S. Viswanathan, Deputy Editor, Frontline, will take over as Readers’ Editor of The Hindu on July 1, 2009. His appointment as independent, full-time internal news ombudsman of the newspaper is for two years. He will succeed K. Narayanan, 76, the quintessential professional who during his three-year tenure as Readers’ Editor made a pioneering contribution and shaped the way the institution functions in India.
Mr. Viswanathan, who turned 70 on June 12, is an astute follower of political and cultural trends. He brought to his journalism personal integrity, high standards of professionalism, a soft-spoken and modest style, and social commitment.
After completing his Masters in Economics from Pachaiyappa’s College in Chennai in 1961, he joined The Indian Express as a sub-editor. He worked on the newspaper’s editorial desk for three decades, had responsibility for Express Weekend, and wrote a regular column on socio-political and cultural undercurrents in Tamil Nadu.
Mr. Viswanathan joined Frontline, a sister publication of The Hindu, in November 1993 as Special Correspondent. At the fortnightly, he proved to be a productive writer specialising in education and socio-political areas and demonstrating the value of meticulous fieldwork and research. His series of articles exploring the social situation and economic conditions of Dalits in rural Tamil Nadu, and their resistance to anti-constitutional but widely prevalent segregation, oppression, and violence against them was an eye-opener. This insightful series, which covered 1995-2005, was published as a book, Dalits in Dravidian Land (Navayana, 2005).
In January 2006, The Hindu became the first newspaper in India to appoint an independent full-time Readers’ Editor. The key objectives were to institutionalise the practice of self-regulation, accountability, and transparency; to create a new visible framework to improve the accuracy, verification, and standards in the newspaper; and to strengthen bonds between the newspaper and its millions of print platform and online readers. The newspaper announced, at the time of appointment, that it had been inspired by the exemplary practice and experience of The Guardian, U.K., in a crucial area of journalistic performance. It adopted, with minor modification, the Terms of Reference worked out for The Guardian’s Readers’ Editor.