N. Ram’s farewell letter to ‘The Hindu’ staff

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

Dear colleagues

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.

N. Ram

**

File photograph: N. Ram, the outgoing editor-in-chief of The Hindu, at a lecture in New Delhi in April 2011 (courtesy Kanekal Kuppesh)

***

Also read: N. Ram to quit as The Hindu editor-in-chief on Jan 19

N. Ram: caustic, opinionated, sensitive and humane

Why N. Ravi quit The Hindu after 20 years as editor

Nirmala Lakshman: I didn’t step down; I resigned

Malini Parthasarathy quits as Hindu‘s executive editor

The four great wars of N. Ram on The Hindu soil

N. Murali: The Hindu is run like a banana republic

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19 Responses to “N. Ram’s farewell letter to ‘The Hindu’ staff”

  1. Abdulraheman Patrawala Says:

    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. Keeping in mind the codified values or “coined ” values ???

  2. Bhamy V Shenoy Says:

    With the Era of Ram coming to an end, can we expect Hindu to start publishing non biased non ideologically oriented editorials and articles? During Ram’s Era, one need not read most of the articles to know what the arguments and conclusions would be.

  3. S.Prakash Says:

    Sri.N.Ram was dynamic and had the balanced approach in taking the Hindu, in the changed scenario. He was a link to the bygone era and the present e-media culture. He thrived to maintain the same standard the paper is known for. God bless him.

  4. sanjeeva Says:

    Good riddance at last. I had stopped reading The Hindu ever since N.Ram took over. The paper had become very biased.

  5. pdk Says:

    Oops bad formatting above! Same comment with formatting :

    He did a mostly good job judging by The Hindu. Some jarring moments like his recent uncritical support to the IAC movemen on TV, and sympathy for the Chinese model etc.

    From his address to the Indian History Congress (linked in the post):

    As for post-1991 economic liberalisation, press and broadcasting media coverage to date has tended to adopt a laudatory tone, keep out or underplay the criticisms and objections, censor the negative political and socio-economic effects, especially among the poor, and provide little space to the voices of robust criticism and opposition, including those raised from the ranks of professional economists. This, if anything, is a more conscious and more systematic case of manufacture of consent. ‘The media themselves’, observes an experienced insider, ‘have become more and more class self-conscious, with little going for those below a set purchasing power threshold. The lower you are in the social and economic scale, seems the moral and the model, the less relevant you are to the media, either as subject or consumer… Profit maximization, rather than any commitment to the citizen’s right to be informed, drives the news media’ (Sashi Kumar 2011).

    Also,

    In an original and unusually perceptive meditation on ‘Markets, Morals and the Media’, the economist Prabhat Patnaik (2002) addressed an interesting conundrum. Despite the growing reach of the media in society, evidenced in circulation, readership and viewership growth, and despite the talent they have been able to attract, ‘the power of the media as an institution’ had ‘gone down greatly in India’ in recent times.

    The key question was: why had this decline in the power of the media occurred? Patnaik’s answer was that ‘internal’ or media-centric explanations were inadequate and that a better explanation was that ‘the moral universe of the people’ had undergone a change…
    Looking deeper for an explanation, the economist found it in such factors as the collapse of dreams of building a society that was not based on private aggrandizement, the ascendancy of a new kind of international finance capital based on the globalization of finance, the spinelessness of nation states and political formations in the face of this ascendancy, the intellectual hegemony attained by ideas and policies imposed by globalized finance, and the plethora of institutions and instruments that serve this juggernaut.

    There can be little question that the news media ‘have fallen prey to this hegemony’. From this, we come to what may be called Patnaik’s Law on media power in relation to economic issues: ‘where the media are on the same side as international finance capital, they appear powerful; but in fields where they strike out on their own, upholding humane values and expressing concern for the poor and the suffering, they appear powerless’. Such powerlessness, he proposes, is the outcome of a process, ‘the process of ascendancy of international financial capital over the economy, which the media, paradoxically, with a few honourable exceptions, have avidly supported’ (Ibid.)

    A good view into the state of media today.

  6. DailyBread Says:

    pdk,

    >Some jarring moments like his recent uncritical support to the IAC movemen on TV,

    Sir, koi purani dushmani ya pure jealousy?

  7. asha Says:

    Two left oriented and useless journos making news in the same week…phew it is difficult to handle…anyways GR2BR (Good riddance to bad rubbish)…Adios Ram we wont miss you…at least now the Mount Road Mahavishnu will be restored to its past glory

  8. pdk Says:

    Bhamy V Shenoy,

    Wondering if you have any extant examples of dailies which have “non biased non ideologically oriented editorials and articles”? I thought editorials are supposed to reflect the views of the editors?

  9. Anonymous guy Says:

    pdk,

    “non biased non ideologically oriented editorials and articles” = editorials which are in line with my world view.

  10. Goldstar Says:

    I had written to The Hoot about two differing viewpoints expressed by The Hindu and The Hindu BusinessLine on the same issue (Retail FDI) but The Hoot did not publish it. Here it goes:
    —————
    Hello Editor of The Hoot,

    I would like to bring to your notice the two completely different views expressed in the editorials of “The Hindu” and “The Hindu Businessline” on the issue of FDI in Retail, ironically on the same day (28-Nov-2011, Monday)!!

    The Hindu Businessline editorial titled Exaggerated fears ( link: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/editorial/article2665874.ece?homepage=true ) writes in support of the Government move.

    Quote “The Government, moreover, has little reason to be defensive about permitting foreign retail chains to open stores in the country.” Unquote.

    The Hindu editorial titled Misplaced obsession (link http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/article2665876.ece ) writes (expectedly) against the Government move.

    Quote “All things considered, it would be best advised to focus on improving public distribution and enhancing agricultural productivity — and not court more controversy pursuing a misplaced obsession.”

    Please publish this duplicity in your blog.
    ———-

  11. Chombuka Says:

    This is the only place in the world where a certain Mr RAM and a paper called the HINDU can be left leaning and completely biased!!!!

  12. pdk Says:

    Goldstar,

    I think you are searching for duplicity where none exists. It need not be very surprising that The Hindu and BL have different editorial stands on an issue. They are after all different entities, though published by the same group.

    In fact, it just goes to show that N Ram, as editor-in-chief, has given the editors of BL the freedom to take a stand on the issue. BL has often takes a pro-business stand on many issues.

    ***

    AG,

    Yeah, I think that’s a good definition.

  13. S.Prakash Says:

    I concur with PDK

  14. Prasad Says:

    The Hindu without Ram! Difficult to digest!

  15. Raju Says:

    There is no denying the fact that N.Ram edited THE HINDU in an excellant manner . Under its other great editors like KASTURI SRINIVASAN and G.KASTURI , it was a boring paper but for a brief spark of shine —- . All said and done , the main culprit for the down fall of THE HINDU in my opinion is N.MURALI . He looked after the business side as if he was sitting in an ivory tower . He never initiated steps to take the HINDU to other regions of INDIA .

    He never bothered to publish THE HINDU a day after PONGAL in other print centres where there was no such festival .

    One can see a lot of changes in the way THE HINDU comes out daily after Mr Balajee took charge as managing editor , thanks to N.Ram’s support in the board .

    When N.RAM was editor in chief , readers were looking forward eagerly to the next days edition .

  16. Dravidan Says:

    If The HIndu had a bias for the Left and China, what explains its increasing readership? One conclusion may be this: People do not mind a newspaper or its editor holding leftist views.

  17. twistleton Says:

    Since the rest of the players in the field are right-leaning or just plain gormless, the Hindu has done a good job of maintaining perspective and not let the growth hysteria blind us completely.

  18. S.Prakash Says:

    Any media as such thrives with readers or viewers support.
    As aptly said by Dravidan, the views of the editor don’t count. A reader always looks for news not the views in a news paper. Only the so called intellectuals are more worried about the style,views and not contents. I wish the Hindu to continue its tradition.

  19. Shwetha Pangannaya-Halambi Says:

    Sir,
    I am Shwetha Pangannaya-Halambi, a journalist at Star of Mysore. This is the response I got from a reader to a question I had posed in my blog. I did not know how to send it to churumuri, so putting it here.

    According to The Elements of Journalism, a book by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, there are nine elements of journalism.[3] In order for a journalist to fulfill their duty of providing the people with the information, they need to be free and self-governing. They must follow these guidelines:

    Journalism’s first obligation is to tell the truth.
    Its first loyalty is to the citizens.
    Its essence is discipline of verification.
    Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
    It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
    It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
    It must strive to make the news significant, interesting, and relevant.
    It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
    Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

    In the April 2007 edition of the book,[4] they added the last element, the rights and responsibilities of citizens to make it a total of ten elements of journalism.

    Genres ————————————-
    Advocacy journalism – writing to advocate particular viewpoints or influence the opinions of the audience.
    Broadcast journalism – writing or speaking which is intended to be distributed by radio or television broadcasting, rather than only in written form for readers.
    Investigative journalism – writing which seeks to add extra information to explain, or better describe the people and events of a particular topic.
    Tabloid journalism – writing which uses opinionated or wild claims.
    Yellow journalism (or sensationalism) – writing which emphasizes exaggerated claims or rumors.

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