There are multiple forms of learning in journalism. From being a student in a J-school to learning on the job, each of these strands brings in a set of specialised skills. However, this office has discovered a much more basic, yet profound, form of learning about this complex profession over the last five years. The roots of our learning draws from the assumption proposed by Walter Dean and Tom Rosenstiel for their “Journalism Essentials” section of the American Press Institute’s website. “The wisdom of decision-making by an interlocking public is embedded in the notion that government ‘by the people’ means citizens have the duty to keep themselves informed,” they argue.
The central theme of their postulate is that the diversity and magnitude of the public is its strength and a mix of peoples is usually much wiser than a public comprised of just the elite or one special interest segment. This office recognised that the only way to respect diversity and understand the wisdom of a mix of peoples is to earnestly listen to them and weave in their ideas and expectations into the media narrative without compromising the core values of journalism. Our Open House programme is a conscious effort to understand the discreet shifts that take place not only in our multiple public spheres like polity, economy, culture and society, but also in the expectations of readers about how these issues need to be treated for them to make sense of our increasingly complex existence.
I always believed that good journalists deploy all their faculties. Their ear is to the ground, their eyes look for details, they talk to people, they smell the rot, their heart is with the common good, and their head keeps them on the ethical path to produce journalism that either reflects the concern of the public or draws the reading public’s attention to the fault lines. If journalism represents the interlocking public, an interactive mechanism helps it to constantly renew itself and guard itself from obsolescence.
The Mumbai takeaways
I would like to share four key takeaways from our recent Open House in Mumbai to mark the first anniversary of the newspaper’s edition in the financial capital of India. The first and the foremost element was the readers’ desire to see a serious newspaper like The Hindu be sustainable. The question of cover price was discussed at length. Editor Mukund Padmanabhan explained the rationale: “Indian newspapers are cheaper than most others anywhere else in the world. While this makes the print medium accessible to a larger audience, the bad side is that the media house becomes completely dependent on advertisements for its revenue, which is unhealthy for journalism. To be a healthy, independent newspaper, it is necessary that much of a newspaper’s earning comes from its circulation.”
The heartening fact was the wholehearted endorsement of this position by readers, constituting the cream of the enlightened middle class that has let go of subsidy in fuel, who realised that subsidy in news generation either in the form of excess corporate advertisements or government advertisements has a potential to undermine the autonomy of the news ecology.
Economist H.M. Desarda, who had come all the way from Aurangabad to take part in the Open House, provided the second important lesson. He listed out the four important e’s that the newspaper should explore in depth: ecology, ethics, education and employment. Then he said that though The Hindu is an English language paper, its emphasis on rural and agricultural reporting gives it a vernacular spirit. I thought this captured the idea of interlocking public in a manner far more nuanced than the oft-used phrase “think globally and act locally”.
The third issue was the way this newspaper looks at the world of art, which includes cinema, performing arts, visual arts and literature. Film critic Anupama Chopra, founder of First Edition Arts Devina Dutt, and filmmaker Nasreen Munni Kabir, among others, explained how this newspaper maintains the line that divides art from entertainment, while covering creative pursuits. Ms. Kabir said: “Reading The Hindu is a sobering experience. There is a lot of extreme rubbish in the papers about cinema, but The Hindu is doing a terrific job. I go through most newspapers in 20 seconds, but I take at least 10 minutes to read The Hindu.”
For the old and the young
The fourth issue is about the gap between perception and reality about The Hindu. A reader, Mr. Murthy, said that the newspaper is unable to shed its image as a “Madrasi newspaper”. And a couple of other readers asked about the demographic profile of the newspaper and were of the opinion that The Hinducaters to older readers at the cost of losing out on the younger generation. Citing the news mix of this newspaper’s front page and its long history of having foreign correspondents, the Editor explained how the newspaper is national in its coverage. He also cited some in-house surveys to show that young readers are flocking to this newspaper and there is no decline in reading habits of millennials.
The interactive session was a testimony to not only the credibility and the trust this newspaper enjoys with its readers but also to the sense of ownership of every reader. This makes The Hindu a unique product that has the most widely dispersed ownership in terms of moral rights.