Building a newsroom dedicated to diversity

At Khabar Lahariya, women from remote villages of north India are trained to be professional journalists and produce local news in their languages.

Our 5th Splice Low-Res was about diversity in media. We spoke with Khabar Lahariya about how they work, and why diversity matters to them. We also wrote about KL’s inspiring work in 2018. Read it here.

 

Takeaways

  • India’s Khabar Lahariya believes that diversity is more than just the reporters and newsroom hires. It’s also in the stories it chooses to tell. “Team diversity and the diversity of stories we do are interlinked, it’s impossible to tell them apart,” said Disha Mullick, the team lead
  • They work in underreported regions in India, reporting on topics that can sometimes be dangerous for minority reporters to cover. “This is the duty I have taken for this world and this society that no matter how dangerous the story is, I’ll report it,” said editor-in-chief Kavita Devi
  • KL distributes their content on Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok

 

Context

We spoke to Khabar Lahariya’s Kavita Devi, editor-in-chief, and Disha Mullick, team lead, about building a newsroom dedicated to diversity.

Devi started KL because she felt alienated from the media and the people who were creating it. Devi is from the Dalit community, and most reporters in mainstream media were from upper caste backgrounds. “[They were] male, upper class, and [had] access to privilege of different kinds — educational, geographic, and other sources of power and influence,” Mullick described.

From 2002 to 2015, KL ran an eight-page print in the Bundeli language covering local issues. They would distribute these prints by hand. Funding was difficult and no mainstream papers wanted to help distribute KL. In 2015, they taught their team how to use smartphones and moved their reporting digital, adding video coverage. Their number of readers have gone from 80,000 (while in print) to five million every month.

Diversity is part reporters, part issues covered

  • KL reports in remote places on communities that aren’t traditionally covered, like the Adivasi community. Devi said these stories aren’t just focused on development — they also touch on uncovered topics, like water and electricity issues, and corruption in local government
  • When newsrooms make a commitment to diversity, that often means they aren’t focused on the traditional notions of the “best” hire for the job. “You hire someone that represents a voice that you need in that newsroom, that is important for you to mentor,” Mullick said. Two reporters could only write their names in English before joining KL; some finished their schooling after joining KL; others have become the breadwinners in their families
  • Most reporters are on staff. Though KL has worked with stringers, they’ve found it difficult not to compromise on diversity, specifically for reporters. “Once you start compromising on things like caste, it’s easy to have a newsroom that looks like any other place in the country,” said Mullick
  • They have two reporters in every district in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, with reporters covering multiple beats. Reporters send video footage over WhatsApp, which is then edited

Underserved regions means the potential for many readers, but one must take hard calls between journalism and activism

  • When the lockdown hit India, laborers rushed to return home. Many laborers are from Bundelkhand, which sends out the highest number of construction laborers in the world. KL received countless phone calls from family members curious about the status of Bundelkhand and their family members. “They follow Khabar Lahariya’s work and they trust us to hear them and give them a platform,” said Mullick
  • Devi explains that the separation between activist and journalist can sometimes be hard to define, especially when issues need urgent action. Usually, KL will send articles to local governments or NGOs (according to Mullick, 75% of stories result in some tangible form of change). If change doesn’t happen, they continue to report on stories until they get attention. “[We’re] not physically getting roads made or wells dug,” Mullick explained, but they are elevating the voices that need to be heard
  • Safety is still an issue, particularly for Dalit and Adivasi women reporters. Recently, while reporting on a story on gaushalas where cows were being murdered, upper caste men followed KL’s reporters with guns. However, Devi says that they take care of their reporters and put stringent safety protocols into place. She emphasizes that danger shouldn’t stop them from reporting. Safety might not be an issue that is raised if the reporters were men
  • To survive, KL has befriended people in high positions in the power structures they’re critiquing: upper caste men still have the highest access to newsrooms
  • “This is the duty I have taken for this world and this society that no matter how dangerous the story is, I’ll report it,” said Devi.

Funding and distribution

  • Historically, KL has been funded by grants, but they’ve also started making money by providing research and market insights on rural India
  • Sound, Fury and 4G is a paid product they’ve launched with Google News Initiative, where they release a fortnightly multimedia report of stories from the region
  • Stories are distributed on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp, They’re also on TikTok. Mullick explains that TikTok allows them to bring serious topics to the wildly popular platform
  • KL runs a podcast called Love Guru covering stories on romance and sexuality that people might be too shy — or afraid of implications — to come on camera for

Meghna is a writer in New York. Previously, she helped launch and was the managing editor of New York-based The Juggernaut, worked as a researcher at CB Insights, and reported on tech out of Bangalore for Tech in Asia. Follow Meghna Rao on Twitter.

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