Shoma Chaudhury is an Indian journalist, editor, and political commentator, known for her strong but nuanced, often counter-narrative, stands on national issues. She was managing editor and one of the founders of Tehelka, an investigative public interest newsmagazine. She was also the founder and editor-in-chief of Catch News, a digital news platform; and director and co-founder of THiNK, a cutting-edge thought leadership forum. She is currently director and co-founder of Algebra – the Arts and Ideas Club, a unique new space for critical conversations.
Chaudhury was born in Darjeeling and grew up in the tea gardens of West Bengal, where both her parents were doctors. She studied in St Helen’s Convent in Kurseong; La Martiniere School in Kolkata; and in Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi. She topped the national ISC Board in English in Class 12, and also topped Delhi University twice, both for her Bachelors and Masters degree in English Literature. She is married and lives in Delhi.
Chaudhury started her career in journalism with the Pioneer newspaper. Prior to that, she worked with an independent media company on a television series on book and authors broadcast on Doordarshan. She also worked at India Today and Outlook magazine.
In 2000, she left Outlook to join journalist Tarun Tejpal as part of the start-up team at Tehelka, an online portal acclaimed both for its investigations and literary content. When Tehelka was shut down in 2002, after a government witch-hunt following a sting investigation on defence procurement, she was one of five people who stayed to fight for Tehelka’s vision and relaunch it as a national print weekly dedicated to public interest journalism in 2004.
Chaudhury was managing editor of Tehelka until 2013, where she wrote eloquently on critical issues of economic and social development, including state, caste and gender politics; issues of Muslim identity; Maoist insurgency and terrorism; corruption of the state and the impact of irresponsible media and judiciary in India’s national life. She has also written extensively on the necessity for social equity and justice and the politics of water, land and other natural resources that impact development.
Several of her stories in defence of human rights – in particular, on Dr Binayak Sen and tribal activist Soni Sori arrested on false charges -- helped change public discourse and bring them justice. Both these stories became the basis of major national campaigns. Her stories on Irom Sharmila, chilling false encounters in Manipur and investigation of the miscarriage of justice against doctors Rajesh and Nupur Talwar in the infamous double murder of their daughter Aarushi and house-help Hemraj also exemplify Chaudhury’s willingness to defend the truth against the tide of public opinion.
Apart from her political writing, Chaudhury is known for her columns, video editorials and perceptive profiles and interviews with a host of people from public intellectuals and politicians to filmstars, directors and activists.
n 2015, after she had left Tehelka, Shoma founded Catch News, a multi-media, new-generation digital news platform, dedicated to marrying old values of journalism with new forms of storytelling. Catch News, which was financed by the Patrika Group, was praised by peers for several break-through innovations but Chaudhury’s stint was short-lived and she resigned in February 2016 after a fallout with the promoters.
Views on Indian media
Chaudhury criticises the current state of the Indian media. Speaking on a panel on investigative journalism at the 16th World Editors Forum, she remarked on the state of journalism in India as "pathetic" as it had become "a corporate rather than a political act". She was critical of the "focus on advertisement revenue" rather than public interest, adding that "journalism has thus been undervalued, and this needs to change. On another occasion she was quoted as saying:
India's political, corporate and media establishment sounds like a mobile cocktail party, gliding, champagne glasses in hand, in and out of each others' drawing rooms, television studios, boardrooms and award ceremonies like actors in an elaborate charade.
She was critical of the nature of the recent Radia tapes controversy calling it a "mistake", noting that the tapes "end abruptly or seem to be missing bits of the conversations (which means)... Someone has carefully edited the tapes". She was also critical of the nature of the debate of the controversy that followed, observing that it had "distracted from the larger question of journalistic ethics... to.. just become a misogynistic, medieval witch hunt."
In 2011, Newsweek (USA) picked Shoma Chaudhury as one of “150 power women who shake the world”. The other Indian women on the list that year were Sonia Gandhi and Arundhati Roy. She has also been awarded the prestigious Sabbiadoro Ernest Hemingway Award for Political Journalism (2013), the Mumbai Press Club award for political journalism (2012), the Ramnath Goenka award and  the Chameli Devi Award for Best Woman Journalist (2009) for "going where angels fear to tread”. She was honoured by her alma mater Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi, with the alumni of the year award in 2013.
Apart from her career in print journalism, Chaudhury has been a virtuoso speaker, both on television and stage, and has been invited to address many forums both in India and abroad, including America, Britain, Edinburgh, Italy, France, Spain, Australia, Singapore and Indonesia. She has been featured on the Charlie Rose show and has spoken at the Women in the World conference in New York; the World Economic Forum; the World Editors Conference in Bali to name just a few.
Chaudhury also co-founded and was director of THiNK, a highly acclaimed conference of ideas, where she curated and hosted conversation with people like Tom Friedman, Aamir Khan, Gary Kasparov, Robert De Niro, Shahrukh Khan, Arvind Kejriwal, AR Rahman, Javed Akhtar, Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev, and former chiefs of the CIA and Mossad and the Taliban together on the same platform along with a galaxy of activists, actors, directors, artists, corporate czars, entrepreneurs, farmers, dalits, tribals, and politicians from India, Africa, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan, China, Russia, Pakistan and Europe and America.
She has also curated and hosted many other high-profile events, including two conferences at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and Asia Society in London – one on the Challenge of India; and one on the India-Pakistan relationship. She also curated the global RIE conference Zinda Dilli for the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation in Delhi 2016, where she interviewed a range of people including Baba Ramdev and Monica Lewinsky.
She refers to these platforms and the conversations they engender as a form of “theatrical journalism” for a new short-on-attention audience.
Chaudhury describes Algebra as a unique new forum for critical conversation, constructed to spark new ideas and challenge perspectives; a platform to open windows to other worlds; and an instrument for intellectual and emotional persuasion.
Algebra was started in September 2016. Since then, Chaudhury has hosted myriad conversations there, each one of them presenting mainstream public figures in new light or else highlighting counter-narratives, grassroot social transformers, and dispossessed voices from the India that is eclipsed in mainstream media, including sewage workers, farmers, tribals, environmental activists and Muslims falsely accused of terror.
Some of the people featured at Algebra include Naseeruddin Shah, Subramaniam Swamy, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Magasaysay award winner Bejwada Wilson, Sharmila Irom, Tina Brown, Omar Abdullah, P Chidambaram, Shashi Tharoor, Raju Hirani, Javed Akhtar, Sanjay Dutt, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Surjit Bhalla, Anurag Kashyap, Willy Dalrymple, Nawazuddin, Soni Sori, and Mufti Qayuum — a man who spent 12 years on death row as a convicted terrorist before being exonerated — to name just a few.
In 2013, Shoma resigned from Tehelka following a controversy surrounding her handling of a sexual assault complaint by a colleague against Tehelka editor and founder, Tarun Tejpal. Chaudhury, who is a prominent voice on women issues, was criticised by the media and some colleagues for possibly underplaying the case at her own magazine.
- Tehelka's Shoma Chaudhury on the 'pathetic' state of investigative journalism in India – Editors Weblog
- "www.theage.com.au – India has its own mini WikiLeaks". The Age. Melbourne.
- Polgreen, Lydia (3 December 2010). "Barkha Dutt Becomes the Story in India – The Saturday Profile". The New York Times.
- "After Radiagate, Indian Journos Soul Search – India Real Time – WSJ". The Wall Street Journal.
- "150 Most Powerful List". Retrieved 22 April 2013.
- "Ramnath Goenka Award Winners". Retrieved 22 April 2013.
- "Chameli Devi Jain award conferred on Journalists". Retrieved 22 April 2013.