With a career spanning for nearly two decades, senior journalist Ashok Pradhan is a name to reckon with in the field of journalism in Odisha. Despite being a Physics graduate, Mr. Pradhan found his calling in journalism. He believes nothing on earth can substitute print media and the youngsters should strive hard to bring change in the society through better content. Currently, as the Chief-of-Bureau of Times of India, Bhubaneswar, he leads a young and an experienced brigade who have taken the newspaper daily to enviable heights in the state.
Mr. Pradhan never fancied dreams to become a journalist. In fact, he was a meritorious student throughout and a Physics graduate till he ventured into the world of journalism.“Though I was studying Physics, I found that I was not enjoying the subject. It was during my graduation days, when I took to newspaper reading. I was ready to spend long hours reading newspapers but got easily bored while solving Physics questions,” he said.
By the end of his graduation, he was clear that he wanted to become a journalist. While many of his friends went into different streams, Mr. Pradhan appeared for the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) entrance test and subsequently took admission in IIMC Dhenkanal, one of the premier institute of the country providing media education in 1999.
Sharing his experiences in Dhenkanal, Mr. Ashok says, “I was lucky to have been a part of IIMC Dhenkanal. Students from different parts of the country added diversity to the campus. So, it was amazing interacting with them and getting to know about their culture, tradition and history. For gaining experience, we were always taken to different media houses to hone our skills.”
During the campus recruitment, he received a setback when he couldn’t get through the recruitment process of Hindustan Times. But that never deterred his spirit. He kept his cool and waited for the right opportunity.
He first interned with the Asian Age daily in Bhubaneswar for a month. “After my internship period got over, I worked for the daily as sub editor cum correspondent. Getting my first salary of Rs 1500 was an unforgettable experience. I also did crime reporting for the first time. I had the opportunity to extensively cover the crime stories thereby gaining hands-on experience on reporting. I used to have regular interaction with the higher officials of police department as well,” he says adding that it was a good learning experience with Asian Age.
After two months, Mr. Pradhan left the newspaper daily and worked as a stringer with the Hindustan Times in Bargarh. Then he joined as the trainee copy-editor for the Hindustan Times in Raipur in October 2000. He and his colleagues were then shifted to Bhopal where they worked for three different editions of the daily- Vidharba, Raipur and Odisha (the western belt). He later shifted his base to Chandigarh to work for the Hindustan Times. “Since news reporting always fascinated me, I changed my gears from copy-editing to news reporting. I was assigned by the Editor to cover articles on health,” he recollects.
On his very first day as a reporter, Mr. Pradhan covered a story on a cancer survivor named Prince. “I met a smart and confident engineering student, Prince, at a medical institution in Chandigarh who was there to celebrate the Cancer Survivor’s Day. But to my surprise I found that he was a cancer survivor. We had a good interaction and I found his personality quite interesting. I still remember the next day his story appeared on the front page with the title Cancer Damned Prince Live Life King Size. The article got rave reviews from all quarters.”
“There was another story that I enjoyed covering the most. The CT scan reports of two patients who shared almost similar names- Ram Krishna and Krishna Kumar, were exchanged. Based on Ram Kumar’s report, the brain of Krishna Kumar was mistakenly operated by neurosurgeons. During the operation, they realized that they had committed a huge error. Fortunately, nothing happened to the patient. So, because of a minor goof-up, a patient had to undergo an unnecessary surgery,” he says.
“I can recall another incident wherein there was a clash between followers of Dera Sacha Sauda Sect and a group of Sikh people in Punjab. It all started when Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh, a self-proclaimed controversial Godman attired himself in the dress of Guru Tez Bahadur Singh and was distributing amrit to the devotees. His act hurt the sentiments of a section of Sikh people and they clashed with the followers of Sacha Sauda Sect. The incident left over 50 people dead in Punjab. I was asked by the Editor to interview Gurmit Ram Rahim at the Dera headquarters in Sirsa and specifically ask him if he was ready to apologize for his act. When I entered the headquarters, it was insanely huge! Gurmit was sitting on a raised platform. The interview went smooth until I asked him whether he would apologize to the Sikh people or not. He got furious and I was asked to vacate the fort immediately. Dejected, I called up my Editor and narrated the whole incident. He asked me to write the exact story that happened with me in Sirsa. (Laughs) I did exactly the same and the following night I left for Ram Rahim’s birthplace Sriganganagar in Rajasthan. So, it was a good experience.”
In 2007, Mr. Pradhan left the Hindustan Times in search of better opportunities in Delhi. The India Today group was about to launch a daily tabloid named Mail Today the same year. So, he joined the tabloid team as its Principal Correspondent in 2007. He also contributed articles to Good Health, a weekly supplement of Mail Today. After a few months, he worked with a Delhi-based newspaper daily Metro Now, which was a joint venture of Hindustan Times and Times of India.
Mr. Pradhan recalls an incident where he dressed up like a beggar for a day to cover a special story for Metro Now. “During those days, the then CM of Delhi Sheila Dikshit had made an ambitious announcement of making Delhi a beggar-free city by 2010. Since I had an appetite for experimenting in journalism, I decided to dress up like a beggar and prove that it is beyond impossible to make Delhi a beggar-free city. Interestingly, to get into the skin of the character, I didn’t take bath for two days. I was given a complete make-over to look every inch of a beggar. I roamed around and begged on the streets of Delhi. There were some startling facts that I discovered that day. First, begging is a multi-million-dollar industry which is controlled by mafias. Second, there is an organized begging racket that brings beggars from various parts of the country to Delhi. Third, innocent children are drugged, beaten and made to beg despite their interests. In fact, begging on the streets of Delhi is a tough task as new beggars are never allowed to sit in the front rows while begging in temples or elsewhere,” he says adding that at the end of the day, he earned Rs 9 and got two motichoor ladoos and a banana after begging.
Pradhan’s hard work paid off as his article was not only appreciated by the readers, but he also got a call from the CM Sheila Dikshit’s office asking him to meet her. “I was ecstatic after receiving the call. I paid her a visit the next day. She congratulated me and lauded my efforts. I had the privilege of taking her interview regarding her non-political interests. She told that she was fond of reading books and showed me her library. When she got to know that I belonged to Odisha, she called up her daughter to our meeting room. I was taken by surprise when her daughter interacted with me in Odia. I discovered that she had worked for an NGO in Kalahandi for few years. So it was an experience that I would cherish forever,” he reminisces.
Mr. Pradhan worked with Metro Now, for three years before joining MMI Online Limited as Editor (Health) in 2010. Notably, MMI Online was a digital media wing of Dainik Jagaran Group. In mid-2010, Pradhan tied the nuptial knot and decided to get settled in Bhubaneswar. Subsequently, Times of India happened to him. He joined the Times of India, Bhubaneswar as Principal Correspondent in August 2010.
“During my formative years as a journalist, my articles were mostly centred around health. Slowly I developed an uncanny interest towards the subject. That’s the reason every time I am assigned to write something on health, I am always game for it,” he says when asked regarding his proximity towards the health beat.
As against the normal perception, Pradhan feels the media landscape has evolved over the years for better due to rapid technological advancements. “Today every media is influencing every other media due to which the industry is constantly evolving. Every media, be it print, electronic or social, is perfect at its respective place. They can never take anyone’s place. And the best part is that the print media continues to survive the tide of smartphones and social media because nothing can substitute a good content,” says he.
Apart from journalism, he finds pleasure in spending quality time with his family and playing badminton. “Before coming to Bhubaneswar, I used to go for high-altitude trekking with my friends. This is something I’d like to pursue in the future, if time permits,” he says.
When asked about his future plans, he paused for a moment and then said, “I am a person who does not believe in thinking much about the future. I rather prefer living in the present and striving hard to make it count. But yes! I just want to keep evolving with time. I’d want my stories to speak louder for me. My only wish is to be remembered as a credible and honest journalist in the hearts of readers.”