By Arun Devraj
India is currently experiencing an extraordinary media expansion. While newspapers in Europe and America are losing their readership annually, the Indian print media is still getting stronger with bigger circulation and market avenues.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) in the media industry is flowing in, particularly in the news and current affairs segment. The investment market loves media for its potential financial value, and is rushing into new ventures. Institutional investors, both foreign and Indian, are constantly looking for opportunities to partner with domestic media organizations to gain a new market or expand coverage.
India’s media is already feeling the pressure of competition. Newspapers and broadcasters are anxious to get the inside story first. Reporters are no longer note-takers; instead they are forced to gain background information, seek out reliable (often anonymous) sources, do painstaking research, and investigate the story until the truth is found. This promise of investigative journalism has finally evolved with the times.
Today, journalism in India has considerable employment scope, with media barons opening new channels or newspapers on a regular basis. The competition is so rife that each channel or newspaper tries to produce something exclusive to give the audience a great deal of variety.
While salaries are shooting up, the pool of skilled and qualified journalists is not keeping pace. Without sufficient number of good reporters and editors, the challenge that the profession faces is of enforcing more rigorous professional standards, of responding to the need for more serious reporting on governance issues, and of upholding its own freedom to function in the face of threats of repercussion by the government and powerful industries. Each new entrant simply takes away good journalists from established organizations at far higher salaries.
There are lots of well-meaning, sincere journalists around but without adequate training. As never before, India needs more skilled young journalists who have the ability to cover the story well. This suggests a considerably broader mission for journalism schools and curriculum to fit that need. It also suggests exciting opportunities for journalism schools. The need for specialized training has never been greater.
There have been various attempts to rank institutions to identify the "best" or "top" journalism schools in the country. Many institutions claim to be leading schools of journalism, and there is considerable debate about which the most appropriate criteria to evaluate are and judge journalism schools. Breadth of curriculum, background of the faculty and resources available at the institution are important. Job placements and awards received by graduates are obvious indicators of the quality of any J-school.
Among the dozens of journalism colleges in India, the one that stands out for excellence is the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media (IIJNM), Bangalore. Established in 2000 as a non-profit private institution in association with Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, New York, IIJNM has dedicated itself to improving the quality of journalism and the stature of the profession in India. It offers a unique one-year, Master’s level residential program in print, broadcast, web and multimedia.
The strength of the IIJNM program is that it uses its hometown of Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley, as the real-life laboratory for all reporting assignments. Last year IIJNM began a new multimedia program that streamlines and converges the various branches of journalism in a cutting edge format. Print, television, radio and the web are synthesized in an all-in-one offering that trains the students on how to best utilize new and emerging technologies for the 21st century. As a result, IIJNM graduates are highly sought after by the industry and are well prepared to rise quickly in the profession.
For instance, four out of the ten students who qualified for the prestigious CNN Aspiring Journalist Awards recently were from IIJNM. The Institute also boasts the first graduate of any journalism college in India to be hired for a New York Times internship, and the first for the Scripps Howard internship in Washington D.C. One graduate won the prestigious Young Development Journalist of the Year Award given by the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI); another joined the "Future Media Leaders Program" at Cardiff, Wales, UK, with a scholarship of £6900; and a third was awarded the 15th National Media Fellowship for the year 2009-2010 by the National Foundation for India.
More importantly, IIJNM offers personalized instruction from a cadre of full- and part-time faculty members that have included Fulbright scholars, Knight Fellows from the U.S., Europe, Cambodia, Egypt and Bangkok; a Pulitzer Prize finalist; the lead business journalist on the Union Carbide tragedy in Bhopal; one of India’s foremost experts on developmental issues; the creator of Al-Jazeera’s immensely popular Website and a number of former print reporters, editors and broadcasters with decades of experience in both Indian and foreign media. Guest lecturers and distinguished speakers have included Thomas Friedman, noted columnist for The New York Times, Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor-in-Chief, IBN18, Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief, Indian Express, and Susan King, Vice-President, Carnegie Foundation.
Institutions like IIJNM will bring about profound impact on India’s media in the years to come. As more and more well-trained young journalists join the profession, the industry will automatically change. Readers and viewers will seek out news and opinions from those they trust most. With improvement in the quality of journalism, we can certainly hope for better governance and stronger democracy in India.