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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 | The language of grief

From The Readers' Editor | | Public interest journalism needs public investment

novel coronavirus (COVID-19) test. When three wide-bodied aircraft landed in quick succession, the queue got longer, and the process slower. In order to ease the passing of time, to borrow a phrase from the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, I began reading a report, “” by Lavender Au published in The New York Review of Books. It was a printout that I had taken in Kathmandu before coming to India.

The idea of a paywall

The many references to COVID-19 and quarantine in the text, printed in large font, attracted the attention of a couple of fellow travellers. The moment they realised that I am the Readers’ Editor of The Hindu, their focus shifted from the virus to journalism. They insisted that The Hindu should at least place its stories on COVID-19, including ones debunking myths surrounding the virus, outside the paywall. They told me that it is the duty of a major publication like The Hindu to not only generate credible reports, but also make them available to every reader.

The next day, this newspaper carried a lead article by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh titled “An unrest, a slowdown and a health epidemic”. My fellow travellers called me and said that important articles like Dr. Singh’s should also be offered free. They used two terms while arguing their point: ‘credible news’ and ‘democratic duty’. As a news ombudsman, I am also beholden to these two terms. The very idea of having an interlocutor between the readers and the editorial shows the newspaper’s commitment to foster trust and build a better news ecology that can confront the spread of disinformation and misinformation.

I support the idea of a paywall for a simple reason: public interest journalism needs public investment. Fair pricing of news products, be it in print or on digital platforms, alone can sustain independent media. The idea that news is free actually undermines the sustainability of the news industry. In light of these fresh demands for placing specific stories outside the paywall, I had a long interaction on this issue with the Editor, Suresh Nambath. His arguments were also for fair pricing.

Rationale for the subscription model

Mr. Nambath explained the rationale for the subscription model as devised by The Hindu’s digital team: “It’s been long recognised now that advertising, which sustains the printed newspaper to a large extent, is a really weak source of revenue when it comes to digital publications. That doesn’t mean advertising has no role to play; it does play a role, albeit a limited one. A large number of digital start-ups in news have come up in recent years without a business model to speak of — many of these are kept afloat by money pumped in by venture capitalists. The Hindu decided to tap s, and last year became the first mainstream Indian publication to do so.”

草草影院最新地址入口Mr. Nambath explained how this source of revenue is seen as a natural fit for the kind of journalism the newspaper practises. “Many others who have tried to tap digital advertising to its fullest have done so by throwing in a lot of, what we could call, low quality viral content. These publications have been okay with publishing gossip, unconfirmed news, stories about personal lives of celebrities, stories with graphic description of violence and so on in their attempts to get as many page views as possible. In fact, the philosophy that governs our print publication is also the philosophy that governs our online properties. Only the formats change. The journalism and values behind the journalism are the same. Given this, the best way to make it a sustainable proposition was to tap subscriptions. This helps us have a direct relationship with the reader,” he said.

News gathering and news processing are expensive. The Hindu’s seamless coverage of news is a result of the round-the-clock efforts of hundreds of people — reporters, editors, fact-checkers, photographers, videographers, publishers and support staff.

The price of digital subscription turns out to be less than ₹2.50 a day. Subscriptions come with a host of additional benefits. This is an essential democratic investment.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

FROM THE READERS’ EDITOR | | The difference between a listening post and a hammer

‘The Huddle’, The Hindu Group of Publications’ annual thought conclave, participants invariably convert interactions on the sidelines into open house sessions. They compare how the topics that were discussed at The Huddle were covered by the newspaper in its pages. Some of them thought that the newspaper and The Huddle were a perfect fit as both share the idea of dialogue, debate and discussion. One them said that my definition of my role “where I begin from a position that all complaints are made in good faith and that no journalist comes to work to mislead readers” was limiting. He thought my columns worked well when I found fault with the reporters or the newspaper, but read defensive when they explained journalistic terms and theories. He was delighted with my column, “Journalism in the time of an epidemic” (February 10), and felt let down by the subsequent column, “Strident nationalism and rigorous journalism”(February 17).

Over a cup of coffee, I explained to him that as an internal news ombudsman, I always remember the saying, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Many instances of overreach happen because of this attitude where there is little space for critical evaluation. My job is to critically evaluate complaints using journalistic yardsticks and examine whether or not the newspaper did a fair job of addressing them. It is neither about vindicating the newspaper’s writings nor about rejecting them.

Exchange of views

The session on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) gave me an opportunity to explain the newspaper’s approach to contentious issues. I drew the attention of this reader to a study by Meltwater India that pointed out to the fact that “NDTV, [The] Hindu, Dainik Jagran [are the] biggest drivers for online conversation on CAA”. This study put The Hindu草草影院最新地址入口 on top in the print category as it led the mScore based on editorial mentions, reach, and tonality for CAA-related stories.

When Yamini Aiyar, President of the Centre for Policy Research, pointed out that the CAA fundamentally upended the Constitution by creating two very distinct pathways of citizenship on the basis of religion, and how problematic it is to decouple the CAA from the proposed National Population Register and National Register of Citizens, as both are intrinsically intertwined, the reader who raised questions earlier acknowledged that there is a clear method in this newspaper’s approach to both reporting as well as debating issues. On the question of citizenship, he was able to see why I mentioned the case of the plantation Tamils of Sri Lanka and their statelessness in an earlier column, “The enemies of writing” (January 27, 2020). It was an exchange of views where a reader who did not agree with the editorial stand on some crucial contentious issues accepted later that there was a clear thinking behind the editorial judgment and that it was not guided by narrow partisan considerations.

Listening to diverse voices

The question of the “other” came up through the discussions. There were two panels in which the theme of “othering” came up for intense scrutiny. The first panel was on the Kashmir conundrum and the second one was on the age of the strongman and the rise of illiberal democracies. The participants realised that there is a need to listen to diverse voices rather seeking confirmation bias. They realised that critical voices against muscular nationalism are the ones that keep the space for plural society intact. The role for the media in this task, despite a lot of external pressures, is immense.

If the newspaper has to remain the site for a democratic mediation of ideas and to hold those in power accountable, the fundamental requirement is empathy. President Ram Nath Kovind said that The Hindu sticks to the five basic principles of journalism: truth-telling, freedom and independence, justice, humaneness, and contributing to the social good. These five pillars are raised on the foundation called empathy.

At the end of the conclave, the reader said that though his heart is with what BJP MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar said about the CAA, and what BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav’s said on Kashmir, he also realised that the opposing viewpoints had some rationale. He said that the government should be open for dialogue rather than implementing decisions without seeking people’s opinions. He said, “Please remain a listening post and never become a hammer.”

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

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