Readers' Editor

Of written tools and intuitive codes

CHENNAI, 16/10/2014: A.S. Panneerselvan, The Hindu Readers' Editor. Photo: V.V.Krishnan   | Photo Credit: V_V_KRISHNAN

In the professional sphere, one relies on two sets of classifications and categorisations to gather and process the received information. The first set is a written code that flows from learned experience. These are in the form of dos and don’ts, the fine line that divides what is acceptable and what is not, and they set a benchmark for excellence in the chosen profession. But, often, individuals develop a personal set of classifications, a set of private norms as intuitive guiding tools.

Over the last three decades, I have developed a classificatory system drawn from the Tamil poetical tradition called Aathichudi. In the tenth century A.D., Avvaiyar, a sage poet with an extraordinary command over the language, and an amazing sense of economy of words (just two words), created 109 aphorisms that are universal in their import. In the last century, nationalist poet, Subramania Bharathiyar wrote a new Aathichudi, called Pudiya Aathichudi. One human emotion that marks the difference between the tenth century wise woman from the early 20th century prolific poet is anger. The former is gentle, feminine and restrained. She said “ aaruvathu sinam”, which means that anger is an emotion that subsides.

Bharathiyar’s lines are clearly masculine, firm and admonishing in their tone. His call is “ rowthiram pazaghu”, that is to cultivate anger. As a Readers’ Editor, I like to classify the responses we get from the readers into two broad categories: the ‘Avvaiyar’ mode and the ‘Bharathiyar’ mode.

Holidays and the crossword puzzle

The July 7, 2016 editions of this newspaper did not carry the usual crossword puzzle and Sudoku. Some readers reacted in an angry fashion. They attributed the absence of the puzzles to growing encroachment of advertisements into the content space. How I wish they had reflected for a moment before casting aspersions. It is the policy not to carry the crossword puzzles on days when there are holidays for some editions of this newspaper. The crossword has two components: one, the puzzle grid and two, the solutions for the previous day’s puzzle. In the case of a holiday, that affects a particular edition, it creates a peculiar problem. Is it fair to carry only solutions for a puzzle which was not published in the local edition but printed in the other editions? The editorial team considered various options including publishing the grid and the solutions in the Internet editions alone during the holidays. But the feedback they received from readers forced them to select a system that is fair to all crossword solvers — that is, not to publish the puzzle when one of the editions of this newspaper is closed for holiday. In this case, July 6, 2016 was an Eid holiday for the Kerala editions of this newspaper; hence there was no edition in that State on July 7, 2016. Consequently, there was no crossword that day.

Which version?

According to reader Thomas Koshy, there are contradictions in the newspaper and he wanted to know which version one should believe. He cited a July 6 news report that quoted sources close to Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley — that “he opted out of handling the Information and Broadcasting Ministry”. He also referred to the editorial, “At home in New Delhi” (July 7, 2016) that said: “At the top, by taking away the Information and Broadcasting portfolio from Arun Jaitley”. There are absolutely no contradictions here. The first is a news report and reflected the opinion of the Finance Ministry. The second is an editorial that reflected the inference of the newspaper. It is perfectly legitimate to arrive at an inference that is vastly different from the officially stated position.

Pramila Krishnan, a journalist who works for the BBC’s Tamil section, raised a set of questions regarding a column in the ‘Perspective’ page and a feature in the Friday Review. On July 7, 2016, this newspaper’s film critic, Baradwaj Rangan, wrote a piece, “Back to blaming the movies?” in which a sentence read: “But this real-life story took a sharp U-turn when the boy, apparently smarting from the girl’s insults about his looks, hacked her to death.” Ms. Krishnan felt strongly that the writer must not have said “hacked her to death” as the prosecution has not yet been completed, the trial yet to begin, and the court still to pronounce its judgment. She wondered why reporters are wary of using the prefix “allegedly” in crime reports till the final court verdict. I notice that the broadcast journalist has conflated two different issues here. First, she failed to make the distinction between a news report and an opinion piece. Second, the fact in this particular crime is that the victim was hacked to death and there was no ambiguity. Hence, there is no need to use the journalistic prefix “allegedly”.

Ms. Krishnan’s other objection was to the feature, “The gender conundrum” (July 1, 2016), which looked at young male dancers shying away from depicting shringara rasa on stage as a generalising statement. She argued that the views of the male dancers were not reflected in the piece. But the writer had indeed talked to many male dancers, both seniors and younger ones such as Raja Reddy, Pandit Jai Kishan Maharaj, Parshwanath Upadhye and Navtej Johar. The article refrained from making any sweeping statements and sensitively looked at the gender identity on stage.

Looking back at the number of corrections, clarifications and columns from the office of the Readers’ Editor, the ‘Avvaiyar’ mode of letters often points out the real errors, while the ‘Bharathiyar’ mode of letters reflects anger more than the real lapses on the part of the newspaper. How I wish more writers absorbed Avvaiyar’s notion of anger.

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