Beginning at a time when a thing called ‘Environment Beat’ didn’t exist in the world of journalism, eco-journalist Arti Kulkarni made a humble beginning with a small media agency. Now working with BBC Marathi in BBC News, Delhi Bureau, Kulkarni is also a documentary filmmaker and was recently awarded at the Kirloskar Vasundhara International Film Festival in the city for her work.
“I started doing small stories in Mumbai where I took my first job. I would report minor happenings in the environment and wildlife world like spotting of turtle species on some Mumbai beaches etc,” says the journalist who has done her education in Pune and then moved to Mumbai for work. “Along with my colleagues, I slowly started doing more serious stories. We realised that there’s a lot more we could do in this area,” she adds.
After changing jobs, she also began doing long feature stories for television, solely focusing on environmental issues. One of her features even won her a Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award. Having worked extensively in environment journalism for 17 years now, environment and conservation journalism is her passion.
She has also made well-researched reportage and documentary films on environment and wildlife conservation. “We had made one movie on the marine life of Konkan, and one on the Western Ghats that were declared as the World Heritage Site by UNESCO. This was around the same time that a lot of protests regarding saving the Western Ghats were on,” recalls the filmmaker who has also made a documentary on the Nile river.
“While the Amazon river is much discussed, the Nile is often ignored, and hence I felt the need to document its ecosystem,” says the founder of Shekru — a wildlife conservation platform.
Environment reporting today
Speaking of the change in the way we now study journalism, Kulkarni says that the focus is now on solution journalism. “We have all accepted now that environmental degradation is real. The focus is thus moving from simply showing facts to finding solutions,” she believes, and hence thinks that the importance given to environmental journalism in academics is a good sign.
Being in an unconventional field, did she face particular challenges on account of being a woman? “Not many, thankfully,” she replies, adding, “Nature doesn’t know whether you are a man or woman. It welcomes you with open arms. Also, I believe there is a certain edge that you can give to your stories by just being a woman. When I visit places of man-nature conflict, I speak to the decision-makers (who are usually male). But I always ensure that I speak to the local women — their issues and opinions. This is easily possible because I am a woman myself and they open up to me.”
Her colleagues too, she says, have always been co-operative, especially when she had to travel for work. “The team, especially the research people, and even the locals in the places I visit, have been my strength,” she insists. If you have clarity of thought with regard to your work, and dedication, tiny distractions and challenges don’t really bog you down, she tells us.
When asked to point to incidents — good or bad — that have stayed with her in the two decades of her work, she says “environmental journalism itself is such a positive thing”, that whatever story she does, nature always stays back with her — the jungles, rivers etc never really leave her mind and heart.
“But if I have to list one, there was a time when I was shooting in the jungles of Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu, we wanted to shoot some elephants but we had had a long day and decided to call it a wrap. But just when we were about to pack up, we saw a herd of 11 elephants swimming in the Moyar river there and got some amazing shots. I can never forget that sight,” she excitedly narrates.
Also, immensely satisfying are the stories that make an impact. One such incident was the halting of the Adani project near the Tadoba tiger reserve, owing to persistent reportage of the locals’ agitation and protests.
“One crucial thing I believe is that we are journalists and not activists. Our first job is to report. Vested interests are a big challenge at times, but if your research and homework is strong, you can go on,” she says, adding, that social media and newer techniques can make environmental reporting much more impactful in the future.