Readers' comments about HT's coverage of news and other topics reach me via many routes: in person, via the phone, through email messages and even by snail mail. Not surprisingly, in this wired age, the vast majority of them come via email.
Readers have the option of sending their email comments about coverage to one of three addresses: the reporter, whose email address appears with named articles; the general address for letters, firstname.lastname@example.org; or to editors, including the Readers' Editor.
I obviously have no access to the first set of responses, except in cases where a reporter volunteers information. So my main window to readers' views about HT's coverage is the general address and that of the Readers' Editor, which as of now is my personal HT email address.
One clear pattern that has emerged in the four years that I have been on the job is that the majority of readers who write to me directly usually do so to complain about coverage or to ask for more of it. I haven't actually tabulated the data, but I am fairly certain that not more than 10% of the letters that land in my inbox praise, or even express satisfaction with, aspects of the newspaper's coverage.
Prodded by a colleague, I decided this fortnight to look at the break-up of responses about coverage that come to the general email address.
The vast majority of letters that arrive at this address express views about current topics, such as Arvind Kejriwal's exposés, inflation, how India needs to groom fast bowlers, etc. But a few do also comment about the newspaper's coverage of those current topics.
I decided to look at all letters that came to the general address in October. Five letters touched upon aspects of HT's coverage. Of these, four of them said good things about the newspaper's contents, a far higher percentage than 10%.
I am not sure what explains the difference, but I shall continue to monitor this ratio in the months ahead. All of these letters appeared in some form this month in the daily letters section, From Our Inbox, but let me summarise here what they said.
What readers liked:
The newspaper's ongoing coverage of potholes, water and air pollution and commuter's grievances, particularly the inclusion of information useful to citizens, such as phone numbers, website addresses, etc. (Chaitanya Pandit)
Its campaign against noise pollution. (Ravi Katti)
Its series about senior citizens. (Vidyapathi Joshi)
Its attempt to capture socio-economic change in its City in Transition series, in particular because it evoked feelings of nostalgia in older migrants who are grappling with rapid change. (Sunayana Sadarangani)
What the lone critic had to say:
Besides reporting events, incidents and announcements, the newspaper should devote more space to exploring systemic issues such as haphazard planning and mismanagement of resources.
I don't intend to go into the merits of the readers' views here, but I will say that while we often fear that praise will engender complacency or even arrogance, letting people know what they are doing right every once in a while can be productive.