Dialogue dividends


The Hindu’s Open House ensures a free and frank exchange of ideas between readers and senior editors

The Neiman Reports recently explored the idea of ‘dialogue journalism’ in a piece titled, “Can dialogue journalism engage audiences, foster civil discourse, and increase trust in the media?” In that report, Chuck Todd, the moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, observed: “As a journalist, you can’t just sit in the observation tower anymore and report that one side is saying this and the other side is saying that. Listening to community voices and encouraging them to listen to each other is not a new tactic in journalism, it’s just more of a necessity than before.” In polarised times, dialogue helps people listen to each other rather than emphasise their own points in echo chambers. In my experience, The Hindu’s Open House has become a forum for engagement. It is a form of dialogue journalism.

Discussion in the Open House

We invited 40 readers for the last Open House, which was held in Kochi on July 27, for a free and frank exchange of ideas with the senior editorial team led by the Editor. A representative from the management was also present to address non-editorial queries. We provided adequate time to the readers to raise their concerns. It was heartening to note that there were young college students, literary translators, teachers and retired bureaucrats in the audience. The reason for limiting the number to 40 was to ensure that every participant got an opportunity to express his or her opinion.

Louise Diamond of The Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy once said: “Dialogue means we sit and talk with each other, especially those with whom we may think we have the greatest differences. However, talking together all too often means debating, discussing with a view to convincing the other, arguing for our point of view, examining pros and cons. In dialogue, the intention is not to advocate but to inquire; not to argue but to explore; not to convince but to discover.”

Instead of being trapped in the binary of digital media and legacy media, readers understood the value of the process of news-gathering and news processing. Two young readers, Anna Kattampally and Chithra S. Nair, both graduate students from St. Teresa’s College, said younger readers now wait for proper journalistic writing to know the truth as social media forwards carry too much misinformation. They told us that there is a dramatic increase in the sharing of sensational, unverified content which is eroding trust in various institutions. They said that the fact that such messages come from known circles give them some form of credence. It is in this context that they have decided to become readers of The Hindu, a newspaper which makes central to its news coverage the act of verification.

A difficult balance

Many readers spoke of a balance of hyperlocal, local, state, national and international news. Diverse opinions indicated that any fixed formula would make someone unhappy, as the interests of each reader are different from another’s. One idea that the Editor approved of was the creation of an edition-centric letters section to deal with local and civic issues. This can be a form of citizen journalism. He has promised to make the local letters section an interactive one: readers will raise issues and the newspaper will seek responses to these issues from the authorities concerned. One reader said that the official responses could become formulaic and wanted the newspaper to examine both the complaints and the responses, so that there is a system of accountability. This new section should be available within a fortnight.

In the era of digitisation, a question that was asked was, shouldn’t news be free? When there are multiple sources of information, why should a publication have a paywall? Some argued that the paywall proposal was an attempt to turn news into a commodity that people are willing to pay for.

The answer is simple: news costs money, and credible news costs more money. It is our own democratic investment to pay a fair price for high-quality journalism. For nearly a century, the revenue model was driven by advertising, which is now getting fragmented across platforms.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 9:39:48 PM |

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