It is heartening to see that The Hindu readers use a fine toothcomb to spot even a minor mistake that somehow seeps into print despite having a fairly fail-proof gatekeeping system in place. Some of them have also written asking a few pertinent questions about the role of the Readers’ Editor. They wanted to know how the Terms of Reference for the Readers’ Editor and the Code of Editorial Values for the editorial team are implemented in the paper. The basic thrust was: how are the high principles stated in these two documents turned into actual practice? Is there a gap between the stated principles and the day-to-day functioning of the paper? Can you tell us how you do your task?
The Readers’ Editor has an enviable place in this paper. The foremost element is the institutionalisation of the independence of the Readers’ Editor. The post of the Readers' Editor is not under the regular editorial hierarchy, but an appointment by the board of Kasturi & Sons, the publishers of this paper. This insulates the Readers’ Editor from the peer-pressure of the editorial team.
Second, there is a dedicated space in the Op-Ed page of the paper to address the concerns and queries of the readers. The space is available six days a week, as an integral component of the Op-Ed page, except on Sunday where there is no Op-Ed page. The readers reach us through all modes of communication — letters, e-mail, phone and fax. The office of the Readers’ Editor includes an assistant readers’ editor and an editorial assistant to scan through all the responses we get from the readers.
Third, the entire editorial team, including the Editor, is available for a discussion with the Readers’ Editor. Fourth, the editorial team responds to the queries within a reasonable time enabling the Readers’ Editor to carry the corrections and clarifications in the print the very next day. The corrections are carried out in the online version on the same day. Fifth, the responses from the readers encourage the reporters to produce a near-flawless copy. Sixth, the symbiotic relationship between committed journalism and engaged readership gives a sense of vibrancy, which every journalist values highly.
With reference to the Code of Editorial Values, the cardinal governing principle for working journalists is explicitly enunciated in the article 4 of ‘Living Our Values’. It states: “The core editorial values, universally accepted today by all trustworthy newspapers and newspaper-owning companies, are truth-telling, freedom and independence, fairness and justice, good responsible citizenship, humaneness, and commitment to the social good. Practising these values requires, among other things, the Company’s journalists excelling in the professional disciplines, and especially the discipline of verifying everything that is published. It requires our journalists to maintain independence from those they cover, be fair and just in their news coverage, and avoid conflicts of interest. It means being interesting and innovative, and learning and mastering new ways and techniques of storytelling and presentation of editorial content in this digital age so as to engage readers and promote a lively and mutually beneficial conversation with them. Above all, it means the uncompromising practice of editorial integrity. In keeping with the exemplary tradition of a general daily newspaper of record and consistent with contemporary best practice, The Hindu shall, as a rule, maintain a clear distinction between news, critical analysis, and opinion in its editorial content and shall not editorialise or opinionate in news reports. The Company must endeavour to provide in its publications a fair and balanced coverage of competing interests, and to offer the readers diverse, reasonable viewpoints, subject to its editorial judgment.”
These 200-odd words spell out many of the requirements expected of a good, professional journalist. These skills, which are constantly evolving and honed to meet the digital challenges, give journalists the status of the message-bearers. So when, I as the Readers’ Editor receive a complaint, I check the veracity of the complaint using the above stated principles. If there is any slip-up, we move fast to redress the failing. It is a three-way collaborative effort involving the readers, the Readers’ Editor and the editorial team. It is an effort to have a healthy and mature public discourse.