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Updated: June 24, 2013 01:55 IST

You are invited

A.S. PANNEERSELVAN
Comment (15)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
The Hindu

What makes a newspaper different from a consumer product? How does it become a public institution, a common good, and a public sphere despite private ownership of the paper? Though there are no precise answers, I would like to share some of my personal reflections on these two vital questions with the readers.

In my opinion, readers are not passive recipients of manufactured news. They are active participants who expect relevant and important information delivered to them in a credible and trustworthy manner. They deploy many critical tools to decide which paper to buy. The very act of purchasing a newspaper is the manifestation of their agency and choice. They provide the reason and the rationale for a publication to become a social entity. For readers, a newspaper is simultaneously a mirror and a window: it should reflect what is happening without distortions and it should give an overall picture of the broad canvas. In this sense, reporting becomes a mirror and editorials and opinions become a window. If for any reason a newspaper fails in this mandate of balancing its act between being a window and a mirror concurrently, readers migrate to other papers and undermine the paper’s status as public good.

Recognising the central role of the readers, the institution of the Readers’ Editor was established in this paper in 2006. Since then, it has been in the forefront of communicating readers’ views, criticism and commendations to the editorial, and explaining the rationale behind some of the crucial editorial decisions to the readers. Its mandate is to be an effective interface between the paper and its millions of readers.

Point-counterpoint

I have spent about nine months in carrying out this responsibility. I have benefited immensely from the steady flow of readers’ letters. They helped to understand and grasp the diverse readership base of this publication. There have been many instances where we used to get passionately argued letters endorsing the paper’s stand only to be countered by equally fervent, opposite views.

The most significant outcome of this organic engagement with the readers was the creation of an informal mutual learning system: the editorial got an idea of the changing demands and expectations of the readers and the readers learnt a few things about how a newspaper functions and why it reports or comments on crucial issues the way it reports or comments. At a deeper level, this exercise of keeping both sides mutually informed on the processes helps to establish the primacy of principles and to contain and check the influence of other exigencies.

The idea of a good newspaper is akin to what Sunil Khilnani called “The idea of India.” He wrote: “The idea of India is not homogenous and univocal. In fact, no single idea can possibly hope to capture the many energies, angers, and hopes of one billion Indians; nor can any more narrow ideas — based on a single trait — fulfil their desires… Of many possible ideas of India, The Idea of India makes the case for one in particular, because it is the only one that can enable other ideas to emerge, and allow them to learn to live alongside one another.” Khilnani argues “large republics with diverse and conflicting interests can be a better home for liberty, a safer haven against tyranny, than homogenous and exclusive ones. Within them, factions and differences can check one another, moderating ideological fervour and softening power.”

In this context, quintessential legacy newspapers like The Hindu try to preserve the space for liberty, plurality, heterogeneity and diversity while helping the readers to make informed choices on a range of issues — from domestic politics and economic policies to international relations and sports, from literature and arts to judicial structures and institutional arrangements.

While there are myriad viewpoints, the paper has to maintain a balance between the contending ideas and world views. In this process, fringe extreme views — either from the adventurist Left or from the jingoistic Right — are kept on a tight leash, helping truly representational ideas to contest each other in its pages. Readers may have an intrinsic understanding about the process of news selection and the in-house filtering mechanism. But not many would have had an opportunity to actually witness the process.

Open house next month

To further this dialogue between the readers and the paper, I propose to hold open-house sessions with the readers. As a first step, I would like to invite readers from Chennai in July for a half-a-day, interactive, open house at The Hindu office. Please write to us if you are interested to attend this open house. The Office of the Readers’ Editor will process all the written requests, and will send out formal invitations to about 20 to 25 readers.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

We are not getting your edition in Nashik. Is it possible for you to arrange distribution in Nasik also? Innovation being the key now in all arena, your idea of inviting the readers for interaction is very healthy step.Newspaper as medium, plays a very crucial role in not only providing information but also in educating/empowering the readers with authentic information. What with our country's demographic shift in young population, my request to you would be to dedicate some space for educating your readers about the framework of parliament,legislative and judiciary.

from:  nirmala narayanan
Posted on: Jun 19, 2013 at 16:47 IST

It seems things are changing for the better in THE HINDU .Earlier it was on stagnant mode . Now , contents are more . Lay out on some pages are changing . Sunday magazine looks different now . If you talk to readers , a lot of ideas will come to the forefront . But a select bunch of readers can not offer good suggestions . TH should call more readers to attend that meeting . By the way , why only Chenai is the meeting venue . Why not Bangalore , Delhi , Calcutta , Hyderabad and other centers . There is a great demand for TH in Mumbai , Pune , Bihar , Jharkand , NE states , Calcutta etc . The supply of TH is very eractic in all these places . Nor do we know to whom we have to lodge complaint ? . TH is very lethargic in spreading its wings to new centers . Readers editor should address all these issues .
Also , TH should curtail its anti Modi attitude . TH also should launch its edition in Ahmedabad as BL edition was launched by Mr. Modi last month in AHMEDABAB and seems to be ok .

from:  Ragavan
Posted on: Jun 19, 2013 at 14:39 IST

I have been an avid reader of the 'Hindu' newspaper for the past eight decades- I am now 93 plus - and I can vouchsafe for the fact that its sole object is to keep the public well-informed objectively about the happenings, national and international, and never for a moment they allowed themselves to be lured by commercial instincts.It gives a wide coverage on all aspects of life and the first thing I do is to go through the editorial which was always a delight both for its content and chaste language. It was of great help in building up my vocabulary. Another interesting item was the one by the Special Representative in Delhi like Shiva Rau,Rangaswamy,Reddy and a few others.. I must however mention herein to my great regret that the newspaper has been publishing a series of Modi-bashing editorials and some by Harish Khare which frankly speaking are not in good taste. Again too much importance is being given to cricket in news items to the point of one getting bored.

from:  TS Sreenivasan
Posted on: Jun 19, 2013 at 05:28 IST

I do not think a newspaper's editorial policy should follow
the opinion of the majority of its readers. However, what is
galling is the Hindu's continuous tirade against Mr. Modi. It is
as if he can do nothing right because a communal riot
happened during his regime. Even higher crimes against humanity
like the forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits or atrocities
against the Sikhs in 1984 etc. get a kid glove treatment. Even
that is OK, but taking a high moral stand after all these,
is nothing short of hypocrisy. Open dialogues etc. are all
right. But I can visualize serious readers' views being
brushed off using the very same moral high horse. Of course,
you can advise me to stop reading the paper if I don't
like your views.

from:  Dilip
Posted on: Jun 18, 2013 at 14:54 IST

Mumbaikars r chennaites living in Mumbai are missing Your esteemed News
paper in Mumbai. A Mumbai Edition shall take you to Skies . Daily
Thanthi/Dinakaran are able to bring in mumbai why not You when u have
been successful in Businessline.GK Reddys /Chitra Subramaniam were gr8
in bringing Hot & sumptuous news is missing now .Anyhow Congrats for
this unique thoughts... Mumbai is the Second Commercial Head in the
world.Hence its imperative You need to keep ur foot there to bring more
Mumbai news if u need to further ahead of others.

from:  V.RAVICHANDRAN
Posted on: Jun 18, 2013 at 14:07 IST

@Mvj Rao, Victimization of IPS officers like R.B.Sreekumar, Kuldeep
Sharma, Ranjeesh Rai, Rahul Sharma and Sanjiv Bhatt who withstood
government pressure and refused to toe the political line is a good
demonstration of what the NaMo's fans call as "good governance". Thus
it becomes pertinent from the part of newspapers like The Hindu to
take a objective look at NaMo, just like The Hindu did for the
coronation of Prince Charming. It is quite natural for both Prince
Charming's fans as well as NaMo's fans to get offended. If Truth hurts
badly, why blame truth?.

from:  Roopesh P Raj
Posted on: Jun 18, 2013 at 13:53 IST

The heading "You are invited" is misleading when, after all, some 20
or 25 readers would be sent admit cards from among those who desire to
come: a mass-circulated and popular newspaper with a devoted following
is sure to receive scores of requests.

It is also not clear as to how the selection will be made: computer
randomized? In which case, those who are selected may not be able to
make any effective suggestions.

No assessment can be made of the personality/education of a person
from a mere 'call me' email, so what criteria will be followed in
selection?

OTOH, if a selection had been made from among the articulate section
of the readers who were writing to you regularly out of their volition
and motivation in the past, that might have been useful.

Finally, if the meeting were to be dominated by the so-called secular
and non-secular sections of your readership or nuclear and anti-
nuclear lobbies, that would be sad, with many other vital topics given
the go-by.

from:  C. G. Rishikesh
Posted on: Jun 18, 2013 at 07:10 IST

You must not be reluctant to change. As and when the circumstance
demands you should play the role of a middleman than heeding to the
mythical and propagandized argument.To be frank I find a bias in this
newspaper's stand towards Modi. No other media house in this country has
ridiculed him as prime ministerial candidate than Hindu till date.

from:  K.A.R.Reddy
Posted on: Jun 17, 2013 at 21:46 IST

The newspaper should remain dispassionate and not take sides on matters of public interest. It should not get influenced by its channel partners and adopt a mob lynching attitude to individuals.it should refrain from calling party followers as fan clubs and cheer leaders. Nothing can be derogatory and smacks of arrogance than this style of writing. it should not write Editorials in a hurry as though there is no tomorrow.it should remain consistent in its stand on vital issues like capital punishment. It should not maintain a stoic silence when the people are about to be sent to gallows and shed crocodile tears after hanging and the person is dead and gone.Finally, giving color to the captions of its Editorial and pouring venom in the contents, is not the job of a serious newspaper but of a tabloid.

from:  P.G.RAVIKUMAR
Posted on: Jun 17, 2013 at 21:45 IST

As far as my limited knowledge goes, no other news paper in the world has dared to do
This, and there are reasons as well. In the open house discussions, some times, the
Discussions take a very ugly turn , due to the hostile attitude of some of the participants
And the moderator of the event will have to stand in a very unenviable position. I am
Confident that the participants herein will maintain very high standards, in their own
Interests and in the interests of Hindu, appreciating YOUR BONAFIDE MOVE.

from:  C p Chandra das
Posted on: Jun 17, 2013 at 20:55 IST

I don't think that the Modi stand which the paper is taking is against public opinion in anyway. The Hindu probably is one of few newspapers who have been covering the aftermaths of Godhra and Pandya murder case and if one were to look at the facts of the events and some of the events which happen against the minorities it is very hard to call ourselves secular. I think the paper does a fantastic job of taking a tough stand when it could rather take an easy way out and go with the popular opinion. I only wish you could start publishing in Mumbai as well where there are a lot of local problems which don't necessarily get highlighted in the newspapers already in circulation there.
I like that most of the articles call out the facts and show an undocotored version of events in all topics which affect the common man, like a mirror as you correctly called out.
Please keep up the good work, you do a fantastic job

from:  Marwin Saldanha
Posted on: Jun 17, 2013 at 19:35 IST

For your Readers,it is some think unthoughtful of earlier era.Wishing the Chennai meet a success and waiting for the Hyderabad Meet.

from:  Seshagiri Row Karry
Posted on: Jun 17, 2013 at 16:12 IST

Mr MVJ Rao aptly summarized my feelings about the anti MODI/BJP stance that the paper has been taking for a few years now. While there is no discernible reason for this approach, I believe that 'a national newspaper' such as Hindu should also pay heed to readers' opinions/ comments in writing their editorials / articles. In my mind, corruption and mis-governance are much more serious issues that affect the common man today. And despite BJP or any other parties projections of secularism or otherwise, common man is very very secular in India...

from:  Ranga Raghavan
Posted on: Jun 17, 2013 at 16:11 IST

While I fully agree with the broad perspective of Pannerselvan on the editorial maps of newspapers in general, the editorial staff of The Hindu do not seem to share his views that newspaper should be a mirror of public opinion besides being a window on the political situation of various parties and consequent analysis. He must be definitely going through the online comments of long-time readers of your paper on the Modi-BJP issues,and he would have noticed their frustration about the loss of objectivity and one sided presentation in Opinion editorials in the paper. You can say about 90 per cent of online comments are against the editorial views consistently and therefore if he can conclude the paper reflects vox populi in the true sense of the term. As Readers' Editor, it may be seen from this aspect
of objectivity.

from:  MvjRao
Posted on: Jun 17, 2013 at 09:05 IST

This is a very good opportunity. Do we write to the mail address below
the article or else where?

from:  Vidhyalakshmi
Posted on: Jun 17, 2013 at 08:28 IST
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