Opinion » Readers' Editor

Updated: January 13, 2014 10:24 IST

You said it

A. S. Panneerselvan
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A.S. Panneerselvan. Photo: S.R. Raghunathan
The Hindu
A.S. Panneerselvan. Photo: S.R. Raghunathan

I am grateful to all the readers who responded to my request to evaluate the institution of the Readers’ Editor and my own functioning over a period of sixteen months. Though an overwhelming number of letters found this institution to be of immense value, I am obliged to share first a couple of letters that were critical of my role. To my question, does the existence of the Readers’ Editor (RE) make you feel that the paper is responsive to your views and opinions, the reply from a reader from Chennai,  M.D. Ravikanth, was: “a big no”. He felt that the office of the Readers’ Editor had not acknowledged any of his mails.

His pithy verdict was: “The strength of the institution is the institution itself.  Like any other institution, this will also be only as good as the head of the institution. Weakness lies in the person heading the institution. Am not sure if RE has been given proper infrastructure and he really has independence in spirit to match the glorious letters that define the independence of RE. In my view, the weakness lies in not responding to the readers meticulously and as result, their points of views are not considered leading to the conclusion that the work of RE is publish “correction & clarification” section and a weekly column by RE. The purpose of interacting with readers, understand their views and align the paper to the readers views and expectations (as long as it does not impinge on the core values and beliefs of the paper) is solely given a go-by.”

Another trenchant statement from a reader from Hyderabad Sudhir Kumar: “You have confined the role to two things: Corrections and Clarifications; and praising the newspaper’s approach on a variety of issues. It is indeed sad that an ombudsman that needs to be a critique has reduced the office to merely agreeing with the newspaper’s stance even if allegations are false.” Mr. Kumar then cites examples from the opinion pieces written by Justice Katju and Harish Khare. For instance, he took a serious exception to Mr. Khare’s statement that “[h]e (Modi) has already scared sober and sensible middle-class Indians.” I beg to differ with Mr. Kumar’s position. Somewhere he misses the crucial difference between a news page and an opinion page. Opinion writers are free to express themselves and Mr. Khare is entitled to his opinion.

Mr. Ravikanth’s mails were always taken into consideration, and one of my columns — The adjective filter — was a product of his mails. While my office and I go through every letter, it is nearly impossible to respond to each letter, individually, every time. Initially, I contemplated an auto-response mailer to every mail that landed in our mailbox. But, when we did a close reading of the contents of the mails, there were questions relating to submission of articles, issues relating to circulation and advertisement and even copies of the letters to the editor. Then I gave up that idea because it was not possible to sift through this body of mails and have an auto-response only to the mails that are directly relating to the work of Readers’ Editor office. Whenever I see a generic issue in reader’s letters, they form the basis of my weekly column. If it is specific, we try to redress them in the Corrections and Clarifications section. And every criticism is passed on to the relevant desk and the reporter both for their response and for their information. Regarding his doubts about the infrastructure for the office of the Readers’ Editor, we are adequately staffed and resourced to do a credible job. As regards the independence, let me assure him as well as other readers that there had been no interference whatsoever from the board of Kasturi and Sons, the publishers of this newspaper. It is pertinent to record a crucial fact here. Siddharth Varadarajan till October 21, 2013, and N. Ravi since then read my column only after it was printed and never sought a pre-publication preview. When I needed a clarification from them, I got it without any delay or reservation. Despite this if there is failing on the part of the office of the Readers’ Editor, then I am solely responsible. The buck stops with me.

The oft-repeated criticism is that I am not giving credit in the Corrections and Clarifications section to the readers who point out the errors and mistakes. Kasi, a reader from Madipakkam, wrote: “If the correction is pointed out by a reader, why don’t you give credit to him? After all, a reader will be delighted to see his name in print. The Hindu cannot have the cake and eat it too.” How I wish I could do this. But how can I run a section that will take up more than a full page of the paper? Every slip-up is noticed by many an alert reader and we get more than hundred alerts sometimes, many over the phone. And, to be fair to the desk, they also notice the errors that slipped their scrutiny in the earlier editions and correct them for the later editions.

Next week, I shall look at the positive feedbacks. I should also be in a position to talk about the second Open house that should pave way for a direct interaction between the readers, Editors and the Readers' Editor. All I can assure you at this stage is that the second Open house will not be in Chennai.

Thanks for addressing multiple questions. I also appreciate you for your honesty in publishing the stern views and comments of the readers. Without an iota of doubt I can comprehend it would be near impossible to publish names of each and every reader. From the readers perspective it would be motivating to see once name published in the newspaper. I hope you understand this.

from:  Manoj P
Posted on: Jan 15, 2014 at 09:32 IST

‘ . . . RE make you feel that the paper is responsive to your views
and opinions?’ I find this question of last time repeated here! Can
the question be realistically, honestly and practically addressed?? Is
there the need, at all, to do so, when The Hindu is publicly committed
to ‘Living Our Values’, and to honour ‘the mandatory Code of Editorial
Values’? How can ‘your views and opinions’, very likely and
understandably widely varying, all be satisfactorily accommodated?? I
suppose, only anything at variance with ‘living our values’, which The
Hindu does, needs to be countered and tackled; not any ‘hurt to
sentiment’, the readers may feel. Also, newspapers need not be forums
for vainglorious readers to advance their vanity! As regards Messrs.
Khare and Katju, without being prejudiced, I may say, if not their
opinion, they themselves can be blacked out, as The Hindu now seems to
be doing!

from:  Devraj Sambasivan
Posted on: Jan 15, 2014 at 07:52 IST

Rationalize op-ed space judiciously. Have an online tool to collect readers' feedback, summarize them, and issue alerts for editor's attention. No point sharing two feedbacks in toto with every reader. Have another tool to sift through the readers' comments and publish or respond with reasons, why it was rejected, to avoid human prejudices. Learn from competitors; do not reinvent the wheel.

from:  VMNS
Posted on: Jan 14, 2014 at 15:57 IST

The fact that you have taken two letters which criticised your office
(to answer first) shows that you are sincere in your job. You are likely
to get both appreciation and criticism in equal measure at all times as
this is the nature of your office. If you are not carried away by the
former and is receptive to the latter, in my opinion, you have done your
job (as you have proved in your action).

from:  D. Darwin Albert Raj
Posted on: Jan 14, 2014 at 09:20 IST
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