It is boom time for aspiring journalists and the various journalism schools (J-schools) across the country as 24-hour television news channels sprout every other month and a slew of magazines and newspapers hit the newsstands.
But, in the midst of a media boom that has seen journalists’ salaries soar as hiring managers try to fill newsrooms, there is a growing awareness of a long-ignored crisis in Indian journalism: an acute shortage of quality talent.
This might be surprising as there are around 200 colleges and universities that offer journalism programmes that are recognized by the University Grants Commission; some 400-500 additional colleges with other journalism programmes and 1,000-1,500 training programmes without degrees, according to S. Raghavachari, head of the department of broadcast journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Delhi.
But, sheer quantity has failed to deliver quality as far as the Indian journalism pipeline goes. Many of these programmes are taught by part-time journalists or professors who have not stepped into a newsroom in years. Much like journalism, journalism education in India has been an underpaid and not-well-regarded profession, often attracting those who opted out of newsrooms or were too old to be active journalists. “They have some fine teachers, but many have never stepped inside a newsroom and, therefore, are unable to provide relevant guidance,” says Sunil Saxena, dean of the Online Centre for Media Studies, the first online school of journalism in India.
Are they prepared? Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. Journalism schools concede there is a gap in their training. (Photo courtesy: Asian College of Journalism)
While some schools such as the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ) in Chennai and seasoned educators such as Thomas Oommen, former head of the Times School of Journalism and now head of Malayala Manorama Group-run Manorama School of Communication, or Mascom, in Kottayam, Kerala, have produced enough hireable young journalists in the past, a spurt in media outlets has sparked a feeding frenzy that has created a significant shortage of well trained, entry-level journalists. In recent years, this has then created an acute shortage of mid- and very senior-level journalists.
According to a report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, an industry lobby, India’s print and broadcast industries are expected to grow at a compounded annual rate of 14% and 22%, respectively, until 2012. While print is estimated to become a Rs28,100 crore industry by 2012, television will be a Rs60,000 crore sector.
Even this kind of growth still leaves more headroom. According to industry estimates, some 222 million Indians read a publication of any kind and only 115 million households have access to television, leaving hundreds of millions who could become media consumers.
Media companies, industrial houses and start-ups backed by venture money are all jumping into the fray, launching new newspapers, magazines and television channels.
“Barring a few exceptions, most schools don’t do a good job...the training is also far from adequate,” says Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of English news channel CNN-IBN. “Without exception, I think, none of these institutes train students in journalism as a career. They are trained in how to be a reporter or an anchor. But, there is more to journalism than that.”
Journalism training institutes concede there are gaps in their training.
Nalini Rajan, associate professor and former dean of ACJ, says all students who graduate from her programme get jobs because the market is expanding. Currently, the institution enrols 120 students every year. But, by the end of the 10-month programme at her school, she says, only 60% of the students are well prepared. The other 40%, she says, are “floundering” and ill-prepared, especially in the area of copy editing”.
“We don’t think all of them are ready,” she says. “It is impossible because, in 10 months, we ram things down their throats. It tells you a lot about the poor state of the industry because all the students are taken in.”
Ramindar Singh, a visiting professor at the Times school in Delhi, notes that “many of the journalism schools in India are heavily focused on theory, not practical skills”.
Students also feel they are unprepared. “I was the brightest student in my school. I had three offers from leading publications. I thought I would be a star reporter from Day 1. But, it has been three months on the job, (and) I have yet to file a good report,” says Shikha Trivedi, who doesn’t want her alma mater or her employer identified. “Forget about the reporting skills, which I agree are better honed on the field, even my writing skills are not in tandem with my editors’ expectations. I would not be exaggerating if I said I am learning things from scratch.”
The inability of media schools to provide enough journalists—both quality and quantity—has forced many media houses to set up their own training institutes. Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd, which runs the Times school, the Eenadu Group in Hyderabad (Eenadu Journalism School), and Malayala Manorama Co. Ltd have been running media schools for many years now.
Others, such as CMYK Printech Ltd, which publishes The Pioneer, Living Media India Ltd, which owns India Today and runs channels such as Aaj Tak and Headlines Today, Dainik Jagran Ltd and The Indian Express Newspapers Ltd, have also set up training institutes. CNN-IBN has a one-year programme for new recruits, notes Sardesai.
Sona Jha, head of TV Today’s training institute in Delhi, says that one of the biggest benefits of such set-ups is that students get the right kind of training. “We give them specific training. They are trained under the supervision of real-life journalists, and that helps.” The school is in its third batch of around 30 students.
Mridula Ujjwal, general manager of Pioneer Media School, says that, often, in-house media institutes are more practical in their approach because they are looking to fill jobs immediately after graduation.
“By the time our students pass out, they have already spent six months in a Times newsroom. So it is all on the job, and we also train them in broadcast journalism,” says Gautam Adhikari, recently named dean of the Times school and editorial adviser, Times Group. The journalism school also opened a campus in Mumbai this year and plans to launch schools in Chennai and Bangalore this year. “Almost 100% of graduates from Times school get absorbed in the various publications and broadcast ventures of Times Group,” notes Adhikari.
Schools run by media houses are a major draw for students as they offer that much more job security. ACJ, too, finds that, irrespective of performance, almost everyone ends up with jobs.
One of the biggest draws for Aditi Sahay was that she was guaranteed an internship that could eventually land her a job. “At other schools, it isn’t the case,” says the aspiring broadcast journalist who will soon begin her internship at Times Now.
“These days, anybody with a desk and a borrowed computer is starting a journalism school. There is no syllabus, no planning, no assignments, no real training of any practical use,” says Oommen, who is director of Mascom. Oommen helped launch the Times media school and ACJ.
Because in-house schools are associated with specific media houses, students do not get the broad perspective they need, at least for the time when they move on to other jobs. “After graduation, other newspapers or organizations are reluctant to draw them in because they are trained in a particular style, or for reasons of competition,” says Sashi Kumar, chairman of the Media Development Foundation, which runs ACJ. “It is harder to get senior editors from other newsrooms to come in and lecture. For example, I don’t see someone from The Hindu coming in and talking to The Times of India training programme.”
While the English press has struggled, recruiting and training for other Indian languages, with the notable exceptions of Telugu and Malayalam, are proving to be even more challenging.
Says Ajay C. Upadhyay, former editor of Hindi daily Hindustan—published by HT Media Ltd, which is also the publisher of Mint—and former director of the Jagran Institute of Management and Mass Communication in Noida: “Most vernacular media houses are launching new editions and entering new markets. They need trained people, but they have no back-end support.”
Most Hindi and other regional language newspapers, according to observers, often hire people with no formal training in journalism. The common perception is that these hires are rarely given any formal training on issues such as ethics. “The less said the better about the language programmes. The work ethic students will pick up from these places can do damage to them as a professional,” says Upadhyay.
“The state of media education in Indian languages is not too good,” adds A.N. Mishra, vice-chancellor, Makhanlal Chaturvedi Rashtriya Patrakarita Evam Sanchar Vishwavidyalaya. The university, set up in 1991, offers training in media and communication in languages other than English. While it has been training students for Hindi newsrooms, it soon plans to launch courses in Bengali and Marathi. The two-year course, on average, graduates 200 students each year, with most of them ending up in the regional media.
“Of late, the job market has been good, and most students get good placements,” says Mishra. “Yet, we face a big challenge in terms of faculty. There is no trained staff that could impart good training.”