Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Media Matters-4: Why we became journalists (First part of a three-part series)

This was published today on the Education Page of Dubai's Khaleej Times:


By Ramesh Prabhu

Rajdeep Sardesai became a journalist because, as he noted at a media seminar, no two days are the same in journalism.

Sardesai, one of India’s leading television anchors and a role model for many aspiring journalists, was the chief guest (see photograph), at that seminar in Bangalore a few years ago. His talk was so stimulating that many times during his speech and again at the conclusion he received applause befitting a national celebrity. Those of us in the audience that day were privileged to be able to listen to Sardesai and gain many valuable insights into what it means to be a journalist.

Every year now I play a video recording of Sardesai’s talk in my class (Commits had organised the seminar), and I write this after having just wrapped up a screening for my students. Watching Sardesai in action again led me to ruminate on why young people take up journalism today. Is it the glamour factor? Is it the opportunity to be able to take up an unconventional career in which, as Sardesai put it, no two days are the same? Do young people still consider journalism a noble and honourable profession? A profession that gives them the power to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”, in the immortal words of Finley Peter Dunne? Is that why they become journalists?

“I have always liked telling stories... stories about people,” says Priyali Sur, a producer and anchor with CNN-IBN who is in the U.S. at the moment completing a course on gender violence after having won a Fulbright Humphrey scholarship. “What was more important to me,” she says, “was to talk about people who had been marginalised. Making their voices heard was essential and journalism seemed to be the perfect profession for me.”

Priyali, who holds a master’s degree in mass communication, has worked with Times Now, another leading news channel in India, as well as with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, the filmmaker and screenwriter best known for writing and directing Rang De Basanti and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. At CNN-IBN, staying true to her aims, Priyali has produced a documentary on dubious cervical vaccine trials in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh in 2011 as well as a prize-winning investigative programme on minor girls who are trafficked from rural regions of the country and then sold in the cities.

Why did Priyali choose television over print? She believes that pictures can convey a message more powerfully. “For me, going to places, capturing real images of real people, and telling their stories in their voices was crucial,” she says.

While television is a big draw for many young journalists, there are some who prefer print. “I have always loved writing,” says Pinjala Kundu, who works with The Times of India in Mumbai. Pinjala says she had wanted to become a journalist since she was in Class VII, but it was while studying at Commits that she got an opportunity to work as an intern with The Times of India in Kolkata. “I loved working as a reporter,” she says, “and the feeling I got when I received my first byline made me realise that this is what I was meant to do.”

For Pinjala, the most interesting thing about the profession is that journalists are the first to know when an incident occurs. “And it is a privilege to be able to inform the world about it,” she says. “Also, being in the newsroom is so exciting: the hustle-bustle, the hectic discussions. I get to learn something new every day and that is what keeps me going.”

Sherry Jacob-Phillips echoes Pinjala’s comments. She says she became a journalist because she wanted to experience the joy of putting her thoughts into words and seeing her byline in the newspaper the next day. Sherry spent many years with The Times of India in Bangalore before joining Reuters, also in Bangalore.  “The adrenaline rush of news and the satisfaction that comes from knowing we’re making a difference: these are the reasons I go to work every day,” she says.

At The Times, Sherry worked on the general news desk; at Reuters she is a business journalist. She says she may not be making a direct impact on the lives of her investment-focused audience now but she believes she is helping them take life-changing decisions about their investments.

“This profession,” says Sherry, “has taught me one thing for sure: Be true to yourself and your dreams.”

THINK ABOUT IT: “I got addicted. News, particularly daily news, is more addictive than crack cocaine, more addictive than heroin, more addictive than cigarettes. ” ― Dan Rather, American journalist and the former news anchor for the CBS Evening News
·        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

* IN THE PHOTOGRAPH: (Clockwise from main picture) Television news icon Rajdeep Sardesai; and Commits alumni Priyali Sur (Class of 2005), Pinjala Kundu (Class of 2011), Sherry Jacob-Phillips (Class of 2007)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Is digital journalism profitable?

Absolutely, says Ariana Huffington, who has just launched the Indian edition of The Huffington Post.

Here, in an interview published in Mint today, are Huffington's responses to two questions that will be at the top of the minds of journalists as well as media aspirants:
  • Is digital journalism profitable?
Absolutely. There are two things that are happening that are very good for us. More and more people are consuming news digitally. And with 4G coming to India next year, and broadband expansion being a big priority of the Modi government, it is going to accelerate.

Also, advertisers or brands which are slow (to adopt digital media) are realising that more and more people are not just consuming news but also participating themselves through their own stories online. So, digital spending cannot be an afterthought. It has to be at the forefront of their agenda.


  • What kind of journalism will Huff Post do in India?
Same as everywhere. Journalism that can win a Pulitzer. In-depth, investigative reporting will continue to be important for us. We won the Pulitzer for a 10-part series that took our military correspondent nine months to write. It also had all the multimedia elements.

All the areas we cover relentlessly across the world, we are going to cover here as well, including violence against women, gay rights...

It is interesting to see that a lot of the old beliefs of journalism are being stood on their heads. Like the term: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Put bad news, mayhem on the front page and traffic will follow. Now we are seeing that in fact, people like to share good news as a lot of traffic comes from sharing and social. I want to share examples of human ingenuity, compassion, and creativity. And that is what has been at the heart of what Huff has been doing from the beginning.

READ THE INTERVIEW IN ITS ENTIRETY HERE: "Our business model in India will be advertising supported: Arianna Huffington"
  • Photo courtesy: Mint/Pradeep Gaur

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Media Matters-3: "What you must do to become a journalist"

This was published yesterday on the Education Page of Dubai's Khaleej Times:


By Ramesh Prabhu 

When Shagorika Easwar wanted to work as a journalist in Dubai, she sent her CV to Khaleej Times. This was sometime in 1989. Shagorika’s CV landed on my desk because everyone knew that, as features editor of the newspaper, I was looking for a good hand.

Along with her CV, Shagorika had enclosed a copy of an article she had written. I don’t remember now what the piece was about but I can’t ever forget that one glance at it was enough to convince me that we had found our Ms Right. When you write like an angel, the world sits up and takes notice.

Shagorika joined Khaleej Times shortly afterwards and, until she immigrated to Canada with her family some years later, did the Features Department proud. She edited copy, sized pictures, laid out pages, came up with story ideas, wrote a few stories herself, developed good relationships with everyone from her fellow journalists to columnists to copy-setters and office drivers all skills that she is putting to good use in Toronto as the editor of two highly successful magazines which she launched along with her husband.

It was easy for Shagorika to become a journalist because she has a recognisable and provable talent for writing. I don’t remember if I even asked her about her academic qualifications. Similarly, it was easy for me to become a journalist back in 1981 (see “Media Matters-2”) even though I did not have a degree in journalism or mass communication. (It is a different matter that two years ago, at the age of 54, I studied for and earned a master’s degree in journalism.)

In those days, the ’80s, there were very few educational institutions offering post-graduate programmes for media aspirants. Also, print was still king, with 24-hour television news channels nowhere on the horizon and the internet only a futuristic concept. So journalism, even though it was a highly respected profession, was not really considered to be a glamorous one and, consequently, the competition for jobs was not as intense as it is today.

What is the scene like now for those who want to become journalists? Media organisations are looking to hire only those who will be a good fit, so a post-graduate degree, or at least a post-graduate diploma, from a reputed institute is paramount. This is because, as I wrote in a magazine article last year, hundreds of television news channels and a few thousand newspapers and magazines are engaged in a race for both audiences and advertisers. The competition is so fierce that new recruits at the entry level no longer have any breathing space, unlike in the past.

No one at work has the time now to hold the newbie’s hand as he or she attempts to navigate the swiftly moving and often treacherous currents of the media ocean. There is no honeymoon period. There is no time for a honeymoon. Period.  That is why the industry today prefers to hire only those who have a master’s degree, or at least a post-graduate diploma, from an institute that has a reputation for providing quality journalism education.

So this much is clear: If you want to become a journalist, a good education comes first.

DEGREES OF CONFIDENCE: A first-class education is a must if you want to become a journalist today*. (PHOTO: DIPANKAR PAUL)

Now, how do you choose a good media college? Do extensive research. Study the course structure to assess the importance given to practical training. Find out as much as you can about the faculty: What are their qualifications to teach the course? How many years have they worked in the industry? Do they blog? Ask about industry tie-ups. Does the college arrange internships? Request contact details of alumni — if the college is a reputed one, the staff will be glad to answer all your questions and help you get a better grip on the course it offers.

For your part, if you are keen on becoming a journalist, make sure your decision is not based on a whim. Spend time talking with journalists. Try to understand what it means to be a journalist. And once you are sure journalism is what you want and after you have taken a decision on the college, give some thought to the advice I give all media aspirants:
  • If you do not like reading you will be at a disadvantage, so make a huge effort to develop a reading habit. Read newspapers, magazines, books — fiction as well as non-fiction. Books on journalism. Books by journalists. Remember: In order to be a good writer, you first have to be a good reader.
  • Watch movies. Listen to music. Immerse yourself in popular culture. Be aware of what’s going on around you.
  • Talk to people. Understand their concerns. Develop empathy for your audience.
  • At all times, behave professionally.
  • Guard zealously your reputation for honesty, credibility, and integrity. Once it's lost, all is lost.
THINK ABOUT IT: “I still believe that if your aim is to change the world, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon.” — Tom Stoppard, English dramatist who has written for TV, radio, film, and stage. He co-wrote the screenplays for Brazil, The Russia House, and Shakespeare in Love, and has received one Academy Award and four Tony Awards
  • Ramesh Prabhu is professor of journalism at Commits Institute of Journalism & Mass Communication, Bangalore. Commits offers a full-time two-year M.A. degree course.
  • “Media Matters” welcomes questions from readers who would like to know more about careers in journalism. Please send in your queries to
* IN THE PHOTOGRAPH: Commits alumni Dipankar Paul and Shikha Gaba-Paul, husband and wife, both from the Class of 2009, with their master's degree certificates


Dear Editor,

I have read Ramesh Prabhu’s column Media Matters (December 2) with interest ever since it was launched a few weeks ago. What a great idea, I thought, a respected journalist and teacher writing about the profession, providing insight into what makes for good journalism. Imagine my astonishment at finding my name in the latest column! To say it brought back lovely memories would not be entirely correct — I have never forgotten the years I spent in Khaleej Times as a sub-editor, learning, working, and yes, forging friendships that remain strong to this day. 

If I did some of what is ascribed to me by Ramesh, it was largely because I had a very good teacher in him. We are roughly the same age, and yet, I have always thought of him as my guru in this field. In this, the latest column, he writes about how no one has the time to hold a newbie’s hand. I was blessed that Ramesh took the time to show me how. That he never once rolled his eyes when I walked into his cabin on my second day on the job and — very diffidently — asked him how one chooses a font. That he encouraged independent thinking while explaining the rules. That he allowed people in his department to flourish. He cheered us on when my husband and I launched first Desi News in Toronto 19 years ago and then CanadaBound Immigrant. Because that’s what the best teacher does — he shows you the way and then lets you choose your own path. In both, I incorporated what I had learnt from him. 

Students from every batch he has taught at Commits in Bangalore have gone on to earn accolades in print and television media. It is fitting, I think, that Ramesh has chosen Khaleej Times to write about a field he is so passionate about. It was here, after all, that Ramesh Prabhu the teacher was born.

Shagorika Easwar
Newmarket, Ontario, Canada