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Mixed Media: What ails journalism education in India

27-July-2009
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Mixed Media:  What ails journalism education in India

The state of journalism education in the country has been in a shambles thus far. Given that education allows you to make easy money, there are hundreds of fly-by-night operators, who manage to enroll students, thanks to smart promotions and sales agents across the country.

The worry is that most of our media schools do not offer quality teaching and their standards for entry border on the bizarre. I’ve had the misfortune of having been invited to a few of these institutes to teach, and have put a stop to all of it because, save a dozen-odd schools, most journalism, advertising, PR or mass communication courses hardly make you job-ready. And I say this having hired or mentored over a few hundred entry-level students right out of J-schools.

I can also say it with pride that some of my brightest trainees didn’t pass out of any specialised mass communication course. In fact, my first word of advice to anyone interested in getting into journalism is that they needn’t do a formal two or even one-year course. Personally, if I need to hire a journalist, I would rather look at a postgraduate from a stream that’ll equip him or her with domain knowledge for the job on hand.

The Bachelor in Mass Media (BMM) that’s a rage at the Class 12 level is an exceedingly incorrect step for students wanting to get into the media. For me, it’s a shortcut to nowhere. And unless a certain student is exceedingly bright, I would prefer a Home Science graduate over a BMM.

My first peeve about postgraduate media education in India is the duration of the course. A two-year plan is pointless for a job-oriented programme, except that it’s a good moneyspinner for institute-owners. While I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to undertake it, but since it helps one get into plug-and-play mode on Day One of a job, eight to 10 months of intensive training is enough.

Second, most institutes do not teach you the tools of the trade. A pass certificate should be not given to anyone without being able to touch-type at least 40 words per minute in the language of their choice. Ideally 60 wpm. Quark Xpress, InDesign, and Photoshop are musts for print. Ditto for television, radio and online journalists. All modern-day journalists need to also have an elementary knowledge of still and video photography and photoediting.

Third, the emphasis isn’t on teaching the skill. Given that an increasing number of journalists will toggle between various media, the vital skills essential for journalism – reporting, writing, editing, and I would also add packaging – must be given due importance.

Fourth, go for everyday stuff. I wouldn’t be too upset if a candidate doesn’t know who the Vice President of India is (it’s Mohammad Hamid Ansari) or who’s the Supreme Court Chief Justice (KG Balakrishnan), as these can be learnt on the job. But I would look to ensure that students are asked to study at least the top 10-15 news items every day. There must be some training in basic arithmetic – addition/ subtraction, multiplication, and most important of all, percentages – as numbers play a huge role in a journalist’s lives. Media schools also do not work towards ensuring that students consume good cinema and read quality fiction and non-fiction. This can help up quality of creative output considerably.

Fifth, full-time faculty, or the lack of it. The economies of scale do not allow institutes to hire top-grade professionals as permanent staffers, but a way to get around it is to retain them as adjunct or part-time faculty, taking a good chunk of the syllabus. Scheduling tens of visiting lectures is of no use except that it exposes students to a variety of professionals. What’s important is to have a good mix of full-time, adjunct and visiting faculty.

My list of woes could go on, but the five factors above are to me exceedingly critical for media education to be successful. This is assuming that there is adequate funding and infrastructure. For, even though there may appear to be good monies in privatised education, the need for top-end facilities cannot be met with in a hurry from course fees.

It’s heartening to see the realisation of the above factors in some of the institutes already in existence and a few others that have been announced recently. It is also vital for media professionals – and organisations – to do their bit to promote quality learning. For starters, expose those out there to make a quick buck.

(The views expressed here are personal. Post your comments below or mail your views at mixedmedia@exchange4media.com.)

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