dayanita singh photography
What they can''t teach you in media schools
In the past ten years or so, journalism, especially electronic journalism, has become an attractive
In the past ten years or so, journalism, especially electronic journalism, has become an attractive, meaningful and extremely competitive profession. Not just the glamour, which includes the possibility of meeting face-to-face Shahrukh Khan and Arun Jaitley, but it also gives a young man or woman fired with a spirit of idealism a platform to make a difference.
If there has been a boom in the media business there has, simultaneously, been a boom in journalism and mass communication institutes. These institutes come in all shapes and sizes - the good, the bad and the ugly. Before joining such schools, the student needs to carefully check the bonafides of the institute. I will not be giving away any secrets when I say some of these schools are completely bogus, while others are of world-class standards. The Asian College of Journalism in Chennai, for instance, is among the very best.
The usefulness of such institutes is that they teach you the "fundamentals". Just because an individual has a flair for writing or speaking confidently does not mean he/she will automatically be successful in print or electronic journalism. These are useful starting points. What you need to add to your natural talent is understanding of the "craft" of journalism. In other words, you have to learn the rules of the trade, its grammar and vocabulary. Just 20 years ago, for someone interested in journalism there were few opportunities for formal education. When I became a journalist, learning-on-the-job was the usual route. Some of the best journalists India has produced began as trainees or "copy boys" - which meant you learnt by seeing, absorbing and asking questions. Now, one has the possibility of spending a year or two in a journalism school and cutting short the training period.
I am assuming you will make a wise choice in picking your school. And once you have done that you will probably emerge with a sound allround knowledge. That still doesn''''t mean you have made it. "How to do" and "Actually do" are not one and the same thing. All I can say is that a basic grounding in journalism acquired through a school will enable you to become a professional faster.
Whether you choose print or television journalism, one of the things they don''t teach you in journalism schools is how to work under pressure. This you can only learn when you are actually on the job.
What do I mean by pressure? Specifically, pressure of time. Both print and TV journalists are expected to produce excellent journalism. Accuracy and fairness are absolutely essential (and the "rules" for such excellent journalism are well-taught in schools). But so is speed. Whether you work in a newspaper or a weekly magazine or a TV news channel, the 24-hour news cycle never relents. You may go to sleep at night, but news does not sleep. This 24-hour news cycle moves at an incredible speed - which you have to match and master.
The trouble is you can''t cut corners. Accuracy and fairness cannot be sacrificed for speed. You dare not tell your editor, "Sorry, boss, I got that politician''s initials wrong because I was in a hurry." That is no excuse. The viewer or the reader will rightly assume that if you can''t get the politicians initials right, why should he trust you to get the rest of the story right. Of course, journalists are not infallible, they will make mistakes, but these have to be few and far between.
How to ensure accuracy under pressure is the most important challenge you will face in journalism as it is practised in India 2009. This challenge will confront you all the time you are a journalist - and this challenge cannot be simulated by your teacher at school. I can only give you one piece of advice on how to meet this challenge: keep a cool head. When you are working against the clock, do not get flustered or agitated. If you are not sure of a particular fact - check, do not assume or think "that may be right". It does not matter how many years of experience you have collected - everyone is prone to making mistakes. You will also make a few mistakes. Hopefully, they will be very few. Good luck