Conversations with Ramnath Goenka awardees: ‘Talk to people not just politicians’

Supriya Sharma of Scroll talks about choosing a 2,500-km train journey over routine election rallies to report ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections

ByManisha Pande
Conversations with Ramnath Goenka awardees: ‘Talk to people not just politicians’
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Supriya Sharma, News Editor, Scroll.in, won the award for best reporting on politics and governance for her series Window Seat. Sharma undertook a train journey from Guwahati to Jammu ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to gauge the political mood in the country. This is her second Ramnath Goenka Award, she had earlier won the award for uncovering invisible India for her reports from Chhattisgarh.

In an email conversation, she talks about the challenges of reporting while undertaking an arduous 2,500-km railway journey.

You happen to be the first journalist working for a digital organisation to pick up the Ramnath Goenka Award. You’ve worked with TV and print before this. How was the transition to the digital space?

The medium might influence the way you tell a story but at the end of the day the challenge remains the same: to get your facts right, to put them together in a way that explains something, and to do so in a way that would make people care. What helped make the transition was that I was working with a great editor and had a fantastic team of colleagues. The challenge for us at Scroll is how to best use a relatively new medium to do old-fashioned, public-spirited journalism.

What were the challenges you faced while working on your series, Window Seat?

I really enjoyed covering the election in a slightly mad way, hopping on and off trains, skipping the usual circuit of political rallies and instead relying on happenstance to meet people and get to know about their lives. It led me to a richer understanding of politics and the country, and I hope some of that got communicated through the stories.

Apart from the usual anxieties over deciding what to focus on, where to go, one of the challenges in this series was physical: How do you travel through the day and write a dispatch in the night and keep doing that for days altogether. I did it for the first 15 days or so, but when I reached Haryana (I had started the journey in Assam) I felt I would collapse and Naresh [Fernandes], my editor, asked me to lock myself in a room and just sleep for two days.

If you had to give the award to a journalist in the same category as yours, who would you give it to and for which story?

There are way too many deserving of the award and I wouldn’t be able to pick just one. Two journalists I greatly admire — Manoj Mitta and Hartosh Bal — published books last year which are deserving of the highest honours.

Any advice to young journalists who’d like to enter the profession and report on politics?

Talk to people and not just politicians.

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