Telling It Like It Is

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Text by Abish Shakya

Anup Kaphle, who was born and grew up in Pokhara, is the deputy foreign editor at BuzzFeed News. He is currently based in London, where he oversees the publication’s international news coverage. He previously worked as the digital foreign editor at the Washington Post in Washington, D.C., and has reported from and written on Afghanistan for the Post and The Atlantic. He also regularly returns to Nepal to work on stories – his last trip involved reporting on the earthquake. His most recent articles on Nepal include “The Aftermath”, in which he investigated how the funds for earthquake reconstruction have been delayed and mismanaged, and “Nepal Doesn’t Want You To Know It’s On The Edge Of Failure”, which addressed how the country has been run – and ruined – by the same politicians for decades.

WAVE got together with Anup to ask him about his journey and his experience working as an international journalist.

What made you want to get into journalism?

I was obsessed with the English language and general knowledge competitions from a young age. I didn’t really know I would become a journalist until much later in life, but the idea of travelling and telling stories fascinated me even though my parents encouraged me to focus on maths and science.

 Your parents weren’t entirely excited about you taking up about journalism. How did you get an education or exposure in this field?

I decided to rebel. After finishing my 12th grade, I was supposed to join an engineering college, but somehow I mustered up the courage to tell my father that I didn’t want to do it. So I dropped out and started interning at The Himalayan Times in Kathmandu. Later I got a scholarship to study in the US, and when I arrived there, I changed my major from engineering to English literature and journalism. That’s how it all began. 

When you first went to the United States, what were some of the struggles you had to go through to get an internship in a news organisation?

For three years, I was not able to get an internship at the local newspaper in my college town – they would just never respond. I was later told by one of the editors who retired that the owners didn’t want a brown man working in the newsroom. Because I didn’t have local newspaper experience, I couldn’t apply for internships at bigger national papers. Also, a lot of journalism internships were either unpaid or paid very little, which was hard for me as an international student. By the time I arrived in graduate school, I had done two internships at major magazines, but at the same time I worked as a dishwasher, a janitor, and a store clerk to make sure I had enough money to eat and live.

Anup reporting in northern Gorkha in 2016 in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake. PC: Pradeep Bashyal
Anup reporting in northern Gorkha in 2016 in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake. PC: Pradeep Bashyal

 

What does it take to become a good journalist, especially to work for a reputable organisation in the United States?

Journalism is a demanding profession, and even more so as the industry continues to figure out how to tell stories to readers who are spread out across a variety of platforms. But there’s only one way to become good at journalism, and that’s anywhere, not just in the US: reporting. It’s important to learn how to report and write well. The more you write, the better a writer you become. The more questions you ask, the more you investigate, the better a reporter you become.

How do you follow the situation in Nepal while abroad?

I follow a handful of journalists in Nepal on Twitter, listen to radio programmes, and read the newspapers and online news websites. 

What was the media like in Nepal before you left for the United States, and how different is it now?

Media as a business has become bigger now, but I don’t think journalism has changed. The kind of stories that used to be written back then are still leading major publications today. But it’s been impressive to watch the enthusiasm among some publications to experiment with digital platforms and multimedia storytelling.

Do you think Nepali media is courageous enough to publish the real deal that would upset the readers and politicians?

Absolutely, yes, and there have been quite a few examples of these kinds of stories. But given the number of publications and TV stations in the country, I don’t think enough organisations are doing that kind of accountability journalism.

What are some of the things Nepal is lacking in the field of journalism?

The most important thing lacking in journalism is training. It’s easy to become a journalist in Nepal. And that may be okay, but those getting into journalism should be required to know how to write a lead that answers the basic five questions. There are some terrific journalists in the country, but many in the industry lack discipline and enthusiasm. I don’t think that’s entirely their own fault, though, because the editors also expect very little from them. So, no one is pushing them harder to call an additional source, go to one additional village, interview one additional victim. Half a dozen publications will publish verbatim quotes from a political leader, but there’s little effort put in explaining why what he or she said matters. I think we also have an apathetic readership. The onus for demanding good journalism – in-depth storytelling, investigative reporting, narrative features – is on readers, too. If you’re buying newspapers for the sake of sensational, or hollow, headlines, then publications will continue to cater for that because it makes good business.

Anup reporting in Helmand province, Afghanistan in 2011. PC: Anup Kaphle.
Anup reporting in Helmand province, Afghanistan in 2011. PC: Anup Kaphle.

Journalism is known to be a profession that pays less than most other professions. Is that true?

It depends where you are working. Some journalists in Nepal get paid quite well – but that appears to apply to a very small group of reporters and editors in the top publications and foreign news agencies in Kathmandu. In the US, journalism is not known to be a profession you get into to make money. I don’t think anyone who wants to make a lot of money should choose journalism as a career either. But if you are a journalist who excels at storytelling, you rise through the ranks quickly, and so does your paycheque.

What are the things that you have learned in your time in journalism?

You’re only as good as your last byline.

Your advice for people doing journalism in Nepal?

Get outside of Kathmandu. Go to the boondocks. Speak to Nepalis who don’t get heard, write their stories. Write as often as you can. Get your peers to critique your work. Push your editors to edit your stories before they publish them. If you are doing journalism in Kathmandu, you must hold the powerful accountable.

To the editors and newsroom managers:

Hire more women, hire journalists from ethnic minority groups. They will see the stories and issues your male, privileged class reporters are often missing – and enrich your journalism in ways all Nepalis will come to seek and appreciate.

— Quick Q&A —

  • Something we don’t know about you: When I was growing up in Pokhara, I was obsessed with WAVE and thought I’d become its editor one day.
  • The best part about your job: Working with some of the most talented foreign correspondents and editors in the business.
  • The bravest thing you have done: Left home at 18 with $500 in my pocket.
  • When not writing, you: Cook.
  • Your secret talent: It’s, um, a secret.
  • What’s on your bucket list: Open a restaurant.
  • The best thing about goat curry: It makes rice relevant.

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