The Readers’ Editor is still a baby: Only into its third month, it’s trying to hold up its head, strike a balance between readers’ opinions and ThePrint’s point of view, or imperatives.
I realise, now, that this will always be a potential minefield, something I will have to tiptoe around, once I have found my feet, but the consistent endeavour will be to do the right thing.
And this month, the right thing to do is to turn this column over to the readers, to those who have taken the trouble to write to the Readers’ Editor since 15 July, when this post was officially constituted. It’s their turn to be heard.
I won’t name names or quote them but I can share with you the thrust of their arguments, their concerns – and even a few compliments. Yes, we’ve had some of them too.
So, here we go.
Satisfied or can’t be bothered?
First off, not many readers have cluttered the mailbox — just over 50 so far. However, that tally could well increase as the number of new messages rises each month.
The low threshold of response can be interpreted in several ways. It could mean that readers are (a) satisfied with ThePrint’s content, (b) they haven’t found too much wrong with it, (c) they don’t feel passionately enough to shoot off an ‘I object’ note, or (d) they just can’t be bothered.
If it’s (a) and (b), the editors at ThePrint can be pleased with themselves; if it’s the latter two, they need to sit up and take note.
The good news for ThePrint is that there hasn’t been a major complaint. Better still, no one has found glaring factual errors or editorial biases, accused it of character assassination or misrepresentation, unpardonable omissions or commissions, all of which could lower ThePrint’s reputation for free and fair journalism — that remains intact.
In other heartening news, there are closet writers among our readers just waiting to be discovered, and yes, they want to write for ThePrint. Well, here’s the thing: In general, ThePrint does not accept unsolicited articles, but if there is an outstanding contribution, we will certainly consider and publish it. Otherwise, subscribers can try the ‘Your Turn’ section where their articles are published each weekend.
Speaking of subscribers, there have been inquiries about subscriptions, the subscription format or payment mode – one irritated reader wants advertisement-free content for subscribers only. While we agree that ads are an annoying distraction when you are in the middle of an absorbing article, advertising helps ThePrint sustain itself – as it does most of the media. Still, this is an important suggestion and ThePrint is working towards making it a reality for subscribers.
If there is one person who elicits maximum reader interest and response at ThePrint, it is Shekhar Gupta, Founder and Editor-in-Chief. His ‘Cut the Clutter’— popularly called ‘CTC’ — enjoys high viewership on ThePrint’s YouTube channel. It also receives its fair share of comments.
Readers have requests for ‘CTC’ to cover certain topics – one was for NEET and another to de-clutter start-ups. There are messages of congratulations for Mr Gupta but discerning listeners have found faults too – the name of a place, for example. Shekhar Gupta apologised after he mistakenly identified Australia’s Prime Minister as Toni Morrison (the acclaimed American writer) instead of Scott Morrison. The ‘CTC’ team of young reporters and interns, besides Shekhar Gupta, has been warned: Your audience is listening very, very carefully and will catch you if you err.
Call us out
So far so good — now for the criticism. As I said, complaints regarding factual errors have been few and far between—and let’s hope it stays that way! Please read ThePrint, carefully, and keep us on our toes—let it not be that errors go unnoticed.
Readers who have a bone to pick with ThePrint either didn’t read us carefully or disagree with the approach taken. Several complaints have been about perceived omissions—ThePrint didn’t cover the Delhi High Court’s strictures against the Delhi Police investigations into the Delhi riots cases of 2020; ThePrint ignored poll and post-poll violence in Bengal; and why hasn’t your coverage of the coronavirus pandemic paid sufficient attention to the discourse against the Covid vaccines and their harmful after effects, asked one angry reader.
Well, ThePrint’s coverage of the Covid crisis has been extensive but to have dwelt on the potential rare adverse impact of the vaccine, developed albeit hurriedly, when India and the world were reeling under the pandemic, would have been irresponsible – I wrote as much to the reader.
On the two other complaints, I sent links to stories by ThePrint on the Delhi riots and Bengal’s post-poll violence. Often, readers miss an article, understandably, and just need a nudge in the right direction.
A few readers have pointed out a lack of due diligence in a few reports and we concede we could have done better. One such piece was the birth anniversary profile of engineer, scholar and statesman M. Visvesvaraya. When speed is of the essence online, we occasionally hurry through something that requires time – we need to ensure that such instances are the exception.
What’s in a headline
Some readers had problems with the headlines of particular articles —and this is an issue that is hotly debated within ThePrint too. Unlike print media headlines, which can be straightforward for news reports, bold and dramatic for lead stories or opinions, online news portals have to keep in mind digital considerations such as the need to include keywords in headlines to help the report get noticed when you Google the topic.
Also, headlines struggle for attention in the cluttered world of the internet and social media – again, no justification for what may strike a reader as a misleading headline but just to emphasise that it’s a tricky task, with a character limit.
Days of editor-knows-best journalism are over
That pretty much covers the feedback to the Readers’ Editor. We have replied to each one who wrote to us and I hope that the responses have been satisfactory. Please continue to write in, engage with ThePrint and contribute to what has the beginnings of a beautiful relationship.
The Readers’ Editor reflects ThePrint’s objective to enjoy an interactive relationship with readers, to be more accessible, accountable and transparent. Other efforts are afoot: ‘Your Turn’ publishes subscribers’ views, ‘Campus Voice’ gives students an opportunity to be heard and, the editorial team has been asked to respond to reader/viewer comments on our YouTube channel. Once a week, Shekhar Gupta and Principal Correspondent Apoorva Mandhani hold a live Q&A ‘CTC’ session called ‘Headline के पीछे क्या है’ (What’s behind the headline) where the viewers ask the questions.
Also, we have recently completed an exhaustive Readers’ Survey. I hope to share some of its salient features with you, next month.
This conscious effort to be responsive to readers, to talk to them — not at them — and have them talk back, represents a departure from how media used to see and respond to its audience.
In a good old-fashioned newspaper or magazine newsroom, one designated individual would sift through the daily mail and select a number, which would appear in the next day’s ‘Letters to the Editor’ column. That was the extent to which the public was allowed to have a say.
Traditional journalism in India — and the world — has been a top-down, one-way, paternalistic ‘we-know-best’ exercise, where editors decided what was news, what was fit to print – and what was to be ignored, including readers’ views.
Glimmerings of greater accountability were visible in newspapers like The Hindu and later The Indian Express that introduced a ‘Corrections’ column where they owned up to errors published in the newspaper.
The Hindu was also one of the first and few to create space for the Ombudsman or what we call the Readers’ Editor and take on board reader complaints.
Today, you can ignore or take the public for granted at your own peril— www.whatever and social media have taught the media lessons in humility. The public can and does strike back through comments, by pointing out errors, trolling you or even by ignoring you—and I don’t know which one is worse.
We have come to respect our readers, listen to what they want and what they think of the contents we publish, to be open and less know-it-all. This strengthens the foundations of good journalism, so please keep the messages and comments coming.
They help keep us honest.
Shailaja Bajpai is ThePrint’s Readers’ Editor. Please write in with your views, complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org