Media Education must be close to reality
Some iconic media organizations have taken steps to improve the waning image of journalism in India. The Times Group’s journalism school is one shining example. Through its in-house autonomous PG Diploma (Journalism) course, the students get holistic outlook of print medium. Ask the seasoned journalist, Devlin Roy, Principal of Times School of Journalism, what’s the real spirit of journalism education? “The most crucial subject in journalism is ethics. Earlier, the journalists picked up things through trial and error, but in today’s context of paid content and sting operation, the fresher’s should have a clear idea of what they are supposed to write and how.” The institute equips student all about defamation, plagiarism and freedom of speech and expression.
He critically evaluates the role of media education, condemning the text-based learning. ”Most of the professors have never worked in a newsroom and thus are not in touch with the practical problems that come up while working in the field,” he stresses. In an interview with Shiphony Pavithran Suri, Roy discusses about gruelling8-10 hours print training, recruitment processes and mantras to excel in journalism career.
Q. We have giants like IIMC, FTII, Jamia offering media education since 5 decades. How will you define strength of your institute in today’s context?
A. Journalism is an art and a science which needs a combination of class-room teaching in conjunction with hands-on training. What lacks at IIMC, Jamia and others under the government mandate is the avenue of hands-on training which makes them more academic in value. The Times Group was the first media house in India to realize this vast gap between what is taught in class versus what is the need in actual news-rooms. We became the first media house to start a year-long programme in Social Journalism under the aegis of The Times Research Foundation Institute in 1985. In 1990 the Times Group started the Times Centre for Media Studies in Delhi (now known as Times Centre for Media and Management Studies) – which started offering the journalism course and also a brand new course in media-marketing. So it has been nearly 30 years that the Times Group has been grooming young minds and training them as successful media professionals – many of whom are leaders and experts in their chosen field.
Unlike the Government-run institutes, our core business is media. We possibly employ the highest number of journalists in the industry and have a presence in practically every part of the country. The flagship daily newspaper of the group – The Times of India – is world’s largest English daily with over 50 small and big editions, while its sister publication – The Economic Times, is world’s second-largest English Business daily. Our Hindi daily – The Navbharat Times is Delhi and Mumbai’s largest read Hindi newspaper. Times Group is also present in broadcast and online through Times Now, ET Now, Zoom TV, Movies Now, Radio Mirchi, timesofindia.com, economictimes.com, etc, and has a robust market share in other old/new media business like outdoor displays, event management, music, movies, books etc.
The programmes we run are integrated with these businesses – which means that not only do our in-house experts teach their trade to students in classrooms, but also do mentoring with individual guidance for each student in classroom and in newsrooms where they go for their hands-on training. This unique training and exposure of working with some of world’s largest brands and getting trained by the best in the business is not offered by any other media/non-media owned media/journalism school.
Senior Editor Sandipan Deb sharing the nuances of print journalism at TSJ
Q. Gone are those days when journalists popularly argued that hands-on training is enough to excel in the field, so how does your degree hold value? Give us a snapshot of unique curriculum at TSJ.
A. Journalism today, is completely different from what it was 20 years back. True, the main job of the reporter is still to go to the field and get information while the sub editor polishes the piece and makes it fit for publication. But there are certain subjects, which are very important in the modern newsroom and one of them is ethics. Earlier, the journalists used to pick up things through trial and error, but in these days of “Paid Content” and “Sting Operation”, the freshers should have a clear idea of what they are supposed to write and how. Here, our students clearly have an edge as our teachers pick up relevant examples of “defamation”, “contempt of court”, “plagiarism”, “freedom of speech and expression” and the like and then explain these concepts in the class. So our students ---- even before they take up their first reporting assignment ----know that a juvenile can only be “detained” and not “arrested.” They also know where the word “alleged” should be used. Thus whenever our students join an organization, they can hit the floor running.
Another unique advantage of our curriculum is the focus on production and design. We train our students thoroughly in Quark Express and other page-making software and they come out with House Journals, where they do everything right from reporting to copy editing, clicking pictures to making pages.
We prefer assignment-based curriculum over a text-book-based one and our students go out in the field right from the beginning of the session. All our teachers are practicing journalists and their teaching methodology is also tailor-made to prepare the students for the real-life assignments. For example, if there is a building collapse in the vicinity, our students will go and cover the accident. They will file the story in real time, just like the reporters in newspapers/TV channels/Websites do. The teachers will give their feedback on the stories and while doing so, will introduce important concepts in reporting like sourcing of a story or how to interview people etc. The teacher will also tell the class, how to approach the local police or the MCD officials or how to grill the MLA. Similarly, in a session on, say RTI, the teacher will actually ask the students to file RTI applications and write stories based on the response.
Q. Does students get a whiff of Times news room? Share us few examples.
A. Thanks to the grueling schedule of almost 8-10 hours daily in classrooms doing projects and learning the intricacies of journalism, the students develop a head-start in not only ideating, but also executing assignments within a given deadline. Within a month or two of their joining, they graduate to start making their own house journals and programmes which are anchored by those who are working as senior journalists in various Times group and non-Times Group publications.
TSJ students sharing ideas at news design class
Q. What is the placement scenario after one year PG diploma in Journalism? How do you employ students in Times?
A. The recruitment aspect is a process in itself. Students get training by faculty who are working journalists and the second is the two internship stints of 1+3 months every student has to undergo. While the first not only ensures relevant training, in many cases, the trainers are actually the people who hire freshers in their team. This is akin to your teacher being your would-be boss and therefore if the student does well and understands and improves himself as per the expectations of the teacher (future boss), then apart from getting good marks, the student also has a very good chance of landing a job with that teacher. However, there may be students who may not shine in classroom. For them, the opportunity lies in proving themselves in an actual newsroom environment and therefore the two internship periods also see a lot of our students getting picked up other media houses.
Some of these, who have been offering jobs to our students, besides the Times of India Group (Times of India, Economic Times, timesofindia.com, economictimes.com, Zoom, TimesNOW, ETNOW etc) are the Press Trust of India, Hindustan Times, Asian Age, NDTV, Reuters, Time Out, Bloomberg TV, CNN-IBN, DNA, Mail Today, Pioneer, CNBC.
Q. Share us the opportunities TSJ graduate enjoys. What are the pay packages, roles and functions for fresher’s in respective organizations?
A. If TSJ graduates decide to join journalism, then they are offered the post of trainee journalist – which is usually confirmed within 6 months. Upon confirmation they get designations of Sub-editor, Reporter, Assistant Producer, etc. Those joining print media as reporters, have the prime responsibility of collecting and writing news stories, while sub-editors are entrusted with correcting the language of the news items filed by reporters and agencies and placing it in the page by designing the page lay-out – keeping in mind its importance (news prioritization). There are those who join broadcast journalism and go on to become Producers by specializing in production ie the making of shows and news bulletins, Reporters – who bring news and accompany the camera crew on outdoor shoots and editors who write scripts which is read by anchors. Depending upon the voice quality and diction, some may even go on to become Anchors. Those who join online news portals, can become a Sub-editor or a Reporter.
The pay packages vary between Rs 2.5-5.0 lakhs depending upon the organization and quality/experience of candidates.
Q. Is it a rewarding career? How is it unique from other professions?
A. If you mean earning lot of money, then I am afraid, journalism should not be the option. Journalism is the first rough draft of history and so journalists are present whenever history is made and reported on. You join journalism because you are curious about what is happening around you, you are passionate about news. Let me give you an example. Suppose, you are covering Parliamentary proceedings after the new government is formed at the centre. Now this particular session will go down in history and you are a witness to that. I have been a journalist for more than a decade and to me there can’t be a more exciting reward than being a witness to history. Other professions can give you money, but here you have a new experience every day.
Q. What are the crucial challenges of journalism?
A. Getting proper information from a credible source in very little time and then putting down that information in the form of a story. Now with the advent of the websites, breaking news at every minute, packaging the stories has also become very important. When all the newspapers, channels, websites are flashing the same news, how to ensure that your story gets the maximum attention? Journalism means living life always on the fast lane and in the world of news every minute counts. Not only speed, but also accuracy, credibility and quality.
Q. Many people argue that getting a job in good media house is tough luck. Students from top institutes often wander for jobs. Why? Do you think business model of media industry needs to be changed?
A. To be a good journalist you need to have a clear mindset first and then the necessary skill sets. While skill sets can be developed in a class, mindset development takes place only in actual newsrooms where actual work pressures and deadlines exist. Sadly, the so-called top media colleges focus only on skill sets and not mindsets as they do not have any media brand of their own. They are in it only for making money and are least bothered whether the students get adequately trained or not. Such is the greed of some of these institutes that despite the small size of the media industry, they are opening more and more branches in far flung areas in the name of development without paying any heed to the fact that it is nearly impossible to get working journalists to go to these remote locations to train students there.
Also, it is not the institutes alone who are to be blamed. Students also have their fair share of problems. Many students who take up journalism end up floundering as their main interest lies somewhere else. So, you have a civil service aspirant who is keen to join the Government, and then failing in his attempt, ending up as a journalist. You have a research scholar who tried for the umpteenth time to clear the UGC-NET exam – failing and ending up as a journalist and you have MBA aspirants, Bank PO aspirants etc, looking for an alternate career in journalism – even though it is quite evident that journalism is not the first choice of career option for them. Journalism means execution of work rather than arm-chair reading and writing.
Q. What are the loopholes of media education in India?
A. The problem with the university-run courses is that these are text-book-based. Most of the professors have never worked in a newsroom and thus are not in touch with the practical problems that come up while working in the field. For example, how can someone teach “reporting from a conflict zone” if that person has never done it himself? The students learn journalism just by mugging up theories and concepts and when they start working, they cannot match theory with practice. The immediate thrust of media education should be to make it as close to reality as possible.
I feel measures need to be to be implemented if journalism needs to be taken seriously: Media/journalism is a niche industry and therefore only those institutes which have a media background/linkage should be in this business. Thus journalism schools should ideally be run only by those who have their own media brands – be it TV, Newspaper, news website etc as it is not strictly an academic-oriented course, but rather a mix of classroom training and working in live 24X7 newsrooms.
Government-run media institutes should first strive to give Government jobs to their graduates. For eg, IIMC rather than opening more and more institutes in remote locations, should first focus on giving direct entry into Government jobs to its graduates – which is not the case now as any Graduate can now appear for Indian Information Service Exams.
Q. What’s your advice for students aspiring to join TSJ?
A. Journalism is a journey not a destination. Only those who have a passion for journalism should join this profession where you get to meet some of the most interesting people across all walks of life and are witness to so many events unfolding before your very eyes – which not many are fortunate to ever see in their lifetimes, let alone write and be the first one in the world to tell others about.
If you want to join TSJ, be ready for a grueling schedule. But you will get hooked to it that much I can guarantee.