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SWEP Inspire – Mandira Moddie

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1.Please introduce yourself.

I am the Deputy Internet Editor of The Hindu. Ranging from print to digital, I have just completed 20 years of work experience as an editor and in communications. I have worked with The Hindu, the US Consulate in Chennai and the United Nations Millennium Campaign in New Delhi.

2. What made you choose journalism as your profession?

Actually, I spent the first 16 years of my life wanting to be a vet! However, I have always been an avid reader and as a child and teenager I was very influenced by my grandfather, who retired as the Director General of All India Radio after being Principal Information Officer to the Government of India during the Emergency. As a young adult, I heard him speak often about the power and responsibility of the press and his own unhappiness at having to oversee the implementation of Emergency in this country.

I was always interested in journalism, from the time when I was editor of my school and college newsletters. I did my BA in English Literature and then worked at a social sciences journal, Seminar, soon after college. I did a post graduate diploma in Publishing from Oxford Brookes University in the UK. I joined The Hindu after that and spent seven years editing, first with the Sunday Magazine, Folio, and the Hindu’s Newspaper in Education Programme, and then with the Tamil Nadu news desk and Frontline magazine. My early exposure to different kinds of writing and a range of issues really helped me see the world differently. I got progressively more interested in various development and social issues and I took a year off work and went to the UK to do a Master of Science degree in Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

This course was based in the department of social psychology and it really strengthened my love for journalism and gave me a solid theoretical base from which to learn about and think about issues. I think journalists have one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. When practiced ethically, journalism can provide a moral compass to make sense of the world, help people decipher the realities around them and to hold power to account. I have worked in other organizations, holding progressively more responsible positions dealing with various communication forms, campaigns and media, but I have only ever truly felt at home in journalism because there is a clear ethical purpose to what we do.

3. What is your opinion on digital media vs newspaper in the future? And how work friendly will the digital media be for women?

I think in India, at least, the newspaper will still be around for a long time to come, despite the doomsday predictions that abound these days on the future of print. There is a different charm and pace to newspaper publishing and I am fortunate to have been on both sides of the fence. However, we live in a very digital world and even print journalists desperately need to equip themselves with the skills to live and work in a digital world.

But the way in which people are accessing information now, through social media and the mobile phone, has disrupted the way in which journalism is practiced today. Newspapers need to adapt to meet these new technologies and user needs while ensuring that stringent quality checks are in place. On the digital front there is too much noise, sensationalizing of content and a focus on the private lives of individuals that is not doing anything for the practice of journalism. There needs to be a middle ground where we cater as a profession to readers, using new technologies and serving our readers with a range of content that will enrich their lives, not treat them as consumers or generators of page views.

There is great scope for digital media to be more friendly for women. The technology that is available today ensures that you can work from home comfortably and ensure a work-life balance. However, organizations also need to allow a work from home option and that is not so prevalent in the media/news industry, especially in India.

4. SWEP is a group of women who have taken break from career for family. A few are interested in getting back on their toes and a few looking for options to work from home. What are the options for these women in your field? Can you guide those who are interested in journalism and writing?

Journalism and digital media offers great scope for women who are returning to the workplace. Many media organizations rely on content from freelance journalists who have specialized in some field. Another potential source of business for writers is in content creation and writing. Many corporate organizations outsource content to freelance writers for publicity material, websites, newsletters, blogs and so on.

For a news journalist, it may be harder to work from home on hard core reporting as they would need an institutional affiliation, but many freelance reporters specialize in some area and are often called upon to contribute opinion pieces and blogs. Of course, being a freelancer also comes with its share of insecurities, and it is hard work to chase up on jobs or on payments, but if one is willing to deal with that amount of risk then it is a great way to ensure work at one’s own pace and some independence in terms of structuring one’s time!

5. How important is vast reading and keeping a broad, inclusive mind in journalism?

This is very important. Journalism rests on the assumption that the journalist will sift through the wide swathes of information that are available and then present them to the reader in a cohesive and responsible way that helps them make sense of the world in which they life. Journalism is a key pillar of democracy and it is the journalist’s duty to present the plurality of thought that exists in the public sphere.

For this, they must read widely and make connections and sense of what is going on around them, keep an ear to the ground and understand how society is working around them. Unfortunately, the digital landscape has changed so much with the near monopoly that Facebook and Google have over the digital space, that people are increasingly speaking in echo chambers, and their one-sided views are being reinforced. This has led to a sharp polarization of views that we see played out on social media platforms today, with the abundance of fake news and online trolling that is going on. Journalists are increasingly giving up their mandate to be objective and are participating in this polarization.

6. Piece of advice for the ladies in SWEP

Women often underestimate themselves and realize their potential late, by which time society and patriarchy have ensured that their spirit is crushed! I would say be confident, follow your instincts, but back it up with hard work and be street smart!

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