Q&A with OWM Environmental Impact winner, Ankur Paliwal

Highlights from our Instagram Live with OWM Environmental Impact winner, Ankur Paliwal about how to report a complex environmental story. Read Ankur’s story here


Q: What made you think that this is the story that you want to tell?

A: Everybody has reported about this particular mine and the Adani connection. So when I was thinking about writing a story about this mine, what I didn’t want to do was replicate what has already been reported. I was looking for a new way to talk about this issue of coal mining in India. I decided to just go to the village and listen to people, about the mine that’s expanding and how they feel about it. During my conversations, one thing that constantly kept coming up was that they were already against the mine. There was this sense that they put up a front earlier, and then now there is this helplessness. What do we do? They said, “As indigenous people, what can we do with so many bigger powers against us?” Through conversation, they referred to this other village that had already gone into the mine and I spoke to one or two people there. I was just looking for consistent narrative. It seemed there was a division. I thought, how does this division work? And maybe that is the story. 


Q: In the current scenario of India, with coal, we are in a position now with global commitments to fulfil on one side. On the other hand, we need cheap energy to sustain as a country. With these two realities, how do you report on the environment from India?

A: That’s a really important question and something I struggle with too. While there is this overarching global narrative of moving away from coal, you also have to realise that in economies like India, coal has been sustaining communities. There have been villages, entirely dependent communities, families, generations, dependent on coal. So when you say to phase out coal, it just seems illogical in many ways. Have you thought about alternative livelihood options and whether people actually want those options? Would they prefer coal or not? You really can’t impose the solution. As journalists, our job is really to capture the moment, just constantly contextualising and asking yourself, are you being true to the subject? Are you looking at the inequities and power dynamics at play, and just presenting it that way it is? I don’t think we need to overcomplicate it. 


Q: What tip would you give to a journalist for their environment story to get noticed?

A: It’s a difficult question, and it really varies sometimes. Depending on the publication you pick, whether it’s an environment story, or any story, is being really clear about what you think the story is. As an editor, I work with CNN. We get a lot of pitches but the writer is not very clear on what exactly the story is. They pitch a broad topic. But what is the essence of the story?


Q: One of our viewers has asked, how do you find access to pitch stories?

A: You really have to pitch a bunch of stories. Even until last year, I was pitching some stories but they we’ren’t landing with editors. What you need to keep in mind is that you’re not pitching haphazardly. You figure out which publication this story would work with, read their pitching guidelines, what they’re looking for, what they don’t want, and whether they have they covered similar stories. By just being slightly mindful and strategic as well as following up with editors. Editors are busy, sometimes they don’t respond, the email gets buried. Many times, it was just a consistent follow up that got me an editor’s attention.


Watch the full session on Instagram.