Snigdha Ahuja is a Principal Correspondent at Hindustan Times. She writes on fashion, travel, decore etc. for the daily Entertainment and Lifestyle supplement, HT City. She is an alumnus of Miranda House and Indian Institute of Mass Communication.
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Please tell us about your family background and educational journey till class 12th.
I come from a close-knit family, and grew up as the only child of a journalist father, and a mother who teaches in a school. I was always into creative writing and poetry was something I enjoyed reading. I went through various phases of wanting to become different things post finishing my studies. A fashion designer, a painter, even an architect, and psychologist. By class tenth (I studied in Delhi Public School, RK Puram), I realised I had problems processing numbers and I ran away from too much paperwork, logistics. I knew that I would do best in a field that was creative. Journalism thus became a fascination.
When and why did you opt for Journalism? How was your college experience?
My father played a big role in opening the field of journalism to me, although, he was never the one to push me into it. I enjoyed reading the newspaper and knew what a brief, byline, bottom line and lead meant much before many, thanks to the pile of papers at home every morning. While electronic journalism was the hottest thing, I somehow still enjoyed the ‘slow pace’ of print. After graduating from Miranda House in Delhi University (I studied English literature), I got through IIMC (Indian Institute of Mass Communication). Interestingly, I got through the Radio and TV course and not the print course I wanted. Nevertheless, studying RTV was a great experience. So now, I also knew how to write scripts and what a piece to camera meant.
How and where did you get your first job?
My first job was in Mumbai with Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited. It was a campus placement. There were multiple rounds of interviews and discussions before I finally bagged the job. I quit within a year. Electronic media was not for me. I applied for a position in HT while in Mumbai, and luckily, got a job with HT City in January 2012.
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You write on fashion, travel, decore etc. which many people don’t consider to be the ‘real’ journalism. What is your take on this?
This debate about ‘real’ journalism did not bother me, until I saw my friends casually talk about political press conferences and having to travel to remote villages to break stories. I did get a feeling sometimes that outsiders took me lightly because I wrote on fashion and other seemingly ‘frivolous’ topics. But, after almost six years of reporting on the beat, I have realized that it is not an easy job and is as important as any other. Journalism is supposed to educate, and I feel like I am able to do that daily. We write about sustainable fashion that does not harm the eco-system, or sometimes, about craftsmen who have taken their skills to the world, making India proud. The more I understand lifestyle journalism, the more I believe in it. And, the readers are very intelligent. They consume quality. If our writing did not make sense, they would have rejected it long back.
What kind of research is required before writing on these issues? What is the scope of reporting in this area?
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I would never tell anyone to focus on becoming a fashion writer. In my opinion, there is no such thing. One should aim at being aware: From what the country is eating to what it is watching on TV, every piece of information is important. Of course, the scope is huge when it comes to lifestyle writing. Research is a must and I see that many use PR driven words to fuel stories, which is not the right thing to do. The best way to understand your beat is to read. Read whatever you can find. Interested in fashion? Read about Indian textile, try to recognize fabrics, know the market. Basically, be alert. And remember only God can ‘reveal’, your source can only ‘say’.
How has your experience been working at Hindustan Times?
I was scared to be a part of such a big brand when I started off. But, the excitement and the pressure to deliver helped me work towards my growth. Hindustan Times has been wonderful. My mentor, Sonal Kalra (National Editor, Entertainment and Lifestyle, HT) has been monumental in helping me achieve greater heights. Everyone has good and bad days at work, I have had my share. But overall, the company has given me my wings, for which I am thankful. We have also shifted largely to the website format which has helped us become better multimedia writers for an online audience. Also, the brand gives you the chance to meet your heroes. That’s my favourite part.
Please narrate one of your memorable reporting experience.
Considering I have still a long way to go in my journalistic journey, that ‘moment’ is yet to come. But, one reporting experience which is unforgettable is a conversation I had with an iconic Italian designer. “Hey Snigdha, how are you? This is Roberto Cavalli,” said the person on the other side of the phone, calling from Milan. I was expecting a PR person or his manager to connect us, but this fashion veteran randomly called me for an interview scheduled later in the same day. So, I was shocked out of my wits! I also got the chance to walk for designer JJ Valaya at an in-house charity fashion event along side industry experts. That experience was humbling too.
What is the scope for fresh graduates of Mass Comm. who want to write on these issues?
It’s huge! You’d see with how the blogging industry has boomed in the past few years and that features and lifestyle writing has become even bigger. If you have studied mass communication, I’d suggest an internship or a trainee position with a daily or a magazine. I have seen that youngsters are too keen to make money so the aim is to look for a job right out of college. But I’d say, be patient. All of it will come in time. Start with looking for quality mentorship and not a well-paying job.
As a woman what kind of problems did you have to face in the field of Journalism?
I am proud to say that journalism is one field where women have shown their prowess time and again. Most newsrooms still have more women than men, but the voice of both genders is heard equally. Maybe I’ve just been lucky but journalism has given me more power and confidence as a woman as compared to anything else in my life.
What would be your parting message to the students of Journalism who want to report in the areas of fashion, travel, decore etc.?
Do it! Don’t listen to those who think it’s not serious journalism. It’s about understanding human behavior and habits and nothing can be more exciting. Also, try and brush up on your knowledge. The internet has made information easily accessible but there’s nothing more satisfying than meeting your subject or picking up a book to understand your field better. Lastly, there are no free lunches, always remember. So, don’t do this job for how glamorous it might seem. Do it for your own happiness and interest. And of course, for that thrill of seeing your name in black letters in almost a century old newspaper.