Welcome to ThePrint’s Readers’ Editor mailbox. Over the last four months, I have received many messages from readers across India and the globe. So I thought it was time, once again, to share some of the readers’ views on how they feel about the website.
And oh boy, do they have strong feelings, or what?
How about this for starters: “I see that your obnoxious, obtrusive, maddening and persistent (like the pandemic) pop-up ads blocking written text for minutes at a time are continuing!’’
And then there is this: “I saw your reporting on the entire Islamic world ganging up against India in the case of Nupur Sharma. If a white, European christians are killed then you condemn it but if a brown, Indian Hindu lady is issued death threat for a much lesser crime…Dont you see the double standards…I am sorry there is a lot of problems with liberals in India today that’s why your credibility is at its lowest (sic).”
As for the publisher and editor-in-chief of ThePrint, Shekhar Gupta, while there are compliments aplenty for his popular ‘Cut the Clutter’ and ‘National Interest’ weekly opinion column—”(He) has no equal in terms of impartiality, lack of bias and intellectual honesty,” sometimes, he is also damned with faint praise: “He has become a contortionist…he now avoids, with great subtlety, criticising the government.’’
What readers want
Readers are happy, sad, critical, complimentary, by turns exasperated and excited by what they read, see or hear on the website. They moan and they groan and sometimes they are justifiably indignant: “I am extremely outraged by the irresponsible reporting of your paper,’’ wrote a gentleman after being named, incorrectly, in a murder case. To be fair to ThePrint, the report he cited was an agency copy from an automated feed, which was removed from the website immediately after his complaint.
Other automated feed reports have created problems for ThePrint, too, as we shall see, very shortly.
Above all, readers are full of advice and suggestions—most are civil in their requests: “Dear Sir or Madame, as a subscriber of your newspaper, I would like you to expose the evils BJP’s [Bharatiya Janata Party’s] Hindutva is causing to Indian Muslims and Christians!!’’
Alternatively “I would like to highlight few facts on your journalism below,” wrote a reader, politely going on to ask 15 questions, which included, “Why is the anti-Hindu genocide in Kashmir of 1990 is not reported with same vigour as 2002 Gujarat ‘pogrom’? Why should Burqa be allowed in government-affiliated institutions in a secular country? Why do you always try to humanise the slain terrorists?’’
The question of ‘terrorists’ bothered several readers:
“Why are you so dedicated to protect killings of Hindus, done by muslims in name of islam ?? (sic),’’ wrote a reader, quoting this line from a report: “A Kashmiri Pandit died and his brother was injured after they were shot by militants in Shopian district of Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday, police said.” The reader wanted to know why ‘terrorists’ were called ‘militants’. Once again, the report in question was an agency copy from an automated feed.
Senior editors at ThePrint admit there are hazards in the automated feed and the lack of editorial oversight. While ThePrint does publish a line at the end of each agency report which says, “ThePrint holds no responsibility for its content,” errors do occur, from time to time, in these stories. However, I think the advantages for readers of an automated feed—chiefly, a greater volume of stories (more than 700 in English alone) and the continuous flow of updated news, outweigh the mistakes that, regrettably, creep in.
Unusual requests, varied suggestions
Readers’ suggestions are many and varied: They stretch from the basic—could we have a CTC on the Canadian economy, the ‘Bombay Plan’, please revive the comments section with individual articles — to the personal. At least one reader wanted the book he’d written to be reviewed by ThePrint, while another sent a copy of his missive to the President of India, presumably to be republished. Still, other readers send in their lengthy views on topical issues – India’s wheat shipments, Arab countries’ criticism of former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s comment on the Prophet Muhammad and the Supreme Court’s views on it. There was a long and learned mail on “Muhammad, the prophet and honour of Muslims, explained for those who honestly seek knowledge (sic) and truth, in the words of some well-renowned seekers of knowledge and truth.”
Some readers made rather unusual requests: One indignant reader wanted ThePrint to intervene in a property dispute while a despairing commuter asked ThePrint, among others, to “rescue the perishing Indian Railways” as the train he frequently travelled by was invariably delayed, sometimes by up to nine hours.
Now, if only ThePrint had Superman’s powers to fast forward his journey.
One perceptive reader asked a relevant question: Does ThePrint implement any of our suggestions? The fact is it’s really difficult to implement so many suggestions but they do get reflected in decision-making: For instance, ThePrint is considering a comments section, as well as the idea to have a Print app – all a result of frequent demands by readers.
On the other hand, ThePrint team has been very open to criticism (of which there is plenty)—and mindful of it, too. When an outraged legal eagle insisted on the right of reply to an article on the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial in the US, we instantly agreed. It’s another matter that he didn’t send in his rebuttal. A learned academic had concerns with a report on the Narendra Modi government’s procurement rules in line with ‘Made in India’. His detailed mail was published at ThePrint’s initiative.
ThePrint is also scrupulous in its efforts to maintain an editorial equilibrium. Many readers, especially old faithfuls who write in regularly, are quick to detect ‘bias’, ‘paid’ news, ‘Hindu bashing’, etc. in articles. When I have pointed out to them in replies as well as in a previous Readers’ Editor article that there is a fine balance between writers of different persuasions, they have often conceded the point. This is no accident: Editors at ThePrint work hard to ensure objectivity and fairness in editorial decisions.
The ‘pop-up’ evil
‘Pop-up’ advertisements in the middle of articles are also giving readers grief—I began this column by quoting a reader’s vituperative opinion on them. And wasn’t satisfied with the response that ThePrint, like other media houses, requires advertisements and sponsorships to be financially viable. While I agree that these advertisements are irritating, they are, alas, a necessary evil.
Technical glitches give readers heartburn too, but I am happy to be able to report that on this count, ThePrint’s responses have satisfied readers. Problems also often relate to subscriptions and access which have been sorted out.
Bouquets and brickbats
How does it feel, as Readers’ Editor, to be at the receiving end of the readers’ ire? Honestly, I welcome the criticism because it indicates readers’ deeper engagement with ThePrint—they are watching us, carefully—and that keeps us on our tiptoes.
I feel helpless when they read their own meaning into articles and insist their interpretation is right.
One reader, for instance, insisted that ThePrint was very mild in its criticism of the Modi government, while another said people from foreign universities were out to ‘demean’ the country with their articles – and there was no arguing with that either.
Such occasions are tempered by the compliments I get to accept on behalf of ThePrint. And let me tell you, sometimes the congratulatory messages come from our sternest critics, which shows the readers are fair-minded. There have been kudos for Off The Cuff, CTC episodes, contributors like Vir Sanghvi and Swasti Rao—and from one reader, just a big “Thanks for the news.” Well, thank you, dear readers.
And don’t go getting the idea our readers are a hostile, unfriendly bunch: Not at all. One wrote in to simply say ‘Hi’, another to inform me he had become a subscriber and one to say they enjoyed the Readers’ Editor opinion on Cut the Clutter last month. Well, that really helped the medicine go down in a most delightful way (thank you, Julie Andrews).
Do write in whenever you feel like, and who knows? Your viewpoint may appear in a forthcoming Readers’ Editor article.
Shailaja Bajpai is ThePrint’s Readers’ Editor. Please write in with your views, complaints to email@example.com