Reporter Soma Basu’s mission is to “give people the journalism they need rather than the journalism they want.” This is why she established Reporter At Large, a platform for publishing stories that have been left out of mainstream media.
Basu was motivated to start Reporter At Large to tell stories that aren’t being told, and to train citizens in remote areas to become journalists themselves so that they can report on their neighborhoods firsthand. Her organization is currently volunteer run, though she is looking into other business models so she can pay contributors, Basu shared in an interview with IJNet. She understands that journalists should be paid for their labor, so she is looking into making her organization sustainable.
Basu began Reporter At Large with funding she received for winning the Kurt Schork Memorial Award in 2017. Her priority is to challenge the status quo in journalism, which she believes is becoming too reliant on corporations and political parties that directly or indirectly have started funding journalist organizations compromising their integrity.
Basu commissions stories based on pitches she receives through the website, based on what she and the team of experienced senior editors, feel should be covered.
“Come forward if you think your articles are not being published because of political reasons, because of petty office politics, because you ran into personal troubles,” Basu wrote on the website. “This is NOT a citizen journalism website. This is a community of experienced reporters whot know, feel, breathe journalism but unfortunately, their stories are not given space.”
In addition to stories that aren’t being published because of politics, Reporter At Large accepts freelance pitches about underreported issues like tribal rights, the environment and human rights. They also feature high-quality investigative reporting from regional news outlets and partner with local news outlets to provide training on topics like storytelling, production and multimedia integration.
This past year has been marked by layoffs and buyouts in the media industry, so it’s more important than ever to highlight the bigger picture of what it means to be a reporter, said Basu. She believes reporters have a responsibility to make a difference in society through their news stories, speak for those whose voices aren’t heard in mainstream media and get into the trenches to do fieldwork. She hopes Reporter At Large is an opportunity for journalists to express that — especially if they cannot do so in their own newsroom.
Since not every reporter is a reporter at-large, the tips that Basu gives to improve journalism may also help disgruntled reporters manage stressful situations and challenges in their newsrooms.
Make the most of your opportunities
Basu is most proud of her work in Ethiopia. She was awarded money to fly to the 10th Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, and took a long layover in Ethiopia on her way back. Since she was in the country, she decided to report in her free time, traveling alone for 900 kilometers to the South Sudan border to write her story “Nobody Wants You to Know What Is Happening In Ethiopia” and "Behind Ethiopia’s Prosperity: Systematic Genocide Of An Ancient Tribe."
Support underreported areas
Reporter At-Large gets more voices included in the mainstream conversation by providing journalism training to reporters in tribal areas so that they can tell better stories about local affairs. For example, they collaborated with Junglemahal TV in remote Purulia (in West Bengal, India) to fine-tune a story after the reporter completed the fieldwork. They work to publish articles from remote areas in the original language as well as an English translation.
Reach out for support
Reporting is a tough job, so journalists need to take care of their mental health. This is especially true for women. The field “has never been a good place for women,” according to Basu. “Things like verbal abuse are normalized.”
Basu’s tip for women in the profession is to be proactive. Basu suggests getting support from resources like the Network of Women in Media, which addresses various issues that female journalists face, including sexual harassment in the workplace.
Weather the storm
Now is the worst time for journalism, in Basu’s opinion. There is a loss of trust in legacy media and public media literacy is low, among other issues. Journalism used to be an honorable profession in India, but now she sees a lot of abuse of journalism in politics. Basu emphasizes that not all media corporations are corrupt, but points out that political parties were exposed for giving money to some media organizations and the stories that came out of those newsrooms were then biased towards that party.
Despite these issues, Basu believes that there are good times to come. In five to ten years, she predicts that there will be a media revolution. To advance the field, she sees a need for knowledge sharing and unity among reporters.
It might just take a rebel to lead that change.
Main image is a screenshot of Reporter At-Large.