"One of the most important traits of a broadcast journalist is the maturity to put responsibility before the anxiety of speed" : media education consultant Shashidhar Nanjundaiah

Shashidhar Nanjundaiah, returned from New York in June 2001 to take over as the director of the Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication, Pune. Nanjundaiah, who recently left Symbiosis, brought in a dual emphasis on classroom and industry training, integrating US and Indian curricular structures at SIMC. He taught television management, news analysis, media research and other television-related courses to postgraduate-level students in India and the USA, before which he Headed Research Department in Zee News and later was Consultant Director for a New York-based media company with interests in television production, newspapers, online advertising and Internet FM radio.

At Symbiosis, Nanjundaiah laid extra emphasis on research along with sustained emphasis on practical training and meaningful in-session industry experience. The research approach, he contends, will lead to substantiated learning and structured thinking processes. The 20-odd seminars and conferences that he spearheaded on behalf of SIMC have reflected this philosophy, blending intellectual thinking and practical application. During his tenure, SIMC's applicant pool grew by 55 per cent, and the turnover grew by nearly 1.8 times.

Nanjundaiah left SIMC recently and is a consultant to a few upcoming institutes. In an interview with's Aparna Joshi, Nanjundaiah held forth on the current status of media education in the country and the course it is likely to take. Excerpts -:



Is the trend veering towards students opting for broadcast journalism rather than print?

I'd put the ratio today at about 60-40 in favour of broadcast. Television journalism became a fashionable choice after the Kargil war but there has been some caution among students after the controversial reportage of the Gujarat riots. Every other journalist today seems to have a role model, usually a Rajdeep Sardesai or a Barkha Dutt or a Karan Thapar. Generation Y wants to have the excitement of being glamorous, yet making an immediate difference to society. As media education attains some degree of professionalism, including pre-admission counselling, some industry exposure etc, many students are returning to print. Additionally, the print industry has performed better than expected last year. Print students are usually more passionate journalists than ambitious mediapersons, and thankfully their tribe hasn't seen too much decline.



Is it a healthy trend or is it a herd mentality?

The trend toward TV journalism has so far been fickle and superficial, based on top recall and an impressionable mind's perception of "visible adventure". The element of immediacy plays a significant role in the youngster's mind, and above all, s/he knows that unlike in previous generations, the goal is eminently attainable. It's been a herd mentality but then it's only reflective of an overall failure amongst educators in predicting trends responsibly, or in educating the student on important peripherals like career counselling.

My own claim is that it is upto us educators to balance that enthusiasm with proper grounding, with good training in roles and responsibilities of a journalist. Supplementing these efforts could be an active encouragement for the students to channel their enthusiasm responsibly in a stream that is both viable as well as appealing. If this doesn't ensue right away, we will run the peril of churning out half-baked journalists. There are enough jobs in each stream, but institutes must discern the picture cleverly and translate industry trends into enrolment numbers, rather than create rigid "quotas" for each specialization.



What are the intrinsic qualities needed to be a good broadcast journalist?

Let's look at some of the reporting that occurred over the recent blasts in Mumbai, and we can decipher what was lacking. Responsible recognition of news can be different for the broadcast journalist and the print journalist, since the former is often live and there is not enough time for verification. So, I'll argue that one of the most important traits of a broadcast journalist is the maturity to put responsibility before the anxiety of speed. The ability to independently analyse news while being thoroughly objective is perhaps another important quality. Having said that, I argue that this is a skill that can be developed before a journalist steps onto the field.

Scholarly and industry research can be a big shot in the arm of this learning curve, and clearly, there's not enough of it in our country: both ground themselves in a historical, geographic and contextual background, both take snapshots in a live but verifiable context, analyse the findings of those snapshots, and leave you with possibilities for the future. A good journalist communicates effectively without being either esoteric, pompous or overly simplistic. Then there are other acquired skills such as "visual sense", keeping the output in mind while gathering news, etc.



Are there enough good training institutes for broadcast journalists in India?

It's like any normal business. Most private institutes have jumped on the bandwagon over the past few years because they see a large potential market, and are anxious to reap short-term benefits. Overemphasis on short-term profitability and constant pressure to reduce the turnaround period can be very dangerous for the society and for the profession. Only a couple of postgraduate institutes in India seem to have realized that broadcast education is quite capital-intensive, and that returns will ensue only from quality educational input. But even so, with proper research so sorely lacking in our country, I have yet to come across an investor who has tried to envision new methods, predict trends, create journalists who will make a difference. Media industry and media education must evolve together. Currently, education either follows industry trends or is detached from them. University colleges are too archaic and detached from the real world, and "quickie" private institutes have merely become tools-oriented ancillary units to the industry with no critical analysis of its intrinsic needs. We need a well-researched mix of theoretical and practical, classroom and field, academic and industry experience.



"Generation Y wants to have the excitement of being glamorous, yet making an immediate difference to society"  



You once said that 'it is through this grassroots-level mass communication that our multicultural nation will grow towards a unified society' - are our institutes helping towards this? What more is needed?

Deterministically speaking, mass communication plays a dual role in our society. On the one hand, it fragments the society on ideological grounds. But on the other hand, it unites the society by creating an awareness in people, cultures and societies about each other. Can we effectively segment news audiences as we're trying to do now? News diffusion studies show that interpersonal communication plays a dominant part in spreading information, once the media have done their part. And inevitably embedded in news is culture, society and ideology. As our economic world is trying to remove political boundaries, the media have only consolidated their nationalistic perspective.

Take the US government's recent use of the media to control information in the Iraq conflict. The media have been willing partners in this toward an ideological end. We need an environment for independent media as unifiers, not dividers of the society. At the same time, it is essential that the media be responsible in balancing truth-telling with social sensitivity--otherwise the society suffers the consequences. This can emerge only out of a solid overview that is learned before entering the profession.



Is radio being forgotten as a tool of mass communication - are there institutes which focus on modern day needs of radio broadcasting, and is enough awareness going around?

Sadly, radio has re-emerged tentatively and in an environment of hostile policies and low ad rates, because of which the industry is struggling to make money. High-paying jobs in radio are hard to come by, and therefore the medium hasn't taken the student community by storm. But the buzz is true and as policies turn more industry-friendly, good talent will follow. At an immediate strategy level, radio must be made to pervade our homes, and grab us by the ear-drums, if you will.

If we hear mindless banter and songs that repeat themselves silly, it serves the purpose of building opinion leadership among the target groups. Radio can then expand to other targets. Importantly, however, FM radio in its traditional form (not disseminated over the Internet, that is) can be a strong force in binding communities together. Even devoid of news, FM has the potential to build converging local cultures from which can evolve social action. Mass communication institutes are gearing up for radio carefully, and institutes that can afford digital recording and editing technology are taking the lead. But most institutes coach their students only in radio-jockeying or diction. Important, but not complete.



Is mass communication education geared to meet the needs of regional television in this country? What more could be done in this regard?

Advertisers are beginning to look at eyeball numbers more seriously than perception-based allotments, and as regional programming gains momentum, so will the popularity of regional television. Our country is unusual in that you can sit in a Chennai living room and watch a Bengali channel. The spectrum capacity has allowed for that kind of footprint distribution, and it's a great opportunity. For all that, there is not a single private institute worth the name providing training in regional-language scripting or regional issues.

This is where government-funded university colleges or institutes like IIMC will score through their regional-language training. At SIMC, I tried to insist that each candidate must either be or become bilingual at the end of the programme. Most channels today expect institutes to provide that training, but end up relying on in-house training or default knowledge.




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