Freelance Journalist

May 26, 2019 (Updated )

Stepping into a new role is a big moment for anyone, but for Megha Mohan, it was bigger than most. As of September 2018, she became the BBC first Gender and Identity Correspondent – the first person to take up the role.

A new position within the public broadcaster, it was designed to allow in-depth, specialist reporting around areas such as faith, ethnicity, sexuality, and LGBT+ experiences across the globe.

Megha has since continued to produce pioneering journalism from all over the world. Here’s what her average day looks like…

My day starts at…

6am when I wake up and I start by reading the main news sites first. Then I trickle it along to the more niche blogs, and the writers and podcasts I follow. I give myself about two hours to catch up with all of that. At that point, I get up and have a shower and get something to eat, and then I head into the office, New Broadcasting House. The time depends on what I have going on in the day.

Megha Mohan is filmed for an interview.
Megha focuses on under-reported issues. (Image Credit: Megha Mohan)

My typical day involves…

Because I’m a global journalist, if I’m in the office it means I’m either back from a trip or planning a trip. I just got back from Chile this week for example, and I’ve got two TV pieces that are going out and I’ll also have to cut a digital piece, write an online piece, and do two radio packages.

I really want to stress that what I do is very collaborative. I get to work with very talented video journalists like Natalia Zuo & Yousef Eldin who make our reports in my unit (the World Service Specialist Unit) come alive.

So, I give myself about a week to do that. It’s relaxed; I’m generally done by about 6.30ish on a normal day without a breaking story that pulls me off the original journalism.

But if a gender and identity story happens within my beat, like the Caster Semenya ruling, I would have been on air for that. Anything like that I’ll get a call from the planning editor, and they tell me which programme to go on. I go in kind of sloppy but I’ll have a change of clothes at work in case something happens. I’ll also be planning my next trip in the midst of all this as well.

I always thought I’d be…

A journalist. When I was younger I remember saying I wanted to be a journalist without really knowing what it meant. I just knew that I wanted to travel and meet people and hear their stories.

Then I put it to the back of my head because I didn’t know how I could do it, and that’s when I did the NGO work. Then the journalism kind of found me in another way.

I think it’s the most privileged job you can have. How many times can you go into someone’s house and they will trust you with the worst thing that’s happened to them? It’s such a privilege. You’re sitting on the ring-side seat of history because how people work is how journalism works.

Even when you take the driest subjects, like the 2008 economic crash; that happened from greed, from very human motivations. I love being able to humanise these complex stories. Everything we do is about what people do to each other.

Megha Mohan on the BBC
Megha will often have to add insight to stories within her beat (Image Credit: BBC)

The thing that surprises me most about my job is…

Being able to sit with the insecurity of it. If I worked in news, I would know when I was going to be on air – you have a mission for the day, it’s really clear what your structure is, and when your day is done, your day is done.

What to know what happens in the life of other journalists? You can check out our piece’s with gal-dem’s Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, Shingi Mararike of The Times, and Mina Joshaghani of BBC World Service right now.

But that’s not what original journalism is. You don’t have that structure. I don’t want to sound ungrateful because I’m not at all, but it’s like constant anxiety, thinking “Is this piece going to make an impact?”, “Are the people who have trusted you to tell their stories, are they going to feel it was worth it?”

As soon as that piece goes out, whether it does well or badly, the other feeling is “What’s the next piece going to be and is it going to live up to that?” I thought once I got my dream job I would be constantly happy all the time, I didn’t know I’d have to handle as much insecurity.

Megha Mohan filming.
(Image Credit: Megha Mohan)

I got the job because…

I applied for the BBC Trainee Scheme but I didn’t get on. I was shortlisted for an interview, and got an email afterwards telling me I hadn’t got on. I was really disappointed because I thought it had gone well. Then they called me the day after that generic email saying, “Actually, we thought you did really well so come in, have a job.” So that was really good, it was a total bypassing of the system in a way. So I went in as a producer on the World Service, working on various programmes and then I made the transition from that to being a reporter.

I’m most proud of…

The intersex documentary. I’m really proud of that because we got over 270 emails from people who had lived through these operations and had really felt their identities were compromised, and had they had that chance they wouldn’t have had those operations. I’ve never had so many long emails from people just wanting to tell you about their lives, so I was really touched by that.

There’s also this campaign called Level Up which is about responsible reporting when it comes to domestic abuse and the language used. I really care about that; I think of other ways in which I can improve journalism as a whole outside the BBC.

If I was starting again…

Now, I can tell when someone is giving me advice when they’re being honest and wanting to help me, or when they’re trying to sabotage or hurt me, which does happen in journalism. Not everybody has got your back, especially when you start being more successful.

If I was to give any advice to myself, it would be to figure out when someone is trying to help you. But that’s a hard thing to be able to figure out without experience. If you remove yourself from the drama you have a better chance of success.

Meghan Mohan
(Image Credit: Megha Mohan)

If people wanted to follow in my footsteps, I’d say…

Just do a little bit more than you’re asked for and, in the beginning, it’s just not worth complaining until you prove your point. To prove your worth, you have to be able to do what other people can’t do. For example, at the beginning I spent a lot of time with studio engineers and people who worked on the website – basically more than was asked of my job.  So even though I was a radio producer, I knew how to work all the equipment that I didn’t need to know how to use. I just made sure I spoke with everybody so I understood how every aspect of crafting a story worked.

If somebody asks you to write an article, and you are also thinking “how can I get this on TV?”, “how can I do a podcast about this”, “can I go talk to a school about it” – then you create more impact than what has been asked of you. Think about whether you can do a two-way on television about it and make it work for another platform.

After work…

We don’t go out early in the week, because everyone is either too tired or has too much work to do. There’s a good connection between people at work and we do go out at least once a week. But I think one of the most important things is to keep your friends outside journalism, because it’s very easy, especially with Twitter, to get in this bubble. I have some of my best friends at the BBC but I also make sure to hang out with my family and my friends who aren’t in our world. You also get tips for the best stories when you have a wide social circle.