BY MADHUR SINGH
Megha Mandavia attended the Stigler Center Journalists in Residence Program from March 2018 to June 2018. Mandavia started her career in journalism with television, went on to report for Reuters, and is currently a special correspondent covering technology for the Economic Times from Bangalore. She shares her experience here.
Business journalists in India don’t get many chances to do a fellowship overseas. Either fellowships are not in the business space—focusing instead on human rights, violence, crisis, and such issues—or their selection is not diverse. The Stigler Center Journalists in Residence (JIR) Program is a rare one in business journalism, with a truly diverse mix of fellows from around the world. Our cohort of eight fellows came from six countries including China, Chile, India, and the United States, and we learned as much from each other as from the program.
As a journalist I have been particularly interested in the intersection of business, governance, and policy. When I applied for the JIR Program, I had spent the better part of a year reporting on corporate governance at the Tata group, one of India’s foremost business conglomerates. JIR was an outstanding educational and professional experience for me. The classes were rigorous, and the seminars and conferences were relevant and diverse.
I especially enjoyed professor Luigi Zingales’s class on crony capitalism, where I could observe the parallels and differences between the situation in the United States and India. Professor Anil K Kashyap’s Monday morning course was challenging but riveting—by studying the way he examined and explained the financial crisis in the United States, I felt equipped to cover a financial meltdown in any economy. And professor John Hand’s class was fascinating for how he deconstructed numbers and financial statements. Often, the most important thing for a journalist is to question, and the coursework brought me closer to understanding what the right questions in a given situation could be.
Since my return from the fellowship, I have been covering India’s technology sector from Bangalore, which is often described as India’s Silicon Valley. Some of my classes and conferences during the JIR Program have been directly relevant to my present work—from a two-day conference at the Stigler Center on digital monopolies to a set of five classes I attended on technology platform companies. The Stigler Center organized weekly seminars especially for our cohort that covered topics relevant to journalists everywhere today, such as emerging challenges for the news industry, and also tackled subjects such as fake news and hate speech.
Each of us, from our respective corner of the world and our own unique journalistic culture, brought a different perspective to the table. We had lots of discussions on the challenges in journalism: advertising versus subscription models, the reduced focus on investigative stories, and so on.
We got to see a fair bit of Chicago as well. We attended a baseball game, and the program organizers took us to a jazz club for an evening out. I went for a river architecture cruise, on some heritage walks around Chicago, and to an art museum. A fellow journalist took our cohort for a Chinese hot pot, which was an interesting experience, as I was the only vegetarian!
One topic we often discussed among our cohort, and which keeps coming back to me in my present work, is the evolving nature of reporting on beats such as social media or technology, with human footprints expanding way beyond the quarterly results that a business journalist typically covers. What the JIR Program does is enlarge and diversify your perspectives. It makes you ask that extra question, add that extra paragraph to your story, insert those small things in your copy that make it richer.