Dear Journalism Students: Good journalism will change you, or at least it will build your abs.
Congratulations on graduating!
Today I want to speak to you about Change. As you all know, I have just made a big change in my career, moving to a newspaper, The Hindu, after 20 years in television. But that change is very small compared to the kind of changes around us today.
There’s a reason why every famous leader in the world has an important quote about the word ‘Change’.
Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” -Mahatma Gandhi
We are the change that we seek.” ― Barack Obama
Change is the law of life- John F. Kennedy
When the facts change, I change my mind….- John Maynard Keynes
Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw
My favourite speech about change was watching a famous opposition leader at a public rally …at the time there was a crisis of small change; small coins were out of circulation. I remember watching him go up on stage and then after a long pause, so the crowd was silent, he took out a bunch of coins from his pocket, and jingled them slowly…chanting, “Change….change…change, we want change”. The crowd roared once they understood his meaning, and a few years later, the government was changed at elections.
You stand today at the beginning of the big change in your life. Armed with a degree you will go out to find a job, and begin to build a career, that I hope is fulfilling and exciting. But the change in your lives is nothing compared to the changes outside, and unless you start preparing for them, your education will be unable to help you.
First, the obvious change is that there is a new government in the country. The new regime has made it clear it will not just change the cast of characters at the top, but perhaps the issues they will tackle, and the causes they will hold dear. You will have to study them closer, as the discourse and pace of government you may have watched during your time at journalism school would be different from the government you will now cover.
Secondly, there are the big changes in the media industry that you hope to join. There are new owners, new editors in many media organisations, and a churning as a result. Some of those changes have been necessitated by profits, some by ideology, some simply because old owners are tired of the uncertainty of the media business and want to hand over the baton. News circulation is decreasing for the print media. About 100 TV news channels battle for Rs 2000 crore in advertisement spends. As the number of channels increase, the ad spends are getting spread over more platforms, and in 2013 the government regulated to shrink the amount of advertising time further.
And finally, there are the changes in how the news is done. This change will perhaps affect you the most. Look around you, the internet hasn’t just changed the way you read a newspaper, but also internet television & cable innovations are changing the way you watch the news on tv. If you want to see your favourite anchor on tv, or read your favourite columnist, you no longer wait for the appointed hour, or for the morning paper, you go online, or watch a recording. As a result, the concept of front pages, inside pages and edit pages…and the concept of primetime television, the breakfast show, the graveyard shift are all giving way to a seamless and the time-agnostic digital world. If you are a media organisation, you are providing this already, without considering how to change your original product and platform, and for most part, without expecting anyone to pay for it.
So all these changes are here…and you have to learn to adapt or go the dinosaur way. If, you are like most of us, hooked to the profession, in love with telling stories, passionate about journalism, then you know that you have to find your way in this new world too.
So here’s what I think you can do to adapt…or Change….:
-Learn to read. Not the alphabet. Learn to read 5 papers every morning, 10 websites everyday, 1 book a week.
-Learn a new language. There’s the story of a famous anchor who worked at the BBC library when the Russian parliament was attacked. A producer walked in and shouted, “Anyone here speak Russian?” And she did. And was out on a plane to Moscow within a day. The rest for her was history.
– Learn a new skill- if you write, learn to take photos, if you are a cameraperson, learn to edit, if you are a reporter, go behind the camera, if you work for a paper, get online, blog and tweet.
-Learn technology- read and ask about the best new technology-phones, computers, applications, whatever helps you get your story out faster. (Once you’ve learned that, of course, its time to start all over again, because technology changes faster than you can keep up.)
-Learn your niche-find what subject interests you, watch a film, read about it, become the biggest expert on that subject. One day you will be recognized for it.
Of course, none of these new lessons, this new media will change what is at the core of what we do: Good old fashioned journalism. It will always be the same- it involves research, it involves good sources, it involves good writing, and it involves good presentation.
So my final question, is it worth it? I tried to think of all the advantages of practicing good journalism in this changing world. And here is the list I came up with…sadly, it is a short one, and I hope that in the years to come, you will have a better list!
Good Journalism will make your family happy- when your boss tells you, only your mother watches the show, he or she is probably right. The same is true of every byline. So while you may go unrecognised for a large part of your career, because of the public nature of your work, your family will know atleast that you have a job, and that will make them happy.
Good journalism will make you a good human being- the time spent in the heat standing on someone’s footpath waiting for an interview is directly proportional to the empathy you feel for your fellow man, for the homeless, for the malnourished, and so on. Humility will be another virtue learned, that will hold you in good stead.
Good journalism will make you fit- it may break your back in the process, but standing in a minister’s corridor for hours, running to your liveshot location to break a story, carrying laptops, cameras, and batteries are all good for the abs, the shoulders and so on. You will learn to go without lunch, and nap in cars to make up for lost sleep. That which doesn’t make you collapse will only make you stronger.
Good journalism will help you know who your friends are. Those are the ones who will stay in touch, even when you disappear on assignments for weeks, the ones who will reheat the dinner when you arrive 3 hours late for a party because of a deadline, and the ones you can continue to forward your articles and tweet/facebook the links of your stories, and they will loyally press ‘like’ on them.
Finally, my dear young ladies and gentlemen, Good journalism…will make you change…if you enjoy the journey as much as all of us do, you wont remember who you were before you became…a good journalist.
May you live in interesting times…times that are changing.
(This is a convocation speech delivered by Suhasini Haidar at the 9.9 School of Communication, June 6, 2014. Suhasini Haidar is Diplomatic Editor, The Hindu. She can be reached at – firstname.lastname@example.org)