The respected editors of our country still believe that the only way to learn journalism isby working in a newspaper office. But that experience showed me that I couldend up learning wrong skills.
Monday, Sep 16 00:00:00, 2002
TAKE JOURNALISM GRADUATES MORE SERIOUSLY
Slightly over a year ago, I joined the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media (IIJNM), set in an idyllic place just a few kilometers away from the city of Bangalore, to do PG diplomain Print and Web Journalism. There was hope and excitement in venturing out on a new road, which would take me to the heights of journalistic brilliance.
Considering it is the mostexpensive PG course in journalism in the country after the broadcast journalismcourse that the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), Chennai, offers, I preparedmyself to make the most of the one year of intense career-oriented study that Iwould be subjected too. And I did exactly that. The institute though new andfairly unknown (with its academic affiliation with the Columbia UniversityGraduate School of Journalism, New York), has given me much more than I couldhave ever asked for in terms of knowledge and the practical experience, whichsadly, most journalism schools fail to provide.
During my stay there I faced the hard fact that even after doing such a course, which has broadened myhorizons by miles, it would be hard to get a job after its completion. Firstly,because the newspapers and other media organisations were in the process ofretrenching people, instead of recruiting more. And secondly, because therespected editors of our country still are cynical of the capability of astudent of journalism. They still believe that the only way to learn journalismis by working in a newspaper office.
Indeed, journalism educationin our country hasn't been imparted the way it should have been.Unfortunately, the standard of journalism education has been veryunprofessional and non-serious. Institutes like Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan and theYMCA (in Delhi), offer one-year part-time courses in journalism which aresub-standard and primitive. Their course structure is obsolete, and is studiedlike any other course in an undergraduate programme, cramming the coursematerial and vomiting it in the final exams. It doesn't really seem to bothereither the faculty or the students who take up this course that in the entireyear students don't even write 10 articles, let alone going out and reportingsomething.
The same is the case with manyother journalism institutes in the country. But that does not mean that thestandards won't ever improve.
Journalists argue that journalismcannot be taught in a classroom. Very true. But if it can only be learnt"on-the- job", then I am sure it takes journalists years to get theirreporting, writing and editing skills right.
After finishing my course in July, I went on do my (one-month) internship in one of the most respected newspapers in the country.I was assigned some editing work for the first 15 days. I thought that here wasan opportunity to implement all my editing skills that I acquired. But thefirst day was an eye-opener. The woman who was supposed to check all theediting that I did during the day surprised me with her editing skills. Shegleefully criticised my ability (disability according to her) and brought allthe reports that I edited almost to their original shape, which were full of long, passive and complex sentences, with background information finding spacein as high as
second paragraph of a report. Somehow I went through the horror for the next 14 days and decided to stop after I had had too much. I believe she has been working in that newspaper for the past 6-7 years. If this is how one learns while "on-the-job", then I had better not learn.
If we read the newspapers carefully, everyday we can find glaring errors in the news reports that get published. Errors - factual, grammatical, typographical, style-related - are present all over the newspapers. For instance, another esteemed daily newspaper recently published a news item on its front page mentioning in its headline the killing of 22 people in Kashmir during the build-up to the assembly elections. If one goes through the report that follows the headline, one can't help counting at least five more (killed) than the 22 stated in the headline. Further it's not clear whether the report includes the two terrorists who were also reportedly killed. Again, if this is how one learns while "on-the-job", then I better not learn.
Not all Indian newspapers have a stylebook of their own. As a result, there are inconsistencies within the same article in the spellings, the usage of words, the construction of sentences and so on, but nobody bothers to take note of these details. And if this is how one learns while "on-the-job", then I had better not learn.
Reporting, the soul of Journalism, can only be learnt "on-the-job" is the perception that our editors need to change. In colleges like ACJ and IIJNM, the main thrust is on practical knowledge and field experience. This is how I have learnt and have been able to report and write on various topics like rural development, environment, politics, sports, business, information technology, religion etc.
The focus in these institutes is as much on reporting and writing as it is on reading and that has helped the students to write invariably for their college newspapers, magazines and websites. I invite the editors to scan through the students websites of these two institutes and get a measure of the standard of the education the students receive here: newbangaloreonline.com (IIJNM, Bangalore) and digantik.com (ACJ, Chennai).
All I am trying here is to create awareness among the people on the higher rungs of journalism ladder to not equate the products of these quality institutions with those who have been responsible for creating a bad impression of a student of journalism. They should change their attitude and start taking students of journalism more seriously.
Senior journalists need to realize that such institutes can play a major role in improving the standards of journalistic activities that exist in India right now. They also need to realize that formal training (provided that it is imparted intelligently) for any field prepares an individual to know exactly what he/she is expected to do on a particular job. Otherwise why would one require doing an MBA if one has to work as a marketing executive in some firm selling products to the dealers? Even he can learn "on-the-job" with the help of the senior people around.
Probably a couple of decades ago, one need not have done a specialised career-oriented course to do a job, be it marketing or reporting. But now there is a need for trained professionals who fit the job profile perfectly. And journalism should be no exception. If we need efficiency and consistency in our day-to-day reporting and editing, journalism education which keeps updating itself with changing times is a must.
What I just wrote might have been because of the frustration that I feel after seeing the attitudes of the people in this industry and not being able to find a job after learning so much about a profession, which frankly, never interested me till I actually learnt about it.