Its always a privilege to interview a journalist. Especially someone who started his career working at reputed editorials covering traditional news and later switched to his true calling, Environment & Conservation, a topic not given its due importance due to lack of sensationalism.
Today we talk to Mayank Aggarwal, our next pathbreaker, to find out how he finally ended up at MongaBay, a non-profit news outlet covering news related to conservation, environment, science, wildlife and renewable energy.
Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal speaks to Journalist Mayank Aggarwal about his unique career path
Mayank, Tell us about your background
I have spent all my life in Delhi and did my schooling at Vivekananda Public school here. Television was not a prevalent medium at the time. So, my brush or inclination towards journalism has mostly been associated with newspapers, a habit that my family made sure that I inherited.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
There is no one past event that landed me in journalism. I have always been a socially conscious citizen and a few subjects like social studies helped in school. Then, the writing subjects of course made a big difference in how I approached my subjects or my way of looking at things
What did you study after completing school?
What most other kids end up doing. I took about seven entrance examinations, six of which were for engineering and one for mass communication. I had spent time coaching for the FIT JEE and I applied to the Delhi College of Engineering as well as the mass communication programme.
It did come as a surprise to my parents when I decided to forego engineering. They were taken aback. Nobody had taken up journalism as a profession in the family and they tried to make me understand the financial implications of the same but gave up, soon after.
I graduated in mass communication/media studies from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University in 2006. The course exposed me to the wide spectrum of mass communication: television, advertising, politics, public relations, and even photography. As a part of the course, I interned with the Centre of Media Studies and at The Statesman.
I also ended up working with 2 NGOs: Pravah and Parivartan. Pravah works for the betterment of youth and social issues. This was the time when Tsunami had struck and we had to perform street plays asking people for donations for the Tsunami victims. We ended up collecting Rs 20,000 in 3 days.
At Parivartan, I was introduced to the Right To Information Act. My first brush with the power of RTI was when I filed an application asking for Delhi Municipality expenditures. Eventually, I started campaigning for the RTI and helping people file RTI applications.
Tell us about your work at Statesman?
Initially, it was a three-month internship. And I did every possible story, from features, reviews to covering press conferences. Subsequently, I was offered a full-time position at the newspaper. I started with crime reporting where I wrote stories like the Nitesh Katara case, Nithari killings, and Aarushi Talwar. I covered the CBI closely and my job also involved interviewing lawyers and examining court documents.
I personally enjoyed covering politics the most but my I also ended up going for fashion weeks, tech weeks, food reviews and Mobile Asia.
How did you get into Environmental Journalism?
I left Statesman in 2008 and joined Indo Asian News Service which is a news agency. Now, news agencies provide content to different newspapers that subscribe to them.
I worked in IANS for two years but my first experience with environmental journalism was at the DNA Newspaper where I worked for 4 years. Environment as a subject really opened for me when I joined Mint newspaper in 2014. That’s where I started reporting on conservation, climate change, water pollution, wildlife and renewable Energy. I learned to look at every story from an environmental perspective, Whether it was policy or politics or current events.
In 2012, I also went for a two months environmental course at the International Institute of Journalism, Berlin. The two month course has a significant impact on the way I looked at the environmental issues, from a global prospective.
What prompted you to join Mongabay?
If you look at my career trajectory, I have always been strongly influenced by social issues. This exposure has prompted me to take up many initiatives above and beyond my role as journalist, whether it is the RTI act or working with NGOs. At Mint, I had reached a stage where I wanted to try something different from what I had been doing so far. When I came across Mongabay, I was genuinely interested in working for a non-profit editorial platform that would allow me to report on issues on the ground, without any bias. That was my impetus to join Mongabay. I had a lot of freedom to report on subjects and issues that were probably too insignificant for coverage by traditional newspapers.
I have travelled to rural areas and villages, talking to farmers about their situation where I could really understand the daily challenges they faced with water pollution and climate change. This experience made me realise how closely interconnected our society is and the real problems that need to be raised in the media. At Mongabay, we cover everything from an environmental lens and hope to make a disruptive change in the way we treat our environment.
Can you talk about a few of your memorable experiences as a Journalist?
There are several that are close to my heart. But at the top of my mind is a story that i did in 2009. It was about a story based on RTI application which revealed that 49 children died during clinical trials at AIIMS in three years. The story prompted several others to follow the story and forced that time’s union health minister to come and clarify. It also triggered a strict mechanism to address the issue. The story showed how RTI can expose corruption and since then numerous major scams and worngdoing have been exposed by those using RTI applications.
During the last 15 years there have been several moments that will always stay with me. For instance, I have covered the Lokpal movement which later gave birth to a political party. In the last two years, I have travelled across several states. During one such visit, a farmer said the city dwellers often blame them for pollution but forget that the polluted water cities sends to rural areas is the same one that ends being used in crops. He said the whole pollution system needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner otherwise everyone will suffer. Since then, his words have stayed with me.
Your advice to students?
It is the most cliched advice but one that is true. Follow your heart and when you do it then give everything to it. If you are able to do it properly then the world is yours. The only problem is half hearted efforts because they will not yield the desired results.
If it is about journalism –
At a time when fake news is at an all-time high and press freedom is restricted, I would say there is nothing more to journalism than credibility. We all need to stay true to the story, than to our personal allegiances or affiliations.
What are your future plans?
Travel across India and world. Report from the ground and bring stories from distant corners of the country.