As a professor of journalism at the University of Hyderabad for the last five years, and a media writing teacher for the last two decades, I’ve been asked countless times: what’s the point of a journalism degree? The persistence of this question is a symptom of a rift in Indian journalism, between how we prepare people for the profession and how it is practised. My friends in the media industry hold that the academic orientation of university journalism programmes doesn’t equip their graduates to hit the ground running. My colleagues in academia argue that their job is not to create cookie-cutter media workers, but reflective and critical practitioners of the journalistic craft.
Journalism education in India is caught in a tangle of ideas about what form it should take, particularly in light of the rapid digitisation and globalisation of the media and the new technological skills these changes necessitate. The question before us is what role, if any, university media departments have to play in shaping the journalists and journalism of the future. The industry, with its demand for “market-ready” graduates, would like journalism education to emphasise the nuts and bolts of practice—how to use relevant software, produce a television bulletin, write to tight deadlines—even at the cost of the intellectual abilities academic education can provide. University media programmes are struggling to react. Should they continue to focus on what universities do—develop critical thinking, social and political understanding, and the ability to analyse complex texts and situations—or shift to training people in the latest digital techniques?
Most experienced media professionals would agree that responsible, change-enabling journalism takes more than just technical skill. It requires analytical ability, knowledge of social, political and cultural dynamics, and sensitivity to diverse people and contexts. These are best acquired in the interdisciplinary arenas of the academy. That said, universities cannot ignore the demands of the industry. The only way forward is to start a conversation between media leaders and journalism teachers on how to find a better curricular balance. But from where I sit, the gap between India’s newsrooms and university classrooms looks like a chasm, with little effort from either side to bridge it.
Already, there is a split in Indian journalism education. A recent survey by the Centre for Media Studies, a Delhi-based non-profit organisation, found roughly 310 journalism programmes on offer across India—up from 25 in 1981. Not counting the 54 distance-learning programmes, roughly half of them are university degree courses, whether at the undergraduate or postgraduate level. The other half are certificate and diploma courses run by private, and a handful of publicly funded, media institutes.
Usha Raman is a journalism teacher, writer and editor based in Hyderabad.