Shalu Mehta has long dreamed of lifting up people’s voices through community journalism. But at past positions as a newspaper reporter, something didn’t feel quite right.
“Stories went untold, voices went unheard and I found myself wanting to dig deeper in my work,” she says.
As a reporter for The Discourse, she found the missing piece. “It seemed my values aligned so well with this organization, which seeks to deepen conversations and complicate narratives through solutions-focused, community-led journalism.”
Over the past four years, The Discourse’s reporting on Vancouver Island has grown from a short-term experiment to a blossoming online news publication. The Discourse recently won six Canadian Online Publishing Awards, including the gold for Best Community News Website.
Shalu has been a big part of that journey and our growth. For almost two years, she’s been leading award-winning local news investigations in the West Shore and Cowichan regions.
Now, we’re doubling down on our commitment to serving the Cowichan region with robust, in-depth community news. To do that, Shalu Mehta will become the lead reporter for The Discourse Cowichan. I (Jacqueline Ronson) will continue to report and edit for The Discourse Cowichan, too, in addition to my new role as managing editor for The Discourse. We’ll be working closely together to serve the Cowichan region with real, independent local news.
I asked Shalu a few questions about her journey to this place and her goals for the future.
Jacqueline Ronson: Tell me a little bit about who you are, and your journey to this work for The Discourse?
Shalu Mehta: I’m an immigrant settler living on the territory of the Lekwungen peoples, though my work with The Discourse covers the territories of many Coast Salish nations. I did most of my growing up on the territory of the Three Fires Confederacy of First Nations, which comprises the Ojibwe, the Odawa and the Potawatomi Peoples (in Windsor, ON and Chicago, IL). I was born in Dubai but my family’s roots date back generations in India, in a state that is now called Gujarat. I’ve been doing a lot of learning in recent years about where I come from and recognize my ancestors’ connections to land and water — something I’ve continued exploring here on the Island — and I recognize the privileges I have to be able to make a home and build connections with many different people on these unceded lands.
I hadn’t always considered journalism as a career path. I studied literature and theatre and loved being able to learn about people’s stories, cultures and history — particularly those of communities and people we don’t normally hear from in mainstream education and media. I wanted to help share those stories and lift up people’s voices, all while continuing my own learning journey. Journalism seemed like a good fit. My interests led to jobs at daily news outlets in Ontario and on the Island but I started to see gaps in the reporting, and I started to lose my passion for the work.
It feels like serendipity that The Discourse was in a position to hire me at that moment. I was over the moon when I found out they wanted me to work here. And I guess the rest is history!
JR: You’ve been with The Discourse for close to two years now. What’s the highlight so far?
SM: One of the most important gifts I’ve received from The Discourse is space — space to practice slow journalism that is focused on community connections and conversations. In my first week at The Discourse, I was given the task of just talking to community members and learning from them. I had no hard deadlines and no expectations to produce a story that week. That seemed so radical to me at the time (in a good way). I quickly learned the value in that exercise. This foundation of deep listening and trust building has been so important to me and my work here and is one of the biggest highlights for me. The line between transactional and meaningful journalism can sometimes feel quite thin, but having the space to listen and open myself up to the community helps thicken that line some more.
JR: What does it mean to shift into this new role, for you?
SM: You and the rest of the team at The Discourse have done such a fantastic job building this new form of journalism in the Cowichan Valley. To be able to support this work and keep it going is truly such an honour. I see this as an opportunity to deepen my connections in Cowichan and learn more about this amazing community so I can tell stories that not only make a difference, but give us reasons to celebrate, too!
JR: What can people in the Cowichan region expect from you in the coming months and years?
SM: In the coming months and years, I’d love to support work that uplifts youth voices. They’re the future of our community and I think we have a lot to learn from them. I’d love to highlight those learnings and just celebrate the youth for who they are.
I also plan on investigating water and water-related issues. I’ve started looking into water systems and how they affect and impact the community, but I have a lot more learning to do. We rely on water for many things including survival, recreation and healing. So I’ll be spending some time thinking about how I can cover this topic in a robust and meaningful way. Your tips are always welcome!
Besides that, I’ll continue listening to and learning from you, our community, so I can lead coverage that inspires, warms hearts and makes a difference. If there’s an issue you’d like me to dig into, please let me know! And if you’d just like to chat, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Send Shalu your feedback
What topic or stories would you like to see Shalu dig into in the Cowichan region? Send Shalu an email with your thoughts and feedback!