Journey into Journalism

Every year, around this time when the school-leaving exam results are out, some education counselors in these parts tend to commit the mistake of calling and asking me whether I would like to come and give a talk about career options in the media industry.

They think that I, being a journalist for over one and a half decades now, would possess at least half decent understanding of the industry and can provide insights to young hopefuls. But what the education counselors don’t understand is that, forget me, even if any one person in the media industry actually had even a passing inkling of what is happening, then the industry would not be in the deep doldrums that it is in now. But education counselors are even more clueless than we scribes are. I mean if they really knew that such and such course was valuable and so and so industry was doing well they would have studied that and got in, rather than end up as career advisers.

Be that as it may, this year no counselor has so far approached me with an offer to give a talk. So, as they say if the mountain won’t go to Mohammad, then the waiting Mohammad should go back to school and learn basic geography again because nowhere any mountain actually moves, I have taken it upon myself to give a brief background of journalism courses on offer these days.

Cutting to the chase straightaway, let us get this clear: Undergraduate course in journalism and mass communication is fraught with difficulties, because as a student you have to learn over a period of three long years various stuff that is just about good enough to be understood in a week or two. So, for most part of the course period you have to act busy and serious, and this is the skill that will actually come handy when you get a real job.

But before taking up the course, the question you must ask yourself is, ‘why should I become a journalist?’ And if your answer is on the lines of any of these — a) I want to be an agent of change in the society b) I want to be the voice of the underdogs c) I want to bring to book the high and mighty and reform the system — then consider yourself as having the right ideas for journalism, which is to make up imposing and impressive stories when none actually exist.

You must also realise that from being drab and dull, when media stuck to just giving barebones of an event without any context or discernment, journalism today has richly evolved to the level of purveying deep insight into matters like where to eat this weekend or which dress to wear for funerals. (Twenty years back, I am sure, journalism was not capable of a story like this: Five quick steps to find out whether your pet dog is gay or not. Today, newspapers can bring out a weekend pullout on this). On matters of actual importance, of course, the media continue to flounder spectacularly. After all these years, we still don’t know which is the correct spelling: Mullaiperiyar or Mullaperiyar?

Anyway, once you decide to take up journalism course, you must also make up your mind whether you want to be a print or TV journalist as the two are well demarcated, with each requiring totally different abilities. A print journalist has to be good in writing. A TV anchor, on the other hand, must know how to look. Because two minutes into whatever he or she is saying, people are anyway going to get bored and switch to the IPL telecast or Entertainment Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega.

Your print journalism course will be compartmentalized into various modules where you will be taught to write news reports, edit a copy, lay out a news page, give catchy headlines and captions, source information, conduct interviews and do a lot of other things that you will find no need for as, in the fullness of time, you will realise that the only thing that actually gets read in a newspaper are the ads.

Once you complete the course, you become a journalist. But your goal should not be just that that. Your aim should be to become a senior journalist, for which you have to complete —- I suggest you write this down — at least 40 years. That is how many of us have become seniors in the industry.

Once you become ‘senior’ in the industry, then a new world opens for you:

As a senior print journalist, you will mostly spend your time in TV studio discussions.

As a veteran TV journalist, print publications will ask you to write a weekly column.

Both career paths, as the above clearly indicates, offer plenty of scope for you to carry out what you are not qualified for.

Which quality, needless to say, will also stand you in good stead as an education counselor.