Karan Saxena in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday, May 16, 2022.

Meet Karan Saxena, The Narwhal’s audience fellow

If you haven’t noticed, we’ve been upping our engagement efforts lately. The person behind it all is handling things with care, creativity and a dash of humour

The happiest sick person. That’s how Karan described himself when we first met over Zoom days after he had tested positive for COVID-19.

The happy news? His seven-year academic career, culminating with a Master of Journalism from the University of British Columbia, was finally coming to an end — and he was, mostly, ready for the next chapter.

In the fog of sickness, Karan had already somehow managed to submit the funniest Narwhal newsletter to never be published — let’s just say it delved into the “Bridgerton-esque courting rituals” of piping plovers — as part of his application to become our very first audience fellow. Spoiler: he got the gig.

Karan’s upbeat spirit, humour and all-around talent have yet to waver as he settles into his role and takes our engagement efforts to new heights (have you been following us on Instagram? No? Fix that).

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s jumping right in after coming to The Narwhal with plenty of newsletter and social experience, both as an audience engagement intern at Xtra Magazine and an associate and engagement editor at 5X Press, a publication dedicated to covering South Asian youth culture in Canada.

I spoke with Karan about what authentic engagement looks like, the keys to building, or rebuilding, reader trust and a guilty pleasure that’s “so antithetical to who I am.”

The Narwhal's audience fellow Karan Saxena stands in front of a set of stairs.
“Journalists need to be given the time to build trust and relationships within communities,” Karan says. Photo: Taehoon Kim / The Narwhal

Tell me a little bit about why you’re excited to be part of the team at The Narwhal.

Everyone talks so much about equity, diversity and inclusion in the media, but there are very few outlets that are actually, you know, showcasing that they’re putting all their efforts into achieving those objectives and living up to those calls to action. And seeing The Narwhal do it, by creating a fellowship and also having a very equitable hiring process, was exciting. I’m also just excited about having the space to learn, build trust with readers and expand The Narwhal’s reach and impact.

We’ve talked about how, at The Narwhal, we want to do a better job of connecting with communities that have long been underrepresented. What’s your goal there? What would success look like for you?

It’s hard to quantify or define what success would look like because the communities that have long been harmed by Canadian journalism have every reason to be distrustful of media. And so, I see it as not an issue of social justice but as an issue of journalistic failure that people who are not a part of those communities don’t get to report on their communities. Being someone who has some knowledge and lived experiences of racialized issues, and being an immigrant in Canada and having spent time studying these things, I think that success to me would mean being able to build back even one per cent of that trust in these communities.

You’ve mentioned that a piece by our executive editor, Carol Linnitt, felt seminal for you. Tell me a little bit about that story and why you think that kind of journalism is important?

Carol’s story, on the links between sexual violence and resource extraction, was so impactful for me because those connections don’t seem that obvious to the layperson, to someone who is not interviewing people who are impacted by these things, the person who’s not studying these things in academic settings or whatever it may be. I appreciate the fact that people at The Narwhal are actually trying to listen to those stories and make those connections. They’re taking the time to provide extended analysis and bring it to the forefront in an accessible way where people can see that, ‘Oh, this is actually really detrimental to people who have long been harmed by resource extraction.’

Journalists need to be given the time to build trust and relationships within communities who are saying things that are important, not just for themselves in their own communities, but for Canadians in general and the natural world around them.

The Narwhal's audience fellow Karan Saxena pictured in Vancouver.
Karan comes to The Narwhal after stints in audience engagement work at Xtra Magazine and 5X Press. Photo: Taehoon Kim / The Narwhal

Where are you drawing inspiration from right now?

Right now, in this very weird space of ‘COVID is over,’ I’m very much listening to what disability advocates and disability justice activists have to say as they fight for their lives again. I draw a lot of inspiration — which I shouldn’t have to — from people who are trying to live in a state that’s not receptive to people’s needs, including healthcare workers who are still facing a really horrible barrage of constant online threats and misinformation that they have to battle when hospitals get full.

What social account is doing really cool things right now?

The immediate thing that comes to my mind is NPR Planet Money’s TikTok. It is brilliant. It’s got a really neat story to it, too: the intern for NPR started making TikToks and now it’s one of the most popular accounts for any podcast. I love the way they integrate graphics and poorly done acting, which is both funny and how they keep their audience engaged. 

I was chatting with Shawn [Parkinson, The Narwhal’s art director], and I told him I would love to learn about whatever I can when it comes to the technical aspects of say Adobe Suite or any tips on video animation, because I saw something cool that NPR Planet Money did once again. I’d love to give different things a try.

What’s a guilty pleasure for you?

Oh, I have one off the top of my head which is not a good thing. I just finished all five seasons of Selling Sunset.

Is that a reality show?

Yeah, about selling houses in L.A. It’s so antithetical to who I am. There’s one person, Chrishell, and she constantly talks about how she used to be homeless and now she’s really happy to be selling homes. And I’m like, do you understand that you’re actively contributing to the housing crisis in L.A., like you are the problem? But yet, I enjoyed it so much. I watched the whole thing in a week. Not ideal.

We hear it time and time again:
“These are the stories that need to be told and you are some of the only ones telling them,” John, a new member of The Narwhal, wrote in to say.

Investigating stories others aren’t. Diving deep to find solutions to the climate crisis. Sending journalists to report from remote locations for days and sometimes weeks on end. These are the core tenets of what we do here at The Narwhal. It’s also the kind of work that takes time and resources to pull off.

That might sound obvious, but it’s far from reality in many shrinking and cash-strapped Canadian newsrooms. So what’s The Narwhal’s secret sauce? Thousands of members like John who support our non-profit, ad-free journalism by giving whatever they can afford each month (or year).

But here’s the thing: just two per cent of The Narwhal’s readers step up to keep our stories free for all to read. Will you join the two per cent and become a member of The Narwhal today?
We hear it time and time again:
“These are the stories that need to be told and you are some of the only ones telling them,” John, a new member of The Narwhal, wrote in to say.

Investigating stories others aren’t. Diving deep to find solutions to the climate crisis. Sending journalists to report from remote locations for days and sometimes weeks on end. These are the core tenets of what we do here at The Narwhal. It’s also the kind of work that takes time and resources to pull off.

That might sound obvious, but it’s far from reality in many shrinking and cash-strapped Canadian newsrooms. So what’s The Narwhal’s secret sauce? Thousands of members like John who support our non-profit, ad-free journalism by giving whatever they can afford each month (or year).

But here’s the thing: just two per cent of The Narwhal’s readers step up to keep our stories free for all to read. Will you join the two per cent and become a member of The Narwhal today?

See similar stories

Highway 413 threatens more Ontario conservation lands than publicized

The Ontario government’s proposed Highway 413 would cut through not just one but three parcels of land set aside for conservation, according to an internal...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Support investigative journalism you won't find anywhere else
Support investigative journalism you won't find anywhere else
Get The Narwhal in your inbox!
People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism
Get The Narwhal in your inbox!
People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism