The heart on fire, the brain on ice
The opinion pages of any newspaper should try to provide a stable anchor of ideas to help readers navigate the turbulent flow of daily news. That has been our main concern here at Mint.
There is a hierarchy of three issues we have to deal with. The core principles which are not open for negotiation, the more strategic themes where we may change our opinion as the facts change and the purely tactical issues of the day. Protecting constitutional freedoms is an example of the first, foreign policy is an example of the second and the interest rate decisions of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) every two months is an example of the third.
The core liberal principles were laid out on the very day this newspaper was first published. Here is what was written in February 2007: “The editorial pages of this newspaper will have three central themes: free people, free economies and free societies. Each is important in itself. Together, they can create the sort of fissile energy needed to ignite the aspirations and energies of every one of our countrymen. We will stand up in defence of every move that increases the freedom of Indians to think, express, invent, work, trade and invest. We will oppose every move that tries to bring unreasonable restrictions on these essential freedoms.”
There were some important nuances as well. The state should not only protect basic freedoms, but also play an activist role in ensuring that every child is in school, that every ill person has access to affordable healthcare, that extreme inequities between individuals and regions are minimized. The harsh realities of caste oppression, gender discrimination and communal violence cannot be ignored. Market failures need to be dealt with as well. A lot has changed since then—but we remain committed to these core principles.
There was another important principle we embraced. The commentary in this newspaper would be written to appeal to every reader rather than a select few. The bane of opinion writing in most Indian newspapers is that more effort is expended on impressing peers rather than on reaching out to a wider audience. It is for precisely this reason that the editorial pages of newspapers have traditionally been able to attract only a sliver of the total readership. The result is a strange combination of sneering at the intelligence of the reader followed by paroxysms of self-pity that nobody reads opinion writing.
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Data analytics now allow editors to track how much online traffic is generated by various sections of a newspaper. Nothing is more pleasing than the fact that opinion writing in Mint is one of the most powerful magnets for our online readership, even though we have avoided, I think, the easy attractions of clickbait.
There have naturally been hits and misses over the years. I like to believe that there have been more of the former rather than the latter. There have also been bouquets and brickbats, the latter especially for our editorials on economic populism and on national security. One of our institutional innovations is that the team that manages the opinion pages is independent of the rest of the newspaper. And Mint has had two editors—Raju Narisetti and R. Sukumar—who have consistently respected our internal lakshman rekha, even when we have taken positions that they do not necessarily agree with. This is rare in the Indian newspaper world.
The editorial pages will now have more opinion pieces as well as more regular columnists. There will be change. There will also be constancy. It was Lenin—not a gentleman we usually agree with—who said that the heart must be on fire and the brain on ice. That maxim continues to be a worthwhile goal for our opinion writers to pursue.