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)

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