Great expectations

Posted: February 9, 2010 in journalism

I’ve been ‘teaching’ journalism to students since 2007 and what I’ve found since then, is that there are a lot of kids out there who are bloody talented, but seem bogged down by a lot of inconsequential stuff and too many expectations. And I really don’t know whether I am the right person to be giving them any kind of advice.

That, considering the fact that I’ve been a failure at a lot of things I’ve done in my life – personal and professional. But I’ve seen some kids who are so much smarter, so much more articulate and far, far, more intelligent than I am or will ever be (although it’s a bit late in the day to think of that), that I wonder why they are struggling to figure out why they are where they are.

I’ll agree that competition was nowhere near as fierce as it is now, and I’ll also agree that getting a job was a lot easier then. But isn’t there enough pressure on kids today already, without parents adding to it with their “just do what I tell you” line? Now I see these kids, most of whom are 80% + academically, collapsing under the expectations of their family, friends and faculty. I hear them groaning that the pressure is killing them, but their parents just don’t want to stop pushing them. Every transgression is carved in stone for them to see over and over, again.

According to everyone who has a right over their lives, the first big mistake the kids made is, of course, doing a shitty journalism course, when they could have been studying to become doctors, engineers or bankers. I agree that journalism is probably as bad if not worse than a teaching job, in terms of salary, if you don’t get a job in the metros. But what the hell, people who get into journalism shouldn’t be looking at fat pay packets, in the first place. It took me 13 years to get what people are drawing today as starting salaries in a newspaper, even in a B-town like Pune.

Of course, there is also that bunch, which suddenly discovers a couple of semesters later that they aren’t cut out for this. They got into it because of the glamour and realised six months down the line, that there’s a lot more to it than just looking pretty or writing a few reports. Ayaz Memon, who was at SIMC the other day couldn’t have put it better when he said “if you don’t have the passion for journalism, don’t do it.” I’ve been saying this from the day I took my first lecture, but I guess Memon is Memon!

Jokes aside, let’s face it, journalism isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. For that matter neither is software, medicine or banking. But does anyone care if the kid they’re pushing into becoming a banker doesn’t know how many zeros there are in a crore, as long as those crores will keep accumulating in his bank account?

That’s Transgression No 2. Calculating the damages and payback time for the money spent doing journalism for two or three years. So naturally, from the day the kid enters the institution he is already standing with his back to the wall, looking at the figures adding up on that imaginary computer screen. A lot of them have told me the tension they are in because they aren’t too sure when they can repay their parents. And that adds to the tension.

And then there’s transgression No 3 – the percentages. Just because you got 80% in school, you have to maintain the average. Heck, even computer programmed, four-wheeled machines don’t maintain the average they are supposed to, so why blame humans?

I know this student who did Economics in college because of insistence from her parents and had no clue why she was even sitting through the lectures. Much against their wishes she’s now doing journalism, but just can’t get rid of the fear and doubts her parents have instilled in her about choosing something she knows she can excel in. She’ll probably make a better journalist than anything else her parents wanted to push her into, but who are we to tell her, when the shadow of their expectations, like Banquo’s ghost, looms large over her.

My son is a very good example of this. The kid was first in school up to the fourth standard – always bringing in the 90 %. But in the last few years he’s been struggling to stay just above 70%. I watch him struggling and thank my stars that I was never so smart. But I also fervently pray that he doesn’t end up like me! I see how his mother is always on his case and sometimes I too. But most of the time, I feel sorry for the kid.

I know what his mother is thinking. “He’s got a mom who was pretty good in studies, an aunt who stood first in her final year in college, a cousin who is looking to continue her 90 % averages that she has maintained right from school all the way to the IIT entrance. And this kid is turning out like his father.” It’s a fate worse than death for the young man!

  1. Sumeet says:

    Purely from the payback point of view, the ROI on a career in journalism should be better than that in engineering or medicine because of the upfront investment (in time and money) involved.

    And then, the pinnacles of success are not guaranteed. Not every engineer becomes a Vinod Dham or Vikram Sarabhai. And not every doctor becomes a famous and rich heart surgeon or stem-cell specialist.

    In the same vein of course, not every journalist becomes an Ayaz Memon or a Mark Tully.

    However, I do believe journalism careers are more attractive today than ever before. The number of jobs have increased, the reader profile is increasingly complex in its demands and the media outlets (in number and type) have grown many fold. Very exciting times.

    During my presentation to the SIMC students in January 2010, I came away with a couple of very interesting observations.

    Todays budding journalists know what they want. There were students looking at the typical political-crime-business reporting careers, but there were an equal number interested in travel, lifestyle and sports journalism too.

    Further, I saw that they recognised, to the last one of them, the importance of reading. When I asked for suggestions for some titles I would like to read, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of book suggestions. Great reading nurtures great writing skills and opinion thinking.

    I’m looking forward to the new age in journalism in places like India, where the recent media growth (notwithstanding the current road bump) will create some great journalists and writers. Nothing more satisfying than reading a good piece of journalism.

    Except, of course, writing one!

  2. jogesh says:

    i absolutely agree with u on ur full blog .except , no pressure from me, as what u say: ” we are typical panju business family”. haha. but my wife like shruti is after my son.we have to strike a balance in life and understand our children. As of today i know my son is no sports material but very good in drawing and painting , but when i ask him what he wants to become : the answer is PILOT. All i say is that , take it as it comes and a lot of things are going to change in the childs thought process and behaviour. We as parents have to change. Saying all this i would like to add that i always wanted to be a panju businessman ( as u call me ). all the above written with no malice to anyone.

  3. Vidya Ranade says:

    I agree with u fully, Sir. In my case, I am a commerce graduate and then shifted to Journalism. I always had a flair for writing..I did my degree in Journalism and worked for newspapers in Pune. Just when I was doing my internships in one of the newspapers, my confidence was boosted and I knew that I have a passion for this field. But, now my parents don’t like it bcos of it’s unpredictability and risky nature (… for a girl). Tht’s how I am here working as admin staff..given a chance I would love to make a career in development journalism! I am sure I will find a way….thnx Sir for ur write-up. It portrayed today’s pertinent truth.

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