On A Whim

VoiceTAP Careers and Colleges Series – Journalism as a career

voicetap-logo4Journalism as a career‘ was the topic of yesterday’s call in the careers series on VoiceTAP. The expert on call was Kanchan Kaur, the head of Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media.

Listen to VoiceTAP Journalism as a career call by clicking here

In a nutshell

Journalism is career where you can enter from multiple backgrounds, so this discussion was more free-ranging – focusing mostly on journalism in general. There are courses that you get started with, but there are hardly any that are specifically for journalism. The most common route these days is to do a course in mass communication, though that doesn’t preclude that other academic backgrounds are not allowed. Institutes such as Symbiosis and Asian College of Journalism (apart from IIJNM mentioned earlier) offer courses. There are various verticals within journalism such as tech journalism, automotive journalism, business journalism, TV / radio journalism – in each case some kind of training or qualification in the field you want would help. Those thinking of going into, say, business journalism could do their undergraduate degree in economics and then moving into journalism. If you’ve already got your bachelor’s degree and are looking to get into journalism then doing a one-year diploma course in would be one way of going about it.

Broadly, there are there major lines of journalism – print, TV / radio, and online. Print has been around for a long time and is considered to be much more respected because of the sober view that newsprint is supposed to carry. TV journalism has been around for a few decades but has often been accused of sensationalizing news reports in the thirst for 24/7 news coverage. TV journalism requires good writing and directing skills as a reporter has to distill down a news report into significantly lesser words than a counterpart article in print media – and at the same time lay down how the story is going to be presented on air. Radio journalism is not that big in India because the government only allows All India Radio to broadcast news shows. Everyone else (i.e., FM channels) can only give short news bulletins. If the spoken word is what you really want to be in then you can look into using Internet radio and / or podcasting as your platform. Which brings me to the newest kid on the block – online journalism. Online journalism is a different beast to tame altogether. It is important to understand that online journalism simply doesn’t mean taking a print media article and publishing it online. Online inherently is much more interactive and readers demand such interactivity. Being tech-savvy is a must; again as I said, trying to make online an extension of print and end it there results in disaster. Also unlike other forms of media, readers are spoilt for choice and have low attention spans – writing in an engaging style to keep them on a web page is tough. (Entry barrier for getting into this is so low that it takes a lot of effort to stand out from the crowd.) And why just web pages? With lowered cost of distribution of media, online allows for niche content to be produced more easily, and far more easier for the reader to consume. This includes video shows put up online which might not have a cost-benefit ratio if made for TV, but could make profits online. Online readers consumer content piece-meal, so content presentation is also important to keep them navigating on to related articles. Having said that, online journalism also presents significant challenges right now insofar as the quest for a business model more robust than advertising is concerned.

To become a journalist it is essential that you are curious about the world around you and that you can write well. (It goes without saying that you must buy a jhola. You know, for notepads and stuff.) The desire to find out things sets a good journalist apart from a bad one. A common myth is that if you’re into TV journalism instead of print media then you don’t need to be good at writing; far from it, you are expected to write your own anchor scripts if you are an anchor or if you’re working behind the scenes in copy-editing. The knack of getting a story across effectively in the least amount of words / visuals is a must.

Typical career trajectory is that you join as a sub-editor or reporter – or even as a trainee – and then move up the ranks depending on whether you can deliver compelling content within deadlines. Starting salaries are currently similar to those of lower-end IT professionals but on the basis of your work the potential to scale is large. This coupled with the fact that once you’re a journalist you might end up as an instrument of change makes this a lucrative career option. Journalists also have the option to switch over to allied fields such as public relations, marketing consultancy, advertising, editing in publishing houses, etc.

It is not always necessary to go through HR departments of media organizations to get a job. HR departments are primarily looking for freshers at college campus recruitment, so if you don’t fit the description but you think you’re good enough then you could probably set up an appointment with an editor to show samples of your work. This applies equally to photographers too who want to get into journalism. Current situation is a bit bleak with salaries being lowered due the recession (bonuses for Times Group employees were kept on hold this year) but as the economic situation improves on the whole this is expected to go away. It’s the best time to take up a course for the profession right now and then by the time you’re done things will be back to normal!

Further reading

  • Inverted Pyramid structure of writing: I’m not sure how many of you know this, but in journalism you are expected to write your reports in the ‘inverted pyramid’ structure. This basically means that most important details of a story are put at the top with paragraphs coming later on having less important details. This allows for easy editing out of less important bits if needed simply by lopping off a section of the end of an article.
  • Medianama: Good example of an independent online news media website. This whole operation is primarily run by just one person but the site still commands a lot of respect in the business journalism circle.
  • Stephen Glass incident: Finding respectability for online journalism has always been a hard task, with many print media journalists looking down upon it. Way back in 1998 a watershed event occured that shook American print media by its roots – a reporter from a reputed Washington magazine was exposed as having concoted stories multiple times by Forbes Digital. This event broke the myth that getting published in print meant there was no chance of oversight and that its easier to print crap on the Internet. It showed that online journalism could do hard-hitting stories too.
  • Pulitzer Prize winning entries: You’ll need to click around a bit – on the page to which the link leads, click on a category. It will show you a yearwise lisiting of winners in that category. Click on ‘More Details’ and then ‘Works’ to see the prize winning entries. This only works for winners from 1995-present, rest all are not available for online viewing.
  • Radioverve: I’m not aware of any Indian Internet radio news stations, but here’s an example of one Internet radio station which plays music. As the expert on call said, there’s no reason why this platform can’t be used for news media too.

Bottom Line

Those who love writing will love journalism, but before you plunge in you should be aware that there is a lot of stress involved because of the constant pressure to meet deadlines. Having said that, journalism can provide an exciting and fulfilling career – both in monetary and job satisfaction terms. You could always turn novelist.

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