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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Media Matters-6: Why we became journalists (Final part of a three-part series)

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


WHY WE BECAME JOURNALISTS-3

By Ramesh Prabhu

This is the final part of a three-part series which explored the motivations of a few young women and men who have chosen to become journalists.
Reporter, CNN-IBN, Thiruvananthapuram


Being a journalist has been my passion since my schooldays. I feel that every individual has certain commitments to society and this is the best way to fulfill mine. When I took up journalism as a career, I knew I would not be able to transform things overnight but my thinking was that if I were able to change one person’s life for the better, I would be able to achieve my goal. And I am glad to report I have been successful in helping bring about change in a few people’s lives.

Why television? From the beginning, I have been fascinated with the thought of being on TV. I believe a story can be best told with visuals. I started my career as a print journalist, however, which is when I realised that both mediums have their own advantages and disadvantages. In print, we can write in-depth stories, but that is not the case with television (except for current affairs programmes). And in this era of breaking news, I feel that sometimes TV journalists tend to indulge in sensationalism, so I consider myself lucky to be working with CNN-IBN, which gives more weightage to credibility.

The best thing about being a journalist is that there is no monotony in my job. Every day I meet new people; each day is different. The risks and the uncertainty attached to this profession are what make my life so interesting today.
Editor/Anchor (Personal Finance), ET Now, Mumbai


When I was in college, television journalism became very popular in India, especially during the coverage of the Kargil war. I was also heavily influenced by global journalists like Anderson Cooper and Richard Quest. In addition, honestly, the decision to take up journalism as a major was to battle the impression that medical science and engineering or an MBA were the only options worth considering as a student.

When I completed my post-grad course, I wanted to work with radio. But Indian radio stations are not allowed to do news, and the content tended to be very Bollywood-focused at the time (it still is). So television it was, but I didn’t choose television as much at it chose me. I was extremely fortunate to have received a job opportunity with CNBC TV18 and I have been working with business news channels ever since.

My first assignment with CNBC TV18 was on a show called “Insurance Intelligence”. I was to report on the insurance sector, something other colleagues in my team found dull. But I fell in love with the sector immediately. My work with insurance led me to discover my larger aim, which was personal finance. I have come to realise, over the last 10 years, that helping people navigate and understand money is my true calling.

There are two things I love most about my job. First, I love understanding something complicated and passing the information on to my viewers. In TV parlance we call this “cracking it”. When there is a complicated financial product, or a product that is designed badly so it causes more harm to investors than good, I love being able to explain to my viewers the problem and the corresponding solution. 

Second, I love receiving e-mails from viewers telling me that I helped them make a change. It gives me the purpose I need to go on doing what I do.
Till recently a reporter/sub-editor with Bangalore Times, now relocated to Sharjah

PHOTO: ALLAN JULIUS FERNANDES

I sort of wandered into journalism. I actually wanted to do English Literature after school, but there were no Honours courses in Bangalore, which is where I wanted to come after I left Kuwait. So I did the Journalism-Psychology-Optional English B.A. course at Christ University. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after I was done with undergrad, so I did the M.A. at Commits to figure out what I wanted to do, and that’s when I decided to pursue print journalism professionally.

It was Commits that helped me figure out how to be industry-ready. I knew all the theory from the course I had done at Christ College, but since I hadn’t done any internships I always preferred to fly back home during my vacations since the internships were not mandatory I knew I wasn’t ready for the real world of journalism. At Commits, I gained the confidence, more than anything else, to go out there and apply the skills I had acquired based on the mandatory internships and the sessions we had with people working in the industry.

At Bangalore Times, I worked as a desk editor. Like at most features publications, we desk editors are required to write stories, edit them, and supervise page layout. This means that you don’t think about a story only in terms of the questions that need to be answered or the information that the reader should get, but how they should get it in terms of design. You think about how the story should look, which is very important these days because, as we are always being reminded, it's about packaging. And, of course, a desk editor is always a better writer.

I’m more of a desk person than a reporter, so I really like the production aspect of journalism. I like taking a story whether it’s mine or someone else’s and working on it so that it is as complete as it can possibly be. Of course, when I did get out there, I got to meet interesting people and hear all sorts of stories that took me out of myself. But I still preferred retreating to the relative safety of the desk.
Sub-editor/reporter, The Afternoon, Mumbai

PHOTO: SUSHIL KADAM

Journalism was not a childhood dream. I don’t think I ever said, “I want to grow up to be a journalist.” That came much later in life, when I did my master's degree. At some point, while reading the news, it occurred to me, reality is quite bizarre without the fiction. Keeping track of everyday happenings, identifying the people doing exceptional work in society and telling their story, keeping track of our leaders and exposing their true intent in the job they are doing... when I learnt of all of this, I knew that I would like to make a career in journalism. The creative process of laying out the paper, selecting news based on its importance and value, striving to tell two, three, sometimes four sides of a story... the reasons are many.

At this time in our country I find that being a journalist and being exposed first-hand to how a media organisation works, not only in the newsroom, but especially the influence of upper management on the working of the newsroom, is giving me great insight. The background research that goes into adding value to a story is also something I find very interesting. And because the news that comes through my newsroom is solely based on Mumbai and some surrounding districts, it has increased my knowledge of the present city as well as the city it once was.
Independent journalist, Mumbai


I was 17 when I decided that I would not pursue a traditional career. I was interested in story-telling, but never really thought that writing could be a serious career option. It was a chance meeting with a family friend that changed my perspective about journalism. She was working as a copy editor with a newspaper in Bangalore. I was she who explained how interesting her line of work was and how it could be a rewarding career for a youngster. I had three options in front of me then: journalism, academics, and public relations. I chose a career with words because it was more creative compared with the other two.

Today, even though a lot of the work I do is routine, like visits to the press club and coverage of the same issues (budgets, government policies, school and college admissions), I definitely get my high from learning new things and meeting new people. Creating shareable, emotional, and well-researched stories often forces me to think out of the box. I have also picked up skills like the ability to look for interesting details about a person or an event, rather than merely focusing on the brief given by the editor.

THINK ABOUT IT: “I believe that good journalism, good television, can make our world a better place.” Christiane Amanpour, chief international correspondent of CNN and host of CNN International’s nightly interview programme “Amanpour”

·        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 education@khaleejtimes.com.

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