The Hindu believes it is the first newspaper in the history of Indian journalism to appoint a Readers' Editor. The Readers' Editor will be the independent, full-time internal ombudsman of The Hindu .

The key objectives of this appointment are to institutionalise the practice of self-regulation, accountability, and transparency; to create a new visible framework to improve accuracy, verification, and standards in the newspaper; and to strengthen bonds between the newspaper and its millions of print platform and online readers.

From The Readers' Editor | | Tryst with trust

FROM THE READERS’ EDITOR | Literature in a hurry

FIFA World Cup in Russia and the Wimbledon Championship in England, dominated not just the sports page but on specific occasions, the first page of this newspaper too. Readers who generally call this office to complain were generous in their praise. A Twitter message read: “Congratulations to @the_hindu. The second semi-final of the football World Cup must have ended past 130 am this morning. Yet the photo of the winning shot made it to the front page of today’s Hyderabad city edition. Any other newspaper in India did this?”

K.C. Vijaya Kumar, who heads the sports section of The Hindu, explained how his team managed to cover these two mega sporting events. Ever since the FIFA World Cup commenced in Russia a month ago, the sports desk has been grappling with the challenge of churning out pages at different time slots just to ensure that the newspaper has the latest match reports/ results. “Usually the first edition is sent at 10.30 p.m. and the late city edition at 12.30 a.m., with an error margin of 10 to 15 minutes. But with the second match often going way past midnight, the desk adopted a graveyard shift. Thankfully, diverse departments — pagination and circulation — with the active support of the Editor and CEO agreed to have a split edition for late city,” he said.

What does this mean in terms of page making and printing? The late city edition, which closes generally around 12.30 a.m., was supplemented with an additional late city 2 edition, which closed around 1.45 a.m. The additional late city 2 edition had the latest match report or result and catered to various cities across the country while the initial late city edition catered to the suburbs and the Tier-2 towns located around printing venues. The Wimbledon men’s semi-final between Kevin Anderson and John Isner, which lasted six hours and 35 minutes, put additional pressure on the sports team.

The sports desk coped with the varied deadlines. Editor Mukund Padmanabhan, who is covering Wimbledon, and Sportstar Editor Ayon Sengupta, who is covering the FIFA World Cup, had to file their reports within 15 minutes of the matches ending. Both sent their reports on tight deadlines. The desk, adroitly manned by R. Narayanan, coped with multiple pages and different layouts. With Srinivasan Ramani and his data team giving relevant statistics, and the graphics team lending aesthetic support, we were able to deliver multiple pages with the latest sporting news.

The flip side

However, this arrangement did have its flip side. Some readers read the same updated report on two successive days due to an overlap between the core city areas, and suburbs and nearby towns. This was because on two successive days, the reader got to read the late city 2 edition and on the next day, late city 1. If split editions are to continue in future, we need to fine-tune both the print schedule and delivery mechanisms to address these glitches.

Gary Andrew Poole, in his CJR essay, said that sports are “part of people’s dreams, of how they define themselves.” According to him, the sports pages hold the honour as one of the best-written and best-reported sections in a newspaper. Despite the growth of live television and the spread of the Web, these writers are able to not only sustain readers’ interest but also enhance the pleasure of reading. At a fundamental level, sports journalism reiterates the idea that good journalism is celebrated for its intrinsic value of being literature in a hurry. The sports pages of the last fortnight stand testimony to this value.

From the Reader's Editor | | The numbers don’t add up

The paradox of job growth” (July 5, 2018), by R. Nagaraj, who works for the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research in Mumbai, shows that this method is also under severe strain. It underlines the difficulties of data journalists in India. India is a country of paradoxes. The Constitution guarantees fundamental rights and ensures separation of powers of various estates of the state. Legislation like the Right to Information Act is supposed to empower people to access information without being subjected to opaque bureaucracy and obsolete laws. However, it seems that the state machinery has become sloppy in producing, collating and processing data. As the country is celebrating the 125th anniversary of Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, the founder of the Indian Statistical Institute, the irony of not of having a Chief Statistician for nearly six months is disturbing.

Two statements by Prime Minister Narendra Modi underpin the crisis in general, and as a corollary, its impact on journalism. In a recent interview to Swarajya magazine, he said that the state of the economy in 2014 was much worse than expected and even the Budget figures were suspicious. He asserted that a White Paper on the state of economy at that stage would not have been a “mollifier” but a “multiplier of the distress”. About the lack of jobs, Mr. Modi said that the issue was more to do with a lack of data on jobs, and said that “our traditional matrix of measuring jobs is simply not good enough to measure new jobs in the new economy of New India.”

Professor Nagaraj asks, “Are the latest employment estimates by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) factually correct?” He finds them to be off the mark and confined to the economy’s organised sector, accounting at best for 15% of the workforce. He says there is probably no paradox in high output growth rates and the marginal effect on employment if one acknowledges that GDP estimates (after the latest revision a few years ago) have “apparently overstated domestic output growth on account of the infirmities in the methods applied and datasets used”.

Providing the context

On cursory reading, it may look like Mr. Nagaraj and Mr. Modi are on the same page. But a closer reading reveals that the economist pushes us to examine the numbers given by the government with caution and scepticism. In my earlier columns, “Making sense of metadata” (August 29, 2015) and “The data conundrum” (May 21, 2018), I argued for the centrality of context in interpreting data. Now it is clear that the term context with reference to government-generated data should first explain the changes in the methodologies and parameters used by the state agencies to put the numbers together. It is now impossible to compare some of the old data, including the Budget figures, with the new data to arrive at any meaningful conclusion. The creation of NITI Aayog and the abolition of plan expenditure posed a huge challenge to a meaningful comparison of the allocation of funds for various sectors as there are no corresponding figures with the same parameters.

Many economists see that the numbers flowing from the new methodology deployed by the CSO are no longer illuminating but misleading. The data conundrum is not restricted to the CSO alone but extends to other economic wings of the government. We need a new investigative series to look at how numbers are computed and what it really means to the people of India.

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