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Caught in a bit of a bind

A general, non-niche newspaper like the HT cannot completely evade wider social trends. Today, you are reading a freshly designed page devoted to your concerns, one with several new features.
By Sumana Ramanan | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 24, 2010 01:18 AM IST

Sumana Ramanan,
Senior Editor


A general, non-niche newspaper like the HT cannot completely evade wider social trends.

Today, you are reading a freshly designed page devoted to your concerns, one with several new features. Since it came in to being, this page has been instrumental in broadening and deepening Hindustan Times Mumbai’s engagement with its readers.

A letter that I received a month ago, before I went away on my annual vacation, indicated just how much this was the case. “I really appreciate Senior Editor Sumana Ramanan’s response to my grievance against the poor coverage given to B.R. Ambedkar’s 53rd death anniversary,” wrote G.G. Wankhede, a professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. “After years of writing to various newspapers for their poor handling of any event, be it the death or birth anniversary of Ambedkar, this is the first and only response I have received.”

By citing this letter, I may sound like I am tooting my own horn. However, the letter praises not so much the content of the column but the fact that it exists.

In fact, in the letter, Professor Wankhede actually goes on to criticise my response, on December 13, to his initial complaint about HT’s poor coverage of Ambedkar’s death anniversary.

“I am disappointed that the Senior Editor of HT has enlisted reasons that do not specifically explore the cause of the oversight,” he wrote in his second letter.

He went on list several flaws in my response. Today, I will refer to only one. In my earlier column, I had said that the meagre coverage of the event might have been the result of a belief among the newspaper’s senior editors that it might not have resonated with a large number of readers.

“Admittedly, a large section of the public does [prefer] reading about Rahul Mahajan’s impending nuptials or Shah Rukh Khan detention at a US airport,” he wrote. “But it is almost insulting to the other section’s intelligence when such articles are given unnecessary coverage in the print and electronic media.”

In my earlier column, two senior editors had admitted that the event warranted much more space. But what is a newspaper to do about other, more trivial events that many readers seem to want to read about? Its editors may think that readers ought to be exercised about important issues, and solely about them, but what if they are not?

It is impossible for a general, non-niche newspaper entirely to evade wider social trends.

Just this week, John Kampfner, a British journalist and writer, spoke in Mumbai about his recent book Freedom for Sale: How We Made Money and Lost Our Liberty. Robert Cooper neatly summarises the book’s argument in his review of it in The Sunday Times, London. “Marx was wrong, according to John Kampfner,” Cooper writes. “It is not religion that is the opium of the people, but capitalism. Give them good shopping opportunities and they will forget about liberty, equality and fraternity, and cease to care about who governs them and how.”

Kampfner devotes an entire chapter to India, discussing not only the cocoon that its elite has tried to spin around itself but also the repercussions of this on the media and journalism.

“In the course of the 90s, as they sought profitability and increased circulation, most of the mainstream English-language newspapers and magazines — the ones catering to the aspiring middle classes — jazzed up and dumbed down.”

Is it possible to reverse this tide? Readers, you tell me.

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