Dhruti Shah is an award-winning journalist specialising in verification, user generated content, investigative reporting and creative storytelling through social media.
Currently producing at the BBC World Service flagship Newshour, she has worked across much of the BBC including its news website, flagship investigations programme Panorama, the Natural History Unit and the User Generated Content Hub. She has a track record of finding a wide range of off-beat original stories.
She is often asked to participate on global panels on digital storytelling, ethics, and vicarious trauma. She was selected by the Dart Centre, a project of Columbia University’s Journalism School, to receive a 2015/2016 Ochberg Fellowship. She is also a member of the Women of Future network and the Clore Cultural Leadership network.
34-year old Dhruti is an Indian- origin Briton who got herself into a pivotal media role by sheer guts, determination and initiative.
Dhruti’s parents are Kenya-born, with both living for a time in India, where her grandparents are originally from.
Dhruti was born in Hounslow. She is the middle one of three sisters. There is no media in her family background.
Despite that, when Dhruti’s early talent for writing was rewarded with a writing school place for gifted children when she was only 11, her parents encouraged her to follow her passion.
As a teenager she was writing for the Uxbridge Gazette even before she started her Oxford University degree.
“Considering that we were a working class family, that was quite an achievement and I give my parents credit for pushing but not forcing me.”
There’s a challenge Dhruti is facing at home. Her father has had a kidney transplant after four years on dialysis. He is always on her mind. “When you have a transplant it’s not a cure...I’m always more aware of how short life can be and it makes me appreciate my family a lot more, and realise how strong they are.”
While she lives at home to help support her parents, she has found that her already tight-knit family has drawn closer together because of the illness.
From University to BBC
After Oxford, Dhruti won a Trinity Mirror journalism bursary and worked at local paper, the Harrow and Wembley Observer, for three years.
She had realised that to move ahead with her passion for telling stories, she would have to create her own opportunities and learn the art of networking.
Deciding to move away from the print job, she went to a BBC event where she met an altruistic and kindly BBC mentor, the late Claire Prosser. Claire encouraged Dhruti to apply for the highly competitive BBC Journalism trainee scheme.
Dhruti did not have a great deal of broadcast experience though she had started working for the BBC News website. She won a place on the scheme and has stayed at the corporation since.
She’s now in her 16th BBC role, having established a reputation for fearlessness outside as well as inside the corporation. “I like to go above and beyond what the job entails,” she says.
An unforeseen part of Dhruti’s work- that has now become a mission for her- is the shocking material that social media journalists are exposed to in the course of compiling stories and reports.
“You’re dealing with people in horrific situations. You’re dealing with people in Syria, Libya, all around the world in terrible circumstances. I had contact with people who have gone on to be murdered. It’s difficult to not take on board that the world can be a very cruel place.”
She was picked to win a prestigious Ochberg Fellowship at the Dart Centre in New York because of her work to raise awareness of the trauma that often comes with facing news material daily. She is an advocate for journalists to be aware of self-care.
“Looking at dead bodies all the time or speaking to people in horrendous situations, I’m trying to make a difference.”
Part of this process is taking occasional professional breaks from direct exposure to traumatising material.
“I’m trying to rotate away from that. It’s something the BBC newsroom is looking at. When we were in New York, we were taught by clinicians and scientists. So I’ve been personally trying to find out why, what the brain does in order to understand how we can become more resilient.”
Her current role at Newshour is giving her new skills and the chance to try her hand at storytelling in a different way.
She was also talent-spotted for the BBC Director General's emerging leader scheme...highlighting future leaders from diverse backgrounds.
Whatever challenges Dhruti faces professionally and domestically, her drive to tell stories and use the most innovative methods to do so does not diminish, and will propel her ever upwards. A journalist for our time.
“I’m aways more aware of how short life can be and it makes me appreciate my family a lot more and realise how strong they are.” Dhruti Shah.
photo credit: Ian Rose