As part of my Watson, I’ve had the chance to meet with a wide variety of people involved in different types of media- from print daily newspapers to community radio, to editors and photo journalists. This is an in-progress page featuring the voices of the people I’ve met with and our conversations about various aspects of journalistic storytelling- all of whom generously spent time speaking about their work.
8 years working as a journalist.
[Interviewed at a Nepal Forum for Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ) post earthquake reporting training; responses in Nepali, translated to English by Geeta Manandhar]
“I love to do and look at new things. When good things happen, I like to report and communicate them to others. Whenever good things are happening in the community one is expected to discuss those things, but then there are things that are supposed to be happening but are not. I want to search for those kinds of things, and I’m doing journalism to improve this.
I don’t think of myself as a female journalist; I’m a journalist. I travel village to village sometimes to collect the news. When I go from village to village, I have to go with male journalists because there are not many female reporters. In relation to Gorkha, there are only three or four female journalists who go to the field. Mostly women who are involved in news want to stay back at the desk and read the news or are interested in running the music program on the radio.
The duty of a journalist is 24 hours so at any time I need to be ready to go. This is a really dutiful job and sometimes domestic problems come up as a woman journalist. Being a woman or being a daughter, family and society expects you to look after the house also. Household chores have to be done. Another thing is even though I’m working hard, female journalists’ work is taken as bad work and not seen as seriously or as trustable as mens’. In the field also, people doubt that if people tell problem to woman she cannot raise the issue properly. Even though we do hard work, people think about our reporting differently. But we should not give up, we have to face these problems, do hard work, and march ahead.
I remember one story about one village called Gumda (in Gorkha District). Gumda is far away from the epicenter of the 2015 earthquakes and far from Gorkha Bazaar. It is near the mountains and snow peaks, and after the earthquake, we went to report on the conditions afterward. In that village, we found that a lot of houses collapsed. People were still living in tents and it was because of the cold weather that villagers didn’t have sufficient warm clothes. It was so cold many of them were sick and some of them were even staying in earth quake damaged houses, despite the risks, because the roofs were leaking and tents were blowing over in the wind.
We went there and prepared a report and broadcasted from Ujjwalo 92. The radio is broadcasted to and listened in 14 earthquake affected districts. After we broadcasted that news, the district disaster office and district health office organized a meeting and health camp in the village. Through that office they distributed free medicine, organized cleaning campaigns, and talking about measures to protect against the cold. They also distributed warm clothes, and Red Cross also supported the effort.
Because of those actions, I was very happy and satisfied by the outcome of the story; I still remember it, and how affective radio broadcasting can be.”
Working as a journalist for seven years.
[Interviewed at the NEFEJ post earthquake reporting training; responses in Nepali, translated to English by Geeta Manandhar]
“There’s a long history behind why I wanted to become a journalist. I loved to speak on the radio and tell stories of people, about the scarcity of resources. That’s why I was looking at that kind of job- go to the field, report, and tell stories. That is my hobby, something I like to do.
In the beginning [of my experiences with community radio], the government announced a state of emergency (in 2001). During that time there was no chance to do anything… Now, it is 2074 (2017). After democracy was introduced, Nepal’s government has become more flexible to opening radio stations, so at that time [in 2064] we opened our own radio station… Through the radio, we can express the feeling of the people. That is the only medium. We can explore the problem of local areas and broadcast it, so that’s why we started our own radio station… The mountainous areas are far from the center [Kathmandu]. People don’t get information and know what is law, what kind of resources the government is providing, what kind of development work is going on. We broadcast from the radio so they can be aware of their rights and take appropriate benefits from the government.
People want to know what kind of problems there are. If the issues in broadcasts have long term affects and impacts, then people will listen to the radio. Otherwise, they don’t listen.”
*Partial transcription of interview, held in-person, República office, Kathmandu.*
Subhash Ghimire was one of the very first people I interviewed in Kathmandu, in early August. I found my way to the República office, on the second floor of the JDA Complex a white office building, fronted by a frosted glass square with the paper’s logo, a globe with subtle waves of orange and red flames, across it. Our meeting scheduled for 12 pm, the office was mostly vacant; a few scattered groups of reporters leaned together over computers and sat typing, but the newsroom was quiet, sleepy in the way of a space accustomed to long nights. In his office, Subhash explained that reporters didn’t usually come in until 1 pm since many were in the field.
JT: You studied economics and went to the Harvard Kennedy School. How did you after that, without studying journalism, end up as editor of República?
This is not something that I really planned for, so I’d actually moved to D.C. and was going to work at the World Bank but then this happened, this conversation happened. I had been waiting for a good opportunity to come back to Nepal so this was a perfect opportunity. Even if I didn’t study journalism, I thought, you know, when you study policy, you can understand what’s happening at a bigger level. So I think I had a pretty good sense of Nepal’s politics and economy and what not, so I think because I didn’t necessarily have to go on the ground and do the reporting, so if you understand these kind of [issues]. You might also be able to bring a different perspective to the newspaper so I thought, you know, why not take this opportunity, so I left that and came back.
JT: What was it like initially coming into this role, were there challenges because you didn’t have the reporting experience?
SG: Well there was a lot of discussions here in Nepal when I was appointed at 27, a lot of people were like, oh this typical elite, going to Harvard and from there they put you at the top. What does he know? He should be fired. So there were a lot of public discussions in Nepal, but then also I think I was very acutely aware of these challenges and the staff here fully cooperated with me which was good. It made my job a lot easier. I did obviously learn the intricacies of the newspaper later on but editor is also a manager, so you have to be able to manage people, manage peoples’ expectations. A lot of the reporters here are much older than me. So there’s a certain element of hierarchy in our society so I think that also has to be respected when you work with these people. I think I was very mindful of these things. It was hard, but I survived I guess.
JT: And both before you came in as editor and were just reading the paper or saw it from the outside and now running it, what do you think about is distinctive about the work that República does, what differentiates it from the other publications in Nepal?
SG: The first thing I did when I came in was that I really focused on the numbers. So we really wanted our reporters to understand the numbers and play with the numbers, and make sure that they have the right numbers when they do their reporting because a lot of this he said, she said is a little bit old now. So my constant focus has been, focusing on the numbers and playing with the numbers. So when you have a story to tell and you have the right numbers, it becomes powerful. So I think I feel like I am glad a lot of other newspapers have started doing the same, but then I feel like we are the pioneers in that and still do a better job than others when it comes to representing these different kind of numbers in stories that makes it easier for readers, for people to understand these stories. Sometimes they are very complicated stories, so I think we distinguish ourselves in that sense, that we do a little bit deep dive reporting on these big issues. Even if you notice the newspapers it’s very different what we’ve been covering. Not just the politics and the usual happenings but you know much bigger issues on policy and corruption and political corruption, and abuse of resources by people who are in power.
JT: Is there a difference in how you look at that balance between more national political stories versus more localized stories?
SG: So because we have two dailies, Nepali and English, Nepali is hyper local because we have these regional supplements, daily supplements, they are hyper local stories. For both of our national editions it’s more national news and ultimately we sit down and discuss, because once we get the news from across the country, and we sit down, so what’s important? What should the prime minister, what should the people in power, hear? What should they know about these issues, so I think that’s how we make the judgments and it’s a tricky balance. Sometimes when we’re focusing too much on one particular issue, and not giving enough space to another issue…We make the decision. It’s a tricky balance, it’s always a work in progress. We always strive for better.
JT: How do you balance reporting the numbers and then also presenting peoples’ voices?
SG: So usually we have one big interview once a week. So that’s on politics or policy or whatever it is, or whatever is happening. Just yesterday we had an interview with the former chief justice who was talking about the encroachment, so because we’ve been reporting a lot on that and one of the reasons she was impeached was because she didn’t make a decision on that issue. So that’s important, letting everyone know about this. And then we keep on publishing little boxes, for example, this issue, there are people from Pokhara talking about the encroachment of [Fewa] lake, they are prominent people in Pokhara who have big roles different sectors of society; for example [pointing], he’s a big and powerful law maker from the area. So we try to balance these things out, so then when you combine public opinion with solid fact, that makes the story really powerful. This is a story where we got the papers from the Supreme Court so you can’t deny the evidence that you get from the, so that makes the whole issue much stronger. This particular guy [Karna Shakya] has claimed that he has done nothing illegal [in constructing a resort near the banks of the Fewa Lake in Pokhara] but the government, in their reply to the petition, said that he hasn’t gotten any permission from the concerned authority to build a resort.
JT: Were you able to interview him [Karna Shakya] as well?
SG: No we didn’t interview him, he didn’t want to be interviewed, but a few days ago he issued a long statement that basically accused us of lying and what not, so since then he hasn’t replied to our request for an interview.
JT: Have you received any backlash from the government related to any stories you’ve published?
SG: Actually two or three weeks ago, we published a story, a series of stories; we found out after the election that 1,442 officials went on foreign trips, useless foreign trips. Like people from the Ministry of Agriculture went to a volleyball tournament in Norway for a week, 15 people. So we exposed the names of every single individual of the 1,442 people and the ministries, the places they went, and then we ran a bunch of stories on that. Actually a bunch of people in the lower ranks of government were really happy to see this because they couldn’t really express this, they couldn’t come to the media and talk about this. But it actually came out and so some of the trips that were planned after this were canceled. Media is pretty powerful in this country, in that sense, if you look at other countries in South Asia and other parts of the world, it’s very strong here. So the government really can come after you[relevant cases] if you’re reporting on facts, so we are fortunate in that sense. In República Watch we update all the big stories we’ve written in this section, often on misuse of resources, misuse of power…Sometimes, some of our reporters in the districts, especially when they’re reporting on smuggling and poaching they do receive threats, but then we issue a statement along with the Federation of Journalists and the international community issue statements, because we are such a big media house, it rarely happens.