Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Readers' Editor's Goodbye

Today featured the final write-up of the Readers' Editor K.Narayan. I quote below what I thought were the key elements in his article:

...As for fairness and balance, my concepts were different from what was practised and I was told the kind of balance I expected was not possible. “Improving the performance of the paper” was a no-go area: it was seen as questioning editorial judgment. [emphasis added]

It was therefore no surprise when the critics concluded that the Readers’ Editor was content with clarifying and correcting errors and was not “the conscience-keeper” of the paper, as some wanted him to be. He was just being a postman conveying readers’ views to those in charge. There were yet others who felt I did not express opinions but merely quoted readers’ letters instead of addressing their complaints. These critics assign to the Readers’ Editor a role and powers he does not have; he is not a Super Editor.

I made it clear at the outset that I was neither an advocate nor an adversary. My aim was good journalism. I did express my opinion and question the editorial judgment when the occasion demanded it — on issues like Tibet, China, Bengal, Orissa and so on. Some might have felt it was understated. But that was my way; I do not believe in screaming and shouting. At times like these, the Editor-in-Chief told me that he disagreed with what I wrote and that I sometimes presented a purely negative picture of the paper. But then it is your column, he added. [emphasis added]

...Finally, does the institution of Readers’ Editor have a future? Yes, it has, if the paper has a set of core values and principles and adheres to it. As long as readers look for ethics, transparency, and quality of information in newspapers, the ombudsman will have a job to do. For a newspaper “its most precious asset (is) the bond with its readers,” as Rupert Murdoch has said. Stephen Pritchard of The Observer and President of the Organisation of News Ombudsmen (ONO) quotes Murdoch as saying: “It takes no special genius to point out that if you are contemptuous of your customers, you are going to have a hard time getting them to buy your product. Newspapers are no exception.” [emphasis added]

Well said and well done. It is true, unfortunately, that the Readers' editor is primarily a carrier of letters and his power appears limited to correcting grammatic errors and factual errors only in news reports. News reports can be found in other newspapers, television, etc; what has given The Hindu considerable weight is its editorials and opinions. Here again, The Readers' Editor has no authority to correct factual errors without the permission of the writer even when it involves no special technical knowledge to do so. That leaves the position with only enough power to acknowledge readers' disapproval and dissent and perhaps register a protest against the Editor's actions. Since he was clearly told that the performance of the paper cannot be improved and editorial judgment is not to be questioned, it begs the question why. In any case, as he points out in the end, 'if you are contemptuous of your customers, you are going to have a hard time in getting them to buy your product. Newspapers are no exception'. A good parting shot from a man of humility and integrity.


Shankar said...

Anyone knows when the next major NRS report is due? The last one that was widely discussed was in 2006. Having said this, I would rather see Chindu be ahead of the likes of ToI and DC. Not because of LiC but inspite of him.

kuttychathan said...

Narayanan has made three points, as Pilid has pointed out, in his usual oblique way....That,

1. The chindu is not a balance newspaper,

2. Ram was unhappy with him, and

3. Today or tomorrow, the chindu and its owners will have to pay for their arrogance.

Thank you, Narayanan for having the courage to say so, and shame on you for clining to that chair for so long....

HF said...

he earned some respect by expressing his opinions, even though it was rather infrequent. it is surprising that he chose to stay along for so long. nevertheless, he has shown great courage in trying to swim against the tide