It is not just the lack of appreciation of certain requirements by media organizations that have led to the absence of 'world class newspapers', however they are defined, in India (Aloke Thakore in Hammer and Tongs, 10/7/2006) but also a lack of understanding of the stream of journalism education in India.
Perhaps, the era of the 'born journalists' is long gone and scribes today are 'trained professionals', who walk out of the portals of universities with more than an intuition of what makes news. But there is indeed very little to show that the place of journalism education is clearly demarked in the Indian education scene.
While most academics and even others have begun to accept the study of journalism as a professional course, it nowhere enjoys the status of other professional courses. The University Grants Commission still clubs it under the social sciences with the result that 'journalism' is treated on par with 'history' or 'literature', 'economics' or 'political science'.
This is not to degrade the other Arts courses, but to point out that journalism has special requirements. Journalism perhaps falls somewhere between the arts and sciences, reflected in journalism degrees being both Master of Arts and Science. (In fact, one university for some time awarded 'BA/B Sc degree' to those who completed the undergraduate programme in journalism) First, unlike most other Arts courses, it is a skill-based course. Not only must the students be imparted reporting, writing, filming, recording and multi-media skills, but also in a scenario when the media industry is grappling with the challenges posed by galloping technological advancements, students have to be trained in working with state-of-the-art equipment. This requires huge investment on equipment, studios and manpower, very different from those demanded by other Arts courses.
Secondly, neither can journalism education remain just skill-based courses. With journalists called upon to deal with a range of issues that cover anything under the sun, students need to be provided with a strong academic base to facilitate this understanding. Most institutes and colleges are ill-equipped to strike a balance. Even as discussions in Board of Studies meetings veer from whether they should remain trade schools or attempt to make intellectuals out of students, university and college managements are befuddled as to what is required of a journalism teacher.
Which brings us to the third aspect, that of personnel. UGC guidelines make a PhD mandatory for moving up the academic hierarchy. A journalist with a PhD is still a rare phenomenon. An experienced journalist, who shifts from the industry to academia for whatever reason, must reconcile to remaining a senior lecturer if he/she has no aptitude for research. Most journalism colleges, going strictly by UGC guidelines, fill teachers` posts with PhD holders with no substantial experience in the media industry. Such teachers tend to go by the book, a book long abandoned by the media industry!
Fourthly, even those with media experience moving to academia tend to fossilize in matter of years, thanks to the ever-changing technology and sweeping new trends. Neither are newspaper stories written the way they were five years ago, nor pages made the way they were then. It follows then that for effective media education, media educators must update their skills constantly, not just by reading and attending two-day workshops but by actually being exposed to industry practices regularly. An aspect ignored by the UGC's faculty development programme.
Fifthly, most of the reputed journalism schools are in the private sector where fees charged put them beyond the reach of economically-disadvantaged classes. While some private schools have indeed produced sensitive professionals, most of them are managed by organizations whose agenda do not match the high ideals of journalism. In such cases, journalism education becomes 'just another business' and the students who pass out of such institutes are found with little understanding of the problems of the less privileged.
Perhaps, an answer to these problems lies in the creation of a statutory body, on the lines of the All India Council of Technical Education or the All India Medical Council, to govern media education in India. The body could borrow from western models but lay down minimum statutory requirements in the Indian context. These requirements must cover courses taught, student-equipment ratio, infrastructure and specifically address the issue of qualification of personnel to be employed by media schools. Such a measure will not only standardize media education in the country but also mark a beginning towards becoming world class.