Archive for the ‘journalism’ Category


On second thoughts, I should have retitled this ‘what’s the boss got to do with it?’

I read a quote recently by former president APJ Abdul Kalam that said, ‘Love your job, but don’t love your company, because you may not know when your company stops loving you.” I don’t completely agree with that, because sometimes a good company or a considerate boss can make you go that extra yard.

It was very flattering when an ex-boss told me he’d take me back because I had stuck to my ethics, when I had worked there. He told me I was one of the very few who knew what some of his managers were up to, and instead of joining them, preferred to walk out. Some years later he called me home and said he owed me an apology. I ca,’t possibly get a boss to apologise when they make a mistake, but when one says so, himself….! I haven’t met too many owners, editors or CEOs who have had the humility to accept they had erred and to apologise for it. He’s the only one.

That was valuable experience to my learning curve, and from the time I was 16, having seen and worked in a lot of places, I guess, I’ve seen a few managers – good and bad. But, honesty is not something that all of them appreciate,  even if they make a show of welcoming “frank and honest opinions”. My mother always used to say that people who tell you, “be frank with me about everything including me” are the first ones who’ll come after you with a hatchet if you ‘be frank and honest’ about them! I’ve had bosses telling me to point their errors whenever they make them. You can guess the rest. Stupid me!

There was another guy I worked for in Delhi for a year or so. He shut the company because his weekly medical bills crippled him to such an extent that it sometimes exceeding our weekly printing budget. He could have asked me to go. Instead, he told me to freelance and do what I loved to do – write – and said he would pay my salary till I got another job. I am eternally grateful to that man for his graciousness and generosity, because had he asked me to go that day, five of us would have been on the street, homeless.

These are some managers who you remember for all the right reasons. And then there are those you don’t want to remember at all! I read some time back that two well-known journalists of a national newspaper had resigned. Nothing new, it happens all the time. Two more left a fortnight before that for their own reasons. What I read with interest in the first case was that one of them cited ‘verbal abuse’ as a reason for his resignation. Some months back a news anchor tried to commit suicide alleging harassment from her bosses and top management. I feel sorry for the lady in question, and I can’t even imagine the kind of pressure she might have been under, but what she did was a bit extreme because one should never give any boss that satisfaction.

Two of my ex-bosses in respective organisations once told me that my juniors had complained that I used the F word once too often.  In the first case, the boss laughed and said, “Go easy on them.” She mistakenly thought I was using it against them. I came out and announced that I apologised to everyone for my language, but it wasn’t personal.  I must not have looked one bit contrite after my apology, because there was laughter from the people around.

In the second instance, I asked my juniors if I had ever abused them using the F word. They were surprised because none of them had complained. They said they had no problems with it, because they knew I wasn’t making it personal. It then became a bit of a joke and some of the reporters would say “Sir, please say the word once. The way you say it, it sounds like a compliment not a swear word. Dil ko sukoon milta hain!” (it gives relief to the heart!)

I’ve been accused of a lot else, like berating (NEVER ABUSING) reporters and subs for submitting bad copy, and I am sure they see the wisdom in that now! There were a few tears and then we would go out for a coffee and sort things out. Of course, there are always exceptions. As seniors, one pushes the juniors often to see how far they can be pushed. The brilliant ones survive, the rest make up the average bunch. It is a case of the kitchen and the heat. That’s life. Oh and I’ve made mistakes too, plenty of them, which I’ve paid for in cash and kind, because as an HoD, at the end of the day is responsible for everything that goes wrong.

I remember my senior Joseph Pinto telling some of us once that if anyone made really silly mistakes, “he would “hang the bastard out of the window by his legs!” Last year, I was at a condolence meeting for a former colleague and a senior journalist, and during some of the eulogies a couple of senior journalists mentioned how their seniors would berate them for messing up their copies. That is how they improved in journalism and reached the positions they are in today. I was flattered when they mentioned my name along with the others, because after all these years, it felt nice to be remembered by some of your juniors for the right reasons.

An ex-student tweeted to me some time back that verbal abuse is very common in media houses. She is right, it not common just in media houses but everywhere. In some places it is in-your-face and in others it is more subtle but just as vicious. And that is because managements do not care to act against errant managers, until his/her actions or he/she jeopardises their interests. I have nothing against an occasional ticking off. It doesn’t kill anyone. All seniors lose their cool at some time or the other. With the kind of pressure they are under from the top, it is understandable.

A former student told me how her boss screamed at her over the phone for something that wasn’t even her fault: Bhenc**d, why the f*** did you do this?” He was profusely apologetic to her the minute she walked into the office because he had discovered that it was not her fault after all! Never mind the fact that he got her gender mixed up! However, when I hear of bosses who say they are proud of verbally using their juniors, because that is the way they get work done, I pity them. It shows their inability and incompetence to lead a team.

I have watched the trauma-hit faces of the youngsters around me when bosses without even the slightest provocation have started screaming at them. Juniors then start to treat the job as a sufferance they have to endure because it pays the bills and not something they love to do. And more and more, I have begun to believe that if you do not treat people with respect they will not give you any respect.

Someone has rightly said that if you want to find an unhappy employee look to his boss. This link should make interesting reading. Why such experienced people, who are in positions of power for their talent and abilities (I presume), should behave in such a bizarre fashion is something I can never fathom.  A boss who thinks he has the right to verbally abuse his or her staff, is fit to be admitted to a psychiatric ward instead of the high chair he or she occupies in the corporate world.

I know of a colleague who quit her job, because the boss who was twice her age, went after her so hard that she fled. This was not a case of verbal abuse but one of extreme harassment. This kid just knew more about the job they were working on, and it was making the boss look inept. She told me the whole story one evening on chat and It horrified me that such a senior person could be so insecure about a job and so vindictive. And they were friends. Then there were these two kids who worked for national publications, who were got after by their immediate superiors. Once others noticed that they were taking it quietly, they too joined in, till one of them got frustrated and quit.

So what brings out the sadistic streak in some bosses?  Is it some frustration from the time they were trainees and were bullied by their bosses or are they just doing this to hide their inadequacies as managers, or are they mentally unfit to take the responsibility given to them?  I know ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’ but verbally abusing colleagues and juniors is proof that they are undeserving of the crown – whatever they or the management might think. Even I once had a junior politely telling me, “Why don’t you f**k off?” because I was standing behind her correcting her as she edited her copy.

I was taken aback for a second and then we started laughing. But then she was something special and she has proved it over the years by becoming one of the finest journalists this profession has produced. And we’ve remained good friends these past 25 years. We always want to emulate our seniors and believe that one day we would like to walk in their shoes. Would I ever want to walk in the shoes of someone who believes that swearing at his or her staff  is the way to get work done? This blog is my answer.


(Just thought I’d post this piece for posterity and for the record. This is the original piece sent to Tehelka, which was abridged for publication. It appeared on July 12, 2014. The link to that story is here.

Genes are a mysterious element in our system. It’s funny how they work behind-the-scenes.

My parents separated when I was around three or four, so whatever I heard about my father was from my mother – that he used to be a politician, journalist, lecturer. If there was more she didn’t tell me, and if she did, I was too young to remember. I only saw him as and when he occasionally dropped in at our place in Bhagalpur from Patna over the weekend, stayed the night and left in the morning. He scared me, because he had a volatile temper and used it at anyone and everyone, for any random reason. In my teens, I learnt he was a socialist and politician, who had been close to the late Jaya Prakash Narayan. Also, that his father had disowned him, when he joined the freedom struggle. Apart from that I didn’t know much else, and didn’t care. As I grew old enough to think for myself, I knew he was what I never wanted to be.

My first brush with journalism was when I was fourteen. I wrote an angry letter to a film magazine about a film I saw. They published it. I was shocked. Even more shocked when they sent me a cheque for 50 bucks. That was my brief flirtation with journalism, because I ended up working in the hotel industry in the 1980s.

In my twenties, rebellious and unemployed, a friend offered me a sub editor’s job at a local daily in Pune. I grabbed it. My father once came from Patna and asked me if I would ever become a News Editor. I said I didn’t know. I was a trainee sub editor earning 600 rupees. In the thirteen years after that, I became Assistant Editor of the daily. Then in 1994 my father passed away and neither I nor anyone from my family went for his funeral. It wasn’t possible anyway although I flew in to see him a week before he died. I don’t know who performed his last rites.

From Assistant Editor in a single-edition newspaper in Pune to a Chief Copy Editor at a seven-edition national newspaper in Chandigarh, to a Deputy News Editor at the same newspaper in Lucknow, I was now running the news desk. The day the editor called me to hand over the letter appointing me News Editor of the Lucknow edition, I broke down in her cabin.

Some years later, I settled again in Pune. I had quit journalism and gone into corporate communication. I took up teaching on a friend’s advice.  After all, twenty years was a long time to be in journalism. At my first lecture at a local college, I froze. Thankfully, that never happened again. I’ve been teaching journalism and occasionally PR for seven years now and a few hundred youngsters around the country are now my ex-students.

Then, like everyone else interested in writing, I began blogging (http://mohansblog.worpress.com), even as I returned to journalism a few years back. One day I was trolling the worldwide web and out of sheer curiosity I typed out my father’s name, and something popped out that left me stunned and turned my world upside down.

It was my father’s bio data in a book on the politicians from Bihar. It read: Educated in Darbhanga, Patna, Banaras and London; Left studies to join the non-cooperation movement, 1920; Assistant Editor and later Editor, Desh, 1921-23; Sub-Editor, Searchlight, 1924; Went to England for higher study and law, 1926-31; took part in the Civil Disobedience Movement, arrested and sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, 1934-35; founder member, Bihar Socialist Party, 1934; Secretary, Bihar Socialist party, 1935-36; taught in Kashi Vidyapeeth, 1936; Editor Sangharsh, 1937-48; Secretary, UP Congress Socialist Party; Principal National High School, Lucknow, 1939-42; participated in Quit India Movement, 1942; arrested and detained, 1943-45; member, National Executive, Socialist Party, 1948; Editor Janata, 1948-69; member Praja Socialist Party, 1955-69; left politics and resumed teaching at Patna; died in 1994.

Truth be told, I really didn’t know my father at all.

(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 11 Issue 28, Dated 12 July 2014)


Tuesday’s (September 10, 2014) edition of a Pune newspaper reports that a father was arrested for molesting his six-year-old daughter. So while (thankfully) they didn’t name the victim, they showed even more consideration by not naming the father. I wonder why. Shouldn’t they have released the name of this monster? Was it because he wasn’t a well-known personality, but just a casual labourer?

Having been a journalist for nearly 25 years, I abhor censorship of any kind when it comes to writing. I believe media should be free to report anything and everything as long as they have the facts and stay within the bounds of propriety, language, journalistic ethics without maligning, defaming or hurting anyone in the process. In other words, we practice some form of self-censorship.

However, there is a huge difference between having the freedom to report anything and everything and still maintaining some sense and sensibility. As of now, the Indian media is straining on the proverbial leash (no pun intended), but it has some way to go before that leash can be taken off. As it is, with the advent of online media and social networking sites news coverage has changed dramatically. Every time one believes they have reached the stage where they can be called responsible, the media shoot itself in the foot. Judging the way the media reported the Shweta Basu Prasad incident, I think they still have a long way to go before they can be called a truly responsible media.

I was waiting for some follow-ups from the ‘professional journalists’. However, there was pin drop silence. I waited for some more time hoping they were getting their facts. There was still nothing. There were the usual condescending, self righteous articles from some journalists. Then one of the newspapers ran an online poll on the subject with the actor’s picture, and that’s what got my goat. Under the garb of meaningful journalism, some people will do anything for a few hundred hits. And this, from the newapaper that I was proud to say I had worked for!

Whether they believed the actress’ story or not; whether she was telling the truth or not, or whether she was doing business are not the issues here. And I am not even defending the woman. Let’s face it. Many of our actors, who often wear a halo, do tend to have more skeletons in their closets than we can possibly imagine. Likewise, Shweta Basu Prasad may have been back in the news for all the wrong reasons, but to be made into a headline the way she had been, was just appalling.

What were the editors thinking when they allowed their news editors to use the name and picture of a 23 year old woman in their publications and the TV channels? Was it just for a few hundred copies and some TRPs? Did they not once consider the fact that she might have had a family somewhere who will have to live with that stigma for the rest of their lives? And if there were so concerned about the prostitution racket this woman was involved in, why was there this almost deathly silence when it came to revealing the identities of the men who were caught with the actor in the prostitution racket in Hyderabad or the kingpins of the racket? Surely, they know who these people are. Or is it because some names are too familiar and too close for comfort for them to print?

As journalists we are often asked not to disclose names of organisations or departments either, if a matter of sexual assault is to be reported. In Prasad’s case not only are we talking about the gross ethical violation in terms of publishing her biography and filmography on every story; but just in case the public’s memory needed to be jogged, newspapers and TV channels went the extra mile to release her picture without bothering to blacken out the eyes or blur the face.

Journalists are taught to exercise caution when reporting even the most insignificant case of sexual assault. For a fraternity that continues to remain cautious when mentioning the December 16 gang-rape episode, what happened when reporting on the present case? Was the fact that we were talking about a National award winning actor and not a college student that the free pass for journalistic ethics went flying out of the window? What followed was even worse. They brought out human interest stories on how the media owed her an apology, without ever offering one.

I remember an incident after the bomb blasts in New Delhi in mid-2000. Some TV channels carried the picture of a young boy who had identified one of the men who had planted the bomb. I was appalled when I saw the child’s picture. Thankfully, it was pulled out soon after. However, the next day I was even more shocked to find that a national newspaper had carried the picture of the boy. Since I happened to know someone there I asked why they had violated the child’s privacy and more importantly since he was the only eyewitness. The reply I got was, “Oh, the TV channels already broke that rule, so why blame us?”

It’s unfortunate that the media, which is quick to pounce on hapless bloggers and writers on social media platforms and threaten them with law suits for publishing something that lampoons them, is now strangely silent. Wouldn’t it be nice if one read a public apology in the newspapers addressed to the young lady and her family? Do they have the guts or the courage to do that? Or do they believe that an apology doesn’t really matter anymore since the damage is already done? Or, even more importantly, do they believe they are above the law?


“Why does journalism pay so poorly?”

A former student posed this question to me today on chat (her views are pasted below). The answer, I think, is because I believe some idiot somewhere in the past decided that journalists were doing immense social service to mankind by writing about the ills in society and speaking up for the oppressed – never mind if he or she WAS one of the oppressed – so they didn’t need to be paid as much as a professional.

I guess only people who are perennially broke and living off tea, cigarettes and vada pav can write with that ‘feeling’ about those who lead a hand to mouth existence! And thanks to the idiot who planted the first seed about the social status of journalists, newspaper managements took it all very seriously and decided that since “any damn fool can be a reporter” why pay them anything more than a pittance! Of course, I am just making light of an issue but can someone seriously tell me why, journalists are paid so poorly?

Is it because the first impression of a journalist is one of a pajama-kurta clad, cloth bag over shoulder, bathroom slippers on his feet? Or is that classic, ‘What came first, the chicken or the egg?’ story? Was he wearing that because he couldn’t afford a designer label or did the newspaper owner decide that the bugger anyway only wears a P and K so why should I pay him too much money? And anyway, all he does is write stories, so how much effort does that take?

I remember the case of a couple of newspaper managements in the 1990s who refused to pay what the wage board had instructed them to pay because it was “too much”! They then decided to grade salaries as per circulation figures of each centre. I know what journalists in Pune felt like doing to their respective managements when they heard the news! Since we were a single-edition local newspaper we were luckier.

I mean, honestly, newspaper managements thought that when they had given around 5 per cent as a hike, they’d done their bit for humanity. So what is 5 per cent for a guy making 10,000? His fortnightly fuel bill? And thanks to the contract system, nowadays, journalists get no other benefits. When we were on the wage board, our increments used to be anything from 30 to 75 bucks!  Thank God, the government decided that because otherwise a lot of managements would have got away with a 20 buck increment! It’s a shame that after 30 years in the profession, a journalist in a newspaper retires on a salary of 40-60k a month, whereas a professional with the same experience will be drawing three or even four times that when he calls it a day.

That is not to say that today, journalists don’t make money. The big city papers have raised salaries of staff and some of the seniors and editors make more money in a year than most of us have saved in our lifetime. I am not grudging them that; they deserve every penny, but what about giving newcomers a better deal? You can’t say that newcomers should be paid low salaries because they need to understand that journalism isn’t only about money. Huh! The rupee doesn’t go very far nowadays! And ever since my salary started being wired into my bank account after being converted from the dollar, I understand that even better today.

Secondly, a lot of kids are armed with degrees or diplomas from media schools that charge the earth. A kid looking for a job to repay a student loan is already calculating how many years it will take him/her to repay it. And when he hears what his salary for the first three years is going to be, he is already walking around with the weight of the world on his shoulders. There are those rare exceptions that end up in journalism because that is all they wanted to do, so don’t look at the money that closely. But even they realise a year or two down the line that the money just isn’t enough and they need to supplement it with something else.

That is why so many of us freelanced on the side writing for some publication or the other. I remember writing for a Gulf newspaper with approval from the management where I worked in the mid-1990s. One article gave me around 1500 bucks which was a lot for a guy taking home a pittance. I usually wrote two a month. In reality, when I was freelancing in Delhi in 1998, I earned double what I earned as a salary then. When I joined HT, I started on an even lower salary than what I was earning in the last job! But then, the dream of working for a national newspaper had an irresistible pull for a guy from a small town! And I needed another job! I wouldn’t have exchanged it for anything else in this world. A little more money would have helped, though!

It’s sad, really, because journalists play with their lives to get a story and at the end of the day, get very little in return for it. The world of journalism is awash with stories of journalists killed or wounded covering wars, terrorist attacks or getting killed doing an investigative report. Not everyone ends up becoming a star anchor or reporter. Some end up like Daniel Pearl or James Foley or even cartoonist Irfaan Hussain. Incidentally, 11 journalists lost their lives in India in 2013. Any idea what state their families are in?

And while we are at it, let me just say that it is still a fantastic profession to be in – long working hours, shitty bosses, poor salaries, minimal family life notwithstanding. Not for one moment am I suggesting that those who love it should give it up. Those of us who’ve been there, done that know that nothing beats journalism in all it’s forms. It’s just the mindsets are changing, attitudes are changing, living costs are changing. Paying a little more money wouldn’t hurt the profession. Or would that take the fun out of being a journalist?

A newcomer’s view

Here’s what a former student sent to me when I told her I was writing the blog:

Given the amount of time, energy and emotion we put into the job – failing which we risk a pink slip – the benefits often seem outweighed by the pitfalls. I’ve forgotten what it is to have a social life and I’m ok with that too. But to label our job as a “public service,” is just bunkum. It’s a phenomenal profession – one I wouldn’t trade for anything else. But the label may have held good 20 years back when media proliferation was still contained. Today, it’s turned into a perfectly competitive market with every publication/ channel offering the same content at exactly the same price.

And where is the reward? The remuneration? With all due respect to those who crunch numbers on the job, as dull as the job might appear to be, the pay cheque more than makes up for lost time.

Everyday seems a struggle after the 10th of every month. Once the bills are settled and the rent paid, even a dinner out seems like luxury. Those are days when journalists – especially the ones who’ve recently joined the profession – look out for greener pastures. For, all said and done, as glamorous as the profession may seem, it doesn’t really make an offer we can’t refuse.

‎Before we joined the profession, we all held a very romantic perception of what the industry had in store. So naturally, given the backdrop of the war in Afghanistan and now Syria, an assignment on an exposed manhole on the city’s streets seems far from rewarding.

Of course, the profession exposes you to myriad subjects too. I’ve had a fantastic time covering the Lok Sabha Polls. I’ve escaped being raped in the hinterlands of UP, stayed in shady hotels and overlooked death threats. But for what it’s worth, when you turn the pages of the newspaper, the byline on the story makes all the trouble seem justified.

One only wishes that the fraternity didn’t have to fight tooth and nail ‎to make ends meet.


The Hindu was once known as the newspaper which had NO errors. I stress on the word ‘NO’.  This newspaper was the last word in correct English. It must be right, if it is in The Hindu, was the foregone conclusion. With due apologies to the Virginia Slims advertisement that appeared in the early 1960’s (I think), we’ve come a long way baby!

A few weeks ago, The Hindu had a word in the lede that would have made ALL their late editors turn cartwheels in the grave. It had used the word ‘catapult’ instead of ‘capitulate’ in a report about the Advani resignation farce. It got me and I am sure, a lot of others, smiling at the delicious irony of it. Imagine the blunder happening at The Hindu, which always prided itself for the correctness of its language. The same Hindu, in the early days, offered a generous sum of money to readers who could spot an error in the newspaper. It was reported that for many years there were no claimants for the prize. But this incident also got me thinking.

After having worked in the media industry for the past 23 years, this is a question that I have often pondered over but have always come up short for answers: Is it possible to produce a zero-error newspaper? And, if so, under what conditions?

During my stint with the Hindustan Times in Lucknow, the HR guys came over once to give us a presentation on Six Sigma which they wanted to implement in the newspaper. I sat through the lecture that stretched for a half a day and at the end of it, when I was asked whether it could be employed in the editorial department, I said a flat no. Here’s why. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

Let’s just step back a few decades and explore the work in newspapers between the 1950s up to the early 1980s. In those days, most reporters still filed only a story or two every day as per their beat requirements. Copy editors (then known as sub-editors) edited three to four reports on a shift ( I may be wrong here). There was more than one sub editor to do one page. Pages were made by layout artists supervised by seniors. There were no spell-checks. If you had a doubt, there was the fat dictionary. For grammar and sentence formation, your command of the language was what saved you or screwed you.  But of the people who worked there many were dons in the language and secondly they were passionate about the profession.

By the mid 1980s, when I joined a newspaper, sub editors were editing up to two pages per shift, again in hard copy, although computers were being used to type in matter. It was only in the 1990s that computers began to be used for editing and page-making as well. Cut to the present day and age, where with the help of computers copy editors not only edit, but also design up to four pages per shift. Journalism schools were not too much in fashion in those days, and as Kushwant Singh said in the foreword of a book on journalism, one could learn more journalism in three months working for a newspaper than by spending two years in journalism school.

Today media schools have spread across the country like the proverbial rash. But they are churning out graduates and post graduates with very little connect to the high pressure world outside. The quality of manpower emerging from here has a huge role to play in the product that they intend to promote. While there are youngsters who are (to use the phrase) to the manner born, there are numerous others who take up journalism because they couldn’t get into, maybe, medicine or engineering. So unless they discover the hidden talent and revel in the course, they are already facing the proverbial Mt. Everest. Then, a month’s internship is not enough. Today, a fresher is thrown in the deep end from the day he or she joins, and not everyone feels right at home. The smart ones learn to swim the rest struggle to stay afloat. It is the latter that is a cause for worry. This is where a mentor plays such a significant role at least in newspapers. Magazines are luckier, in that aspect I am told.

When we were trainees, there were seniors who were looking over our shoulder at what we were doing. Very often, we were told to watch how they edited a particular copy. So we did not just learn to edit, we also learnt to write better.  Maybe, that’s a practice we should resume, at least in a newspaper, even if it means extending work by a few hours. Today, that is missing, mainly because there is no time. If I make copy editors sit next to me every time I rework their copies, the deadlines will go for a six.

Take the example of the newspaper I work for. On any given day we have between 25 and thirty local and region reports, which are far more than what any other local newspaper carries, except maybe the vernacular editions. So, while I run my eyes over all those reports once edited and I still find mistakes, I correct them. When the copy has numerous errors I’ll call the copy editor and show him where he or she has erred. I don’t always have the time to individually call juniors over and explain to them the intricacies of editing and rewriting every time they make an error. I hope that they will read the newspaper the next day to see the corrected versions of their copies.

In such a working environment, can we ever produce a zero-error newspaper? Not everyone could produce it then, and with the kind of pressures we face, I just wonder whether we can do it now.

And if you need more proof, here it is. From the Indian Express of July 27, 2013.

 


I don’t know what it was that the young lady from a Mumbai college did to get herself expelled, but whatever it was, I think the punishment was a bit too harsh. Suspending her for being an administrator of a confessions page could have been the appropriate thing to do, if at all.

From what I’ve read in yesterday’s Hindustan Times, the student was expelled because she was the administrator of a Confessions page started by students of the college. The college authorities believed that neither the institution nor the staff should have been maligned on the page and took objection to it. They decided to teach her a lesson. Again, I am only going by newspaper reports, but I do think it was a bit harsh, and the reaction to it as overly dramatic, as the incident in Palghar some months ago when two girls were arrested for posting something on Facebook during Balasaheb Thackeray’s funeral.

Just a couple of weeks back students of a media college, where I take classes, opened a Confessions page. I love reading what these youngsters have to say about life and a lot else and I have often commented as well. There have been times, when I’ve felt the urge to put my comments down in “their language” with the A, B and C in the right place! I’ve refrained from doing so, purely because I realise that what I say as their teacher could have its repurcussions.

Anyway, I went on this Confessions page and found some really nasty comments about people’s sexual orientations and these kids were named in these updates. I was appalled. Whether it was fact or fiction and whether X was a lesbian, Y a homosexual and Z a transgender was an extremely personal issue and no one had the right to flog it on a social networking site. Worse, there were some factually incorrect statements made by some students, which maligned some members of the faculty, again anonymously.

I registered my protest on the page and from there, others picked it up. Then a post written by an anguished student Sheikh Rehmatullah, questioned the need for such a page and the kind of scurrilous content it was propagating. Another faculty member posted her response to it and suddenly the shit hit the fan.

Rehmatullah asked for my comment and I responded. I agreed with most of what he said. My reply to a faculty member (since she berated me for being diplomatic!) was that students need to let off steam, so I didn’t have a problem with the page per se, as long as there was someone filtering it, which in this case, seemed unlikely. If there was, he or she was either nodding off on the job or was finding the deluge of updates too much to handle.

These are 17/18-year-olds, and they can hardly be expected to behave like 35-year-olds, but some of the updates were downright defamatory. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many students voicing their opinion, some quite vehemently, against the page. And most blasted the rude, crude and extremely insulting anonymous updates. Then one smart kid decided to post an anonymous message from “The Director” and I remember saying “This is what I mean by self censorship” or some such thing. I believe the page was pulled off a few hours later.

Cloaked in the garb of anonymity, you cannot say anything you want and get away with it. And mind you, unlike the girl who was expelled from the college in Mumbai, these kids are media students, who should understand restraint and practice some form of self censorship.

Unfortunately, many of today’s media students (and I stress on ‘media’) believe freedom of expression means NO restrictions. I have no argument with students from any other colleges who wish to vent their spleen against college, professors, government, politician, friend or foe. But I do believe that such liberties are not applicable to media students. They need to understand that in the profession they are in, it is imperative they stop and think of the reactions their actions could provoke. on a larger canvas. If they still think ‘viva la revolution’ is the answer to all ills, they are in the wrong world.

In newspapers during editorial meetings, people raise objections to a point in a story and argue over it. Sometimes one argues that the report is half-baked forcing it to be put in cold storage. In journalism classes I have spoken of checks and double checks on a controversial story to ensure there are no loose ends, which could come back and bite one in the ass! We even consult lawyers on the newspaper’s payroll to confirm whether we can carry a report without inviting a lawsuit. We don’t publish just anything. Sometimes we may err on the side of caution, but then it is better to do that, than be forced to print an apology the next day. I’ve seen national newspapers carrying front page apologies for stories done, where they accept that they hadn’t got their facts right.

We love to talk about the American or the British media, but even they have some form of self censorship, and it is something my young friends in media schools need to learn. It’s not a ‘free’ world as everyone would have us believe. The sooner some media students understand that, the better their future…

A student replies…

Posted: January 13, 2013 in journalism, students
Tags: ,

Reproducing the entire reply from Nandan Sharalaya, to my earlier blog post https://mohansblog.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/the-kids-are-bored-how-do-i-un-bore-them/

Dear Sir,

I just thought I’ll share 4 thoughts with you on your latest blog post because you were on of my favorite teachers in SIMC without any doubt!!!!

So I just thought I’ll put in a few points but please don’t get me wrong at all. I was reading this really negative comment on the blog and because I hate being negative and personally believe there’s a solution to absolutely everything, I thought I’ll share with you 4 points as a personalized message and not leave it as a comment. Most of it I am guessing you are already following or completely get but I really wanted to help in some way. Forgive the typos!

1. In SIMC and Pune, the system is messed up genuinely. Not blaming the college, just the whole structure. I come from a very simple but very well to do middle class family in Bangalore. My dad was the M.D of Coke in West Africa so I lived all my life in Nigeria except 12th grade which I did in Chennai but we were always very into our culture and ethos etc. And I liked that so when I came to SIMC (young, simple guy) I got a huge culture shock. The freedom and the present day lifestyle really hit me hard. But there were things I thought then that I must do and I drew a line then and there. I promised myself I would never touch alcohol, never try cigs/weed etc etc and live a very simple life, do my shit and be happy. I have stuck with that till this day. I still don’t know how alcohol tastes. The point I am trying to make is that in Symbi, everyone just gets lost in everything else apart from what’s essentially required. You will never have a focused, inspired class because half are getting rid of hangovers and the rest have other issues to think about/stress (no mums food, relationship issues, money etc). All of this exists everywhere but the truth is, I think it’s just a lot more in Symbi. As a professor, you can’t do much about this but in such a disadvantaged situation, you can’t be a normal professor. You really have to try super hard to get things going if you really want to.

2. Talking of super professor, I still vividly remember my first class of yours in the first year. I am from a science background and so when I am suddenly thrown in Pune attending random lectures, I am bloody fascinated. And you absolutely added to that experience. You were a live wire then with all the stuff you said and how you connected most of your experiences. The students were genuinely fascinated. People discussed your lectures in the canteen etc. That whole first year, I still remember many of friends rating you a 10 on 10. In the 2nd year however, everyone got a little used to you and suddenly I felt the interest quotient/ stories reduced a little, the surprise factor in you class had reduced, your enthusiasm seemed much lesser so this time around you lost all those guys having a hangover and you had the attention of only the few of us in the first few rows. Being a professor is damn hard and I think one of the most prominent ways in which you could get back to un-boring the students is just by being that live wire wow professor in my first semester!!

3. You have probably been told this so many times by now but unfortunately seem to students associate the word cynicism with you. I have no issues. In fact I like your cynicism. I even used your style many a times when speaking/debating. (You remember how I once took permission in 2nd yr to take one of your classes and we had this super intense discussion on the Islam terror and the whole phobia that the world seems to have? that class was really well received and was a super debate.) So I was saying eventually by the end of 2nd or 3rd year a lot of students in my class began to think you had nothing positive about the world/industry. I even read your previous post where you perfectly justified your point of view. In the sense, though everything you said was the absolute reality, consciously no one wanted to ever connect with it. Like bad news. You want to delay hearing or feeling it as much as possible. And I think its simple human psychology to not respond to that kind of stimulus. If I was to suggest, I think it would be great if you came in every class you took and started off your lecture emphasizing what a brilliant profession this is and how the students are superbly killer guys. Because then suddenly you have people wanting to listen and after that whatever message you want to send across suddenly seems to be taken more easily. This worked with me a lot with most of professors. For e.g I still remember how I wasn’t so much interested in the multimedia module Ramesh Menon Sir was taking and then suddenly he just started talking about how his father and him got into good terms after so many years when he won the Ramnath Goenka award. His father hated the fact that he took journalism but 20 yrs later, he was proud of him. Unknowingly, I just absorbed every other complicated shit he said about multimedia after that story/thought.

4. Last suggestion. I think because this course is really open, the professors who come here really need to ensure that they use every possible intervention mechanism to engage the student in one class/period. To put it more simply, I think the class becomes more lively when you engage a lot more senses. For e.g let say you are talking about something as simple as the profile of a reporter. I would ideally first talk about it for 15 minutes, open questions for 5 minutes, Play a video for another 15 minutes, take questions for 5 more minutes, then circulate a few leaflets/printout to read in class itself for 5 minutes on the same topic, then probably get a reporter or show pictures of your life, a radio clipping/joke/meme/poster, workshop type closed group discussions etc in an incentive based mechanism. Essentially just try and drive the same point through various mediums of expression. In this process you are not giving the student time to zone out or just get used to one thing. I suggest its important to fill too many mediums/processes to drive forward a simple point. And whenever someone did that to me, I grasped better and I concentrated harder.

You could also try asking yourself every class you conduct what incentive could you provide that would get things going?! I did 6 debates in the last year winning all of them and that gave me close to 1 lakh rupees prize money in just 2 months. I am no passionate debater, I only went coz there was money and my father refused to buy me a dog and a keyboard which I eventually bought! That was my incentive! Similarly Sana took this nice lecture in first sem for which you got her home made chocolates! Now suddenly, whoever took a lecture next time/presented in front of the class put some josh not because they wanted home made chocolates. It just left you that something was going to come! And all of this really doesn’t need to have any monetary connection. Like, an opportunity to spend the whole day with you in Sakaal office for whoever did well/ a byline somewhere/ a mention in your blog/ i mean anything under the sun!!!

I really meant to say everything in very good spirits so if I have said anything wrong it has been absolutely unintentional!

Cheers Sir! Was great meeting you at the convocation!

Nandan