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

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