In today’s panorama where current events are so often fed to the public in various ways, we often question the credibility of some of the information we consume on a daily basis. In giving credit where credit is due and in the spirit of the ever-recent Asian Pacific Heritage Month, Chicago Asian Network had the privilege to interview ABC Chicago’s Emmy-winning news anchor and reporter Ravi Baichwal, an Emmy award-winning trailblazer when it comes to seeking the truth and delivering accurate news to the public.

Photo courtesy of Ravi Baichwal

Starting Out

Not everybody has the same formula when getting to where they need to be. When it comes to journalism, sometimes the ones that have the best stories to tell are the ones who have found the interest and the gift of storytelling while they were in a different field. For some, this lingering interest would show early on. These instances were both true for Ravi who admitted that his inspiration to make a change in society has been heavily influenced by storytellers and the desire to be a representation to his community. “I thought I wanted to be a part of that process.  And I also thought not a lot of people that look like me were in those kinds of positions of power, and so I aspire to make a difference that way,” he added.

Unlike those with a communication or journalism degree, Ravi took up ‘honors bachelor of arts and political science with a minor in French studies’ and even added some economic courses as he was taking up his degree in Canada. Though far from journalism, at that time, Ravi expressed his interest in public affairs and was even politically involved in Canada. Ultimately after working for various public sector companies, he realized the significance of stories and how it affects public affairs/life in general. It was then that he decided to switch to journalism and decided to work up the ranks. “There really aren’t a lot of prescribed ways of doing so necessarily, and there’s no official accreditation for journalism like there is in other professions… So I just thought I would apply the kinds of skills and storytelling from public affairs that I had developed and become someone who actually told the stories,” he shares. He noted that he initially started as a researcher, and got a chance to experience being a reporter and a producer under the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Finally, he got the golden opportunity to anchor some newscasts and move around to different cities, and the rest, as one calls it, is history.

Photo courtesy of Ravi Baichwal

Trust & Challenges

Ravi notes that being on public airwaves takes a lot of public trust. One must be able to “describe the stories of people in communities that [one] lives in and [be able to] tell their stories back to them.” Without hesitation, he understands the privileges he has, citing that the work is laborious but something truly inspiring and noteworthy. “To be asked to do that on a nightly basis, to come into people’s homes, and help them understand their world is a true privilege, and I find that really rewarding,” he says. But despite its rewards, Ravi is aware of the challenges journalism faces in the current sphere. “The challenges are enormous… Not the least of which are financial. It takes a lot of money to mount a credible news organization that can have the independence to go into any number of environments and ask probing questions of people in power and demand accountability for the citizenry. And there are forces in society that are making the job tougher. That even wants to undermine our role,” he elaborates.

The very essence of journalism and media aims to accurately inform the public of various social issues. Transparency, credibility, and accountability will always be a key point to any newsworthy information that floods in our feed. Because of this, Ravi notes that the media is not some sort of political opposition, but rather a reflection of today’s society. “When we get accused of having bias, and not treating the pursuit of truth as our one and only objective, that is often coming for people who would rather not face the kind of accountability that we can demand,” he emphasized.

“Every day is a new day and every day that Trust is on the line,” he declares and rightfully so when put into a position where the currency is the public trust. Ravi understands that Trust is something that needs to be earned and nurtured. How does one earn another one’s trust? It is through intention. “It is earned by doing good stories and being focused on the truth.  And showing up every day to try and do that over and over again for a community and an audience,” he says.

Photo courtesy of Ravi Baichwal

‘Anybody can be a Reporter’

Technology, especially with the rise of social media, plays both devil and angel when it comes to bringing people news. Ravi notes that “digital media makes everybody a possible Reporter and News source” but wonders on the credibility of the news information. “Do they have a track record of success in unearthing the truth and telling comprehensive contextualized balanced stories about the world we live in? Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But they’re operating in everybody’s pockets on their smartphones and so, they can affect the conversation,” he shares and finally concludes that the digital media sphere is still a work-in-progress when it comes to credibility and how stories get out to the public.

Since almost anybody can be a reporter, when asked about techniques to ensure credibility, accuracy, and impartiality when covering the most sensitive of topics, Ravi imparts his simple but most thoughtful way “I read.  I ask questions. I do research. I rely on the insight and efforts of my colleagues and teammates to get to the truth of a matter. And then we write stories based on that,” he shares.

Photo courtesy of Ravi Baichwal

What Makes a Journalist

Despite the rise of technology and the constant upgrades and pervasiveness that social media brings to the table when it comes to news reporting, Ravi remains steadfast on the fact that “there will always be a market for stories that unveil objective truth.” He reiterates that when it comes to presenting important stories, no matter the current news landscape, it will always require what it has always needed and that is for someone to have the courage to be accountable, to always relay the utmost truth, and to have the ability to write clearly, objectively, with conscience and with a heart. To Ravi, one must have all these characteristics—and to have these be one's “Northstar” and guiding principle to be deemed an effective journalist.

To be a journalist is not just a huge responsibility. But it takes a lot of sacrifice and a lot of humanity to be in the position where you are supposed to tell the truth even when it is painful, and to relay news without impartiality takes a lot of strength. “We are human and sad stories affect us just like everybody else. The never ending crime in Chicago particularly gets me down. When you see innocent people being hurt, especially children, it is a very difficult thing to just brush off. But it is your job to deliver the information as dispassionately but with concern as possible,” Ravi shares.

In today’s society where the truth is often concealed and overshadowed by noise, we find individuals like Ravi Baichwal who stands and serves as a beacon of integrity in journalism. His journey, shaped by an unconventional path, highlights the very essence of storytelling and the pursuit of truth. As one navigates through today’s complex media environment, let his words of wisdom resonate with a profound understanding of the challenges and responsibilities that come with the profession. Let us be reminded that trust earned through diligence and intention serves as the very cornerstone of journalism. 

In an era where anyone can wield the power of reporting, Ravi’s commitment to accuracy and impartiality serves as a guiding light. Ultimately, being a journalist requires unwavering dedication, honesty, empathy, and the relentless pursuit of objective truth. These are the ideals that Ravi Baichwal has exemplified, reminding us that despite tumultuous times, the very core of journalism and the very core of journalists remain steadfast which hopefully illuminates society - and the world - with an uncompromising light - the Truth.

Jun 10, 2024

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