An invitation for a virtual conversation

In 2012, when I was appointed the Readers’ Editor (RE) of this newspaper, I came up with different working methodologies to fulfil the various strands of the mandate under the binding Terms of Reference. One of the tasks assigned to the RE was “to look for ways of improving the paper’s work and performance, in the broadest sense, by collating and analysing readers’ concerns, ideas, and suggestions and identifying possible new or alternative courses of action and ways to develop the paper for the benefit of its readers and the paper itself”.

Reaching out to the newspaper

There are three conventional forums through which readers reach out to the newspaper: they write letters to the editor, letters to the RE, and express their opinion in the below-the-line comment section of the web edition of the newspaper. A careful analysis of these comments brought out a simple truth starkly: readers comment on specific news reports and not on the newspaper as a whole. A newspaper is a jigsaw puzzle, where each piece is tied to another in an organic manner. Editorial judgment is the suturing tool which brings these pieces together. The idea that a responsible newspaper is an interlocking public flows from this.

In 2013, we organised the first Open House for The Hindu’s readers in Chennai. Even while inviting readers for this event, I made it clear that a newspaper is not a consumer product; it is a public institution, a common good, and a public sphere despite its private ownership. Over a period of time, I have argued that the legacy media, such as The Hindu, can retain the space for the classical four ‘d’s’ of democracy — discussion, dissent, debate and, finally, informed decision. I have also written that digital platforms, despite all the possibilities they offer, often tend to become ideological silos, where common ground is elusive.

Based on this premise, I managed to host several Open House discussions across cities. These paved the way for a free and frank exchange of ideas between the editorial team, led by the Editor himself, and a vast cross-section of readers. These meetings brought together the various expectations that readers have of the the newspaper in different cities. It helped us realise that a one-size-fits-all approach is not only a bad policy for governance but also for a multi-edition newspaper. The last Open House was held on February 1, 2020, in Vijayawada. As I had mentioned in my column, ‘The language of grief’ (March 23, 2020), we had to call off the Open House that we had planned to celebrate 50 years of this newspaper in Bengaluru.

Virtual meetings

While the news cycle moved to being distinctly digital, with virtual meetings becoming the norm, I was still holding on to my belief that a physical meeting is more ideal for dialogue than the virtual space. I was desperately hoping that the pandemic would soon become endemic and we could meet each other for a hearty exchange of views and ideas. But I am not a Luddite to shun the possibilities afforded by science and technology. In fact, as early as in 2015, we hosted a virtual Open House to mark The Hindu’s digital presence. Though we gained a lot from our distant interactions with our readers, it certainly lacked the compact of a physical meeting.

However, the severity of the pandemic has changed the dynamics of conversation. More people are now comfortable talking to each other virtually. The lockdown-imposed reality has forced us to reach out to each other in the cyberworld. And so, we have decided to host a virtual Open House on July 17, a Saturday.

We solicit readers to write to us a brief note about themselves if they are interested in attending the virtual Open House. Though technology permits any number of participants, we would like to limit participation to 100 readers in order to have an effective conversation. Your personal note will help us invite people from different parts of India and ensure wider participation. We propose to have the session between 11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

The objective of the Open House remains the same: to listen to readers closely to find out what they are interested in and to explain some salient features of the newspaper’s working.

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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 9:05:35 PM |

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