Neha Dixit with Hartosh Singh Bal (editor of The Caravan) Credit - Tejinder Singh

Neha Dixit is an independent journalist, based in Delhi. She writes on politics, social justice, and gender. She has twelve years of work experience in the field. She has won several awards including Chameli Devi Jain Award for outstanding woman journalist for 2016 and Press Institute of India-red Cross award in 2015 for her story “Shadow Line” on mass rapes of women.

In this interview she has talked about coming to Delhi, why journalism, pursuing conversing journalism, pros-cons of being an independent journalist, news becoming infotainment, online harassment, and Much More. You can follow her on twitter at @nehadixit

You graduated in English from Miranda House, Delhi University? Why did you opt for English? Were you sure at that time that you have to become a journalist?

I was from the science background. So, initially when I wanted to do journalism I wasn’t really exposed to different kinds of social theories, political science, history, literature and all that. This is why I first decided to do English honors and then get into journalism. So that those three years of training and literature could add some context to my understanding of the world; which is why I opted English.

When I came to Delhi I had decided that I wanted to do journalism. Being in Delhi helped because it is politically very active in certain ways. Here I get exposed to different ideologies. For instance, I had no clue about feminism but I understood what the women movement is like. I did not understand the kind of politics that is in India, the parliamentary democracy and about the right wing, left wing and centrist forces. So that helped me by being in Delhi.

I was very much into reading, writing and debating. Writing definitely took a while. I was regularly writing for a lot of newspaper throughout my graduation.

I did conversing journalism from Jamia, which trains you in five kinds of medium, i.e. print, online, TV, radio and photography.

Somewhere I read that your father was not happy with your career choice. So, he didn’t talk to you for three years. Is it true?

Initially when I wanted to come to Delhi, because no girl from my family earlier has gone to study in another city. So I was the first one and they were particularly unhappy because I wasn’t doing what they wanted me to do. Like medical, engineering, etc. I wasn’t choosing a very safe, women like profession.  There were two reason why they were unhappy with me coming to Delhi. Firstly, they didn’t want to send the girl out and secondly they were not happy with the choice of my profession. My father spoke to me but he didn’t visit me for three years.

What motivated you to choose journalism as a profession?

Initially when I joined it was not very clear to me – what exactly journalism is? Now I think it is a very important element of the society. It makes editorial interventions to put out information that may have some kind of social purpose. So what really drives me is that ability to put things out for people and make that editorial intervention. Which eventually impact the life of the people on the ground in the way the policies and schemes are made.

What is the role of internship in journalism?

Actually internship matters a lot. During my graduation I used to go and intern with news organizations, newspapers. It’s not like anybody told me that it is required. But I did and it helped me because you get the idea, what you are committing to for your entire life as a profession. It gives practical understanding of how a newsroom operates, how stories are done, how to actually go to the ground and talk to people to be able to write a report, etc. It is not really mandatory but it helps a lot.

You started your career as an investigative journalist at Tehelka. Please describe your role there. How did you manage to get placed there?

My college days was over at Jamia and I was like desperate to find a job. Every day I would apply online because I didn’t know anybody personally and nobody in my family was involved in this. So all I could do was spend days and days on online job portals. Then I got a job in an office called I was there for around ten days and from there I used to send application to every single editor on the planet. I sent it to Tehelka as well and they called me for an interview. Eventually, I got a job there.

I was doing long form stories, which would take ideally two to three months to finish a story. It was not like I have decided that I wanted to do investigative journalism. It came in my way because the kind of ideas I was suggesting ended up being investigative, one after another. So that’s how it happened.

How was your experience in the special investigation team of Headlines Today?

That was kind of interesting because I was doing investigative stories which took me almost a month to submit a story as compared to all other bureau people who had to do two-three stories every day. That way it was a relief. The thing with TV is that each time you do a story the impact is more because a lot of people watch TV. There is kind of instant reaction when you do an investigative story on TV. But at the same time I also felt toward the end of those stories on TV. I realized that a lot of it was very chaotic; because such is the pace of TV news that everything is done in a very superficial way. So there is no scope to get into the details and complexity of the stories that you are writing or trying to put out on air. That is why I left TV.

How beneficial is the degree of Mass com in becoming a journalist?

I don’t think it’s important. The thing that you learn in your course is the same which you learn in your internship. So there are some skills that people will teach you, like writing a basic report, editing, etc. But a lot of it can be learned on the job. So it is something which is not necessarily required.

What made you become an independent journalist? What are the drawbacks of not being independent?

The most difficult part is that you don’t get a proper amount in your account every single month. But it is different because corporate-political media organizations are everywhere and on a lot of time their decision are taken on the basis of the corporate-political policy. I found it increasingly difficult to publish stories, the kind of stories which is needed to be published, according to me. That is why I became an independent journalist. Now, if one organization doesn’t publish the story, then the second does, if the second doesn’t, then the third does. So you are not bound by any kind of political pressure. Having said that independent journalism is little difficult because there are no proper policies in the Indian media organizations to pay freelancers on time and pay them a right amount.

How do you tackle the paid trolls when they abuse just for writing facts or reporting a story?

I don’t think there is anything you can do about it. Because it is not like that the country has an active online anti-harassment organization that works. What can you do about it if every single day you see people abusing you and saying all kinds of things, talking about your body parts, sending pictures of their body parts? There is no way you can stop it. Just keep blocking and reporting them as spam. It is the only thing you can do and toward the end, you start developing a sense of humor. Then you just laugh it off, what else you can do about it, unfortunately. The government and the authorities are not serious to deal it. These are anonymous people online and you can’t have a check on them.

What is your view on media becoming irresponsible and showing fact less episodes?

See there are two things. One is that a lot of TV news reporting has become infotainment rather than news. The second thing, like I said earlier, there is lot of corporate-political nexus in media houses which determines which kind of story have to be reported or not reported. It really and heavily influences all the kind of editorial output that is put out there.

Is there any role of ethics in today’s mainstream journalism or has it become totally market oriented?

Yes, it is increasingly becoming market oriented. In fact most of the bigger media organization’s editorial content is determined by market forces, unfortunately. Having said that, I would also say, there is an alternative media coming up and it is countering the kind of propaganda that is there in mainstream media. There is a growing alternate media and you can’t discount it any longer. Especially when social media is coming up.

What would you say to some of our readers who contemplate making a career in the field of investigative journalism?

I would say that every single story that you do, in a way, is an investigative story. Because things in journalism and reporting involves kind of complexities. It is never a binary. It is not a simplistic equation that you can put out as a report. Every single thing you do has to be looked at with the same sincerity, as you would think an investigative story deserve. Anybody who want to pursue investigative journalism should delve into nuance and complexities of the subject. That is how they will do justice to a form rather than the current situation where everything is in terms of binaries.

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