Vivid: Sheen not off journalism

Indian journalism will continue to beckon fresh minds and the youth, says Annurag Batra of exchange4media Group

e4m by Annurag Batra
Updated: Dec 31, 2012 6:30 PM
Vivid: Sheen not off journalism

In the good old happier days of the nineties when TV channels were taking birth all around and newspapers were on a high to spread their wings farther, journalism had become a very sought-after profession.

Post economic liberalisation of 1991, the TV was more than just an idiot box, with real-time news, views, entertainment and information beaming into households and newspapers competing against one another to bring the smartest products, in look as well as content. As journalists were soon to find out, there was a new ‘contract’ model active in newspapers, according to which, the pay packets were better than those ‘on the roles’.

There was another reason for the profession becoming lucrative for the youth. The Indian Institute of Mass Communication, established in the sixties, began having sister institutes specialising in the subject. In fact, there were additions to the Times School of Journalism established in the 1980s that definitely saw the emergence of a new profession in the Indian job horizon.

By then, the Indian profession world had come a long way in shedding the perception that those who have nothing else in life to do become writers or journalists. For, then was a time of a new start when rapid expansion within the media not only changed the perception of the people towards journalism as a career but, as website Chilli Breeze says, also increased the demand for competent media persons, well versed in latest communication technologies.

All was going well till 2008, when slowdown hit the world. The effect in India was gradual. As Indian companies began to feel the affect of outsourcing deals from the US and India’s exports to the country – which had grown substantially over the years – began to have lesser orders. Experts said that the home economy was likely to lose between 1 to 2 percentage points in GDP growth in the 2009-10 fiscal, while Indian companies with big tickets deals in the US saw their profit margins shrinking.

Concurrently, the Indian media story was headed towards a crucial point in 2009 – after two years of near 20 per cent growth, the media market slowed in 2008 as the downturn in the economic environment led to a steep decline in advertising expenditure by most advertisers.

Companies became pretty wary of losing their purse strings, as 2009 became more challenging for most media companies.

According to its then annual media report put together by GroupM, the media buying arm of the UK-based marketing communications conglomerate WPP Group Plc, it predicted that the Indian media market was to grow only 4.7 per cent year-on-year in 2009, compared to 14.7 per cent in 2008. The study ‘This Year, Next Year: India Media Forecasts’ said that advertising revenues of newspapers, the biggest segment within the media industry, was to actually see a fall (-2 per cent), while television — the second biggest category — was to grow at a much slower rate of 7 per cent. “Given that TV is the medium of choice for the categories that are continuing to spend well, it faces a less risky future,” the report said.

Digital media and radio were then expected to be the front-runners this year, growing at 25 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively, thus enabling the media market to expand to Rs 23,755 crore by that year’s close.

What did happen was that media organisations began fearing these bleak projections and started ‘shedding’. Soon, according to a rough estimate, there were about 30,000 journalist who had lost their jobs – even some of the most celebrated names – either because the media organisations were shutting a channel here or a newspaper there, or because they were downsizing. Further there were many who left journalism out of sheer frustration, looking for greener pastures in alternative professions.

Perhaps the greatest loss of those times to journalism was that the lakhs who came out of media schools did not have enough jobs in the market to absorb them. This not only saw some very bright talent never making it to journalism at all, while many who had gone abroad to study the subject returned to find the situation similar, if not worse, to that in the West. And that was bleak.

“It was almost like the Oxford syndrome back in the eighties and nineties when Oxbridge returnees would almost suffer a cultural shock upon their return to India. Then, some would even commit suicide, unable to take the Indian system of things. Thankfully nothing like that was reported with the media students’ return to India,” says a senior journalist.

One would think that that in such a situation, the Indian media must have taken a beating it could not have survived.

Thankfully that’s not something that has happened, at least not yet, even as reports say “that the Indian economy suffered its worst slowdown in almost a decade, with the country even facing the ignominy of a ratings downgrade, which was salvaged somewhat with some hasty but big-ticket reforms in the latter part of the year”.

For, media is the reflection of the geography, the socio-politico-economical weave it reports on. For the media to continue its battle to survive matters as a never-ending task, given that it dwells in a country in transition, that which has a positive and optimistic attitude about its own future.

With the world’s largest democracy with a population of over 1.21 billion people, and growing, with the impressive constant challenges of poverty, development and the environmentalism, the journalist’s ink can only run dry writing about them. At the same time there is the rising middle class and wealth of entrepreneurs, and consumerism, that sets India at the forefront of the international system, thus enough food for thought for journalism.

We also need to understand that Indian journalism will continue to beckon fresh minds and the youth as it becomes notorious for swift changes in news reporting, and mixing traditional roles of journalism with the new media. Gone are the days when journalism was only about some hours of reporting and more of networking, catching up and knowing about the information world one dwelled in and then take some time to assimilate the understanding into a write-up. Today, information is speed and speed is now, where the new media is about the changing work style of journalists, in an age where there are deadlines are ‘NOW’ and the quality of journalism, as it is said, is under “the constant siege of the modern newsroom’s insatiable need for ever more copy”.

Everything’s turning digital these days and the requirement of the day is of great real-time digital journalists who are capable of using the full capabilities of the digital medium, including covering unfolding stories in real-time, using text, pictures, video, and commentary.

Then, who can do it better than a sea of youth. A look at the number of new faces behind the microphones covering the Delhi uprising over the 23-year-old medico’s gang rape tells us – that the young brigade continues to consider journalism as a prime profession.

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