It’s been an eventful year for HimVani as it celebrates its first anniversary. It was on February 14th 2006, HimVani started as a blog on Blogspot. So before I go into flashback, I’d like to thank all the citizens of Himachal Pradesh for making HimVani a great success. It initially started as my personal ramblings on Himachal Pradesh – as a blog. And then Varun, Sanjay, Nityin, Surekha, Hema, Vikas, Swadesh, Shekhar and Ms Saroj Thakur came on board. However, I’m happy to say that today it isn’t any more just our website. It’s the citizens’ property today, who’ve made grassroots journalism a great success. Why we call it grassroots journalism and why not citizens’ journalism, I’ll delve into later.
Initially, we were a little sceptical about the response we would get from the people. However, as I always believed that charity begins at home, we thought to start writing ourselves, before it became a people’s movement.
In May 2006, we moved from Blogspot to WordPress for the obvious reasons that the latter had a software that was more dynamic. Then in September we moved to our own server and with our own domain name himvani.com. It was a time when we partnered with Medinmark, a Chandigarh based PR company for UTSAV India 2006 – a seminar on differently-abled-children and a trade expo held from October 1 – 3 in Shimla. We were the online media partners for UTSAV.
Besides, we did two campaigns for Vasudha and Surti. UTSAV was a first event for us, and all – Saurabh Aggarwal, CEO Medinmark and my fellow grassroots journalists at HimVani would agree that we could have done better. Anyway it was a great learning experience.
While these were some success stories offline, online too, content grew. At times, we did not have much of stories to publish. And that certainly was frustrating. And these were the times when we did get tempted to copy-paste press releases from government websites and we did fell for it at times. However, we made sure that we put some pain to it and rewrote the releases in a true journalistic fashion. But eventually, good sense prevailed and we thought – though it may sound cliched, however – that Content would always be the king, and let’s not compromise with it.
More than Search Engine Optimisation, our’s been a success story based on Word of Mouth advertising and email referrals by people and the grassroots journalists, because the content is strong and has shelf-life.
We have some well-researched articles, which have a shelf life. Today, students, teachers, research scholars, bureaucrats, NRIs and even politicians from Himachal have become regular visitors to HimVani. Today we’ve got some “who’s who” of Himachal writing for us. And prominent among them are Ms Saroj Thakur, a Hamirpur based academician and writer; Hindi writers Kulbhushan Upmanyu and S R Harnot; and D D Sharma, who’s an avid traveller and brings with him a rich journalistic background. And yes, how can we forget the role played by D S Pathania, who in the true fashion of a citizen journalist kept egging us with his comments and even giving new perspectives and dimensions to the articles.
I’m happy to say that we’ve been able to motivate people to become a think-tank, which has been our objective for the website. A lot of thought went into the tagline – Rediscover your roots. We also thought of – A view from the top. The idea was that while we are talking about Himachal and as we write articles, we can have an eagle-eye view. Thankfully, Varun questioned – wouldn’t we miss out on the details from the top, when eventually we want to work at the grassroots? Finally we zeroed on to – Rediscover your roots. Yes, we are a think-tank but the objective of the think-tank was not to just admire the tree but look beneath as well for the roots. Not just skim the surface, but also see where the roots are coming from. Also it meant to document the fables, stories, culture we are losing out upon.
But are we doing it for profit? No. HimVani is a voluntary effort just for the passion and love we feel for the state; and not just a thanksgiving initiative but also a gesture to give back something to the state. It’s very difficult to motivate someone to write for you without any monetary compensation. However, we’ve writers who all are writing for free. As of now, we are putting in money from our pockets for the domain name and server rentals. However, in future I’d certainly like HimVani to attract ads to self-sustain itself and a point where we can pay back some of our writers in remote villages – a compensation for the telephone calls they make and the pictures they send through the internet.
And now to the question, why we call ourselves as grassroots journalists? HimVani has strived to be a solution provider and not a grievance forum. While we’ve highlighted the grey areas, HimVani has been an effort to work at the grassroots and come up with solutions for those areas. One such effort was a suggestion to the tourism department to provide training to dhaba-wallas on the Shimla Kalka highway on basic cleanliness and Himachali cuisine. We also wanted to highlight the development work going on at the grassroots level. HimVani just doesn’t believe in reporting, but solutions as well. That’s why we love to call ourselves as a think-tank and grassroots journalists.
Hope we’ll grow from strength to strength and have many more grassroots journalists by the time we celebrate our 2nd anniversary. However, the biggest challenge would be to reach out to people in remote areas where the untapped grassroots journalists don’t have access to the internet. Also I’d like to thank many other grassroots journalists whose names I could not mention here for making the endeavour a success. Over to the grassroots journalists.