Monday, December 26, 2011

What it takes to be an IT journalist

Commits alumnus Ayushman Baruah (Class of 2008) is the Principal Correspondent of InformationWeek, reporting out of Bangalore. Here he gives us insights into “technology journalism”:


I have been working as an IT journalist with InformationWeek for close to two years now. Prior to this, I was working with The Financial Express, also covering the IT industry. So, since I graduated from Commits, all my experience in journalism has been in covering technology, or, precisely, the business value of technology — which is also the tagline of InformationWeek.

As the Principal Correspondent of InformationWeek India, I am responsible for covering news in the technology sector across South India. As is well-known, Bangalore is the Silicon Valley of India and there is no better place to be an IT journalist. Most of the top companies, Indian as well as MNCs, are headquartered in Bangalore.

My regular work largely comprises the following: 

1. Writing news stories for InformationWeek online. 

2. Writing in-depth cover stories, news analyses, and case studies for the print and online editions

3. Interviewing industry decision makers: CEOs, CIOs, CFOs, and heads of “verticals”. 

4. Covering press conferences and global (overseas) events. 

5. Building and maintaining excellent working relationships with IT decision-makers, mainly CIOs. 

6. Most important, keeping a close watch on all IT companies and IT trends.

How different or similar is IT journalism from mainstream journalism? The basics of reporting, writing and ethics are the same. I guess the core difference lies in the subject matter. Here, you need to have an interest in technology, and you must also understand and appreciate the business aspects involved. Some of it could be inherent; some of it can be learnt. Also, IT journalism requires less legwork and physical labour. In fact, I often term it as “white-collar” journalism. And I love the term as much as I love the profession.

As an IT journalist, you travel around the world, stay in five-star hotels, and get an opportunity to meet some of your dream corporate honchos. For instance, I have met Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Warren Buffett, Narayana Murthy, Nandan Nilekani… the list goes on. I know many journalists get to meet them and some might also feel it is “no big deal”, but I beg to differ. We are perhaps one of the 0.0000001% of the world’s population getting to meet them. Not everyone gets this opportunity. So I think we should capitalise on this opportunity and try to learn from their ideologies apart from getting the regular news (which everyone gets). I always make it a point to take that extra step and pick up at least one good trait from these great men.

In summary, I feel a business/IT journalist must have or acquire the following skill sets (the basic skills like ability to write and report are a given): 

1. Ability to grasp new technology terms and jargon.

2. Ability to demystify jargon and write in simple English. There is a direct correlation between writing in clear and simple language and a sound understanding of the subject. You can’t explain to your readers what you don’t understand yourself.

3. Ability to analyse numbers (financial statements of listed companies).

 4. Ability to look beyond what is in the press release. Corporate press releases will only provide information the company wants publicised and they will usually hype up the company’s products and services. So one must read between the lines to get more information and ask the tough questions.

5. Be up-to-date with the trends in the market. You must read business papers and technology magazines regularly.

6. Ability to be unbiased when writing about a company that has just taken you on a junket (familiarity trip). 

7. Ability to listen to long lectures about a particular company or product but digest only what is relevant. 

8. Last, I think IT journalists need to develop their own domain expertise and differentiate themselves from the crowd. There are too many people doing too many similar things. You need to be different!

A NOTE ABOUT INFORMATIONWEEK: The magazine, which has been present in the U.S. for about 30 years, is the business technology market’s foremost multimedia brand. Globally, InformationWeek reaches almost 4.5 lakh business technology professionals at more than 2.5 lakh unique locations. Its mission is to help CIOs and IT executives define and frame their business technology objectives. It is published by LSE (London Stock Exchange)-listed United Business Media (UBM) group. The India edition, both print and online, was started in April 2010 and it has gained significant readership already.

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