You can conduct surveys among readers about what they like and do not like until you are blue in the face.
You can call readers in to the office for “focus groups” or discussions about your newspaper.
You can thoughtfully respond to their concerns and represent their misgivings and views to the newspaper’s senior editorial staff — as this Readers’ Editor is supposed to do.
What you cannot do is please all readers all of the time.
So it wasn’t surprising that readers’ reactions to our coverage of Michael Jackson’s death and the much-delayed opening of the Bandra-Worli sealink spanned the entire gamut of opinion: we went overboard; we were niggardly; like Goldilocks, we got it just right.
In case readers get the wrong impression, this is far froma complaint. As readers of this column will knowby now, unanimity even within a newspaper is a rare phenomenon. In any case, unanimity can be dangerous and boring.
With Michael Jackson, I was always a bit apprehensive that we might go overboard (by my idiosyncratic standards).
In the end, after evaluating howbig a pop icon he is in this city and the importance of other events of the day, we made his tragic death the lead story on the front page and gave it five columns.
“Jackson was a global superstar,” explained Soumya Bhattacharya, Hindustan Times’ Mumbai editor.
“As the flood of emails to us proved, he has a huge cachet in India. For a generation of Indians, he came along at a time and in a way that made him emblematic of western popular music.Besides, it was the biggest news story of the day: on the web, on TV, on social networking sites.
It’s all people were talking about.”
I’m still not sure whether it was worthy of being the lead story of the day (after all, people talk about things partly because the media highlights them), but I think our coverage, while generous, ended up being rather restrained. It did, I think, achieve the Goldilocks’ mean.
What about the Bandra-Worli sealink?
Here too, I was worried that we might givemore than necessary publicity on the front page to the state governmentandthe private company that constructed the bridge.The projectwas,after all,appallinglybehindschedule, whichthen contributed to an enormous increase in the cost.
Yet this is one of Mumbai’s most-awaited public projects. It is India’s only bridge over the sea. It is, however delayed and expensive, a non-trivial achievement of engineering and project management.
So on the day before the bridge opened, on the front page, we carried a six-column picture with a fact box.
“The sealink is something Bombay has been waiting for eight years,” said Bhattacharya. “High interest; great curiosity (as the insane rush to get on to it proved); self congratulation; of (ostensibly) great use); and the city’s new secularmonument.
Could it be anything but prominent?”
Again, in the end, the space given to it was not disproportionate.
We also carried stories puncturing some of the euphoria and self-congratulation surrounding a project that has not yet revealed its true colours and which we will be able to evaluate only in the months ahead as it gets used.
For instance, to put things in perspective, we reported howmany more bridges of a similar scale China had built in the same time.
Going forward, we are committed to a continuous re-evaluation of whether this bridge is a bane or boon. As always, we invite readers to share their experiences and thoughts.