The constant feedback I receive from the readers and the journalists of The Hindu gives me an evolving template to sharpen my approach. The idea of this institution is to create a structure that is both responsible and responsive to the readers’ requirements. My request to evaluate my work is a yet another attempt in furthering the cause of self-regulation.
A former Flight Lieutenant of Indian Air Force and a resident of Thiruvananthapuram, R. Swarnalatha, felt that the office of the Readers’ Editor was of more value to the readers than perhaps to the paper. She wrote: “As I understand, the newspaper is not obliged to respond to letters written to the Editor, unless warranted to. The RE’s office helps to make two-way communication possible for ‘serious’ readers who are thinkers and experts in their own right. After all, no one who bothers to write or type out a letter has any frivolous purpose in doing so, only meaningful intentions.”
The response from B. Ramakrishna, Hyderabad, was: “A readers’ editor is definitely worth having, and you have been doing a great job in The Hindu, particularly in the daily corrections and clarifications column and in laying out the broader framework in which journalists work. In between these two ends of the spectrum, there is some scope for improvement.”
Atul Sharma from Haryana said: “[…] The Corrections & Clarifications column is great. Your column is enlightening with many authentic and logical quotes from journalistic legends. [...] Your strength is your acceptance, openness and humility but your weakness is that mistakes repeat [...]”
May I share my views about how I try to fulfil my mandate as the ombudsman of this newspaper? The core of self-regulation in media is the commitment to excellence that goes beyond the legal requirements. The fulcrum of this universe is a value system that is deeply embedded in the notion of commons and common good. One of the goals of this institution is what the reader from Adambakkam, N.S. Venkatesan, wants this paper to be. Error-free.Not punitive
First, let me start with my approach to the ombudsmanship. Someone asked me within a month of my appointment about how I plan to conduct myself as the custodian of the readers’ interest in the paper: “Will you have the courage to rock the boat?” My answer was nuanced. I agreed with the boat analogy but the agreement stopped there. My role is not to rock the boat for the sake of proving a point but to be an effective tailwind that ensures high-quality journalism. I will be fearless in pointing out mistakes, shortcomings and inaccuracies but will refrain from naming the individual journalist. The Corrections and Clarifications columns will inform the reporter or sub-editor concerned that something is amiss. The idea is to effect course correction and not being punitive.
Second, I decided to maintain a line between my weekly column and the day-to-day Corrections and Clarifications (C&C). Bringing in too many elements of the C&C, in my opinion, may have reduced the column to the status of a supra copy editor’s note. On the other hand, I used the feedback from the readers to write on specific issues about which concerns were raised. On some occasions the readers were right, and on other occasions the journalists were right. I tried to bring out both these realities in my column. I also used the column to explain the broad principles and cardinal values that govern journalism so that readers can get an idea of the philosophical underpinning of the vocation. I recognise that space in the editorial pages is a special privilege which can be used for reflecting on media since there is no specialised media beat in South Asia.
Third, I consciously refrained from writing on issues that do not directly concern media, freedom of expression, rules and ethics of journalism. In that sense, none of my columns strayed into the editorial domain.
The challenge is to harness the multiple wishes of the readers within the limitations posed by the paucity of space. There are also instances when readers do not agree with the editorial line taken by the paper. There is a distinction between allowing plural voices and not permitting voices that may undermine the diverse fabric of our society. Some of the nuances and the way editorial judgments are made were explained to the readers in the first open house.Second open house
The second open house will be held in Bangalore in the third week of March. 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 facilitate your participation.