Monday, August 10, 2009

The News Room of The Hindu, Hyderabad

One of the most daunting and respected national newspapers of the country, The Hindu, is located in a busy part of the city in surprisingly calm premises. The board that carries the illustrious name lies remarkably hidden behind a cluster of leafy trees making it completely possible for one to pass by without a glance.

But then The Hindu has never been one for flashiness. This is not a paper where you will ogle at the bright colour bars in the Mast Head or the envelope advertising slipped over the front page. But you’ll be sure to quietly appreciate the consistent, clean and non-fussy style, the typo free stories and the general feeling that comes with reading good and well-presented content.

There are few who would choose to disagree at the assertion that The Hindu is one of the most credible and balanced newspapers in the country. This is a quality that comes from a century of unshaken editorial policy. Of not relenting on getting the other side of the picture, of verifying and cross-checking the facts of a story thoroughly before allowing it to be printed, of not allowing any mistake minor or major to creep in.

Not many might also know that The Hindu has always been a pioneer of innovations in the Indian newspaper industry. It was the first to introduce color way back in 1940 and have its own fleet of air craft for distribution in later years. It was also the first newspaper to become fully computerized, moving towards desktop publishing and the first to go online. It has the largest number of deployed foreign correspondents and a large spread of journalists making its dependence on agency feeds that much less.

The Desk at The Hindu is a well oiled machine. Organized and spread out to suit and encompass the multiple editions that reach many parts of the country, it’s centralized at the headquarters in the Desk in The Hindu office at Chennai. This desk which is almost four times the size of any city newsroom is responsible for bringing out almost 60 % of the paper including the National, Business, Op-ed, International, Sports pages which are common for all editions as is the top-half of the front page

A clear divide exists. The reporting staff are primarily concerned with generating the content (photos and graphics are additional to the written reports), and at The Hindu, these come in from staff reporters, remote correspondents (in other States, etc) and of course news agency stories. The edit desk is solely engaged in editing the content and making the pages.

The Chief News Editor is the top guy at the desk there. There are deputy editors, associate editors, senior news editors, senior sub-editors, sub-editors (not necessarily in that order) who follow him. It is then further divided beat wise. The national desk is divided into batches - a batch leader and his/her group. Each batch has to stay late one week a month for night duty (Till 2 a.m.). Stories are assigned to sub-editors, who edit, tighten etc and then they are revised by a senior before being put on page.

The Hindu Desk uses a unique software system called CCI, imported from Europe. It is the only newspaper in India to do so. This software is on par with international standards, used by several other newspapers of global repute. The advantage is that everything (content, photos, pages, editing, etc) is integrated into this one system and can be monitored easily. In addition every city office has its own CMS merged with MS Word. The paper follows the Cambridge dictionary and the Guardian style guide for standardizing its reporting and editing.

It is also the only paper to have a news ombudsman, or 'the reader's editor', for an effective proof-reading and error-minimizing mechanism in place.

The Hindu Newsroom in Hyderabad is not as large. It is broadly divided into four broad sections: the State Bureau, the City Bureau, the Metro Plus section and the Desk. At 5 PM in the evening, the newsroom buzzes with activity. While some reporters are already working away on their reports, others are trickling in after a day of assignments.


The State Bureau is headed, by the Editor in Chief Nageshwar Rao, followed by Deputy Editor K. Venkateshwarulu. In addition to the city reporters, the newspapers large spread of reporters across the state brings in stories to feed the many regional pages of the newspaper. The City Bureau covers happenings in the city while Metro Plus is the Magazine supplement of the daily. This is the only section of the newspaper where the reporters double as sub-editors and designers. All the duties are internalized by the Metro Plus staff as part of News Paper Policy.

The Desk

The local desk comprises eleven sub-editors headed by senior-sub editors and a News Editor. The daily shift begins at 4:30 PM in the evening; soon enough as the first slew of reporters arrive with their finished assignments. It goes on till 12:30 AM in the night, with two people per shift staying back to see the whole thing through.

Two or three subs are in-charge of one page that are then marked copies meant for the pages. Any sub works on an average of ten stories a day correcting, verifying and tightening the reports for printing. These are then reviewed by senior sub editors and the news editor before being approved for printing.

The Hyderabad office is responsible for bringing out two editions. The first edition which is sent out to the distant areas is wrapped and ready to go by 10:30 PM. A strict deadline of half past eight is maintained for receiving reports to ensure no delays. The second edition is put to bed by quarter to one.

S. Sreevatsan, News Editor at The Hindu here in Hyderabad is currently busy with the Assembly session. It’s an important time for the newspaper, but he spares a few minutes to talk. As mentioned earlier the credibility of the paper, is one of its scared cows. He elaborates “Dates and spellings need to be correct and consistent. Copy has to be grammatically correct, concise and contain the least number of adjectives.”

There is a through cross-checking of facts and details provided by reporter and balance is ensured by trying to get the other side of the story. Sometimes stories are even put on hold till next day or sent back to reporter to dig deeper and get all the facts if they’re found unsatisfactory in that regard. ‘The aggrieved are often more upset after their story is published.” He candidly remarks on the insistence of balance in every story.

Roshini Pochont a Sub-Editor at the National Desk in Chennai talks about her experience “I've enjoyed my time at the desk so far, even though I was initially keen on a writing profile, but editing is a different experience altogether. It's helping with improving my language skills, and also in understanding that good journalistic writing needs to be precise, clear, simple, and objective, from all the copies i get to edit everyday. The newsroom experience, of course, is brilliant...just to be in the thick of all the breaking news and discussions of events.”

Radhika Agrawal, another Sub-Editor from Chennai describes her typical day. “It is not a 9 to 5 job. However, a sub comes to office sometime around 5.30pm and leaves around midnight. Those on night duty come in around 7pm - 8pm and leave at 2am. We all get a day off each week. During the day, a sub can report, if he/she chooses to.” But the exhausting night shift usually render many too tired to opt for reporting by day.

The seemingly efficient system is not without its hitches. The simplest things may cause inadvertent delays. Things can and do always go wrong. Two years ago, the blasts in Hyderabad which occurred late in the evening meant that the entire worked out paper had to be thrown away and a new one had to be created swiftly. Added to this is the limitation of having to design and prepare pages for newspapers around pre-designated advertisement spaces.

Radhika elaborates. “As of now, one machine is out of order. It will take about three months to get repaired. So the editions need to go out faster than usual since there are only two working machines. Besides that, when Bal T was hospitalized, there were rumors that he was dead...It upset our Chief because his death would have meant remaking everything! Then again, some important news story may take too long to arrive. It upsets the rhythm of the newsroom. The work especially page making gets held up.”

But like every newspaper worth its salt, it contends with all the problems and moves one, delivering at the break of dawn to all its subscribers their daily news. “Everyday is a new day for a newspaper, " says Sreevatsan.

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