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Bouquets and brickbats

A walker checks out the refreshed edition of The Hindu.   | Photo Credit: Ch.Vijaya Bhaskar

On February 17, this newspaper was relaunched. It now sports a new design and substantive additions to content. Our office was flooded with letters offering mostly bouquets for the design and brickbats for the increase in cover price. I will try to address these concerns by deploying the framework provided by Michael Schudson, a sociologist and historian of the news media. He argues that despite being the first rough draft of history, not the last word, professional journalism is the enemy of pride, pomposity and ignorance, and thereby a good friend of the people.

A reader from Kolkata, Allen Ebenezer Eric, wrote a lengthy semiotic analysis of the new design. He said The Hindu’s design used to be a semiotic reinforcement of credibility and brought alive a no-nonsense, serious world, but that the core value in design was lost in the last two or three years. The new look has brought back coherence to both design and content, he said. For him, the elegant understated design elements complement the serious, insightful content. Rahul Walse from Pune wrote: “The redesign of The Hindu is refreshing and improves on a lot of things... the use of dotted lines, new colour scheme and new fonts make it more reader-friendly. These changes really give a unique look and feel to the eyes of the reader.”

Font size

However, many older readers did not take kindly to the new font size. P. Ramachandran wrote from Bengaluru: “While appreciating your new endeavour to redesign The Hindu, I am sorry to inform you that it is unreadable for senior citizens like me (68 years) as the font is very small.” B. Jambulingam from Thanjavur felt that the font size of the name of the city in the dateline should either be increased to the next size or be printed in bold.

Some readers said that shifting the Corrections and Clarifications column to the letters section has reduced the space for them to express their views. Nitin Sharma, from Bhiwadi in Rajasthan, said some infographics printed in black and white, with a range of grey hues in between, were simply not clear. He said they would be more comprehensible if they appeared on the colour pages of the newspaper. K. Manasa Saanvi from Hyderabad felt that while the newspaper has issued detailed clarifications about changes in content, it has not published the reasons for fixing a higher price on Sundays. Dr. S. Krishnashankar from Chennai felt that instead of a sharp increase in the price of the Sunday edition, it would be more prudent for the newspaper to spread the price hike across weekdays, with a slightly marginal increase for the weekend editions.

I shared these responses with the Editor, Mukund Padmanabhan, and sought his rationale. Though he is not the person who decides the price at which The Hindu is sold, he was consulted on the hike and he felt that it was necessary given the additional pages in the revamped newspaper. He wanted readers to be aware of the fact that Indian newspapers are heavily subsidised products and cited an estimate that suggested that based on 1991 prices and inflation alone, the production cost of a newspaper would be ₹25.

Need for fair pricing

“English newspapers have been subjected to a sustained price war by a section of the competition, which is why their cost is so low. As a result, newspapers have become overly dependent on advertising and so some are tempted to grab as many eyeballs as they can. This is neither healthy for newspaper groups nor for independent journalism. I urge readers to see the price increase in context. In a world where news is fake, sensationalised, and paid for (by hidden third parties), only you can help to keep journalism balanced and independent. And you help doing this by trusting and paying for what you read,” said Mr. Padmanabhan. I also believe that fair pricing is important for journalism to sustain itself as a site for democratic dissemination of information and stimulating ideas.

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 3:56:50 PM |

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