Aunohita Mojumdar at ISOJ: online journalism still has value in print news landscape of South Asia

Dada (El Faro) and Mojumdar (Himal Southasian). ISOJ 2014. Global Roundup Breakfast.
Carlos Dada and Aunohita Mojumdar at the Global Roundup Breakfast at the 2014 ISOJ on the University of Texas-Austin campus, Apr. 5, 2014. (Miguel Gutierrez Jr./Knight Center)

Just as Western journalists speculate about the decay of print news, South Asian news publications like Himal Southasian are exploring the role of online journalism across a growing print news landscape – a role that, according to Himal Southasian Associate Editor Aunohita Mojumdar, comes with the responsibility of creating a space for providing the critical context that is often lacking in sensationalistic print stories.

At the ISOJ “Online journalism during political transitions and conflict” panel, Mojumdar said that within the Nepal/South Asia region that Himal Southasia reports on, it is common to see new newspapers every month, if not every week. In Nepal itself, only 24 percent of Nepalis had access to the Internet in May 2013, according to a Nepal Telecom Authority report – and of these users, 93 percent used unreliable connections. Still, Mojumdar said, while Internet speeds and access are extremely limited, it is accessible for the decision-makers of her country, and it is important to reach those people.

The Himal Southasian’s mission is to “unlock” some of the longstanding conflicts of its region, and to provide context for the vacuum of information in both foreign and national stories about the area.

“I think what we emphasize is we are not a do-gooding NGO,” Mojumdar said. “We believe the emphasis has to be on writing really well. We place a great deal of emphasis on good writing.”

Mojumdar noted that since the paper began building a robust online platform, it has become harder for outside sources to shut operations down. The paper’s presence on the Internet was also instrumental in shaping a new focus for the publication.

“When we moved from print into TV and online journalism, we had really hoped it would lead into bottomless journalism in our region,” Mojumdar said. “But what we found was a lot of false reporting…what we’ve decided is to have something called a media meter: whenever we find something false put out in public by media in our region, we can put the flags out there.”

The Himal Southasian has been in publication for 27 years now, but still considers itself ahead of the curve. Mojumdar said that by publishing in both print and online form, the paper hopes to position itself for the day when its region begins to pay for quality, not just quantity.

Mojumdar moved to work with Himal Southasian two years ago, after freelancing in Afghanistan for eight years, and working as a trainee in India before that. In her previous work, editors and fellow reporters often challenged Mojumdar’s pursuit of truth – but in her transition to Himal Southasian, she continues to value truth and rigorous fact checking.