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Readers should pay attention to the kind of news they read: Siddharth Varadarajan

Interview with Editor, The Hindu

Business Standard 

has traditionally been seen as a good but conservative paper, with a monopoly over one market. Was a TOI kind of paper long overdue?
If you look at the history of over the past few decades, it has been constantly innovating. We were the first Indian newspaper to print colour, to run a fleet of airplanes in the 50s and 60s to ensure the paper reached outstation areas on time, we introduced the concept of facsimile editions, daily supplements and so on. On the editorial side, we have broken the Bofors scam, the involvement of Indian politicians in the oil for food scandal in Iraq, fake encounters in Kashmir, WikiLeaks, farmer suicides, the scam and so on. None of this is evidence of the sort of complacency one normally associates with a newspaper in a dominant, "monopoly" position.

There are also areas of weakness. Our city coverage has not been hard-hitting enough, we never really paid serious attention to business coverage. Over the years, our editorial structures have also become overly centralised. We also need to do a lot more with our internet edition. These are some of the things we are fixing on a priority basis.

Why a campaign now?
When we discussed whether to respond to the TOI's negative campaign against last year, we were very clear that the goal of our campaign should be to stand up for the kind of responsible, well-informed journalism represents.

There is a mistaken impression out there that our aggressive, in your face, campaign is somehow linked to my taking over as editor. This is not true. N Ram, who, stepped down as editor-in-chief of group in January was fully involved in the process of framing the kind of message we wanted to send out. He saw a clear link between the newspaper's code of editorial values and the concepts O&M brought to us.

Most analysts reckon that it is not in the nature of to take this battle to its logical conclusion. Your comments?
We live by our editorial values and that is what this ‘battle’ is essentially about. It is our belief that readers should pay attention to the kind of news they read. If you make the wrong choice, this could be injurious to your intellectual health. There is also a collective social cost involved which all of us have to bear. A media which fails to help readers learn about and analyse what is happening around them, which dishes out trivia, sponsored and paid news and celebrity gossip, will end up constricting the public sphere and lowering the level of public discourse. This is already happening to a certain extent and The Hindu’s campaign is about telling people to make a smart choice if they want to get ahead, if they want the country to get ahead.

Incidentally, the public disenchantment with some of these negative trends in the Indian media — especially the lack of professionalism and objectivity and even integrity, "paid news", the failure to write about what is happening in that part of India which is not shining, which is not incredible — gives us heart that there is indeed plenty of room for to grow its circulation and readership elsewhere in India, especially Delhi and the north, but also east and west.

First Published: Fri, February 10 2012. 00:39 IST