Decade of Difference

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In 2009, when Ms Jawahara Shawl decided to launch Kashmir Life, she just hoped to promote a small media venture that is distinct in its coverage and approach to the issues. But she never knew her experiment would outlive her. She died fighting cancer, slightly after the fourth anniversary of the periodical, she founded.

The idea lived and gradually picked up pace, strength, and, more importantly, the resolve to survive as a vibrant media institution of Jammu and Kashmir. The experiment of reporting Kashmir in detail by Kashmiri scribes for the Kashmir gained credibility and appreciation. Between the weekend meetings and the Friday printing, the newsroom remained so busy in delivering the best that the flight of time was not even felt. Kashmir Life completed a decade of uninterrupted publication, last week.

It was expected to be a roller-coaster run but when media operates in areas of conflict and perpetual tension, it is challenging, and sometimes, threatening too. At a small place with limited demography and a small economy, when society has multiple power centres, politics has unnatural diversity and violence is the established mode of communication, things tend to get off the script more often. In the last ten years, some reports did go to the court, and quite a few stayed around police stations. Once even, Ms Shawl, a day after surgery, had to dislocate personally for a few days to avoid a crisis. Later, after her death, her successor spent a few nights in a police station. But this all is part of the ‘game’.

What matters most is that the readers ensured that they read us, reacted to what we report and identify the under-reported areas for our vast battery of scribes. It is this relationship that is the key to Kashmir Life’s very existence as a credible institution of contemporary history. Dear readers, our ten years journey is because of you and will continue to be so in the coming days as well.

It has been an uninterrupted journey, barring a few weeks of suspension because of the devastating floods in September 2014. We were the first media house that resumed reporting for its web site on September 12, 2014, at 23:35 hours by operating from a safe area in the city where internet had been restored. The print edition resumed in the first week of October, however. During the 2016 turmoil, Kashmir Life did miss a few issues because of the restrictions enforced by the government.

But all these years were eventful from all sides. While the situation continued to be as explosive as ever – moving between unrests’, elections and the gamut of socio-economic crises, offered challenging tasks to be recorded for posterity. On the security front, the post-Burhan period – the impact of which will take a lot more time to subside – was the most challenging, not because the situation deteriorated, but because the spread of the crisis in a particular age-group was and continues to be devastating for a small society. We reported what we could and we will report more, if and when required. As hoarders of news, some stories are already in the deep freeze.

For all these years, Kashmir Life writers scanned the state like truth-seeking wanderers to hunt for the best stories of individuals, institutions or the incidents, which required telling or re-telling in detail. For most of the last three decades, the security situation dominated the discourse in public and private lives, which, in a way pushed the overall human development to the back burner. But in the Kashmir Life newsroom, the writers accorded as good a priority to this hitherto neglected area as other pressing issues and that is perhaps why the detailed narratives on education, development, entrepreneurship and the crafts was evolved. There is a sort of a permanent column that is dedicated to why and how policies are drafted. These writings have been an immense resource for the public debate over the years.

Kashmir Life played a key role in improving the reportage on the overall economic life of the state. The media used to be carrying the official handouts about the interventions and the ideas but the bold coverage on banking, power, entrepreneurship, public financing, health, actually opened these sectors of key importance to the media scrutiny. Now all newspapers in Kashmir have dedicated staff for the coverage of economic life of the state.

Amid scathing criticism, Kashmir Life decided to profile individuals who have succeeded in diverse fields of life – in education, careers, business, innovation, crafts and films. The idea behind all this was to identify some role models who could be emulated by the young generation. Now, every newspaper in Kashmir is always in search of, what is called, ‘success stories’. The idea behind all this was also to tell the people that the Jammu and Kashmir market has a lot of avenues outside the government jobs. These profiles conveyed a larger possibility of becoming an employer is better than being employed.

Kashmir Life had a full-fledged 8-page separate supplement on careers for eight years till it was integrated with the mains because of the upgraded printing facility. Though the situation was always not conducive for competitions, still the last decade saw more young men joining IAS and KAS than all the years put together in last more than half of the century. We do not wish to stake the credit for everything but we do insist that we contributed to the trend.

All this reportage took place without neglecting civil liberties, strife, politics and democracy. Perhaps, the books section of Kashmir Life is the richest in the region. The narratives on media are unmatched. We might be the only major sources on Kashmir Diaspora.

These narratives were generated while the market and the processes of news generation and dissemination continuously changed. By the time, Kashmir Life started being taken seriously, the news moved from print to the internet. In the last 10 years, we updated and upgraded our web edition, at least thrice, but continued to dominate the top second position in the news pyramid of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The addition of the 24 x 7 newsroom that Kashmir Life pioneered in the state actually was more challenging and continues to be so. In this highly competitive area of operations, which is a human resource and capital intensive, the larger challenge is to be ahead but credible. Tragically, however, the digital platforms in this part of the world are not enjoying any viable business model, unlike the West. People consume news like oxygen.

All these activities in a hectic newsroom always were teamwork. In the last 10 years, there were almost 80 journalists, freshers, established scribes and the interns who evolved the newsroom with an agreement to disagree but with a commitment to tell a story, a tale that is crucial to the history of the place, and to the lives of people who inhabit it. In a six-day week, we continue spending a day in discussing, agreeing and disagreeing.

In all these years, the process of coming and going out of the newsroom continued. At Kashmir Life, there is a clear understanding of the larger reality that the freshers must join, pick the skill, hone their art and see where best they can serve. We paid, modestly though, for unlearning the classroom and learning the basic skills as the newsroom considered the academic certificates as mere gate-passes. Some of them moved across continents, educated in the best institutions and started serving a variety of instructions in media and academics. This policy has kept the newsroom with its mind, doors and windows quite open – though we have a thick iron gate now, which, however, is a separate story!

But it will be sheer dishonesty not to mention something that media habitually avoids acknowledging – the contribution of the business that trusted us in helping them reach more people. They are and will continue to be our great partners in future.

While we celebrate a decade of our publication, we miss two individuals whose contributions to the Kashmir Life were huge. Arshad Malik had permanent column Straight Curves, which he wrote till he died of a cardiac arrest on December 13, 2016. And, Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of Rising Kashmir, who wrote a lot of commentary in Kashmir Life. Bukhari was killed outside his office on June 14, 2018, when he was leaving home for his Iftaar. For many years Kashmir Life was printing at the printing facility he owned.

As the eleventh year starts for this institution, we reassure the readers that we will not close our eyes and ears from what you suggest; we insist that we will do the best of the journalism, to the extent possible and we will not hide, unless stopped, the facts that we think, you must know. We believe free media is key to the evolution of better societies and democracy. We also expect that the diversity of ideas, faiths, politics and power, will continue bestowing us with the discretion that textbooks teach the students in the classrooms.

We believe our mandate is to report objectively and analyse to the best of our knowledge, nothing more, and nothing less!

– Editor

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