Priya Bhat has a knack for making people feel heard.
She’s been voted student representative for all five years of her undergraduate and graduate education, supporting classmates through the trials of life and academia. We weren’t surprised to hear that her friends and family thought she should become a psychologist.
Lucky for us, she chose a career in journalism instead and joined us this week as our new intern.
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Priya was born in Mangalore, India, and lived in several cities in the country as well as in Singapore before moving to Vancouver last year to start her master’s in journalism at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
Priya comes to us with journalism experience from near and far. She was a reporter and news reader with Christ College Television during her undergraduate studies in Bangalore, India, an intern for the Times of India and The Tyee and managing editor of VO1SS, an online publication based at UBC.
Priya also speaks five languages: Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Konkani and English. No big deal.
During her first week, we got a chance to ask Priya a few questions about how and why she does it all.
You’ve moved a lot throughout your life — how did that influence your decision to pursue journalism?
I met so many people and listened to their stories and learned about their cultures. I got a whole new lens through which to appreciate the world. I think that influenced my decision to get into journalism because I wanted to tell stories that people can feel and that they can be a part of.
Living in different places helped me realize that journalism should be about telling stories about people and sharing their experiences.
What sparked your interest in environment journalism?
My brother played a huge part. When I was in high school, we would have conversations about sustainability and the need for a cleaner world. He got into it right after university, launching a plastic recycling startup in Bangalore that collects plastics from businesses and homes and recycles them into sustainable products such as building materials and clothing. He helped me realize that there are things that we need to do for the earth and that even our small individual actions can go a long way.
Another major influence has been the climate change movement. I’ve been inspired by all the work that people have been doing, especially the younger generation.
What kinds of journalism would you like to see more of?
I’d like to see more solutions-based journalism. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist — but the current media atmosphere tends to focus on problems instead of offering solutions. The first step is often acknowledging the problem, but we also need to start thinking about solutions and we need to make it part of the reporting process. Because of the reach of news and the way that articles are circulated on social media, articles can create a lot of conversation about the topics they cover. We have an opportunity to say to readers, ‘Yes, we are in this mess, but we also know what we can do to prevent it.’
That’s one way I would like to see the industry moving forward.
I also think we need to involve more voices of women and People of Colour in the industry as sources and subjects of stories and as writers of those stories. I’d also like to see more support for student journalists.
How did you first hear about the Narwhal?
I first heard about The Narwhal when I Googled Trans Mountain pipeline issues in Canada! I had a course called public policy — it was my first class at UBC. Our professor had emailed us a document saying that the Trans Mountain pipeline would be the first case study that we would be going through. That was when I realized that there are so many complex issues in Canada and I wanted to learn more.
I’ve followed The Narwhal since then. I started getting the newsletter and then started reading more — the coverage is so different from what the mainstream media is covering. It was actually very surprising because in India I’d never seen a publication focused solely on the natural world.
You’re an avid photographer — can you tell us about some of your most memorable shots and why you love them?
My parents came to visit last December and we went to Whistler. It was my first time in snow and it felt as though I was in a Christmas movie. I was definitely awestruck. We took the gondola through the mountains. The whole ride was just magical. The forest was covered in evergreen trees, there were snow-capped mountains and an icy blue stream ran between the peaks. The series of pictures that I clicked there are some of my favourites. Those photos remind me of the natural beauty that exists around us, undisturbed.
After the gondola, I stopped at a viewpoint and I was clicking so many pictures I didn’t realize that I had lost my parents. I completely panicked. For 10 or 15 minutes, I didn’t know what to do. It turned out that they were sitting in a cafe probably watching me run around looking for them.
Can you list three random things about yourself?
In the sixth grade, I memorized a whole chapter of my history textbook because I didn’t want to get the years wrong. I had an exam and I was so anxious that I would mix up my dates that I memorized the chapter verbatim. I was what people call a nerd! I can still be a bit of a perfectionist.
I don’t like tea or coffee. It’s not that I hate it, but I just don’t like it.
I cannot climb the stairs when I have a cold. At my last university, we had this huge flight of stairs and when I had a cold or was just starting to get a fever, I would always think I was going to fall. I really don’t know what that was all about!