Reluctant engineer to passionate journalist: The story of ‘Main Media’ founder

Reluctant engineer to passionate journalist: The story of ‘Main Media’ founder

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An engineer from Jamia Millia Islamia, who also ticks the box of having gone to Kota to prepare for the competitive entrance exams, Tanzil Asif is much better known as the founder of Main Media.

Asif, who is proud of being an independent journalist, sat down with to share his life’s journey, and the ups and downs he faces in his unique tryst of bringing forth the real stories from the ground Seemanchal – an oft neglected region in Bihar – and other areas.

What makes his story interesting is that it is full of clichés, and yet the route he has taken is so different and challenging that it makes for a compelling read. An average guy from Bihar urged by his near and dear ones to become an engineer gets his degree; but then is drawn to the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), why?

Sharing the details of his journey Asif said, “After completing my 12th when I went to Kota I realized I was not suited to become an Engineer. But because I was good in Maths & Science, the society made me believe that I can be a good engineer. In those 9 months (in Kota) I realized I can’t be one, but it was too late to not appear for the entrance exams. Unfortunately, I would say, I cracked the Jamia entrance. Also, I didn’t have other options at that point of time, so I somehow got through those 4 years of engineering.”

However, after the first year in engineering, he started taking up internships in various media organizations and also did some freelance work. “This helped, as after I got my engineering degree, I was clear about doing journalism in the long run. So, I went to IIMC – which taught me that if I wanted to pursue this field, I would have to do it in my own way,” Asif said.

His first opportunity after completing the diploma course from IIMC was a stint at Rajya Sabha TV, which lasted only for 15 days. “It was not up to my liking, I spent those two weeks sleeping and quickly grew weary of it,” he said. This was followed by another stint at ScoopWhoop – which lasted 3 months, followed by the first taste of mainstream journalism at news agency ANI.

“I spent around one year at ANI, and I understood that mainstream journalism isn’t for me. There was a big difference between the news being shown in the mainstream and what I wanted the people to see. This is when I left and returned to my hometown to start Main Media,” Asif said.

The decision to return was also influenced by his roots, Asif said that he “wanted to do something for my people, be their voice. In February 2018 I decided to come back and work from here (Bihar).”

These 5 years have been challenging, sometimes due to the socio-political reasons and at other times because of the finances. “It has been tough; it took me a while to figure out the revenue model, where to put the content and more. But it has been going smoothly after the pandemic phase, as we got a couple of grants, we have been part of various programs of Google News Initiative and YouTube and also collaborated with apps like Likee and Kuku FM for content creation,” Asif said.

Asif’s team consists of eight full time professionals and a wide network of stringers, reporters and more from across the region. With headquarters in Bihar’s Kishanganj, Main Media’s primary focus has been on the Seemanchal region, consisting of Kishanganj, Araria, Purnia and Katihar districts, but has been able to expand its coverage to the Kosi region, and Darjeeling and other places in West Bengal. “The plan is to expand to regions like Bundelkhand (UP) and other neglected regions in Madhya Pradesh rather than expanding to big cities like Patna & Delhi. The goal is to become the voice of people from the neglected areas.”

On the question of reach on various platforms, Asif shared, “We share stories of backward areas and the people from there, many of them still don’t have access to digital. There is a huge gap which will be filled in the days ahead. On YouTube we have over 1 million reach every month, and we have 5 lakh+ subscribers, on Facebook we have over 3 million reach every month and have 380K+ followers – our website has 250K visits every month. It shows that people are reading it, but there is definitely scope for growing a lot bigger.”

Upon being asked about the operational challenges, the engineer-turned-journalist said, “Despite the image of Bihar being a crime-infested state, we have not faced any threats from the local goons. However, the politicians and administration – and those acting on their behalf – have time and again issued threats to us directly or through their cronies. It has happened countless times and sometimes I thought we should stop. After all, there’s a limit to the amount of pressure one can bear. But we kept going, thanks to the love and admiration showered upon us by the people.”

Main Media also had to take a call between advertising and subscription model to fund their operations, and they opted for the latter. “I believe it is important for people to pay in order to ensure that the news is unbiased, and that’s why we launched our subscription model – called ‘Humraah’ – which is capped at Rs 199 per month. We urge those who consume our content to pay us so we can keep doing our job with integrity.

People subscribe to newspapers but don’t read them today, Digital is where they are getting their news and therefore our rate is roughly the same as that for a monthly newspaper subscription. But, none of our content is behind the paywall, we don’t want to do that.” The platform is also on the lookout for brands which can help their journey, and benefit mutually from the audience attention.

Asif believes in the power of Digital, and said that it is definitely the way forward. While the other established mediums will continue to operate, digital will soon have the lion’s share of attention from people, according to him. He also said that very soon there will be steps taken by digital platforms to ensure credibility.

“Going forward, there will be checks and balances on digital media. The so called influencers on social media will be held accountable for what they say, and these will be implemented by the platforms themselves. Good journalists will eventually shift to digital media and make it big, the people will also understand who is saying the truth and they will move away from the ones spreading fake news,” Asif said.

He also warned that citizen journalism should only be carried out under guidance of trained professionals, as without proper understanding it can soon become a divisive force in the society.

Speaking about the future, Asif said that his goal is to train more people in the neglected parts of the country and enable more people to take up journalism. However, he understands that there are many limitations – financial and operational – and so one step at a time is the best strategy. “We are focusing on Lok Sabha elections scheduled for 2024, and the Bihar elections which will be held in 2025. We will see how it goes from there,” Asif said on a concluding note.