Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Media Matters-2: "Can anyone become a journalist?"

This column was published in Khaleej Times yesterday:


By Ramesh Prabhu

More than 30 years ago I got my start as a journalist at a small fortnightly newspaper in Mumbai. I was fresh out of college, with a B.Sc. degree in chemistry and botany (I had obtained a first class in the final exam; Mumbai University had even thought it fit to award me a gold medal in botany).

The fortnightly was called Marine Times. Here, over a short period in early 1981, I learnt something about reporting and interviewing while doing my rounds of the city’s shipping companies. I also picked up a few production techniques at the private press where the paper was put together.

Two months on, I felt my stint at Marine Times had done its job as an appetiser. Now it was time to sink my teeth into something more substantial: Mid Day.

Mid Day was the most popular evening paper in the city at the time and was home to some of the best journalists in the city. At Mid Day, which took me on as a trainee sub-editor in June 1981, I got thrown into the deep end. And was I ecstatic! I felt energised by the snap-crackle-fizz of the newsroom. I did everything I was told, and more. I worked days. I worked nights. I was hooked.

Why am I telling you all this now? Because more than 30 years ago anyone could become a journalist, even someone who did not have any academic qualifications for the job. Even someone with just a science degree.

In my case, though, it helped that my father was a journalist who worked with a news agency, PTI, for most of his career. (Marine Times, where I got my start, was owned by a colleague of his.) From the time I can remember, newspapers were an important part of the morning routine at home. When he returned from work, my father would also bring with him the evening tabloids as well as some magazines. One of my favourite memories is of lying in bed and poring over the latest issue of India Today or Time. There would always be a few books lying around too. Reading became second nature to me; it felt as natural as breathing. And it still does.

So why am I telling you this now? Because even today anyone, with a little bit of effort, can become a journalist. But to become a good journalist, in addition to having the right educational qualifications (more on that in a future column), you will need to keep in mind Prabhu’s Two Laws of Intention.

HABIT-FORMING: It is called a "daily" for a reason. PHOTO: MATHANGI IYER

The First Law of Intention states that you should be obsessed with news. Don’t just read one newspaper. Read as many as you can lay your hands on. And don’t just read. Read closely. Magazines, news websites. On your phone. On your laptop. On Facebook even. Sign up for news alerts. Get a Twitter account. Follow the best journalists in the world. Watch the news on TV. Be aware of what’s happening around you. For one thing, that’s how you get story ideas. Second, you get to learn from the experts how to structure your stories. And you get a bonus in the form of an enhanced ability to make intelligent conversation even with people you have just met and get them to warm up to you. That’s a wonderful talent to have in your armoury when you’re trying to prise important information out of your sources.

Prabhu’s Second Law of Intention states that you should be in love with words. Whether you are a reporter or a sub-editor (and especially if you are a sub-editor), your language skills should be first-rate. You should be a wizard with words. Only then will readers stay glued to what you have conjured up; only then will they read from beginning to end what you have worked so hard to write or edit. As I noted in an article I wrote last year for the 35th anniversary issue of Khaleej Times, “Indifferent writing breeds indifferent readers. Quality writing attracts readers of all kinds.”

An obsession with news; a devotion to words. If you aspire to be a journalist, there’s no better way to rise... and shine.

THINK ABOUT IT: “In the English language, it all comes down to this: Twenty-six letters, when combined correctly, can create magic. Twenty-six letters form the foundation of a free, informed society.”  American journalist and non-fiction writer John Grogan, author of Marley & Me

·        Ramesh Prabhu is professor of journalism at Commits Institute of Journalism & Mass Communication, Bangalore. Commits offers a full-time two-year MA degree course.
·        “Media Matters” welcomes questions from readers who would like to know more about careers in journalism. Please send in your queries to

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"There is no job like journalism" — Media Matters, my new fortnightly column in Dubai's Khaleej Times

The inaugural "Media Matters" column:


By Ramesh Prabhu

JOURNALISM is the world's best profession.

I believed that when I first became a trainee sub-editor in 1981.

I believed that when, after more than 20 years as a journalist in Mumbai, Dubai, and Bangalore, I was given a golden opportunity to give back to the profession as a journalism teacher at a media college in India’s Silicon Valley.

And I believe that even today as I revel in the joys of journalism when sharing my experiences with my students, year after glorious year.

Of course, I am not the first person to assert that journalism is the best job in the world. The credit for that goes to the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose essay on the subject has been shared and re-shared multiple times on the Internet.

Nobel laureate Garcia Marquez, the author of the much-loved classics One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, knew what he was talking about. After all, he had got his start as a journalist in his native Colombia many years before anyone outside his home town had even heard of him. By 1997, when he wrote that illuminating essay, he had become a global phenomenon, but he did not forget his debt to journalism. Here is a telling excerpt from his final paragraph:

No one who does not have this in his blood can comprehend its magnetic hold…. No one who has not had this experience can begin to grasp the extraordinary excitement stirred by the news, the sheer elation created by the first fruits of an endeavour….

No one has put it better.

Today, I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to spend quality time with young media aspirants, many of whom have since forged successful careers in newspapers, television channels, and magazines, both in India and abroad.

I absolutely love what I do. Every year I now get to interact with — and learn from — a fresh batch of students. And I think I am a much better journalist today because my students keep me on my toes with their questions; in order to do a good job of the answers, I am constantly updating my knowledge base.

I also love books, music, films — in fact, almost every form of popular culture — and it’s fascinating for me to be able to discuss what I read, listen to, and watch with Gen Next.

I must add a few words here about how technology helps the faculty-student interaction. I use e-mail to send my course material in advance so that the students can prepare for debate and discussion in my class. I also alert them via e-mail to interesting articles and links. And I publish two blogs. One is The Commits Chronicle, which takes a close look at happenings in the college and on student activities. The second blog, The Reading Room, focuses on reading, writing, and journalism.

Facebook is a big help — I use it as a distance education tool and my status messages are mostly about something important in the books I have read and on news articles that I want future journalists to read. And I upload pictures that my students may find interesting; of course, I write an appropriate caption for every photograph because caption-writing is a skill which I aim to teach in class as part of the journalism course.

Facebook has other productive uses, too: when I took part in a charity run in Bangalore (four times so far) to raise funds for an NGO that works with underprivileged children, I used my status messages as regular event alerts in the hope that at the right time in their lives my students will give serious thought to helping disadvantaged communities.

All this is by way of introducing myself and this new fortnightly column on the joys of journalism. In the coming weeks and months, with the help of “Media Matters,” I hope to enthuse my readers into taking up journalism as a career. Why? Because it is the best job in the world.

THINK ABOUT IT: "Four hostile newspapers are to be feared more than a thousand bayonets" – Napoleon Bonaparte

·    Ramesh Prabhu is professor of journalism at Commits Institute of Journalism & Mass Communication, Bangalore. Commits offers a full-time two-year MA degree course.
·    “Media Matters” welcomes questions from readers who would like to know more about careers in journalism. Please send in your queries to