The following is the full text of the letter sent off by Narasimhan Ram, editor-in-chief of The Hindu group of publications, to his colleagues on Wednesday, 18 January 2012, on the eve of his relinquishment of office.
January 18, 2012
Today I step down as editor-in-chief and publisher of our publications, The Hindu, Business Line, Frontline, and Sportstar, and also as printer as applicable.
In consequence, Siddharth Varadarajan, D. Sampathkumar, R. Vijayasankar, and Nirmal Shekhar, all editors, take over, with effect from January 19, 2012, as editors of The Hindu, Business Line, Frontline, and Sportstar respectively responsible for the selection of news under the Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act of 1867. And K. Balaji, managing director of Kasturi & Sons Ltd., takes over, under the same Act, as publisher of all our publications and also as Printer as applicable.
I will continue to be a wholetime Director of Kasturi & Sons Ltd.
These changes on the editorial side are significant, indeed milestones in our progress as a newspaper-publishing company.
On the one hand, they represent a conscious and well-prepared induction of fresh and younger blood at the top levels of our editorial operations, not of course as one-person shows but as captains of teams of talented professionals who work on the basis of collegiality, mutual respect, trust, professional discipline, and cooperation.
On the other hand, these editorial changes are a vital part of the process of professionalization and contemporization under way in all the company’s operations. I am clear that this is the only way to face the future – the opportunities as well as the challenges.
The Hindu is, way and ahead, India’s most respected newspaper – about that there can be little question.
Founded on September 20, 1878, we are the oldest living daily newspaper in the freedom movement tradition. Our strengths are drawn from our rich history, and equally from the way our organization has contemporized, transformed itself continuously and pro-actively in content, in mode of presentation, in style, in engaging the reader, and of course technologically, over 133 years in keeping with the enormous changes that have taken place in India and the world.
Generations of editors, managing directors, and other business and professional leaders at various levels, but above all many thousands of our hard-working and dedicated journalistic and non-journalistic employees have made us what we
are today. About us it will certainly be no cliché to say: individuals come and go, the institution goes on.
With a daily net-paid circulation close to 1.5 million, The Hindu is today one of India’s three largest circulated English language newspapers. The latest round of the Indian Readership Survey confirms our position as South India’s No. 1 English language daily in terms of readership. Our other publications, Business Line, Frontline, and Sportstar, have also developed well, winning a reputation for independence, integrity, reliability, relevance, and quality.
For complex reasons, the main news media – the print press as well as broadcast television – are in crisis across the developed world; this phenomenon is well known and well documented.
Summing up the evidence, Christoph Riess, chief executive officer of the world association of newspapers, told those assembled at the world newspaper congress and world editors forum in Vienna in October 2011: ‘Circulation is like the sun. It continues to rise in the East and decline in the West.’
And it is not just circulation; Riess’s observation applies to readership and, in varying measure and with some qualifications, to revenues as well.
We can easily see how fortunate we, and our counterparts publishing in English and various other languages in India and across the developing world, are to be located in another media world. The chief differentiating characteristic of this media world is that printed newspapers (and also broadcast television) are in growth mode, some of us in buoyant growth mode.
How long this duality will endure is a matter of conjecture. But there are exciting opportunities out there in our media world and they must be seized strategically and with deft footwork. Digital journalism – good journalism on the existing and emerging digital platforms – is an exciting domain where a combination of quality, reliability, interactivity, creative ways to engage the reader, and growth with commercial viability will be key.
There are, equally, tough challenges – especially a hardening business environment and rising commercial pressure on editorial values and on the independence and integrity of editorial content, seen, for example, in the recently exposed notorious practices of paid news and private treaties.
The negative tendencies that have surfaced in the Indian news media have been sharply criticized by the Press Council of India Chairman, Justice Markandey Katju; and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has reflected on the problem in a rather different way. I have discussed the opportunities as well as the challenges in some detail in a recent address I gave at the Indian History Congress in Patiala on ‘The Changing Role of the News Media in Contemporary India’.
The last thing we need is complacency.
In my understanding, the two central functions of a trustworthy and relevant press (and news media) are (a) the credible-informational and (b) the critical-investigative-adversarial.
A third is the pastime function, which is important, especially for engaging the reader in a wholesome way; but it must be constantly kept in perspective and proportion and must not, in my view, be allowed to outweigh, not to mention squash, the two central functions. There are also valuable derivatives of the two central functions: public education; serving as a forum for analysis, disputation, criticism, and comment; and agenda building on issues that matter.
It is to maintain and strengthen our vantage position as India’s most respected newspaper in an increasingly challenging professional and business environment that the Board of Directors of Kasturi & Sons Ltd. adopted ‘Living our Values: Code of Editorial Values’ on April 18, 2011.
‘The greatest asset of The Hindu, founded in September 1878,’ the Code begins, ‘is trust. Everything we do as a company revolves, and should continue to revolve, round this hard-earned and inestimable long-term asset. The objective of codification of editorial values is to protect and foster the bond of trust between our newspapers and their readers.’
The Code emphasizes the imperative need for the Company to protect the integrity of the newspapers it publishes, their editorial content, and the business operations that sustain and help grow the newspapers.
It commits our newspapers as well as the Company to uncompromising fealty to the values that are set out in the Code.
It underlines the importance of the business and editorial departments ‘working together closely on the basis of mutual respect and cooperation and in the spirit of living these values in a contemporary sense.’
It mandates ‘transparency and disclosure in accordance with the best contemporary norms and practices in the field’ and also avoidance of conflict of interest, keeping in mind the codified values.
Finally, the Code lays down this mandate for contemporization of all our operations: ‘There is no wall but there is a firm line between the business operations of the Company and editorial operations and content. Pursuant to the above-mentioned values and objectives, it is necessary to create a professionalism in the editorial functioning independent of shareholder interference so as to maintain an impartiality, fairness, and objectivity in editorial and journalistic functioning.’
As I step down from my editorial positions with a decent measure of satisfaction over our collective achievement, at an age that is close enough to 67, I warmly thank all our journalists and non-journalist colleagues for the trust, hard work, and cooperation they have invested in The Hindu group of publications and the Company during my editorship.
I can assure you that with this completion of the process of editorial succession, our publications will be in able and trustworthy hands and our values as strong as ever.
File photograph: N. Ram, the outgoing editor-in-chief of The Hindu, at a lecture in New Delhi in April 2011 (courtesy Kanekal Kuppesh)