Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta, alumni of the Asian College of Journalism, is a Deputy Editor at The Wire. Previously he has worked with the Frontline.
In this interview with acadman.in he talked to us about his life at Delhi University & Asian College of Journalism, experiences with Frontline and The Wire, current scenario in journalism, among several other things.
What was in your mind when you came to New Delhi to study History at Hans Raj College?
Around that point of time when I finished my school, generally humanities attracted me. I thought that I will get into some sort of social sciences. And history was something which appealed to me the most. The subject grew on me and I got more and more interested in the debates that concerned the subject. So after my graduation, I got into JNU to finish my MA in medieval Indian History. After which there were two choices. One was to get into academics and pursue Indian medieval history as a research and the second option was journalism, which I had always been thinking from my school days.
What motivated you to pursue a career in Journalism?
Journalism was something which I was always interested in and it excited me to write about different things. Especially political reporting interested me a lot, in getting to know people from up close. And engage with them more and see what goes on in framing a particular policy in India.
I always wanted to go outside the text and engage and see whether the texts I was reading had any political relevance in contemporary times.
How Asian College of journalism helped you in your career?
Asian college of journalism is definitely a very good platform to begin your journalism career. It follows a particular principal. They don’t just teach reporting, writing and editing but they also focus on different subjects and issues for which they have electives. Journalism is about – why, what, when and which, and how. So “how” is what Asian College of Journalism is most interested in and “how” helps students to get in depth information on an issue and see things from a very different perspective.
Which things should students consider while choosing a journalism school?
I don’t recommend under graduation courses of journalism. Because it is always beneficial in a career if you have some deep grounding in another discipline. It can be humanities, or other traditional disciplines and then get into journalism and they are necessary to become a good journalist. Journalism is something which you eventually learn while you are working. What a college does is just aiding you in polishing your journalistic skills.
Asian college of journalism, Manorama School of Journalism in Kerala are good colleges as per global standards.
How did you get your first job at Frontline Magazine?
After finishing the diploma, they had three placements, and my teacher recommended me for the only placement that Frontline offered because I was more inclined towards long form journalism rather than daily beat reporting.
I was lucky to break into Frontline as most of my colleagues were highly experienced people and I was the youngest one there. And their guidance helped me a lot in developing my journalistic skills.
Frontline is also one of the very few places which let its reporter travel extensively and do special stories.
Why did you leave your job at Frontline?
I had put nine years in Frontline. It’s not that the job was not good. I just wanted to experiment with other forms of journalism. I wanted to do a stint with daily reporting. Which to me seemed more impactful.
How would you describe your current job at The Wire?
The Wire is a very energetic place. It’s a small team with very good and renowned editors and they have given us a lot of space to write on different issues, on topics which no one reports. The Wire has been successfully reporting the issues on which no one reports and it’s having a great impact. People here are driven and they have come out of that family and corporate owned media houses to independent journalism.
There is no doubt that The Wire is doing great stories. But sometimes readers make a perception that they do only one kind of journalism, negative journalism. And many people stop watching or reading it. What is your say regarding this?
That is the perception that only a certain group of people who support one particular party tells about The Wire. But I actually don’t feel that. We think we have been fairly objective and we report on the basis of facts or information received. None of our stories talk about what we feel. Undoubtedly we take a stand on every issue. That is why The Wire is the first online platform to have its own editorials.
Because we are doing critical journalism at a time when most of the media houses are pandering to the establishment’s whims and fancies, we are doing independent journalism and pointing out the failure of the government as well. That is what journalism is. If you look into the history of journalism, any good journalism has always been adversarial. Like Arun Shourie said yesterday – news is what the government wants to hide and all the other news is propaganda.
This sense of balance belongs to the journalist when you are doing a story, it’s very important for a journalist to take a view of the person who you are accusing of being guilty in that matter. And we normally always do that and it’s not our fault that we are doing independent journalism and these days you are being branded as anything. But I don’t think we need to take those accusations and criticism seriously.
If you are pointing out that environment ministry gave a company license to a mine without taking the villager’s consent – why shouldn’t we report it?
So, these allegations are baseless and it’s more of a propaganda than actual criticism.
What do you think is the future of print journalism in India?
I really think that print journalism would do well. I generally understood print journalism to be newspapers and magazines but I think the evolution of digital media will only add to the growth of print journalism, especially at a time when TV channels are growing in their influence, but they are not doing critical journalism. And print journalism fulfills that space of doing journalism like journalism used to be at one point of time. In recent times there is a mushrooming of regional and English TV channels which are pandering to the establishment and mostly indulging in public relations journalism. So print journalism with its energy will fill the vacuum that TV channels have created.
On which skills a student should focus to become a successful journalist?
A student should focus on the traditional discipline, get a very good grasp of the ongoing debates. Read daily newspapers like Indian Express, The Hindu, Hindustan Times which are very informative regularly. You need to be very alert on various news developments. Also try and focus on writing news stories. And journalism is not activism. Journalism is not a platform for people who want to say what they feel, about a particular story. Journalism is about pertaining certain skills in which you are able to see certain developments from outside and report on it in public interest.
India was ranked 136th in the Press Freedom Index. According to you what are the major challenges that journalism in India faces?
I think the problem is two fold. The first problem is the present government and even the governments before that haven’t given enough space for the press. Especially the present government has been ruthless in influencing and intimidating the media. For the first time, we saw the declaration that NDTV India would be banned for one day which they later had to withdraw. And today we see that the homes NDTV founders has been raided. So we never saw such situation.
Twin-fold I said because both, the government and the media houses are responsible for such a situation. The government has decided to clamp down on any critical reporting and at the same time, big media houses have come to be owned by pro-government corporate groups. It could be any government. But these groups like to remain in the good books of the governments. And in that situation, you fail to do good journalism. Both the govt. and the corporate houses that own these media organizations are responsible for this. Journalism in India has become very commercialized. At one level, there is kind of self-censorship in reporting the truth and on the other level, if you are at all reporting, the govt. is clamping down on you for reporting what is true.
Did The Wire get any threats from the government?
We have been getting lots of threats on social media but no actual threats as such. The threats are not goons like threats but it’s more a policy of intimidation that we have had to face.
For example, We did two stories on the launch of Republic TV and how a BJP MP sponsored it. We showed a conflict of interest because he is launching a news channel and he is also enjoying parliamentary committees of various defense. He is privy to a lot of information which the government knows. And for the reports Chandrasekhar and Republic TV especially filed a defamation case against us.
This is how you clamp down. Essentially the freedom of speech and freedom of the press are two values which any nation should respect. Because only then you can strive towards a democracy which looks towards the future, which is vibrant and looks towards a liberal culture. The political class as a whole is looking to reverse the progress that we have made and reverse the constitutional provisions as well.
Students often complain that they do not get paid while internship. What are your views regarding it?
Interns definitely need to be paid. It should be made a practice that the interns are also paid some amount so that they are motivated to work. And right now internships have become a way to not hire permanent employees and get the donkey’s work done by the interns. The Wire is paying a small stipend to interns.
What would be your message to students as well as young journalists?
I just want them to keep their eyes and ears open and not fall into the trap that TRP driven campaigns are creating. A journalist should always be skeptical. They should always doubt everything. Analyse the claims made by not only the government but also of activists and surroundings. The people who you seem to support – always doubt them. And find authentic information and then write about it. Only then I think you become a successful journalist.
This interview is taken by @alokanand & edited by Prakriti Syngal. To suggest an interview, feedbacks, comments you can write at email@example.com