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Opinions will have a bias. But here’s why we love reading—and criticising them at ThePrint

Yogendra Yadav, Dilip Mandal to Seshadri Chari, Vir Sanghvi to Jaithirth Rao, Opinion at ThePrint is divided. But the idea is that you get all sides of the debate.

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The best thing about opinions is that they are free. So, everyone can hold one or as many as they like. No wonder, then, that every single human being has opinions about almost everything. To rephrase Descartes, “I think, therefore I opine.”

This may sound a little silly and facetious, but that’s your opinion. See? It’s as simple as that.

However, if you are thinking of writing an opinion piece for the media, then you need to take the task far more seriously.

I ought to know — I have been writing opinion column on television since 1987 for various publications, primarily The Indian Express, and I continue to write the weekly Tele-scope at ThePrint.

I know just how hard it is to find something to say each week, something that is topical, will engage readers, and do justice to the chosen subject. It is equally difficult to write in a way that captures the interest of all readers and is accessible to each one of them – especially, those who don’t watch Indian television, which is the majority of the readers.

I take the easy way out: Customarily, Tele-scope is light, frothy, irreverent, and mildly amusing — at least, that’s the aim. I can usually get away with that style. However, when the subject is something like the 2022 Ram Navami violence across the country or the Hathras rape case, I have to change my tone to suit the gravity of the issue.

That’s one lesson I have learnt about opinion writing: Treat your readers and subject with respect.

Agree to disagree

The reason why I share my experiences about writing a regular opinion column is that, in the last year, I have received regular feedback from readers on ThePrint’s Opinion section — mostly critical and negative.

Readers object to the views expressed by many Opinion writers, from those of ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta in his weekly ‘National Interest’ to contributors like anti-caste commentator Dilip Mandal, journalist and former editor Vir Sanghvi, or public scholar Hilal Ahmed, to name just a few.

Readers disagree, sometimes hotly, with Opinion articles – they challenge the author and then proceed to give their own point of view instead. Which is most welcome — it’s good to learn readers’ reactions/views on various issues.

The problem is that some readers don’t stop at disagreeing with an opinion piece. They proceed to accuse the writer and ThePrint of ‘bias’ — ‘for’ and ‘against’. As I wrote in the last Readers’ Editor piece, I reply politely to these readers, thank them for expressing their views, and add that the writers have a right to theirs. In addition, let’s be clear: Opinion does involve personal, individual biases — everyone has a ‘bias’, including the readers who protest. Isn’t that why we also read them?

All this made me think that maybe it was a good idea to write about opinion, in general, and at ThePrint, specifically.

Also read: One year of being ThePrint’s Readers’ Editor – my job, your mails, our stories

From print to ThePrint

Legacy print media in India has always carried an opinion section. Some, like The Hindu and The Indian Express, devote two pages, while others — The Times of India — have one. Traditionally, it has been found that opinion articles lent intellectual heft to a newspaper but were hardly read. However, now they are hugely popular online – evidently, there is a thirst for strong, well-researched opinions out there.

Online news portals followed the example of print media and now have an opinion section too, but they’re not simply playing copycat. They are striking out their own: ThePrint, for instance, has introduced many new opinion writers to the world. Experience and data show that opinion articles drive traffic for many portals.

As for television news, the fundamental problem here is that it has more opinion than news, with TV anchors and reporters sharing their views as liberally as their guests.

The opinion section carries a publication’s viewpoint in its editorials and articles by domain experts on any subject that is topical and makes the headlines – from the political and economic to the social and cultural, from lifestyle trends to sports, and more.

Often, senior editors and reporters of the organisation also contribute to the opinion section – at ThePrint, apart from Shekhar Gupta, there’s Political Editor D. K. Singh, Opinion & Features Editor Rama Lakshmi, National Security Editor Praveen Swami, Consulting Editor Jyoti Malhotra, Editor Snehesh Alex Philip — and, of course, me — who write regular Opinion articles.

At ThePrint, there’s another in-house section you might have noticed called ‘PoV’ – what else but Point of View? ThePrint is a relatively youthful outfit, and ‘PoV’ is designed to give its young journalists a voice and platform to share their views. It’s an important way to showcase what they think and feel, especially about their social and cultural environment and the online world they so comfortably inhabit. Perhaps, because of social media and the internet, the young are steering many public debates in India online. They have a different perspective, language skills, and even a moral compass, compared to the older generation.

The PoV is a very good idea, as it allows them to articulate their views and bring freshness to the Opinion page otherwise filled with ‘experienced’ voices.

Also read: Nupur Sharma coverage tells why TV news can follow CNN’s example—less hype, more nuance

Why Opinion is important

The importance of the opinion section, though, cannot be overstated. More than the news, it informs and educates readers on topical subjects and invests these with different ways of seeing by people who know what they are talking about. It is then up to the reader to make up their mind, agree with one viewpoint or another, or have a different opinion altogether. However, a good opinion piece provides a greater understanding of the issue at hand.

Nothing could be more crucial in the current context. The opinion section should reflect the times — from the 1960s to the early-mid 2000s, the dominant voices in the political, economic, social, and cultural ecosystem belonged to what is popularly called the entrenched ‘Left-liberal’ elites in India. And this commanded the opinion section too.

However, with the ascendancy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power at the Centre in 2014, the core of the opinion section has also shifted. Opinion sections also have had to strive to reflect the clash between two very different ecosystems of thought — the old Left-socialist ‘secular’ consensus and the muscular Right-wing ideology that challenged it. As the BJP’s continuing popularity indicates, what the Right thinks and believes has become the stronger and more widely shared public belief system today — and therefore, it needs to be explained and debated all the more.

In order to understand why the BJP has been the dominant political force for the last decade, you have to comprehend its ideological foundations and bearings.

In a sense, the opinion pages have a responsibility to explain and capture the change in public discourse to their readers. “The opinion section must actively reflect the diversity of ideas and ideologies and the change in India. Otherwise, it won’t tell the full India story,” says ThePrint’s Opinion and Features Editor, Rama Lakshmi. “While ThePrint is not wedded to any ideology, its Opinion section is the site for a contestation of ideas,” she adds.

ThePrint does have its own sharp view on all key issues — stated in its 50-Word Edits.

The old way of thinking has given way to the new. What Right-wing commentators think of the past and the present, history and political economy has now become the overarching argument. At ThePrint and other media outlets, the opinion sections have registered the change and sought out representative voices of the Right, Centre and Left.

Along the way, Right-wing academics and influencers have become more visible and acquired greater heft. Therefore, this balance is somewhat easier to achieve than it was, say, five years ago.

At ThePrint, the Opinion section is vibrant and teeming with contesting arguments and ideas — the section enjoys widespread approval and high readership across the political and ideological spectrum in India and abroad. ThePrint is often read and commended for its Opinion articles. If you look at the line-up of its contributors, you will see that they represent shades of opinion across the board — let’s say, from Yogendra Yadav to Seshadri Chari. That’s quite a distance to traverse from Left-of-Centre to Right.

And, at one time or another, Centre and Right-wing commentators like Jaithirth Rao, Ram Madhav, Jayant Sinha, Arun Anand, Makarand Paranjape, Maneka Gandhi, Guru Prakash, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Kishen Shastry, Sanjeev Nayyar, and Vikram Sampath have written for ThePrint.

Often presenting very different, more Centre and Left points of view are columnists like Yogendra Yadav, Hilal Ahmed, Shruti Kapila, Anurag Minus Verma, Lt Gen. H.S. Panag (R), Rajesh Rajagopalan, Lt Gen. Prakash Menon (R), Dilip Mandal, and Vir Sanghvi.

Of course, there is no such obvious binary — it’s not an arithmetical ‘2 = 2 equation’. All the writers reflect their personal viewpoints on different subjects from varying perspectives, and there has been a concerted effort to reach out to all sections of commentators.

Even more important, perhaps, in the case of ThePrint, is that there is a conscious effort to look for new voices, people who were experts in their respective fields but did not write in the media, or those who aren’t already well-established opinion writers. Rama Lakshmi points out that ThePrint has helped establish the reputation of Naila Inayat, Zainab Sikander, Hilal Ahmed, Rajesh Rajagopalan, Aadil Brar on China, Anirudh Kanisetti who writes about history in the South, and Swasti Rao on European affairs. “We have upended the idea of who an expert is,” she adds, saying that ThePrint looks for people in social media conversations, influencers who may hold disruptive views like Inayat, Sikander and Dilip Mandal.

Mandal often provokes readers into writing against his anti-caste views that question deeply embedded social and political structures.

With its interest in security issues, ThePrint regularly features retired veteran experts like Lt. Gen. Prakash Menon and Lt. Gen. H.S. Panag, besides other former military officers.

Another conscious choice is to have plenty of female opinion writers on geopolitics and security — Jyoti Malhotra, Shibani Mehta, Swasti Rao, and till recently, Tara Kartha. On the economy, we had Radhika Pandey and until recently, Ila Patnaik as well.

Academics and intellectuals can often write in a stuffy manner, which makes them opaque. But I think you will find that most writers at ThePrint are accessible—an online portal requires complex ideas made simple.

As for the elephant in the room — the ‘bias’ — the Opinion section ensures there are ‘filters’, aka the editing team, which vets the articles for accuracy of facts, data and sources. An opinion is unique to the individual, which is why, at the end of every opinion piece, there is a line that states, ‘Views are personal’.

As I said earlier, opinions will have biases.

What’s important here is that ThePrint’s Opinion section, as well as those in other leading media organisations, now give us all sides of an argument and a full picture. That there is more balance in the dissemination of ideas, now, is very welcome.

Shailaja Bajpai is ThePrint’s Readers’ Editor. Please write in with your views, complaints to

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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