Sunday, October 18, 1998
By Taru Bahl
JOURNALIST, according to the Random House Dictionary, is the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing or broadcasting news. The Fourth Estate is meant to inform, analyse and mould public opinion. It is the communication of information through various media involving collection and dissemination of news through speech, writing and/or visuals. Given the increasing competition in the field and the discerning tastes of the fickle reader, newspapers, magazines, periodicals and the electronic medium have never been under greater pressure to perform and deliver.
In India you have hundreds of newspapers and magazines in English, Hindi and the vernacular with every region boasting of noteworthy circulation figures. Even at a time when the print medium is facing an identity crisis and the existing mainstream publications are fighting tooth-and-nail to meet advertising targets, there are newer, bolder entrants, especially in the specialised segment (Intelligent Investor, Design & Interiors) catering to an expanding niche audience. Journalism has never been more in demand.
The stereotypical image of the journalist has, for long, been one of a khadi kurta pyjama clad, bearded, cigarette-puffing, jhola carrying "intellectual" person.With large business groups getting into journalism and reputed institutes offering professional courses, the profile of the journalist has undergone a sea change. Today, the young breed of journalists, editors, photo journalists and feature writers are pushy, focused and willing to slog 18-20 hours a day.
It is a career that is attracting the cream and creating near-cult figures out of those who choose to be visible and high profile. Editors are not just faceless names, they are strong image makers, opinion moulders who command respect and awe from all sections of society.
As a journalist you could be working for newspapers, news agencies, bureaux, magazines, journals, newsletters, digests, periodicals, the electronic media, regional press bureaux of international papers/agencies/networks, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, press departments of the private and public sector and as freelancers/stringers.
Whether it is a broadsheet or a tabloid you are leafing through or are catching up with the evening news on the television or radio, the packaged product in front of you is thanks to the perfect coordination of a number of inter-related disciplines which work with clock-like precision. If you have been to any newspaper office you will be stumped with the kind of frenzied activity which greets you and as every newspaperwallah will defensively say, "there is method in this madness". You have researchers, feature writers, correspondents, reporters, sub-editors, proof readers, photographers, illustrators, cartoonists, layout artists, visualisers, production, advertising and circulation teams and the legal expert lending their expertise day after day, week after week.
The editor-in-chief is at the top of the hierarchical pyramid. He is responsible for giving the publication direction, substance and style. Coordination with departments and formulation of major policy decisions is with him. He writes lead stories and editorials.Associate or assistant editors are in-charge of specific areas like sports, international news, weekend magazine supplements, careers, education, arts etc. Other than writing features they are the administrative heads who plan issues, commission freelancers, columnists and other staffers to write on specific themes, ensuring that deadlines are met and production values maintained.
The editorial department thrives on synergetic rapport with the reporter/correspondent who is on the field collating information and piecing facts together and sub-editor at the desk who gives the story final shape and format. You start by being a trainee or cub-reporter picking up all aspects of editing and reporting on the job, making daily trips to whichever beat you have been assigned. This could be education (colleges), crime (police station), law (courts), administration (estate office, government secretariats). You are supposed to sniff out stories, follow them up, report back to you seniors and collect press notes.
Reporters may be given specific stories to write on like a strike, lock out, spate of murders, bungling and misappropriation of funds in an organisation. They must research the subject, collect background information, protect sources, lay hands on incriminating evidence, tape record statements and keep their antennae up for any twist in the case.Senior reporters, special and principal correspondents are assigned major stories. They could be regional or state representatives too.
Sub-editors undertake editing re-writing of matter/copy and headlining stories appropriately. They correct syntax, grammar, and punctuation and also ensure that the story is objective, crisp and consistently written.
Freelance journalists, columnists, commentators, analysts and experts are an active part of the journalistic community although they may not be on the payrolls of any one particular publication. However there are stringers and editorial coordinators who are attached with a magazine or newspaper. They are paid a retainership and an additional amount for every story. They can take to journalism full time or combine it with another vocation. Good money can be made by writing in-depth stories for foreign publications. Feature writers could join a publication or freelance. Combining functional photographic skills with writing/reporting is a good idea.
On the technical side you have the production team which does composing, plate making, page layout and printing. Most newspapers have trained people undertaking production although there could be some dailies which expect their editorial team to be conversant with process of production. The advertising department is the backbone of any publication. They are the people who get in the cash flows. Advertisement tariffs, collecting ad support and revenue, positioning ad matter and liasing with clients all falls under this department. They work closely with the circulation department which keeps track of circulation figures, undertakes research, readership surveys and ensures efficient distribution network.
There are journalists and writers who in spite of not being professionally qualified and trained have made a mark in the field thanks to their aptitude, the right career breaks and on-the-job training. Todays job seeker may not be so lucky. Competition and the specialised nature of work demands the best talent so arm yourself with a worthwhile journalism degree which would equip you with skills for print journalism, electronic medium and software production houses.
There are postgraduate degrees in journalism and mass media. Delhi University offers a comprehensive three years Bachelors degree in journalism (Lady Shriram College) which is relevant in both its theoretical and practical input. The course is structured keeping market needs in mind. Delhis Jamia Millia Islamia offers Masters in Mass Communication. You will have to clear a written test and a series of group discussions and interviews. The Indian Institute of Mass Communication at the JNU campus in Delhi offers a one year exhaustive postgraduate course in journalism. The institute is one of the best in Asia. It has well equipped TV and video studios and a faculty comprising the best research scholars, practising media professionals and in-house lecturers. In Bangalore there is the Asian College of Journalism run by the Goenkas, offering a nine-month postgraduate diploma in journalism. The fee for most of these courses varies between Rs 15,000 to Rs 45,000. Most universities conduct journalism courses after graduation. YMCAs. Bhartiya Vidya Bhavans and polytechnics across the country offer courses of the duration of six months to one year. Panjab University,Chandigarh offers both a Bachelors and Masters in journalism. Correspondence courses too can be taken up.
Ideally, you should
identify the area you would like to specialise in. Enroll
in a programme which carries weight. This is one
profession where a piece of paper nee your degree
is not going to be of much help unless you are really
good.So dont join a course just for "time
pass" or thinking it would provide you with a ready
ticket to journalism. There are crazy pressures,
deadlines, insecurities and demands on your time, energy
and talent. Unless you are willing to give your 100 per
cent you will end up as just another mediocre.
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