New Delhi: A readers’ editor is an added layer of transparency that any news organisation owes its readers and audiences, said several veteran journalists Sunday as they addressed a webinar organised by the India International Centre (IIC) in Delhi.
Organised in collaboration with The Media Foundation, a nonprofit chaired by veteran journalist Harish Khare, the webinar was centred on the subject ‘The Readers’ Editor: Regaining the Trust’.
A readers’ editor in a media organisation is an internal watchdog who serves as an instrument of self-regulation, transparency and accountability, while being an intermediary between readers and the publication.
The speakers at the webinar were A.S. Paneerselvan, a former readers’ editor at The Hindu, Siddharth Varadarajan, founder-editor of The Wire, C. Rammanohar Reddy, former readers’ editor at Scroll.in, and Shailaja Bajpai, who plays that role at ThePrint. The session was moderated by Vibodh Parathasarathi, associate professor at Jamia Millia Islamia.
Paneerselvan said readers’ editors have become much more inclusive in the eyes of the editing desk and readers, than just being a “nit-picker”. “It took some time for people to come to terms with these visible mending mechanisms,” he added.
Varadarajan emphasised how journalists in the role of readers’ editors are crucial to address the queries of readers.
“We were very clear from the beginning that we wanted TheWire to be an independent media organisation, we envisaged it as creating a conscious break in media models, which depended on venture capitalists and politicians,” he said. “We were very clear that readers were going to sustain this, and, thus, they should have a channel where they could raise questions and we could address them.”
A readers’ editor, he added, should ideally be someone outside of the editorial structure of the organisation. This, he said, could act as an added layer of transparency.
Reddy said the role of a readers’ editor becomes more significant in an era when the media is being delegitimised by political forces.
“It is more worthwhile these days in this polarising environment — especially when media houses and organisations are being delegitimised not for what they do or not do, but by political forces and governments. I took up this opportunity because it was exciting to stand outside the editorial structure and effectively communicate to the publication what readers wanted,” he added.
Bajpai discussed the kind of responses she gets as a readers’ editor, saying they primarily deal with technical issues, or factual errors. However, there are also some poisonous comments alleging ‘biases’ or targeting certain individuals who write on the platform, she said.
“We disabled the comments for individual stories on our platform because we have many youngsters working for us, and readers get abusive and threatening with their comments,” she added. “It was also to direct those responses to the readers’ editors so that it can be communicated to the editors.”
“The idea was to bridge the gap between the readers and ThePrint, we wanted to show we care, and they are being heard. The response has been positive,” she added. “I get so many responses just thanking me for replying to their queries and suggestions.”
Larger media responsibility
Paneerselvan said, after the second term of the BJP started at the Centre, the type of communications newspapers receive has changed dramatically. “Given the fact that we are operating in a polarising environment, you need an internal mechanism to sort out whether complaints are ideological or have any solid base,” he added.
Bajpai said being familiar with the newsroom earlier has worked as an added advantage. “In the case of the Lakhimpur incident, I spoke to the reporters who went there to report, and I got the idea how difficult this assignment was because there was very poor connectivity, no Google maps or internet, and thus they had to return to traditional journalism,” she said.
“Only because I could speak to the reporters, I could communicate to our readers the kinds of challenges that were faced in reporting the story. It also helps because when I receive particular feedback, I can communicate it to both — the managing editor and the respective reporter,” she added.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)