One of my primary mandates as the Readers’ Editor is to ensure dialogue and provide meaningful feedback mechanism to the editorial team. Despite the strides made by technology, talking to one another and listening to opinions in person have substantially more power than digital communication. The open house is a way to directly reach out to readers in order to find out their expectations in a constantly changing socio-political ecology.
It is rather difficult to quantify what the newspaper gains by directly interacting with its readers. After the first open house, I tried to tabulate the gains but soon gave up, as it was evident that the table failed to capture the emotive part of this interaction. The organic relationship between a newspaper and its readers goes beyond gains. It is a qualitative attribute. It is about trust and credibility. It is about shared concerns and the common good. Our second open house, held in Bangalore last Saturday, confirmed this qualitative attribute. The meeting also questioned the validity of some popular angst: the reading habit is vanishing, youngsters are not concerned about larger issues and women readers are not interested in international affairs.
First, I was overwhelmed by the interest shown by younger readers. Tanush Jagdish, a student who is waiting to enroll in university, talked about The Hindu’sschool edition. He felt that though the school edition was accessible to young readers, there were fewer contributions from the younger generation. He wanted an internship system embedded in the school editions that would make them a part of the news production process. He also felt that the school edition, too, needed a smart phone interface as more and more readers of his generation depended on smart devices to access news.
Vikas Singh, a PhD student from Haryana but now settled in Bangalore, was impressed with The Hindu’s coverage of agriculture. “This is the only paper that has a dedicated agriculture correspondent. I am also grateful that your paper carries editorials on agricultural issues on a regular basis,” said Vikas. He also wanted the paper to take up more campaigns on the lines of “Dear Mr. Politician… The youth are watching.”
Gayatri Chandrasekar felt that The Hindu needed more news features on States. “What makes the Trinamool Congress tick in West Bengal, for instance, deserves in-depth analysis. With The Hindu’sdistinction between news and editorial being strict, the one way for readers to gain insights into national issues is by understanding what is happening in States.” She, along with other senior readers, felt that the font size should be increased for easier reading. She also appreciated the paper for having female correspondents in sensitive places like Islamabad and Colombo.
Mohammed Ayoob felt that in this day of digital empowerment there was no need for The Hindu to carry opinions from The New York Times and The Guardian in the comment page. “What we want is a sharp and incisive Indian perspective on global developments. The New York Times and The Guardian are available for anyone who cares to know what they think on any issue. This is a precious space and it should be used for Indian articulation.” As with most issues in India, some other readers countered this opinion. They felt in the current level of global interdependence it is important for an Indian paper to give a hint of what others are thinking, and having these columns from The New York Times and The Guardian helps Indian readers understand other points of view.
Nanjundaswamy felt that the quality of newsprint varied affecting the quality of printing. “Poor printing means poor reading experience. I would like to see that consistency is maintained both in printing and in the quality of the newsprint used,” he said. He also felt that local issues should be given more importance and the space for city news should be increased. On civic issues, he felt that the paper should not only carry letters from the readers, as it does now, but also seek a response from the relevant authorities.
Anuradha Shyam wanted to know the editorial process, the systems that are in place and how decisions are made regarding selection of news and opinions. Another young reader suggested that The Hindu should offer a periodic on-site visit to its newsroom to help readers understand editorial functioning. “Science organisations like NASA and IT firms like Wipro and Infosys have plant visit programmes to explain how they work. It would be a major step forward in media literacy if a newspaper of The Hindu’sstanding takes a lead in this regard,” said a reader.
Most of the readers wanted The Hindu to enter into the vernacular market. There was a specific demand for Hindi and Kannada versions of the paper. Suvek Aggarwal felt that The Hindu’s webpage should have more interactive content and images. According to him, a map of Ukraine with the Crimean Peninsula and the Black Sea along with appropriate hyper-links would be immensely helpful to understand the crisis.
The editorial team assures that all your suggestions will be seriously considered. It will try to effect changes wherever it is possible. The newspaper remains committed to high quality journalism that is both responsible and responsive to the expectations of the readers.