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The slow poisoning of Journalism

About Soumyadipta Banerjee

Soumyadipta Banerjee is an Educator, Mentor, Public Speaker, Senior Journalist, Lecturer,Media Consultant. He is the Founder of bollywoodjournalist.com

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How Journalism is dying a slow and painful death inside classrooms because of the examples we have set before students

I visit a lot of mass media institutes to raise awareness about mass media subjects, especially to talk about journalism. My campus visits sometimes includes special classes with school-going children too. Usually these are classes that are attended by youngsters who dream of becoming a journalist some day.

These sessions usually include a monologue for about half an hour, followed by a question-answer session for another 30 minutes.

It was after one of those monologues when a class nine student stood up, a young lady, paused for five seconds and then looked sternly in my eye. It was a very short conversation in front of all her schoolmates, about a hundred of them studying in class nine or ten.

“Sir, you aren’t teaching us the right stuff!” She said.

“Why do you think so?” I asked calmly. These days students are direct and quite vocal. They don’t mince their words.

“Not only you. I also think that the teachers here (in her school) have any idea of what journalism is all about…” She went on.

I knew something strong was coming up. “And how do you infer that?”

This spawned a discussion which alarmed me. It shook me to the core and made me realise what we have done to the younger generation of our country.

The young lady countered me on various points that I mentioned in my lecture on journalism. It seemed that she had already done her research and was getting ready for this day. It didn’t unsettle me because her research was better than mine. What unsettled me was the angst inside her that prompted her to embark on this research. She was passionate about Journalism.

I had said that Journalists should concern them with only facts and facts alone. The girl cited three glaring examples where facts were selectively reported by a channel and a newspaper and twisted to suit their narrative.

I had also mentioned that Journalism is apolitical. Journalists cannot and should not have any political colour or affiliation. The student rattled off names of 10 journalists who have accepted positions in a political party or in the Rajya Sabha on behalf of a political party. “These five former journalists are now full-time party workers,” she said while naming them.

I had spoken about best practices in journalism and shown them examples of a few breaking stories in India and abroad. The student narrated the prime time TV stories of the last two weeks, top stories of some news websites and lastly, the headlines of two newspapers over the last fortnight.

While TV news was all about shrill debates, the websites peddled biased opinions as news while the newspaper front pages were only follow-ups of “news” that had already broken on social media, almost 24 hours back.

As I silently listened to her, she looked around, glanced at her classmates, and said, “In our school we have Houses in which the students are divided into.” I nodded and said that is the way it is in most urban schools in India. Then she smiled and said, “The journalism club in our school is unofficially divided into two Houses — Deep Desai House and the Anirban Swami House. There is a Rasiklal Kumar house too on popular demand.” She smiled amidst peals of laughter.

I asked the Anirban House and Deep House to raise hands. I discovered that Anirban House was most popular while Deep House was a distant second. There were about 10 students at Rasiklal House.

I stood there, silent for a moment and then requested them to listen to what I was saying very carefully.

I told them that how Journalism is being done today in India is not the ideal form of journalism. An intense debate followed with even the teachers taking part and the one hour class went on for two hours. But at the end of the debate, I had a feeling that the students were not convinced. The Anirban House, the most vocal of the lot, frequently interrupted me because they thought this is how journalism students should behave. By interrupting me in the middle of my lecture, they actually thought that they were impressing me with their style.

After the talk was over, I decided to return home instead to going to my college. I was exhausted and shocked. That classroom actually represents what Mass Media and Journalism teachers are facing these days. We face intense questioning from our students whether Journalism has changed and we are teaching them outdated methods. Introvert students are not joining the course saying, “Sir, I won’t be able to join Journalism because I am not loud enough. I am soft spoken.” Other students doubt their journalistic acumen because they don’t want to be judged because they don’t support a particular ideology.

The cumulative effect has been disastrous; I am yet to come across any college which did not have a massive decline in the numbers of students taking up journalism. If 50 students are enrolling to study other forms of Mass Communication (Films, Advertisement etc.), only five people are taking up journalism as their chosen field of study. The drop in the numbers of students studying journalism has been so massive that a number of colleges are closing down their journalism courses or specialisations because nobody wants to study what they are offering.

The students want to study and learn what they are being fed from their their mobile screens, every day. And, we none of us haven’t been able to update our courses to that “level”. I call it the death-of-journalism level 2.0. Journalism first died during the Emergency of Indira Gandhi era. It was a sudden death. During level 2.0, it is dying a slow and painful death, poisoned everyday between 8 pm and 10 pm, through the TV screens.

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