Death of a Journalist
The recent imbroglio in the IT services sector where it is witnessing mass lay-offs has somehow exposed the quality of engineers being produced today. One well known survey has even concluded that 95% of the engineers graduating in the country are unemployable. There have been concerns raised, albeit a little bit late in the day, on how to redress this situation.
While the quality of engineers or their lacking thereof has attracted all the attention, another profession, with which I am intrinsically connected, has also witnessed massive deterioration over the years. Yes, I am talking about journalism, the very basis of content creation for the media sector an one which promises to faithfully chronicle the happenings of our time. Since in the popular perception, today’s journalism has got restricted to some meaningless slanging matches in the television studios, where nothing productive emerges except raised decibels, not many are completely conversant with this deterioration. However my experience of nearly one and a half decade is glaringly bringing out this lack of quality in journalists with every passing years.
So what are the reasons for this deterioration? First, like engineering again, it is the preponderance of colleges and institutes offering journalism and mass media courses. What should be kept in mind is that having more number of colleges is not a guarantee to ensure more quality. In fact, it is the contrary that is often true. More the colleges, just like what happened to engineering, it is difficult to monitor the standard and as a result, students with half-baked knowledge pass out and join the media. And the results are obvious (I am feeling the pinch for years now).
In fact, I have an even more radical view here. I don’t feel journalism is a subject that can be taught in colleges. It is a profession where one should come in with certain inherent qualities and the rest should be on the job pick-ups. Actually, a student should major in certain subjects and then depending on his passion should move to journalism in areas where his academic expertise can be leveraged.
This used to be the scenario even 15-20 years back. I remember during our school days, we have met brilliant journalists who have not done any formal courses. They will be academically brilliant students with a passion for media who would choose this profession. It was these people who ignited the first inspiration in me that I should take up this career. Talking about myself, I opted for journalism over an engineering, a biological and a mathematical career. Today the one taking up journalism would have marks by which he/she would not get admission anywhere else.
Another important aspect for a good journalist was besides his specialization to have a good solid knowledge of a variety of subjects. You never know what knowledge will serve you when. I remember discussing long nights with my media guru on all topics ranging from integral calculus to Mughal miniature paintings to women fashion—one after the other.
Alas, today the brilliant students are no more choosing journalism as a career option. Instead, it is the worse quality of students who are good-for-nothing academically are moving into this career. And there are umpteen number of mediocre to poor journalism colleges that are willing to absorb these students. The result then is inevitable: a pathetic quality being churned out. They will neither have any news sense nor do they have sound knowledge on any subject as they are fundamentally academically weak.
What two decades back was a profession primarily for the intellectual bent of mind has now degenerated into one for the academically lowest strata of students. No wonder , therefore, that they lack the skills to pick up on the job learnings too. I remember during my days as a cub reporter, my aim whenever I would go out for some coverage would be to witness how senior journalists would behave and try to absorb their strong points. Unfortunately, that too is not happening now—mainly because to do this requires brains as well as strong observation power which these average to poor students seriously lack.
My experience over the years in business media (and that would be true in politics, sports, fashion, finance anywhere) has taught me a good journalist ideally should have all these or at least few of these good characteristics. He/she should be academically brilliant/sound, needs to have lots of grey matter in the upper compartment, have strong observation powers, analytical skills (this people often call news sense), language skills (this can be improved by those who are inclined to do so) and ideally choose a good mentor in the profession from whom they can absorb all the positive qualities.
In the last seven years in my profession, the three best persons I have worked with have either been academically brilliant, or have possessed lots of intelligence and strong observation and analytical skills. Incidentally, none of them have gone through a trained journalism course just like myself. That asserts my earlier observation that doing a journalism course is redundant—rather train yourself to become experts in certain subjects. These journalism colleges anyway have faculties who are failed journalists and their courses are also not in sync with rapidly developing changes.
That brings me to the other point that journalism today is not just print or electronic but content dissemination has undergone a 360 degree transformation with digital and social media playing a critical role. Not too many of these courses can capture this experience (hardly any, I would say); instead, these colleges try to teach a mishmash of everything from video, film, PR to print, digital and end up confusing the already average students even further more.
Another problem, especially among the girls, has been the aspiration to join the electronic media or the TV channels. Not from any altruistic sense or from the passion to do great media exposures. It’s just they want exposures for themselves in front of the cameras. What they don’t realize is that the game doesn’t play out like that in TV Channels. There are some veteran anchors whom you may or may not like, but who have been academically brilliant students and have built their own cult followings over the years. Rest of the girls who come in front of cameras are selected primarily on the basis of their (good) looks and how much sexed up they can become.. Unfortunately every plain looking average Janes aspire to be like them and end up underpaid doing pre- or post production work in these channels.