In an exclusive interview with JFW, we asked her about her journey, her vision for The News Minute and why journalism is not just her profession but also her passion.
“From my college days, I was actively into student politics. I was also anchoring TV programs. One turning point for me was watching news coverage of Deve Gowda stepping down as Prime Minister in 1997 and the politics that followed. Two news anchors were passionately discussing how such political uncertainty costs the country and I immediately thought this is the job I want l to do, to ask questions. By the time I became a B.Com graduate, I was sure that I wanted to do a job which would keep me connected to people and since I was comfortable on TV, I started looking for TV journalism courses. The college was a good learning curve. My first and only internship was a true disaster and I ran away from it. I later joined Malayalam’s first 24-hour news channel India Vision and then New Indian Express. I had brief stints at these places and moved on to Times Now. I worked at Times Now for 8 years and rose from trainee reporter to South India bureau chief.” Says Dhanya when asked why she decided to pursue journalism.
She was fuelled by the drive of wanting to do something out of the ordinary. Her quest for a job that wasn’t monotonous landed her with a lifetime of challenging but exciting work. “However, it would be an exaggeration to say I had it all figured out. Understanding what kind of a journalist I want to be took me almost a decade and more.”
“Journalism can be challenging both mentally and physically. In the last 20 years, I have been part of several stories which have both exhilarated and exhausted me. Some stories can involve sheer physical exhaustion. For example, when the then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, YS Rajasekhara Reddy died in a helicopter crash, it was the day of Onam and I had to rush in a car from Chennai to Andhra Pradesh. The copter had crashed on top of a hill which required us to trek for many kilometres on the ground and then uphill. It was raining heavily and it had become quite dangerous to trek in those areas. But the coverage required us to do that. Then some stories frustrate you and test your patience. When people speak about investigative journalism, they often imagine it’s like a movie script where we go out find something and immediately write about it. But investigative journalism can also be very exhausting. For example, in July last year, we started investigating how voter rolls in Bengaluru are being tampered with. It took us three months to figure out the story. Sometimes we will just make a call to a source, get a document, then the wait continues for weeks till the source gets back. Sometimes you get a document and then it takes weeks for you to figure out what they mean. Investigative journalism can often be a very painful and lonely wait. Of course, it all pays off when the story is out and creates an impact.”
When we asked her the story behind the start of TheNewsMinute, she said, “I had worked for almost a decade as a television journalist and felt that TV journalism in India had stagnated. Returning to TV journalism was no longer an option for me, which is why starting a digital portal first germinated as an idea. It would be a lie if I said that I had a perfect business model or a thought laid out when TheNewsMinute was started. It was more of a desperation to leave the mainstream media and do something on one’s own. TNM, in its beginning, had only one vision- to highlight those stories, which needed better circulation. But a few months after its inception, we realized that our strength is in our reporting. And with a small team, we started focusing on more ground reports. By the end of the year, we decided that our sole focus would be on the southern states. And every year we built on this vision.
Running a news media organization isn’t easy in India, especially in the atmosphere that prevails now. For many like us, it is a fight for our country and democracy. And therefore, despite all the challenges, we keep these news organizations going.”
TheNewsMinute prides itself on being a feminist newsroom with the majority of women taking up leadership positions. Dhanya has created a progressive, inclusive and safe space for everyone. “ My vision for TheNewsMinute is to expand it, not just in resources but in languages. It’s something that I’ve envisioned for many years but it hasn’t happened yet. More than that, I feel strength is in numbers, which is the reason why we’ve tied with the Newslaundry, a website based out of Delhi that is known for its critical work on the media, and very impactful ground reports. So when two news organisations like TheNewsMinute and The News Laundry come together, we definitely can do more impactful work. I think independent media houses which are placed across various Indian states, have several niches should come together and in organised capacities.”
“In a newsroom what matters are the ideologies of the people who work there and what they stand for. When we are recruiting senior reporters or editors, we have followed their work, we do look for people who think like us and add value to the organisation. But when we look at junior reporters and our trainees, I don’t think we can go by their previous work and judge what their capabilities and capacity are. We only hope that people who come to us already understand what The News Minute stands for, and what kind of reporting it does. Therefore, they are applying only if they are aligned with our thinking. Every single person in a newsroom cannot agree on everything, people have different opinions. The reason why we write a lot about women and children is because it’s something that we have to speak about consistently.”
A piece of advice for all the aspiring girls and women out there, who are looking to pursue journalism, “Journalism is one of the most exciting professions to be in, especially in the current atmosphere in India when you feel, as a citizen, you need to enable something to strengthen democratic structures, to contribute to society, to social justice. Every single day, you will face new challenges, new surprises, new people to speak to, and new things you can discover. People who like to tell real stories of people, places, and history, will find their place in journalism.”