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Sunday, June 23, 2013

"The many lessons I learnt as an intern with a leading Bangalore newspaper." Plus: "Professionalism, the Commits way"

Commitscion Monalisa Das (Class of 2014) recently spent six weeks as an intern with Deccan Chronicle in Bangalore, working with the features section, Bengaluru Chronicle. Here she talks about the experience, and also discusses what it means to be a professional in a highly competitive industry (these two pieces were first published in The Commits Chronicle on April 28, 2013):

MONALISA DAS FLANKED BY HER COMMITS SENIOR TAPASYA MITRA MAZUMDER AND CLASSMATE RAJARSHI BHATTACHARJEE AT THE DECCAN CHRONICLE OFFICE.

The internship at Deccan Chronicle was my first working experience in the professional world, my first real stint with journalism. When I first began my internship I had a lot of inhibitions. I had never thought I’d be working on a tabloid; hard news was my thing. Part of me wasn’t even sure that I would be up to the mark. 

In fact, after almost a month with the paper, I was still learning, absorbing, and understanding the rules of the trade, the bottom line being “you need to be good at whatever you do”.
 

I was lucky to be working in an organisation where things happen the way they should. My editor is strict, I was warned. What I understood, and came to appreciate, was that she is not ready to compromise on quality. That is sacrosanct. I also learnt that no one is indispensable and you are doing no one a favour by working.

Let me share what I grasped during this stint.

First, you need to be sincere and dedicated to your work. As an intern, you can’t expect people to offer you the opportunity to cover big stories. Trust me, you aren’t ready. Besides, it’s always better to begin at the bottom of the ladder. Whatever work is given to you, show an interest; do not feign it. You might not get a byline so what? Realise that your work is at least good enough to be published.
 

Second, and you must have heard this a billion times, you need to be on good terms with your colleagues. I was lucky to have such cooperative colleagues. As a journalist, you need to know lots of people your colleagues are the ones who will provide you with your initial contacts. Be nice to your colleagues; ask for help when you have a doubt. But make sure you do not pester them and antagonise them. They have their own assignments to take care of, and they aren’t there to teach you. A little chat about things unrelated to work doesn’t hurt, though.
 

Third, social media is a journalist’s friend. When I reached a dead end regarding a contact I needed urgently, Facebook was my saviour. Friends of friends of friends usually know someone you are looking for. In my case, I can’t but not mention Sneha Sukumar, my classmate. She somehow always happened to know people related to my story. Call it luck or coincidence!

MONALISA'S STORY ON THE FRONT PAGE OF BENGALURU CHRONICLE ON APRIL 27.

When you work in the features section of a daily newspaper, you get to talk to a lot of famous people (and many not-so-famous ones, too). The glamour wears off after some time. A lot of hard work is involved, after all. Every column that you see in print is a well-thought-out process. Another important lesson: Be prepared if people do not want to talk to you or are rude. No one gives a darn about your story. They have work to do. Be polite, be courteous at all times.

One of my bosses called me “Smarty” because I once went to her with a story idea that had already been covered. Afterwards, before I submitted a story idea, I made sure it hadn’t been done before. How did I do that? I read. Like crazy. Because ideas aren’t as easy to come by as Abhishek Bachchan makes it seem in the TV commercials. And I read everything from The Huffington Post to the Guardian and Bangalore Mirror. You never know what will work. You need to keep looking, only then will you get what you want.

I usually worked on a lot of columns, snippets, and a story that became the second lead once in a while. I got only one day off in the week but I did not complain. Because when I saw my name in the papers, I knew it was worth it. When people asked if I liked the work, I said I did. It was definitely not a bed of roses, but then roses are so not me.

PROFESSIONALISM, THE COMMITS WAY
When you work in the industry, you come to know that Commits has a well-deserved reputation. Commitscions are expected to be smart, dedicated, and hardworking individuals. Anything less is just not acceptable. When you are working in a professional environment for the first time in your life, it might be a little difficult to live up to those standards. So how do we beat the odds?


We learn most of it in class. And by learn I do not mean mugging up from textbooks. We are taught how to work and behave like professionals. Slowly and steadily, we imbibe “professionalism”. From maintaining 100 per cent attendance to being punctual, from adhering to deadlines to juggling multiple roles, each is a step towards a better us. For some this can be achieved only through conscious effort; others just fit in.

Day in and day out, we attend classes tirelessly. We crib now and then and we often pay fines for certain transgressions. Presentations and assignments are a way of life. Social life is a distant dream. But just as every cloud has a silver lining, when you peer through the gloom, you will find light.

MONALISA WITH RAJARSHI: ALL THOSE HOURS SPENT AT THE GRINDSTONE PAID OFF.

Most of us suffered stage fright before we came to Commits. Today we do not just speak up, we often surprise. At the risk of sounding immodest, I would like to add here that I received some lovely compliments for my speech during our vice-chancellor’s recent visit to Commits.

In a way, all those hours spent at the grindstone pay off. Our teachers are the best we have, and all those assignments and presentations later, we do appreciate their efforts.

Today, almost a year into our Commits journey, most of us are sure about our career choices. Being clear in your mind is a good feeling. Some of us, however, will always be the confused kind. But it just gives us more options to explore. We are smart and skilled individuals. We are future competition for other professionals as well, confident in the belief that we can thrive and be successful in almost any field.

I am not sure I would have done better if I wasn’t from Commits.