Several years ago, Shalu Mehta (pronounced SHAH-loo MEH-tha) was reporting on women’s reproductive health care in India when she learned an important lesson: if you want to get the real story, you’ve got to show up.
Over four weeks on the ground and many conversations, she found that the issues were “more nuanced than I imagined,” Shalu recalls. “Many of the conversations I had could not have been done over the phone because they were deeply personal and involved building trust. Some of the people I interviewed didn’t even have access to a phone and while I speak Gujarati and had family members help me with translations (thanks, Mom), the dialects varied in different communities.”
Now, Shalu will be bringing that commitment to deep listening and learning to her work as a reporter with The Discourse. She is a resident of Langford with ties to the Cowichan region. Shalu will be supporting the Cowichan team with the in-depth, solutions-focused stories you expect from us.
After serving as The Discourse Cowichan’s full-time reporter these last two years, I’m thrilled to expand the team to include a second full-timer, alongside regular contributors David Minkow and Jared Qwustenuxun Williams. This means we can dig into investigations chosen with input from you, our readers and community. We can only expand our team and coverage with your support. Our journalism is not funded by advertising and we don’t put stories behind a paywall. By becoming a monthly supporter, you’re supporting in-depth coverage of topics our community says are important.
In addition to contributing to Cowichan investigations, Shalu will be launching a new weekly newsletter, West Shore This Week, covering the communities of Langford, Colwood, Metchosin, Highlands, View Royal and Sooke. Shalu is plugged into those communities as a resident and also as a former reporter with the Goldstream News Gazette. Click here to sign up and be among the first to see it. And tell your West Shore friends!
I asked Shalu a few questions about what keeps her committed to community-driven journalism.
What about The Discourse’s approach to community reporting attracted your attention?
The Discourse was attractive to me because the reporting done here comes from a place of listening and patience. The community gets to tell us what they want to know about rather than a few reporters and editors deciding what the community needs to know. I think this is extremely important because the relationships we build, the perspectives we seek to include and the trust we gain will help us tell better stories and answer questions from a well-rounded, unbiased perspective.
I won’t lie when I say that I too was beginning to lose faith in the industry. In school, we’re taught about journalism ethics, our job to hold people accountable and the importance journalism plays in a democratic society. We’re taught to be thoughtful about the stories we tell and voices we elevate and I just wasn’t sure that I was getting the opportunity to truly do that. Seeing The Discourse’s principles and slower approach to journalism has helped spark my passion again and I can’t wait to start listening and engaging with the community in my new role.
In terms of your reporting in Cowichan, what are you digging into first?
One of the issues that The Discourse committed to dig into in 2020, based on community feedback, is food and farming. With COVID-19, those issues have become all the more relevant. So, I’m starting there, by listening to people about food and food security issues, and figuring out which stories need to be told. (Got a suggestion? Drop me a line.) Food security is a basic need that is not being met for many people and I’m interested in exploring both why and what can be done to help.
When did you know you wanted to be a journalist?
My family members told me I’d make a good journalist from a young age but I never took it seriously until I was close to finishing university. I knew I enjoyed learning about people, art and culture and so I pursued a degree in literature and theatre. After spending four years studying storytelling and the power it has to educate and give people a voice, I decided I wanted to tell stories as well.
Journalism seemed like a natural fit. Not only am I able to help elevate the voices of others, but I’m able to bridge gaps between people and help start a conversation. The job also satisfies my desire to always be learning and keeps me on my toes!
Tell me about the place you live. What makes it an interesting place to live and work?
I live in Langford, close to the downtown core. As one of the fastest growing communities in B.C., I’m seeing the city change rapidly before my eyes. What was once a rural part of the Capital Regional District has become a bustling city with many people seeking to move here. It’s fascinating to watch Langford and the South Island’s growth as well as the positives and negatives that come along with it.
The people I’ve run into in the Cowichan Valley and on the West Shore have been fantastic. I’ve moved a lot and have never felt at home as quickly as I did here. Each municipality I visit is unique and the conversations I’ve had have been engaging and interesting. I’m learning a lot by living here and am looking forward to learning even more.
What are you up to when you’re not out chasing some great story?
In my spare time you can find me exploring new places outside, reading, playing guitar or cooking up a new recipe. I also enjoy finding new films and shows to watch and recommendations are always welcome!
Shalu can be reached at email@example.com with recommendations, story tips, or just a welcome and hello.