Today’s Hindu has a rather elaborate coverage of Alan Rusbridger’s (Editor,guardian)visit to India( Link 1 Link 2 Link 3). Appearing alongside these articles is the announcement by N.Ram that The Hindu will have a Reader’s Editor, pretty soon (from Jan13?). So.. who is this Reader’s Editor??.. what is his role ?? The details would be probably be out in a short while… but I thought looking at other examples would help in making a reasonable guess.
As explained by Ian Mayes( Reader’s Editor. Guardian) in this article,he is expected to
“[..]collect, consider, investigate, respond to, and where appropriate come to a conclusion about readers’ comments, concerns, and complaints in a prompt and timely manner, from a position of independence within the paper”.
That is the ‘principles’ part. How does all this work in practice?? To start with, A daily report of Corrections/Clarifications (compiled by the R-Editor) looks like an inevitable feature in such a setup. Here is a sample from the guardian. This is truly great! The usual Erratum/Corrigendum in some corner of the paper is an useless attempt. Also, Meyes has a weekly column for himself. Most of his articles are devoted to the job of debating the kind of coverage that The Guardian presented (Link 1 Link 2 Link 3)and clarifying on reader responses(Link 1, Link 2). In some of these articles, he ends up quoting various comments from the readers without passing any opinion on it. But occasionally, he does offer a complete apology. A recent heavy-duty row has been with Noam Chomsky! Chomsky had objected to a particular interview that was published in The Guardian. The Reader’s Editor looked into Chomsky’s complaints and finally conceded that The Guardian had indeed been faulty on three counts. The issue is not closed. The actual interview has been withdrawn from the website. Also, look at this curious case for yet another apology. Some of the other newspapers in UK have followed the Guardian Example and have Reader’s Editors in place.
As reg the US, NYT and WP do have such “Editors”. The current Internal- Ombudsman in the Washington Post has her own column and here is her description of the job. The New York Times Public Editor too has a separate column in the Opinion Section. The content of these columns is similar to the Guardian one. Amongst the NYT articles, I found this article on New Orleans particularly heartening.
Now, I do not know of how the readers have reacted to the these editors. But, from the content of their articles, my guess is that any such feature in India would be a huge step towards newspapers gaining more respect amongst their readers. In the Hindu’s case, this will greatly enhance the quality of this wonderful newspaper. I hope the other major publications in India follow suit and establish such self-correcting mechanisms.
ps: Ofcourse, the first case for the Hindu’s R-Editor is ready,courtesy bloggers!