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The presence of readers in editorial meetings will not be an intrusion and will not vitiate the working atmosphere

There are questions, opinions and some wild speculations about why we have invited readers to attend The Hindu’s editorial meetings. One reader wrote saying he wanted the newspaper to retain its confidence and not to be worried about the targeted attack on journalism by powerful people like U.S. President Donald Trump or General V. K. Singh. Another said critics of good journalism are not only partisan, but also small in number despite their visibility due to social media amplification. One reader’s view had me flummoxed. H. Raja wrote saying he saw the initiative as setting a dangerous precedent for society. Though he found the idea of educating readers about the working methods of journalism laudable, it will open up the space for unnecessary intrusion, he said. “I would assume that these meetings are low pressure zones and there is room for error. If precedence were set here, tomorrow somebody would want to enter the cockpit of an aircraft to see what is happening there… I think everybody is entitled to carry out his/her work in an environment free of disturbance or intrusion. I am not comfortable with this idea of yours,” he wrote.

Little awareness among readers

My interactions with readers over time have revealed that they are not familiar with the editorial processes. They are not aware that journalistic training in a good newspaper rests on Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s three central pillars: “The priority of aptitudes and vocations; the certainty that investigation is not a professional speciality but that all journalism should, by definition, be investigative; and the awareness that ethics are not an occasional condition but always accompany journalism like the buzz accompanies the blowfly.” Various town hall meetings and focus group discussions have revealed that very few know how journalists do their jobs.

In the U.S., two major institutions, the American Press Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, have come together to form an important initiative called Trusting News, which aims to “empower journalists to take responsibility for actively demonstrating credibility and earning trust.” In May, a study by the Pew Research Center revealed that most Americans (about 78%) have never spoken to a local journalist. In India, it would be beneficial if institutions like the Press Council of India, the News Broadcasting Standards Authority, the Editors Guild of India and a host of journalism schools come together to conduct periodic studies to gauge the state of the media and its approval ratings with the audience.

Clearing misconceptions

The Trusting News website says, “Any newsroom — across platforms, ownership structures and topics — that stands behind its mission and ethics should make optimizing trust part of its job”. Its director, Joy Mayer, suggested an increased one-on-one interaction as a solution: “Each time we talk to someone face to face — while officially on the job or otherwise — we have an opportunity to be an ambassador for our profession. Our newsrooms have staff members who interact with, collectively, a lot of people every day. How can we all use those interactions to help correct misconceptions and share the value of what we do?”

One of the defining findings of the Trusting News project is that people say they want to see evidence of fair, deep reporting and thoughtful decision-making. Hence, questions before news organisations are: “Are you providing that evidence? Not all your users care to know what goes on behind the scenes as your journalism sausage gets made — but many do. Some are hyper-interested in it. They’re looking for signs you’re being lazy, partisan or unfair. Others have a good-natured interest. They find the news process interesting and feel more of a connection to you if you invite them into it. This is not about bragging. It’s about transparency.”

We have finalised the dates for readers to attend the editorial meetings for this year — November 5 and December 3. I assure Mr. Raja that the presence of readers will not be an intrusion and will not vitiate the working atmosphere of the newsroom. The rules of engagement are clear. Readers will be active observers during the meetings. If they have questions, they can interact with the editorial team and business managers after the meeting. Let’s all hear the ethical buzz together.

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