Insights, observations, and, most importantly, tips, were shared lavishly and generously by Indian Express reporter Rupsa Chakraborty, during a session in our Reporting Lab held recently.
In her interaction with students of the PG class in Journalism, Chakraborty had three specific suggestions for those venturing into the field of journalism.
- Record your conversations when you are venturing into territory where responses are uncertain. She was spared a Rs 100 crore defamation threat as a result of one such precaution!
- Sync all your media to Google Drive. On one occasion, she was forced to delete a photograph from her device, but she was still able to access it later!
- File multiple RTIs when doing a complex story, even if they ask for the same information from different people. Her experience is that the first response from officials is usually to refuse information, but someone or other will stump up.
The journalist who has spent ten years working the health beat with two other publications before her current assignment, also writes on gender issues and women and child development, confessing that it is the human interest element of all her stories that drives her.
The immediate reason for her participation in the Lab was a recent story in the IE, on the fact that the M-East ward in Mumbai has the largest number of maternal deaths in Mumbai, a condition exacerbated by the pandemic.
In an hour-long dialogue with the students, who had already analysed her excellent report, she revealed a host of process-driven details, ranging from how she had got the idea for the story, to her methods of fact-gathering, and from how working one story at a time was an unheard-of luxury in Indian journalism. So Rupsa worked on the story ”Death during child birth: At Mumbai’s M-East, maternal health takes a beating” even as she continued her routine work of reporting on health, particularly COVID 19.
She gave plenty of examples during the discussion, focusing on conditions, the need to work hard, creating a rapport with officials and others on the beat, and of course, the importance of developing a news sense. “It took me some time, at first I made mistakes, but now I trust my news sense completely. It has helped me in all my jobs. In fact, once the subbing desk recognizes the importance of a story, a reporter can suggest giving it a better display. For example, I wanted space for the story so, my boss permitted me to do the story in long form for the HardLook section,” she said
Still, it took her from October 2021 to the present to work on the story before it came to print. “I love doing long form journalism and I am usually working on something along with routine stuff,” she added.
She spoke of the satisfaction her work gave her, in spite of the exhaustion, the inconvenience, or even danger of hostility. On one occasion, when a fire broke out at Empress Mill in Parel, she got a call at 3 am, asking her to get to the spot and report. So that’s what she did, taking a taxi from Thane to get to work!
“There was a time when health reporting was considered a soft option”, says Rupsa, who has always been the only one handling the beat in all the media houses she has worked with. “But that is no longer the case. Not after the pandemic set in. Health is easily one of the most important beats for a journalist and we need much more reporting than we currently have.”
It is difficult not to agree!