New Delhi: A readers’ editor is an extra layer of transparency that any news organization owes to its readers and audiences, several senior journalists said on Sunday as they addressed a webinar hosted by the India International Center ( IIC) in Delhi.
Organized in collaboration with The Media Foundation, a non-profit organization chaired by veteran journalist Harish Khare, the webinar focused on the topic “The Reader’s Editor: Regaining Confidence”.
A reader editor in a media organization is an internal watchdog that serves as an instrument of self-regulation, transparency and accountability, as well as being an intermediary between readers and the publication.
The webinar speakers were AS Paneerselvan, a former editor-in-chief of The Hindu, Siddharth Varadarajan, Founder-Editor of Thread, C. Rammanohar Reddy, former editor-in-chief of readers at Scroll. In, and Shailaja Bajpai, who plays this role at ThePrint. The session was moderated by Vibodh Parathasarathi, Associate Professor at Jamia Millia Islamia.
Paneerselvan said that the editors of the readers have become much more inclusive in the eyes of the publisher and the readers, than simply being a “picker of nitpicks”. “It took a while for people to come to terms with these visible repair mechanisms,” he added.
Varadarajan underlined how essential journalists in the role of reader editors are in answering readers’ questions.
“We were very clear from the start that we wanted Thread being an independent media organization, we saw it as creating a conscious break in media models, which depended on venture capitalists and politicians, ”he said. “We were very clear that the readers were going to maintain this and therefore they should have a channel where they could raise questions and we could answer them.”
A readers’ editor, he added, should ideally be someone outside the editorial structure of the organization. That, he said, could act as an extra layer of transparency.
Reddy said the role of a readers’ editor becomes more important in an era when the media is delegitimized by political forces.
“It makes more sense these days in this polarizing environment – especially when media and organizations are delegitimized not for what they do or don’t do, but by political forces and governments. I took this opportunity because it was exciting to stand outside the editorial structure and effectively communicate to the publication what the readers wanted, ”he added.
Bajpai discussed the type of responses she gets as a reader editor, saying they mostly deal with technical issues or factual errors. However, there are also poisonous comments alleging “bias” or targeting certain people who write on the platform, she said.
“We have turned off comments for individual stories on our platform because we have a lot of young people working for us, and readers are becoming abusive and threatening with their comments,” she added. “It was also to direct those responses to the editors of the readers so that they could be communicated to the editors.”
“The idea was to bridge the gap between readers and ThePrint, we wanted to show that we care about them, and they are heard. The response has been positive, ”she added. “I get so many responses thanking me for answering their questions and suggestions.”
Greater media responsibility
Paneerselvan said that after the start of the BJP’s second term at the Center, the type of communications newspapers receive has changed dramatically. “Considering the fact that we are operating in a polarizing environment, you need an internal mechanism to determine whether the complaints are ideological or have a solid basis,” he added.
Bajpai said that being familiar with the newsroom earlier was an added bonus. “In the case of the Lakhimpur incident, I spoke to the journalists who went there to report, and I got the idea how difficult this mission was because there was a very poor connectivity, no google maps or the internet, so they had to go back to traditional journalism, ”she said.
“It was only because I could talk to reporters that I could communicate to our readers the types of challenges they faced in reporting the story. It also helps because when I get specific comments I can communicate them to both – the editor and the respective journalist, ”she added.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)
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