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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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