Posts Tagged ‘media students’

Having worked in journalism for 23 years and taught at various media schools for the past six, I’ve seen a lot of cases of plagiarism and fabrication of news. Some of the instances have been so blatant that I have really marvelled at the writer’s total disregard for ethics. I guess a lot of it has to do with our own mentality and our sense of right and wrong.

If one believes there’s nothing wrong with copying and pasting a paragraph from somewhere or someone else’s work, then one seriously needs to introspect on whether one is in the right profession. I’ve seen reporters picking up entire stories from foreign publications and passing these off as their own, after making the mandatory required changes in place, name and incidents! I once caught a reporter who lifted entire reports thrice! He had me fooled twice, till I went on Google and discovered the truth. Thank God for Google and Fact Checker!

Of course, there have been journalists and editors who have either lost their jobs or have been ‘outed’ in the public domain for doing that. Some of them continued in their jobs after expressing regret for ‘inadvertently’ sourcing their material from somewhere else. Can one really copy a report or even a part of it inadvertently?  But this post is not about famous people and their transgressions.

This post is about youngsters who think there is nothing wrong in copying material from the Internet.  I see some of my media students blatantly lift stuff and try to pass it off as their own. I have often given a zero or sometimes a 1/10 to some who have done that and a couple of them have tried to brazen it out, only to realise that they have taken on the wrong person!  They have complained in writing to the director of a media institute against me, only to have it blow up in their face. Like I always say in my classes – a little exaggeration is okay, but blatantly lifting from somewhere is unpardonable!

And this malaise runs deep – right down to the school level. The newspaper I work for recently started a contributory column for school children. They were given a few topics and asked to write an essay “in your own words”. I was appalled and alarmed to see so many children just copy entire reports from websites and send it to us, as their own. I wonder whether the expression “in your own words”, got lost in translation! I am sure every nine or ten-year-old boy understands the meaning of that. Don’t parents see what their children are up to? Or have we reached a stage where nine- year-olds function without any supervision from parents?

I have turned away quite a few such pieces that have been forwarded to me for publication. We are going to call up the parents and speak to them about it. My editor and I both agree on this point that if they are not told now, their children will continue to think it’s okay to copy. We published quite a few original pieces and some others that had some of the content ‘lifted’, because I understand that it is not easy for children to have all that information in their heads. It is only when the entire content was brazenly copied that I put my foot down.

I remember my son writing a really short fictional story when he was in Class II. Having poured through all the mythological comics we had given him, he invented the names and characters and made up a short story! The journalist in me initially refused to believe he had written it himself! He was almost in tears when he realised I didn’t believe him. Of course, a bear hug at finding that his work was completely original wiped away his tears!


This is not just the perfect wtf moment. It’s the ‘jumping-off-a-bridge-moment. I should have read the warning signs, should have realised that the light at the end of the tunnel was in reality an oncoming train. To say that I am speechless is an understatement – stupefied is the more likely word.

During one of my lectures to media students, I had said that during an internship, if your seniors ask you to run down to the local tapri and order tea and samosas, don’t feel offended. It’s all part of your learning curve, and very often seniors do that to see whether you can be a team player. And I didn’t make that up on a whim. This had been told to me by a former student who interned at a well-known newspaper.

Then a few weeks ago while correcting answer sheets of some media students I came across a definition which said: The job of a trainee reporter is to get tea and samosas for the editor. I was horrified to see that all my efforts to stir up the passion for journalism had been wasted. The thought also occurred to me that if this is what people understood after my having spent so many man hours with them maybe, just maybe, I had failed and should call it quits. I should have read the signs, but, unfortunately, I didn’t.

If that wasn’t enough, just a while back I got to know that some of the students didn’t want to pursue journalism in the second year of their course because I had told them it was a crappy profession and that there was no future in it You could have knocked me down with a feather. I have NEVER said that in any of my classes. Had it been so, I would never have been it for over two decades.

I had also told them often enough that for me journalism was an obsession. That I am the kind who wakes up at 3 am in a cold sweat because even in my sleep I dream that I made a mistake in a headline. Didn’t you remember that fellows?

What I have also always said and will continue to say is that journalism is a profession like none other. It’s not an option for people who want to make a quick buck, because it entails long working hours, average working conditions and poor salaries – and where everything else in life takes a backseat. I have also said it’s a profession for those who have a fire in their bellies and not for the pen pushers. And I’m not going to lie about that. In return what you get is an exhilarating high – a high that can’t be described.

Nothing beats the feeling of seeing your name on the front page of a newspaper right at the top of the report. The glamour will follow but first there’s a lot of hard work. For that to happen, you need to be interested in the NEWS, to know what’s happening around you and react to it. And that interest can be nurtured and developed, if you have the passion for it.

Which is why I am appalled at the way students, to hide their own shortcomings and confused state of mind, have coolly pinned their refusal to continue in journalism or PR on me and other faculty. I am fine with the fact that students don’t want to do journalism for their own million reasons. Just don’t make me one of them. I refuse to live with that on my conscience. So for all the things I have said about journalism, NEVER have I said that it’s a bad profession.

And some of my young friends also broke the cardinal rule in journalism – never take anything at face value – even if it comes from me. I’ve also told them explore, dig deeper, before they draw any conclusions. Obviously, that never occurred to them.

Milinda Natu, another faculty had this to say when I told her about the latest incident – “I know artistes who tell newcomers to pick up a broom and sweep their studio clean every day for an entire month, and then see if they’re interested in art!” Now, how many of you want to take up AV?

So to all those impressionable kids who still believe they have the passion for journalism, I say, don’t give up so easily, always explore, find out the truth for yourself before jumping to conclusions. And if you’ve chickened out without exploring the options, just don’t end up feeling sorry for yourselves.

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward would never have investigated Watergate if they had accepted the fact that it was just a simple break-in. Or that it was quite normal for burglars to hire high-priced lawyers. Or worried about how much money they were making or how many hours they were putting in. Had they done that they might have launched an advertising agency and called it W&B!

Closer to home, Rajdeep Sardesai, Arnab Goswami and Barkha Dutt didn’t just become celebrity anchors overnight. Nothing in life comes easy, fellows. We’ve all had to work for it – sometimes 24X7. Why?

It is also a profession where you wont be certain of a pay-cheque just a week after you graduate. It’s a profession where you’ll have to intern at that coveted media house for months together to prove your mettle. And when you finally do make it through and read your first byline – the feeling will be unparalleled, indescribable. I guess you have to be in there to experience it – if you really want to.

It’s like falling in love!

And that day you can tell your junior to order the tea and samosas!

‘Are you happy?’

Posted: December 16, 2011 in journalism
Tags: , ,

A former colleague, and now a good friend, called in the morning to tell me about a story which he thought I could do, or get done for the newspaper I work with.

His next comment was interesting. “Are you happy?”

If I was, he said, it didn’t show in my blog posts.

I reflected on the past six years since June 2005, when I quit the media and went into PR and Corporate Communications. It was a big mistake, I realised, a few months down the line, but by then the doors had shut in my face. That’s not to say there weren’t offers, but there was nothing that seemed interesting enough to take me back to journalism.

Public Relations and Corporate Communications, as defined by the two mom & pop outfits that I worked for, was nothing but pushing press releases and attempting to get the bosses interviewed by the business press. It’s something that can’t go too far, unless you have something to say – and they didn’t.

I think what really gave me another lease of life was teaching, or just telling people about the way newspapers worked – at least the way I saw it. Listening to kids less than half my age, expressing themselves in a way only they knew (!) was an eye-opener. It also got me reconnected to the media in a way. Now I had to brush up on my knowledge of the subject.

I couldn’t possibly stand up there in front of a class of a hundred plus kids and clear their doubts when I had so many of my own. Sometimes I failed and the students made their displeasure public, but most often, I believed, I did clear the doubts they had. Thankfully, no one ever wanted to discuss the Monroe Doctrine or Mein Kampf! Or else I would have got screwed.

So when I returned to journalism in January this year I was elated. Unfortunately it was an unpleasant experience, and I really wondered whether the field of media had passed me by. Should I go back to PR and salvage that part of my career, is a thought that also occurred to me. Then I decided, if I had to get back to what I really wanted, it had to be now or never. When I joined the newspaper, I was well prepared to take a salary cut in the process. It was better than wasting my life away in something that didn’t interest me. Thankfully my teaching assignments made up a bit of the shortfall.

So on September 19, my first day at work in this newspaper, when I walked in and sat down at my work-station, switched on the PC and logged into the wire service, I felt this huge swell of emotion. My eyes began to sting with tears. I realised I was home. I was back where I belonged. I should never have left. I just sat back and soaked in the feeling. This newspaper was a small cog in the huge wheel that made up the media group and it was competing against some of the giants in the field. But for me it was like the oxygen that makes us live and breathe.

I don’t know how many others have felt this way, when returning to something they had loved and lost! To me these last three months have been a revelation. And then the atmosphere at the workplace has also helped. Editing was always something I enjoyed doing. To go through the copies of the juniors and clean them up has given me the pleasure, I’ve haven’t had in the past six years. It’s a thrill that I am still soaking in. Like a former colleague told me yesterday, when we were on chat, “take what happened in the past as a bad dream that occurred and move on.” I have.

And there’s something else.

I feel that today’s kids, who aim straight for the top as soon as they finish their course, make a mistake. I realise that for the money they spend on their course they only want the biggest name in the business. But what is the biggest may not necessarily turn out to be the best. One or two of the ten may hit the jackpot, but what about the rest? For them it invariably ends in frustration and then a general feeling of having wasted those early years.

In a large organisation, no one has the time for you. I spent five years in Hindustan Times where no one had the time for me. Whatever I learnt I did on my own. And I had to thank my time at the small newspaper for that, which taught me the basics and a lot more about journalism. The feeling I got was that since I worked with the largest selling newspaper in the region, I was expected to know the job, without there being any ‘hand-holding’. Working in a multi-edition newspaper was a huge shock, for someone who never worked in one. That’s where the 13 years I spent, and the guidance from my seniors helped.

Some months ago I addressed a fresh batch of media students. All of them had come there with stars in their eyes, taken in by the glamour of the profession. They all wanted to be Barkha, Rajdeep or Arnab. Then I gave them the ‘real’ picture. I heard later from some of them that I had ‘disillusioned’ them. After hearing me, they were not really sure whether this is what they really wanted to do. But there were those who were ‘inspired’ by what I had said and knew this is where they wanted be. I know of quite a few of my students who have quit the newspaper they worked for, frustrated by the work they are made to do (“This is not what I thought I would be doing after paying a packet these last few years”). Let’s face it, journalism isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

But coming back to me, I’ve never been happier. A couple of my past students who met me in the city the other day said I looked much happier “and dapper” (whatever that meant)!

Joe, I hope that answers your question!

It’s been six years since I quit the print media and floundered into Information Technology, Corporate Communication and teaching – I don’t want to call it ‘academics’ because I don’t think I am qualified to call myself an ‘academic’.

But, recently, I returned to the scene of the crime (metaphorically speaking), which I had left in a state of disillusionment and boredom. And I was as excited as a schoolboy entering the school gates for the first time. I don’t think this could have come at a more opportune moment. So after six years, I guess I am back where I belong – this time as Managing Editor of two automobile magazines.

As for my teaching experience, the media student who endured my classes these past four years will be the best judge. I know there will always be those who thought I was an ordinary teacher and others who believed differently. And I have no issues with either point of view. I am a journalist and never claimed to be an academic. I took up teaching because I thought budding journos needed to know what the media was really like. So whatever I spoke in the classroom was what I had experienced in my career so far.

But coming to the nuances of journalism, editing, reporting and feature writing are still only about the basics. I taught the basics because that is the way I learnt it from my seniors. I learnt it the hard way – on the job. After the basics, it really depended on the practical knowledge the individual got – whether in-house, during internships or college projects – along the way. Then it’s up to the academics with their PGs and PhDs to show students the way.

There’s one thing, however, I’m sure of. I never, ever, glamourised the profession. I gave the kids the real picture – of the grime, cutthroat politics, tough working conditions, long working hours, low salaries, and most importantly, the low expectations. I remember one of the first lectures I gave at a media institute in the city, where I spoke about how difficult it had been as a journalist to make ends meet. The kids listening to me had stars in the eyes, and they all wanted to be M.J. Akbar, Vir Sanghvi, Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai or Arnab Goswami. It was fun to watch their faces as I went about systematically ripping apart the facade of glamour they had come to associate the media with. At the end of the class, one kid stood up and said “Sir, you have completely demolished the image I had of journalists and journalism. I am not really sure now, if I want to get into it, at all.”

I am quite touched, when these same kids come up to me a year or so later and tell me that they are still pursuing journalism only because of what I had told them in my lectures. The thing is, I’d rather they see reality. I’d rather they develop the passion that makes a journalist and accept the warts and ulcers that come with it. I’d rather they understand that journalism is a job like none other.

So that’s that. For the next few months I’ll be dividing my time between managing the magazines and my teaching assignments. The company has graciously agreed to allow me to complete the semester. If all goes well (the eternal cynic!) with the magazines, my visits to media institutes will be restricted to the weekends or a few evenings, if at all.

To the institutions that allowed me to interact with their students, and to the students who thought I had made a difference to their lives and to their understanding of journalism…a big thank you, it was fun!

The fear of flying….

Posted: September 19, 2010 in journalism
Tags: ,

Just the other day I met a publisher who asked me to work on a 50-page English magazine for the youth – a serious magazine which would talk about positive thinking, career, and personality development but with a few ‘light’ features, without any stress on fashion, gossip, scandal or films. The gentleman also has a Hindi magazine on the same lines and suggested that articles could be transcribed from Hindi to English and reworked to suit an English readership.

It’s difficult to bring out a magazine today which doesn’t have anything on who’s sleeping with whom or who’s bitching about whom or who’s wearing (or not wearing) the latest in fashion! But I’m willing to give it a shot. But where do I find the students who will work with me on this venture?

Let me take you back a few years. In the midst of the pressures on the News Desk of various newspapers where I worked, whenever I wanted to show my irritation at some goof up by one of my juniors, I would stand in the middle of the copy desk and say in mock exasperation, “Who the hell hired you bunch of no-hopers?” And everyone at the copy desk would cheerfully shout back, “You did!”

It was said in fun, but I appreciated the hard work (though I hardly ever said it!) the people at the Desk put in. They were willing to work on any of the beats they were assigned. The guy working on the World desk would willingly swap places with the copy editor on the Nation desk. It was another matter that we had moved them to the respective desks after judging their strengths and weaknesses, so they were told to stay put. The point is they were willing.

It’s in marked contrast to what I’ve seen these past few years in the media schools that I have taught. A lot of kids don’t want to try something new. They have already decided they want to write ONLY on politics, fashion, lifestyle, or whatever subject, they find interesting, even before they fully comprehended the term ‘reporting and writing’ in its entirety. I’ve also had students who’ve come to me and said they would love to write but have no idea what they can write on. I tell them to jot down their interests and come back to me. I don’t know whether it’s the fees they’ve paid or the humongous curriculum that stops them for attempting something out of the ordinary. But I don’t hear from many of them after that. Is it that they don’t like the challenge and don’t want to think?

How anyone can become a ‘complete’ reporter if one doesn’t attempt to write on every subject, at least in their formative years, is a mystery to me. I wonder what will happen to them when sometime, somewhere their superiors tell them they just aren’t good enough at what they’re doing – and they realise they can’t do anything else, because they never tried to when they had the opportunity.

The college website and the newspaper published by students of an institute where I teach is probably an exception to this rule. Since its launch last year, the students have worked on both the portal and the newspaper with a passion and commitment that I don’t see in most kids today. Many of them have put aside their personal differences and egos and diligently worked on the magazine and they are now reaping the rewards. Seeing the advantages and the benefits, now even the undergraduate kids of the same institute are all set to launch their own portal and newspaper.

No one – and I mean no one – in all my years in journalism ever told me not to write on a particular subject. And nor did I feel that I could not or should not – at least not in the beginning of my career. With the help of a red ink pen, my seniors showed me the way and left it to me to decide how good or bad how I was! So, there was a lot of crappy and sloppy stuff that I wrote but it was a wonderful learning experience. But that did not deter me. It made me realise that there were certain subjects that I could not write on and should not attempt to. But that came later in my career.

So the publisher has now asked me to put together a team of eight to ten youngsters, who can write, transcribe and design the magazine. I am wondering who has the courage or the drive to take on that responsibility. The thought of forming and then leading a team, is just the ‘kick’ a student requires. Sadly, the answer I get most often is “I am not cut out for this.” Is it the fear of failure that stops them from taking up a challenge?

As Richard Bach said in Jonathan Livingston Seagull, “How much more there is now to living! Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there’s reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!

Is there anyone willing to prove me wrong?