How HT made a difference in lead up to International Women's Day

International Women's Day is on 8th March
Instead of a distinguished panel choosing an appropriate candidate for HT Woman 2011 award (probably in a closed meeting room), the reputed English newspaper opened the process of nomination and selection to its readers (at least in UP state of India). There might be others who might have done better, but let me share this example I know of, how participation, representation and ownership is so key in this era powered by social media.

The newspaper (HT in UP) opened the process of nomination for the HT Woman 2011 award to mark the International Women's Day (8th March) to the citizens. Critics may say otherwise but I think even if daughters, sons, husbands and other family members nominated the woman who they believe is a heroine in their lives is commendable. Who else will I nominate but those I truly believe in, right? Also many women candidates got nominated for the difference they have brought in a broader social welfare sense – and were nominated by people (not family members) who believed that they are truly inspiring leaders. This is exceptional because seldom we, particularly, men, get a chance to be vocal about the inspiring heroines in our lives – and HT gave this chance to its readers.

One of the biggest highpoints of this process was that HT dedicated significant space (in colour) to all of these candidates (on few of the past days, it has been three full newspaper pages). HT published their photographs and 200 words on the contribution each one of them had made in being the change with integrity. Seldom women working in slums get featured alongside one of the most respected bureaucrats or academicians or reasonably high-profile women who have contributed in other spheres of life. For example, personally I was very glad to see the nomination of a police staff person who had demonstrated exceptional care and humaneness to a woman who had faced extreme sexual violence and later succumbed to it. World is watching, right?

I also strongly believe that publishing the profile of each of these candidates is an award. This is real recognition with a prominent newspaper featuring them daily in lead up to the Women's Day on 8th March. This surely is a genuine salute to each one of them.

This open nomination process is also important because somewhat just like social media, it became reader-driven. HT hadn't nominated a single candidate – so readers drove the process forward, I believe. That directly impacts the ownership of a social media platform, and in this case, a traditional, conventional print newspaper (this edition is not even online, believe me) tried to be successful in letting its readers drive this process. Citizen journalism is not only online, trust me. And this is just one example.

Let's get to the most controversial bit of this process - voting. Critics have ridiculed how SMS voting is not a just choice. Two distinguished and inspiring women in my life refused point-blank to be nominated because they don't want to be a part of 'such a voting' process. Hmmm, well then what is a just mechanism to make a just choice? What can a newspaper or a website (I run an online media) do to let people decide? The larger issue is of participation of readers in this decision-making, which is probably going unrecognised – and one of the most pragmatic ways to achieve people's participation, is using SMS texts. It may not work for everyone, but does work for a reasonable number of target audience. I completely agree it can be biased depending upon 'influence index' of the candidates at times (I have personally received SMS texts from 14 candidates to vote for them so far), but a really representative and practical mechanism is not there in my sight. Most importantly as I mentioned above, being featured in a mainstream newspaper daily in lead up to the Women's Day is an award in itself – to each of the 65 women who the people nominated have made a difference in respective spheres. And SMS text is surely a pragmatic option to engage readers in voting process - million times better than a small number of high-profile distinguished citizens sitting in a closed room and calling the shots!

Bobby Ramakant - CNS