There have been queries from The Hindu’s readers on the change brought about at the helm of the editorial in late October and what it meant to them. I had to press the pause button a little before I could answer those questions. The reason for the delay flows from my mandate.
The role of the Readers’ Editor starts strictly post-publication. While he functions as an interlocutor between the millions of readers and the editorial team, commenting on changes and their implications had to wait till they got reflected in the pages of the newspaper. To seek prior information about the proposed changes is akin to interfering with the editorial process and at a deeper philosophical level it erases the crucial distance between the Readers’ Editor and the editorial process. This sense of adhering to the boundary gives my office its independence and the ability to be an effective redress mechanism, when readers have issues with any news or views featured.
I appreciate the patience exhibited by readers. It gave me time to study, analyse and form an opinion about what was happening in the newspaper. It is not only prudent but also essential that a Readers’ Editor comes to an understanding based on what was published rather than what was proposed or imagined. We need a material basis for an informed analysis before responding in a manner that is useful to readers.
Many readers who wrote to my office asked whether there would be any major departure while some wanted to know the reasons for certain changes — that ranged from reverting to the “classic, but contemporary” design of Garcia to the suspension of the feature, “The Yin Thing.”
First, let us look at the changes on the design front. For N.S. Venkatesan, a reader from Chennai, restoring the “pure” design was a relief. Another regular writer opined that though the paper got its distinct identity back, the soft redesign of July 2013 had many elements used by the other newspapers that gave a homogeneous idea of English newspapers in India.
Mr. N. Ravi, Editor-in-Chief, and other senior editors and designers felt that the July changes shifted the focus from content to design, where news became a casualty. “In the last two years, there had been a gradual but noticeable departure from the design and four months ago, new elements and colours that were totally out of line with the concepts and look that Garcia had introduced were brought in. In the result, the pages looked mangled and chaotic and the newspaper had lost its distinctive character. The mix of colours introduced was far removed from his palette and made the pages garish. Designers and page layout editors did not have definite design templates to work on and it became a free-for-all. Navigating the content became very difficult, and instead of maintaining the content-related hierarchy on the pages, stories that offered more play for design elements dominated. It was after a hard look at this distortion of the design that we decided to restore Garcia’s pure design,” said Mr. Ravi.
On the question of removing the weekly feature, “The Yin Thing,” Mr. Ravi’s response was: “as a matter of policy, we did not want to consign gender issues to a special section and to assume that women are interested only in such issues, or conversely, that others had no interest in them. What we decided against was the ‘ghettoization’ of gender issues and will continue to cover them in different sections of the newspaper.”
I would like to share with readers some of the key instructions Mr. Ravi has given to the team of journalists at The Hindu in order to reflect the values of this newspaper. They are: a) avoid editorialising in news stories and loaded adjectives, b) a renewed emphasis on verification and fact checking, and on fairness in getting all sides of a story, c) the display of news will be decided on the basis of professional judgement based on a sense of history and in keeping with the tradition of The Hindu as a newspaper of the record and d) in the Editorial and Op-Ed pages, the choice of articles would reflect diverse and reasonably plural viewpoints on a wide range of political, constitutional, economic, social and cultural issues apart from high quality writings from international columnists.
At this moment, we know the rationale for certain changes that have been effected. Within a couple of months, a body of journalistic work will be available for us to critically evaluate the merits of these changes.