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For the idea of ‘breaking silos’ to take off, the newspaper need diverse participation from readers

It is heartening that many readers have shown keenness to participate in the editorial meetings of The Hindu (“Dialogue to bridge divides”, October 7). Many have asked what prompted the newspaper to open up its most important in-house consultations to our readers. Some have asked whether the offer is restricted only to participants from Chennai or is open to other centres too. The reason for the initiative is based on the simple belief that trust is the bedrock of journalism; it unites a news organisation and its readers or viewers. Trust in the news media is under severe strain today due to multiple reasons that include social media-led misinformation, filter bubbles, echo chambers and limited understanding of the act of verification and the role of bearing witness in reporting.

In an interview to Prospect magazine in 2018, when Salman Rushdie was asked what was the biggest problem of our time, he said: “Our collective inability to agree on the nature of reality. There are such conflicting descriptions of how things are that it becomes difficult to make agreements that allow people to move forward. Something like that is true in the whole Brexit nonsense and in India, in the war between the current administration and old-fashioned secularism. When people stop believing in truth, it allows demagogues to come forward.”

Breaking silos

Readers of The Hindu are better equipped in dealing with this contentious but constantly growing collective inability to agree on the nature of reality. A letter from V.N. Mukundarajan, a reader from Thiruvananthapuram, validates my belief. He feels that the proposed monthly access for selected readers to the newsroom is a bold innovation. He wrote: “This unique experiment that very few newspapers have attempted will offer readers a close look at the deliberations happening in the newsroom, a journalistic territory that is zealously guarded and is usually out of bounds for outsiders. No matter how many columns the Readers’ Editor may write, it is a thankless task to try to explain the ethical and professional underpinnings of news selection, news production, and story-writing to a staggeringly diverse readership, many of whom tend to judge the print media by the standards followed by cacophonous broadcasters and a divisive social media. There is no better alternative than a first-hand experience of newsroom activities to educate readers about the tremendous pressures that editors face in prioritising news and stories while simultaneously ensuring that the newspaper gets delivered at our doorsteps the next day.”

At some level, this initiative is close to what Antonio Gramsci said during the inter-war years: “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”. For the idea of breaking silos to take off, we need diverse participation. The American Press Institute (API) states that “journalism, in its truest form, should be produced for the benefit of all, not only those who wield a particular power, class or authority.” I concur with the API’s argument that its concern for diversity provides it with “a unique perspective, a chance to question assumptions, identify blind spots, clarify the goals, and rethink the methods”.

Shortlisting participants

I realise that demographic representation is inadequate in the present polarising environment. I request interested readers to write a personal biographical note as well as a short evaluatory statement about the newspaper. This will help us in shortlisting the participants. Readers should keep in mind that the each session may last for an hour and they have a choice to attend either the noon meeting or the evening one. The invitation is only for the editorial meetings that are held at the head office of The Hindu in Chennai. We welcome readers from other cities too to this event, but expect them to organise their own transportation and stay. Like at our Open House meetings, we encourage readers not to seek anonymity in expressing their views during the meet. However, if some require anonymity to freely articulate their views — the reasons may be personal or professional — they can invoke the Chatham House Rule: “When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

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