You have seen him relaying to the world literally earth-shaking news precariously balanced from a helicopter during the devastating 2015 Nepal earthquake. You have seen him grill politicians and you have caught the latest news with him as an anchor at CNN-IBN, India’s leading news channel.
For his stellar reporting, he has been twice awarded the prestigious Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards.
But instead of resting on his laurels at the centre of power in Delhi, this intrepid journalist from Sikkim has now returned to his roots. Karma Paljor, 42, has taken his passion back to the north-east by launching East Mojo – a mobile-first digital news platform with a tagline, ‘New media storyteller from Northeast India’.
He has launched a mobile news platform, EastMojo, catering to the north-eastern region of India, a region that’s often relegated to the sidelines.
What motivated Paljor to leave his high profile job in India’s capital and move back to the North-east was the fact that this region was always ignored by not just the government but even mainstream media. He felt that the eastern most part of India – specifically the northeastern states that are separated from the rest of the country by a narrow corridor of land, aptly called the ‘chicken’s neck’ — has long been the proverbial cog in the wheel of this mighty nation. The time had come to change that perception. The region had a lot more to offer than just its natural beauty and so there was a need to have a mouthpiece of this region and give the nation “the eastern opinion.”
EastMojo also has a unique news gathering mechanism whereby it will create a network of citizen-reporters who would be trained in mobile journalism or MoJo. While a core team of senior journalists would be the backbone to ensure correctness, accuracy and fairplay, the idea to be the ‘mojo’ that is to excite not only millennials but users across the spectrum.
In an exclusive interview with India Se Media, the former Senior Editor at CNN New 18 shares some insights into EastMojo and its goals as a credible news organization.
India Se: You were a successful editor at a top Indian news channel. What prompted you to give it all up and start a media company of your own? Do you have partners/investors?
Karma Paljor: The East prompted me! I have always wanted to come back, give back to a region that is so diverse and rich. The eight states of the Northeast have much to offer but sadly don’t get their due when it comes to reporting by the mainstream media. In Nagaland at a conference I said that we need to tell our own story and that was the tipping point for me.
I needed a co-founder who knew the region well. Tanushree Hazarika, founder of Eclectic Northeast magazine was the right fit. She had already spent over 12 years successfully running a media outfit so when we sat down to discuss – the idea for eastmojo.com was born.
Our investors are friends and family who believe in us. We have tried to get at least one person from each state to join hands so that there is a sense of ownership of the brand. We are lucky with the kind of response we have had till now.
India Se: Given your own background, you are Sikkimese, it is understandable that you were drawn to the North-east. Also this part of the country has always been ignored by the mainstream media. Was this the only motivation to start EastMojo? How did you zero in on the name?
Karma Paljor: EastMojo is a name given to us by our friends down South. I was sitting with our friends from Newsminute.com, one of the most successful regional news outfits when co-founder Vignesh Vellore gave us the name and it stuck. They continue to mentor and support us. The motivation is the region – there is so much to do here and we believe that the next growth impetus for India will come from the east. It is already the top priority region for the government.
India Se: What have been some of the challenges that you have faced so far given that the Indian media market is extremely competitive and complex? How did you overcome them?
Karma Paljor: Northeast is a difficult market to be in at the moment, it is not really exciting if you are looking for advertisements’ etc but we are getting there. The next two years will be crucial. Investors were staying away from investing in the media business when we started out because of the climate but that is changing slowly. We did get a big push from our friends and family who believed in us and invested in our vision.
India Se: You also have a unique style of news gathering involving citizen journalists. Could you elaborate on the set up? And how do you plan to tackle fake news?
Karma Paljor: We believe that everyone with a smartphone is a video journalist today. We want to train as many people as possible in the region so that they can send us stories and also be eyes and ears in tackling fake news and misinformation within the region.
India Se: The current Modi government has been focusing on the Look East policy in a big way. As someone who closely covers the Northeast, do you see any difference in the treatment of the region, compared to the previous government?
Karma Paljor: Credit must be given to this government for the focus interest in the region. We are witnessing a surge in interest. A number of big-ticket infrastructure investments have been proposed and some projects are underway. The third Internet undersea cable has landed in Agartala via Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. This will give a huge boost to connectivity in the region and help IT sector grow.
India Se: What are your future plans?
Karma Paljor: Our first step is to reach out to more states in the east, add Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa to our map. We would like to grow to Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal and truly be an international digital media from South East Asia.
India Se: Tell us a little about yourself, childhood and upbringing? What drew you to journalism? What is your most memorable experience as a journalist in New Delhi?
Karma Paljor: As a child I was fascinated by Sir David Attenborough, his programmes on natural history inspired me to be a broadcaster. On my many trips into the Sikkim wilderness with my father Dr Sonam Paljor, I used to imitate Sir David and do a piece to camera explaining my surroundings often with a piece of wood, moss, stone or an odd non-aggressive domesticated animal.
Growing up in Sikkim was not good for a budding journalist. We often heard of journalists being attacked, bought over etc. My journey into journalism took off when I joined my college in Bangalore – I took over as the editor of the college magazine and off I went.
Winning the prestigious Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards twice I guess was among one of my most memorable experiences in New Delhi. Interviewing Jeff Bezos was also exciting experience.
India Se: Tell us about your family and other interests. How supportive are they in this venture?
Karma Paljor: My wife, Geeta Gupta, is also a journalist in New Delhi and I have a 10-year-old son, Dorjee Paljor. Due to my work, I now spend time between Delhi and Guwahati. I am passionate about saving the environment and believe that not everyone needs to be an activist. We can all do our bit. As a journalist, I have participated and continue to focus and write on these issues. My friends and family have been very supportive about this venture. Many of them are our angel investors.