Beyond the news | india | Hindustan Times
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Beyond the news

One reader says HT is giving over too much space to long articles at the expense of news. “[I see] a trend [in the newspaper] of giving importance to stories and limiting news,” the reader said last week. [For example], of late, your paper is publishing serial articles on villages, roads, etc. Such articles [do not constitute] news. Do you want to compete with magazines and periodicals? Your news coverage is getting shorter and shorter.” Sumana Ramanan writes.

india Updated: Nov 29, 2009 02:12 IST

Sumana Ramanan,
Senior Editor

One reader says HT is giving over too much space to long articles at the expense of news.

“[I see] a trend [in the newspaper] of giving importance to stories and limiting news,” the reader said last week. [For example], of late, your paper is publishing serial articles on villages, roads, etc. Such articles [do not constitute] news. Do you want to compete with magazines and periodicals? Your news coverage is getting shorter and shorter.”

Let me summarise what I think the reader is trying to say. When he talks about “news” as opposed to “stories”, the reader is essentially highlighting a distinction that journalists make between “news” and “news features.” This reader wants more news and fewer news features.

For those who might not know what “news features” are, they are articles that expand on and give more details about a bit of news that has already appeared. They usually appear one or two days after the main news development, sometimes even later.

For instance, let’s say the government announces power cuts in the city. The report of that announcement is a straightforward bit of news.

The next day, perhaps, the newspaper might carry a news feature on how people’s lives have changed and become more difficult because of the power cuts. These would be descriptive, bringing out the human dimension of the policy decision.

So what are my thoughts?

Every reader has his or her own idea about the mix of articles that a newspaper should carry. It’s nice that some are writing in and telling me what their idea is, even if it differs from what the newspaper is doing.

It is true that Hindustan Times-Mumbai has a regular flow of news features. The main article on page 2 is almost always a news feature, and at times, there are more in other sections.

I do not, however, find there to be an excess of news features in the newspaper.

In principle, I welcome attempts to go beyond the news (although some of these attempts may fail). I want articles that highlight the human drama behind a dry policy announcement or that profile a person in the news.

I may also want more details about the implications of a particular policy announcement, a day after the basic news has been reported. Increasingly, newspapers are trying to do this on the same day as the news is reported.

I think Hindustan Times is particularly good at weaving in implications, background and perspective in regular news stories. It is especially important to do this with news that the editors know most readers have already seen and heard on TV.

The reader is right in saying that HT, like other newspapers, is encroaching on territory that was once the preserve of magazines. But I don’t see this trend changing. As television encroaches on newspapers’ traditional domain, newspapers too have to move along the chain. Readers are demanding to know all the dimensions of an event as it unfolds.

The reader is completely justified in complaining separately about a shortage of news. But I think this has to be independently evaluated. It is also impossible to evaluate this without specific examples. Readers with complaints should write in with specific examples of what the think the newspaper ought to have had but did not.

Finally, I suspect that some readers construe as pure “news” only reports of events or policy announcements. I find this traditional definition too narrow to accommodate descriptions of what is happening around us and of changes in our environment.

A trend story about, say, the rise of bulimia, among college-going girls in Mumbai is as much “news” as anything else. News comes from the world “new”: a story is new, and news, if it tells us about something we did not know about before.