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Failure of Communication

India must face up to the rift between its newsrooms and classrooms

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.

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6 thoughts on “Failure of Communication”

I have been heading media schools for the last 15 years, not just of journalism. I have been the media dean of Symbiosis, Amity and Whistling Woods earlier. What is noted here is very correct, and we are all responsible for the same, including our industry and the regulating bodies like UGC. Some way out has been mentioned very correctly. I am trying to create http://www.mediadesignedu.com and The Edutainment Show Summit and Awards to address the issues of media and design education in general at the national and macro level. However, lot more needs to be done, more so at the micro university or institute level as suggested.

Sorry Prof Chowdhary awards will not improve journalism education. Isn’t the entertainment industry with its plethora of awards, a clear example?

Dear ma’m

A comprehensive analysis of reality pertaining to journalism education. I feel it is also important to understand the limitations concerning quality of students. a common entrance exam on the lines of CAT / CLAT might help us get focused students.. This in turn would ensure quality facilitators..and colleges/ Universities..

I have been a non journalist media professional, now retired. I had a few stints with large educational institutions teaching journalism at undergraduate and post graduate levels. I believe that no filter is applied for students taking admission in such courses. Secondly, admission seekers are often starry eyed kids seeking glamour of the profession. Thirdly, the curriculum is often not industry oriented. Journalism education is marketed to the gullible and immature teenagers who would later regret that the whole exercise was nothing more than being conned by advertisements and smooth talking counsellors of these institutes.

I couldn’t agree more that there is a disconnect between journalism and journalism education in India. But this is not the case in India alone — in the UK, where I teach journalism and digital media, the media industry similarly has little confidence in the academic study of journalism (but this is much less so in the US, as you demonstrate in your thoughtful article).

Journalism education can be seen as a mix of 1) skills, 2) professional approaches, practices and conventions, and 3) standards, values and aspirations. The first of these is the most vocational aspect of the three and is frankly often served better by skills-oriented courses than by university degrees. This is because university courses also focus, as they should, on: 2) approaches and conventions and 3) standards, values, etc. It is in precisely these two areas that the practice of journalism in India diverges drastically from what is taught in university classrooms. You know the answer if you’ve asked any journalism graduate what is the connection between the ethics they learned in the classroom and what they practice in their newsroom. The media industry is driven by factors such as brutal competition that allow little space for considered approaches; counts is success, not quality, or how sensational is the footage you obtained, not how balanced was your story. This is not to say that there is no good journalism. There is some excellent journalism, but those who produce it do it despite the prevailing atmosphere in the industry, not because of it.

The very tentative relationship of norms taught in the classroom with the pressures of real-life journalism is the real catch — you can’t stop teaching values and standards, but then you’re teaching things that have little relevance to industry. Academics rightly want to improve journalism but the fact is Indian industry has neither the time nor the inclination to even think about this. The differences of the political economy of journalism between the US and India make them two very different animals, and I am not sure how much of the Carnegie-Knight initiative’s recommendations have any reasonable hope of being applicable to India.

So, Usha-ji, however much I agree with your aspiration of a mutually beneficial relationship between industry and the academy, I’m afraid there is no easy answer and no transplantable answer, either. But thank you for belling the cat anyway.