. For instance, podcasts in South Indian languages did not work, but niche attempts to provide multimedia content during the music and literary festivals resonated well with the readers.
Comments and moderation
The major source of anxiety for many readers has been the comment section. Some felt that the section gets closed earlier for some articles. Many wanted to know: is there a fixed time limit for closing the comments? Does it vary for news articles, edits, op-ed, columns, features and lead? A couple of readers felt that their comments, despite complying with the rules spelt out, are not taken in. Is it possible to explain the rationale deployed by the moderator? Is there a limit on the number of comments?
She made it clear that all articles are open for comment and they are automatically closed after 72 hours of publishing the story. “This automation was brought in to ensure uniformity and avoid bias/oversight in opening article for comments. We have on occasion kept articles open longer but have not had reason to close comments earlier. There is no limit to the number of comments for a story — we published more than 2,500 comments for Arundhati Roy’s essay in 2010 — out of the more than 3,200 that we received,” she said.
But she also shared a concern that needs a mature response from the netizens. Comments are moderated by senior staff on the desk and extreme caution is exercised — erring on the side of caution given that the anonymity of the medium seems license for the worst kind of gender, ethnic and communal abuse.
She further elaborated: “unfortunately on certain issues there seems to be very little room for dissent and the majority prevails as in the case of Kasab’s hanging or Narendra Modi for Prime Minister. More recently on the issue of the Sri Lankan Tamils, we got several hate comments — some declared their names, others more covert but discernible from email addresses.” One of her concerns is the near absence of women in the comment space. “Even on issues that affect women, the Delhi gang-rape, for example, the number of women commenting is a much smaller proportion. Women do write in for articles on education and schooling and we have had one heated debate on dance in the Margazhi season dominated by women dancers who took on the sabha system but that was a rare event.”
I agree with the Internet Editor when she says that online abuse can be depressing and moderators have to beware of extreme provocation. There is a need to maintain the decorum that any public discourse warrants. To fully harness the digital potential and its multi-nodal communication architecture, to facilitate a meaningful polyphonous exchange to uphold the spirit of the argumentative Indian, we need to evolve a mature and engaging net behaviour.