Ritu Kapur is the co-founder of The Quint and Board Member at Oxford University’s prestigious Reuters Institute Of Journalism. In this exclusive interview with acadman.in she talked about her days at Jamia Milia Islamia, meeting Raghav Bahl, Digital Media in India, starting Quint, how to get a job at Quint among several other things.
You have studied at Jamia Millia Islamia. How was your life there?
It was absolutely great because it was the first window to understand that you can really step out of the box and there is so much that can happen and I think at least in our time there was a lot of freedom to be creative to do what you wanted. I must confess that we learnt much more from each other than we did from the teachers.
It freed up our thinking and brought in a lot of reading and experiencing and it exposed us to cinema and thoughts from all across the world. And then you could apply that to a lot of experiments that we did hands on.
How did you meet Raghav Bahl and joined Network18?
I was freelancing with TV18. TV 18 had just started at that time. There was a bunch of two or three people who were doing business shows for Doordarshan and they needed freelance reporters to do stories and I started doing freelance videos, reporting for them and that is how I met him and then I eventually joined Network 18 on a full-time basis.
If you have to give a short speech on “Digital Media in India” at a journalism school, what would be your speech?
My speech would be that digital media is currently like a Candy Store and you got to enter it knowing that there is a lot to experience but you also got to enter it knowing why you are here because I think there is so much happening and it is all evolving so fast it’s actually like a Candy Store on a Rollercoaster .
So much happening there that you have to be able to completely open up to experiments and yet at the same time have the clarity of what you are here to seek. Otherwise, the Candy Store is so tempting that you get so greedy and you will try to do so many things and you will lose focus of your purpose at the store.
The other thing is, we have to understand that most of the digital consumption is happening on mobile phones and I think this is one thing that people have to lookout for. Because I reckon a lot of crafting of content gets done on a desktop and then they try to fit it in a mobile phone.
The other important thing is if you are a journalist then it doesn’t matter what your medium is. A few things never change like the rigor that you have to put into your journalism, in terms of getting your facts corrected, in terms of getting a balanced editorial, creative story telling, etc. So the basic tenants of journalism don’t change with digital media.
So it is increasingly important in such a Candy Store where a lot of material is present, you have to have a very sharp focus on the fact checking and verification and not just go with whatever is going on. The last thing I would like to say is there is so much of curation and aggregation that another curator and aggregator in the system is not going to come and shape anything up. It’s all about original story telling and the next new thing that is happening in original story telling is going out and getting a story because otherwise in this world of journalism same story gets circulated everywhere from TV to WhatsApp and to the digital platforms to newspapers.
It’s about telling the new stories that no one else is telling.
What kind of research do you do to understand the Digital Media?
It’s an ongoing process and the research is not at one place. You have to keep your eyes and ears open in order to understand what is happening globally. In technology, in software, how the mobile phone instrument itself, is changing and therefore how is content getting consumed on that, what is happening with video, social media platform.
There is no single definitive source of research because it is a young industry and you have to constantly look out and you should remember that you are a part of a research and you are contributing to the research. You are not the passive consumer of the research or what other people have done. You are a part of the process. That’s how I approach it.
What are the core ideas behind The Quint?
The core ideas behind starting The Quint were… Firstly, that consumption is moving to mobile. Therefore it has to be digital. Secondly, there is a huge population in India which is not consuming news and content of television or newspaper but only of their mobile phones. But they are hungry. And we also understood that this young and hungry audience is not a passive consumer. They want to engage with the content and want to be a part of it.
The third thing was, that videos are the next big thing in digital media. These were the reasons which motivated us to start The Quint.
What are the key skills required to get a job at The Quint?
You just have to have a head full of ideas and you should be open to exploring both technology and content with journalism. That’s about it. You should be able to write well and you have to have original ideas.
When The Quint hires new journalists, does their political ideology or political leaning mean anything to the organization?
Yes, of course. As long as it is fact based and balanced we want as diverse viewpoints on The Quint. We are not aligned with one ideology or the other. If you see The Quint you will see it has very diverse opinions and approaches and that is something you want to keep, so it important for us to understand what his or her ideology is but we welcome as many diverse views as possible.
How important is it to have a degree in journalism to become successful?
I think it helps you. It gives you a little bit of skill of understanding visual production which is a basic tenet of journalism. But having said that we have a lot of people who are straight out of their graduation or MA and they are doing extremely well. So I think it is all about how open you are to ideas and to exploiting technology to tell your story.
How are you going to make The Quint the most prominent website in India?
The future plan of Quint is to keep doing more and more videos to do better and more original journalism and to build out the Hindi version much more aggressively.
Interns from all the fields often complain that they don’t get paid. So, if an intern is working in a media house from 10am to 4pm, should he/she be provided with at least the minimum wage rate?
Our policy is that if you are an intern who has no experience of any kind of journalism, either from a journalism school or a film school or you are completely raw, then our two month internship period is to provide you training in the field. We see it as our investment in individuals.
But if you are coming to us with some experience or you are coming from a school of journalism where you have already got some training, then we have a stipend for them.
Please tell us some memorable incidents while working at The Quint? Anything which gave more results than expected?
Working there was like a roller coaster ride. It is incredibly amazing to work with such young and vibrant people. When we started using mobile phones 2 years ago as a primary resource for shooting, editing and transmitting and all the experiments that we did with it and the success that we have got with that was overwhelming and quite unexpected.
Was there a time you thought that The Quint is not going on the right track?
Everyday. Every day you want to change something. In digital media, every day you have to be doing something new, experimenting.
So broadly I think The Quint is going in the right direction, but the day we stop experimenting is the day we will die.
The Quint has invested in Youth Ki Awaaz. What are your expectations from it in the upcoming decade?
I think Youth Ki Awaaz is doing some amazing work. I think it is a unique platform which has had a great advantage of crowd-sourcing of content and providing a platform for the young campus students to air their views.
They have also been doing amazing work with their events and they are building on technology to make it easier for young people to push their content out there. If you go to their site you find that there is a form that allows you to upload your video images or whatever you want to upload.
Having said that we are absolutely happy to support Youth Ki Awaaz but we do not get involved in their day to day running. They are completely independent and they drive their operations in the way they want to and in the direction they want to take it.
Do you have any plans to fund more projects in the upcoming years?
Right now we have invested in 2 or 3 startups and we are focusing our energy now on developing The Quint. So nothing is in the offing right away but if something interesting, something out of the box comes along, we are always happy to look at it.
How would you review Indian news websites?
I think there are two kinds of Indian websites. There are Legacy news websites and there are new guys like Scroll, The Wire, and Scoopwhoop.
I think some of the new age websites are doing amazing work with their editorials as they are far more free journalistically than some of the Legacy operations. Because the Legacy media’s ownership comes in the way of free journalism.
While it is all very balanced (news coverage) but what I find very interesting and exciting is the fact that we are at a place where people put strong views on various issues. They don’t just keep shoving out the news. It’s a diversity of views that come in because on television channels you will find that same kind of people come down covering every issue and talking about the same things.
Whereas the kind of people who you can read or whose views you can get on digital media is very very diverse. Then there are legacy players who are also experimenting… there is Indian Express, Hindustan Times, etc. which are doing some interesting new works.
INDIA’S RANKING IN PRESS FREEDOM INDEX IS VERY LOW. What do you think are the reasons and the probable solutions?
I think some of the solutions are independent news outlets if the Indian readership is open to subscription. A lot of news is under pressure because news is a very resource incentive. You have to send reporters out in the field to get stories. You have to send camera persons. You have to have the processing strength for news. News requires funds. If funds can come from the readers, subscriptions, that would be great. Because you are not turning to any other avenue of funding.
One of the other things is that some media outlets are somewhat compromised by their ownership which has a political alignment which ultimately leads to a compromised freedom of the press.
The solution lies in the ability of the media to self-fund. If they are able to find ways which allow them to be completely free and have the resources to go out and do the reporting.
Tell us something unknown about Raghav Bahal, personal or professional?
He is a big Bollywood buff and he knows the lyrics of every Hindi film song, songs that no body has ever even heard of.
Do you have any attachments with Network 18 now?
Of course, I have an attachment with Network 18. We are happy to see it reaching new heights but we have moved on now and now my attachment is much more with The Quint.
What would be your message to the students of journalism across India?
Keep experimenting, keep innovating but don’t lose sight of facts and objectivity.
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