Monday, September 23, 2013

Interview with Siddharth Varadarajan, By: Rosa Sundar-Maccagno

Interview with Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu
By: Rosa Sundar-Maccagno, 7A     (this almost-twelve year old journalist is my cute and brilliant niece, who had to do an interview for a school assignment)
1. How did you decide to become a journalist?
I was always interested in what was happening around the world. I used to live in New York City at the time and I was interested in international affairs, in politics, in economics, and writing about what was happening, and particularly writing about what I believed was the truth about what was happening, you know I felt that was something that was very important, something I would love to do for a living. Because I thought that a lot of the newspapers were not giving an accurate account of what was happening in the world. So I felt that if I could become a journalist then with my perspective I could make a difference. 

2. Can you describe what your job involves?
My job involves deciding everyday what is the most important news and ensuring that all those news items get covered properly, accurately and in a way that readers will want to read them. I’ve to keep my readers informed about what’s happening in the country and the world. That’s essentially my job.
3. Can you describe a typical working day for you?
My day begins in the morning when I wake up. I get all the newspapers in my city, I get them at home. So that’s about ten newspapers. I quickly go through them all, I see which are the stories, I try to make a list of the stories that we missed that other papers have, or stories that require follow up. Then I turn on the TV, I also go online to read more newspapers. Then I start making phone calls to my colleagues saying you need to cover this, you need to cover that. I go into office at 12 o’clock. We have a meeting where we discuss the editorials that we need to write for that day. After that I may meet some people outside the office, or I may have to go give a talk somewhere. Then in the evening around 6 pm we have another meeting where we discuss what will go on page 1 of the newspaper. I have colleagues who look into all these things. Then finally I go home about 11 at night. So it’s a long day that I work.
4. Could you describe the path your career in journalism took?
I started off as an Assistant Editor. I was a junior guy, responsible for selecting the letters to the Editor. We get many letters every day, so the newspaper has to decide which ones are going to be published. And sometimes the readers don’t write in very good English, those letters have to be corrected. So that was my first job, to process letters to the Editor. After that I began to write editorials. Then I became a reporter, so I would go on assignments to Kashmir, Pakistan, to Serbia as I said. Then I became a Foreign Affairs Editor, so I was basically analyzing what was happening rather than reporting directly. Then I became a Deputy Editor, then I became Chief of Bureau, which is the head of the team of editors in one city, and from there I became Editor. I went from being the guy who selects the letters to the Editor, to being the actual Editor, in about 17 years. I think it’s a long time, but it’s not a long time actually.
5.  What’s your favourite thing about your job?
My favourite thing about my job is that every day is a new day. It’s impossible to feel bored because the newspaper you produce everyday is different from the newspaper you produced the previous day. So it’s not like working in a bank, it’s not like working in the university, or in any other job, because the content of what you do changes every day. Because news happens, new things happen, which require us to write about them, require us to analyse them. So I think the freshness of the job is something that I really, really like.
6. What do you dislike about your job?
I dislike the long hours and the fact that it keeps me away from my wife!
7. What has been your favourite assignment?
My favourite assignment was when I was a reporter and I went to Serbia in 1999 to cover the war. I was in Belgrade for two weeks. It was scary, dangerous, bombs were falling around us, there was a lot of tension. It was scary but it was also exciting. So I think that of all the assignments that I’ve done, that would be my favourite.
8. And what was your least favourite assignment?
My least favourite assignment, I suppose.. You know sometimes as a journalist you have to go somewhere with the Prime Minister, you’ve to attend some event, you have to cover a boring speech or function. As a young reporter, you have to do these things. So I think probably the time when I had to cover some speech by the Prime Minister or President, that would have been my least favourite.
9. What are some of the challenges you face in your job?
The fact that people are not always as skilled as you’d like them to be. There’s lots of competition from other newspapers, from TV, and sometimes my reporters won’t have a story that another newspaper will have or they’re not able to get a story that another newspaper has, or a TV station has. The serious challenges are dealing with a highly competitive news environment with limited staff.
10. Was this the career you thought you’d have when you were a child? Or did you want to be something else?
When I was a child I was always attracted by the world of international politics and diplomacy. Some of my earlier memories…I used to keep a scrapbook, for example, of wars and conflicts around the world. I was interested in Palestine. So I always dreamt of becoming a diplomat who would help to resolve some of these difficult problems. When I became older, I became more interested in becoming a teacher, a professor. So I started studying Economics, the idea was that I would teach Economics in a university. But when I was doing my graduate degree I got more interested in politics and journalism. So you can say that by the time I was 28-29, I decided firmly that I wanted to be a journalist.
11. What gives you the most satisfaction in your job, what makes you the most satisfied that you’ve achieved something?
Satisfaction can come in many ways. It can come from something as simple as getting a letter from a reader who says “a story you carried has really touched my life and I thank you for carrying that story.” Or we write a story and because of that story a road gets repaired, or a hospital gets fixed, or somebody corrupt gets investigated. When stories we write in our paper have some kind of impact on the public, that’s the biggest source of satisfaction.
12. If you weren’t a journalist, what else do you think you’d be?
Oh, that’s a tough question! If I were not a journalist, I guess I would be maybe a scholar, maybe a researcher. Yeah, I think  a researcher, somebody who works in a think-tank, writing books, I think that’s what I would be. I don’t think I’m suited for any kind of office job.
13. What skills are required for your job?
Nothing other than good English, and honesty, integrity. And the desire to tell stories. You have to be interested in the world around you, that’s the only requirement.
14.. What is something that is not  generally associated with journalism but that you have to do, something that people don’t really know about journalism?
I think that people don’t imagine that journalists have to read a lot, they have to keep educating themselves about different topics. People assume that journalists just know everything. Whereas actually, a lot of hard work goes into being a journalist. The best journalists are those who take the time and effort to really study the subject they write about. That’s not appreciated much. People either assume that journalists are ignorant, or that they know it all.
15. What advice do  you have for an aspiring journalist?
My advice to an aspiring journalist would be to make sure that your writing skills are good, excellent. Practice writing, practice telling stories. Get into the habit of writing, whether it’s for a school journal, or a college newspaper. You also need to enjoy interacting with people. So if you are shy and don’t like talking to people, you need to get into the habit of meeting people, talking to them, get interested in their lives. All of that is something an aspiring journalist needs to practice.