Prashant Dayal, Ahmedabad: It was 2016; I had left Vadodara to move to Ahmedabad. I was confident of getting a job, given my 30 years experience as a journalist. But my friends were apprehensive about the same, as I had probably ruined my chances for the same with my fight for the journalists pay. I had picked a fight that was never mine in the first place. I might half-heartedly agree to my friends, as I had visited almost all my editor and publisher friends in Ahmedabad seeking a job unsuccessfully. I had given a serious thought about the consequences that might befall upon me due to this fight. I feel bad thinking about those times. It is obvious to feel pathetic after realizing all of a sudden that no one wants to give you a job, that too after crossing fifty. Editors love journalists who fight against politicians, goons and the police, but they cannot tolerate one who would pick a fight with the editors.

Five months had passed of being jobless. My friends would tell me that I could rely upon them if I need anything. But I never had the courage to ask them for anything. I was breaking my fixed deposits, one after the other. I had no clue how long was I going to continue like this. It was the monsoon season, and I got a phone call from my journalist friend Anil Pushpangadan from Gandhinagar. As per his habit, he left the talk incomplete and told me he wished to meet me. I agreed and we met at a teastall near Ahmedabad University, popularly known as PC Point. I don’t know how this place came to be called PC Point, but it was a popular hangout place for artistes, strugglers and jobless people like me in Ahmedabad. I met Anil on a rainy day, where in between sips of tea, he asked me “Would you like to take up a job?”

I was so tired of seeking jobs; hearing denials from people were insulting for me that I couldn’t muster up the courage to say that I indeed wish to work again. I said, “Anil, I’d agree to do an assignment, but I don’t want to do a job.” He told me that a friend of his plans to start a web portal and though you don’t want to work, I want you to helm the things for it. I met Anil’s friends over many times to discuss the design of the website, the news to be published. All this was kinda new to me as I was a print journalist all the while and I had to accept change at the age of fifty, something that was difficult.

Whenever I would be under worry or stress,  I’d call Mehul Chauhan, whom I’ve known since my days in Vadodara. He was working with the Divya Bhaskar website in Vadodara and would give me advice on these matters. Finally, a name was decided for the portal we were supposed to llaunch and it was called meranews.com and the first person to join us was Mehul Chauhan, who is the resident editor of the website today. Later several people joined like Urvish Patel, Darshan Patel, Sonu Solanki, Nisha Patel, Nikson Bhatt, Kulin Parekh, Rohan Rankja, Sujith Nambiar, Hitesh Chavda, Jayesh Mevada, etc. Many of them who are not amongst us after they moved ahead in life seeking better opportunities include Darshan Desai, Amit Cowper, Kuldeep Tiwari, Mehul Jani, Chintan Shripali, Jayesh Shah, Sunil Joshi, Rajan Trivedi, Mayurika, Madhu, Ankit Prajapati, Prachi Jani, Punit Acharya, Hiral Patel, Vijaysinh Solanki, Kaustubh Athavle, Jeevan Gudela, Neil Rodricks, Priyanka Rajput and Marilyn Gore Macwan and several others. The list of such friends who gave their contributions, has kept on increasing with every passing day.

On November 9, 2016, we started www.meranews.com out of a small office with limited resources and a basic understanding of journalism on the web. By the end of the day, we saw that there were 200 visits on the website. Everyone including Anil, Mehul and me were happy with this number. But we had to strive towards increasing this number every day. We completed two years yesterday (Friday). We’re just a small fry compared to the media giant in the market, but we received immense love from our readers. With great happiness and pride of my team, I’d like to inform you that we have a readership of more than two lakh readers every day, which means on a monthly basis, our readership is of sixty lakh readers. We’re not competing with any news channel or paper. Our competition is with ourselves. We try to break our own records every single time.

The last two years with my team has been great. Our attempts have been to provide new and between the lines stories to our readers and set ourselves apart from the others in the market. We’ve made mistakes too and have accepted them humbly too, with attempts of not repeating them ever in the future. Journalism is not just exposing scams. It is telling the good and the bad stories from across the world. We try to bring forth the good things happening in the society to our readers too, because a better society is built upon the good deeds by people. My writings have received praise from the readers and brickbats from another section too. We welcome both and work towards improving ourselves.

In the past two years, we’ve been accused of anti-BJP and pro-Congress, but the critics may have forgotten our write ups that criticised Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and his party. Maybe there were more stories written criticising the BJP leaders, but I assure all that we are not anti-BJP or pro-Congress. Those who taught me journalism have always told me that journalism can never be with the establishment. We’ve patted the backs of the government when they did a good job and have praised the BJP government for the same. But every time they’ve erred, we’ve criticised them too, without any fear or bias. It is our job to criticise the government. As it is the BJP which is power, we will obviously criticise the BJP.

Though the Congress is not in power right now, but I assure you that if and when they are in the government, we’ll be their harshest critics if and when they err too. We’re not puppets in anyone’s hands. I’dd like to tell our critics that every time journalism has become the lapdog of the establishment, democracy has come under danger. If journalists continue writing only pro establishment, it will do the same when the regimen changes in future. Those praising the BJP might be in the good books of the party today, but when Congress comes into power and they journalists do the same with them, the BJP won’t like it at all. Everyone expects journalists to be neutral and we try to be neutral too. But we all know nothing is hundred percent pure today. Opinions tend to get mixed and it might have happened with us too, for which I apologise.

I am thankful to the owners of MeraNews. They might not be journalists, but with whatever basic understanding of the profession, they have supported us, and have kept their personal biases and business away from running the show here. But their association with us didn’t remain a secret, for which they ended up paying a heavy price too, mentally and financially too. Despite going through all these troubles, they never stopped me or my team to continue writing the way we do. Maybe that is what puts MeraNews apart from others in the market. These two years have been the best of my 30 years as a journalist. I am thankful for being allowed to write as frankly as I can here on this platform. Very few journalists get an opportunity like this, and I will make sure that I fulfil my responsibility towards my readers and my team.

In the two years, I’ve been constantly asked, “Are you the owner of MeraNews?” To which I decline, but add that the owners do tell me that MeraNews is my child. So when readers ask me if I own MeraNews, I tell them that it is my child. And just like every parent thinks their child is the best, I too love my child that is MeraNews.

Thank you to all the readers who’ve witnessed my journey.