Then and Now: Jaideep Hardikar

Jaideep Hardikar

Then (left): As an Alfred Friendly Fellow in 2009
Now (right): Speaking at the TEDx event in Nagpur, India July 2013

Fellowship Year: 2009

Fellowship Host News Organization: South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Home news organization and position at the time of the fellowship: Principal Correspondent with the Mumbai-based Daily News & Analysis (DNA)

Current Position: Special Correspondent, The Telegraph 

Biography:  Jaideep Hardikar is Special Correspondent for central India for The Telegraph, the largest circulated English-language daily in Eastern India, headquartered in Kolkata (Calcutta). Jaideep is based in Nagpur, India, and  covers multiple states. His primary interests are rural and agrarian issues, particularly the politics of food, water crises and conflicts over natural resources. He has won several fellowships and awards, including the Sanskriti Award for young journalists and Prem Bhatia Award for social and development reporting. For more than a decade, Hardikar has reported extensively from Vidarbha on farmer suicides and the cotton crisis. His book, “A Village Awaits Doomsday,” was published in 2013. He is married and has a young daughter.

Then and Now

What do you consider the most important lessons you learned on the Alfred Friendly Fellowship?

The seriousness with which reporters in the U.S. newsrooms do their stories is astonishing.

For them, writing is as serious and important a task as gathering information. So a methodical approach to reporting is what I think was the most important lesson. I think about my sources, about my frame, about the ledes, about the structure of a story now — thanks to those five months in the Sun-Sentinel newsroom. That we have to be conversational; that the forms of story-telling are changing with convergence journalism – all these were important lessons.

In what ways has the Friendly Fellowship experience had impact on your life?

Personally, those six months in the program gave me new friends in the United States, improved my confidence immensely, and gave me a desire to dream. It left me hungrier for knowledge and excellence.

Professionally, it opened up spaces in my own newspaper and other publications; gave me more acceptability; and drove me to be more rigorous in reporting. I landed a better job.

Generally, the quality of my reports has improved with the newer insights from the Sun-Sentinel newsroom.

As a result of the fellowship, how do you approach a story differently?

I take “facts” more seriously now!

Did the fellowship help to build mutual understanding between the U.S. and India?

I would put it this way: There is a bridge being built in the fraternity — between the journalists in the U.S. and India, and also other countries that were represented by the fellows in my batch.

I keep track of what my co-fellows are doing: writing; the issues from their countries, etc. I could do that only after the Friendly experience. So it’s a great catalyst in bringing the different continents together to churn out different world-views.

While on the fellowship, did you benefit from the Freedom of Information Act and the U.S. system of open records? Upon your return to India, were you able to find new ways to get access to information to records?

One of the most important statutes passed by the Parliament in this past decade has been the Right to Information Act. In India, we have seen a transformation taking place with the citizens getting that right, to seek any information from any office at any time. It’s a work in progress, but there is more transparency in the processes than ever before, and journalists have gained from it.

Your favorite fellowship memory?

Many, actually: from snorkeling in Key West; to spending four days at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas; to those chit-chats with my mentors and fellows and Alfred Friendly Press family; to the Sun-Sentinel newsroom; to driving along the beautiful orange orchards of Florida; to taking a boat ride in Florida swamps; to trying to pick up some Spanish lingo; to traveling to Boston; to my desperate, futile search for one purely made-in-the-U.S. souvenir (everything that you get in the U.S. is China-made); to making friendships with farmers in Miami-Dade County, Florida; to throwing an Indian lunch for them on a farm – some of those memories are as fresh as a newly blossomed daisy in the garden.

But the one that stands out: a struggling caregiver’s “thank you” for a story that I did on him for the Sun-Sentinel that brought him help from other people. I’d never seen such impact before.

What were your professional goals when you finished the fellowship? How did the fellowship help you accomplish them?

I wanted to learn many things. Among others, I wished to understand the agriculture scenario in the United States, such as subsidy structures, and I got to report on this in Florida. I took lessons in data journalism, convergence reporting, and investigation skills. The seminar at the Poynter Institute (St. Petersburg, Florida) was immensely transformative — especially a one-on-one with instructor Roy Peter Clark. So there were many take-home lessons, professionally.

 What do you consider your greatest professional achievement?

I am still learning, so nothing would fall in that category yet. A few awards here and there, a few good impact stories, but they are not my greatest professional achievement yet. I am happy, though, for my maiden book which looked at the impact of development on people who have to crowd out of their homeland. Writing good nonfiction books is something I would like to do more of in future.

What tips would you give to young reporters in India?

Use common sense more than intellect. We are in the business of facts, so don’t bring in fiction. And verify, verify, and verify your information because in this era, everything can be fudged and packaged in a beautiful wrapper.

What tips would you give to the current Friendly Fellows?

Take every moment of the fellowship seriously. Don’t waste your time. But explore the vast country and its people. The quality time you spend on this program will shape your career and personality. So don’t let it go waste. Build friendships, bridges, with the fellow journalists in the host newsrooms. And plan your six months so you know what your priorities are.

Jaideep Hardikar’s book, “A Village Awaits Doomsday,” published in 2013, is available from Amazon.com and the publisher, Penguin India.  His 2012 speech on rural issues in India to a TEDxNagpur conference is available on YouTube. You can read his reporting at www.telegraphindia.com.

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