The Mina Swaminathan Media Fellowship (MSMF) is constituted to encourage discussion and sharing of ideas between researchers and media persons, contributing to stronger partnerships between science and the press in India. Thethemefor 2022 is – Gender Transformative Approaches for Sustainable Food systems. The intention is to support media fellows while they do in-depth reportage on the linkages between gender transformations and sustainable food production systems in the rural and tribal landscapes of Odisha, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
The blog carries excerpts from interviews with the 2022 awardees: Ms Neenu Mohan, Mr Gyanachand Jagannath, and Ms Dharani Balasubramanian. They reported out of Wayanad in Kerala, Jeypore in Odisha, and Chennai in TamilNadu.
Why apply for Mina Swaminathan Media Fellowship
Neenu: As a reporter with ten years on the job, I have covered different beats and am always in a hurry to file a story, to meet deadlines, so I don’t really have time to do in-depth reporting or even some extra research to strengthen a story. The MSMF was that first-time opportunity for me to do something comprehensive in the field of journalism.
Jagannath: I have always been drawn to MSSRF’s work in Odisha, and when MSMF 2022 was announced, I saw it as an opening for me to do substantial work through a research-based fellowship. In my six-and-half years journalism career, I have never applied for any media fellowship – MSMF is my very first application!
Dharani: What attracted me most was that MSMF is a writing fellowship! I enjoy writing, but it has turned out that my career is now in television journalism, and so when my editor told me about the MSMF opportunity, I grabbed my maiden break.
High points from your fellowship experience
N: It’s given me my niche. In journalism, there are many areas one can specialise in, and I have discovered my focus area. The articles I researched and penned under MSMF have opened up new strands of journalistic avenues for me. I am keen on specialising in development journalism, concentrating on tribal welfare in the environment of Wayanad.
J: The experience of staying with tribal communities and watching them toil in the fields was an eye-opener for me. I travelled 12 – 13 times during the fellowship to spend time with the villagers, build rapport, and write about their lives. I intend to pursue real-life stories at the grassroots from now on, and hope to publish them in both print and digital platforms for wider reach.
D: A combination of many little things actually… The fellowship made me realise how much I missed written journalism for sure. Also, I became more aware of my potential to juggle demanding routine work for the TV channel while delving deeper into research to unearth the finer nuances for the stories.
Hurdles and challenges overcome
N: I did face data challenges for the stories I pursued since they are on sensitive topics, but I managed to produce the articles – thanks to timely support from MSSRF scientists and journalist-colleagues. My four-year-old son needs much attention, and it was difficult balancing family, work, and the fellowship, but I did it by working on the fellowship late at night or early in the mornings.
J: When I was awarded the fellowship, it was election time in the district. I lost the first two months because I was busy covering the local elections. I started researching late and visited about ten villages before I could decide what stories to pursue. There were challenges with understanding the dialect of the tribal community, and through my experiences of engaging with them, I learnt a few sentences of their dialect. Time management is crucial, and I had a daily schedule with time slots for my regular reporting job and fellowship work.
D: I shifted media channels mid-way through the fellowship, and had to pitch the story ideas for publication with the new media house. I did have a commitment to publish with my previous employer, but that couldn’t happen once I left the company. My new employer agreed to publish the first story, and for my second article, I was desperate to publish and fulfil my fellowship. Colleagues suggested an online platform that finally accepted my story after vetting it. I am on-site for long hours, and in TV journalism work locations are sometimes unpredictable, but I get one day a week off, so I saved my off-days to travel for the fellowship and then worked at every opportunity to complete the articles.
Suggestions for MSSRF
N: Continue to host these MSMFs, especially for mid-career journalists with five – ten years of experience who are looking to specialise themselves in the field of journalism. Initial talks with experts helped very much, and more such interactions will be extremely useful mid-way during the fellowship as well.
J: Collaboration with the MSSRF scientists not only shaped the way stories are articulated, but also made ground-level realities easier to grasp. Continue to involve the researchers throughout the media fellowship process.
D: The cooperation received from MSSRF made the fellowship familiar even though it was a new experience. Meeting with mentors can be more frequent and regular, which will encourage and motivate the media fellowship awardees.
Recommending MSMF to colleagues
N, J, D: The entire fellowship process has been good for us, and we strongly believe that more journalists should be part of this experience. We have already recommended MSMF to journalist-colleagues!
M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) established in 1988 is a not-for-profit trust. MSSRF was envisioned and founded by Professor M S Swaminathan, agriculture scientist with proceeds from the First World Food Prize that he received in 1987.