Three well-known journalists in Chennai mull over the changing trends in journalism and share some stories from their time in the industry. As told to Madhumitha Srinivasan and Nileena M.S.
The questions we asked them
How they look at the changes in journalism over the years?
Their take on current trends and evolving practices in journalism?
How has the industry faced challenges from other media?
Their view on concept of student reporters?
One interesting assignment/person they met in their career?
One journalistic practice/guideline they've stuck to?
Lack of variety in reporting
By and large journalism practices remain the same. Now, greater emphasis is laid on the use of visuals. People think that Page 3 journalism is new, but I would say it has always been there. I started working as a journalist in 1951 and this is my 60th year. There were a lot of women in this field in Sri Lanka then, but that was not the case in India.
Today, there are fewer and fewer exclusive stories and there is a great deal of similarity in the way newspapers cover issues. This is because the reporters are not trying hard enough to explore. We have practically done away with proof reading and subbing and a lot of factual errors creep in. But, nobody questions it even when 1639 is printed as 1939.
The main challenge that the industry faces is to make the publication different from the rest. A lot of space is dedicated for national news, whereas people are more interested in local news. There should be more emphasis on local stories; one or two newspapers have started doing this. The reporters should dig out more information.
When we look at other media, obviously they are going to be the first bare bones. So the challenge is how you present the story. People already know most of the news; you have to think of making it different and interesting. To get the reporters trained this way is another challenge. We need good writing style and grammatical accuracy; we can't depend on spell check.
I am all for student reporters. This is a trend that we should encourage. I started contributing to the children's section of newspapers when I was eight years old.
One of my most memorable assignments was covering the rubber-rice pact between Sri Lanka and China in the 1950s. There was an embargo on rubber import to China because of its support to North Korea, but Sri Lanka signed the pact. We broke the story and ran stories for one week. Those six days shook Sri Lanka. But, 50 years down the line, I wonder if we were right. At that time rice was important for Sri Lanka; if China had not supplied rice, the country would have starved. When we are going for exclusive stories, we should consider all moral sides to it. This is especially important now when the Wikileaks is in the news.
My principles are very simple. State the fact and keep out the comments; comments are for editorials. Even in feature writing, facts are our strength. The role of research is very important. Strictly follow the stylebook. The role of subbing and proofreading should not be undermined.
S. Muthiah is a veteran journalist and the editor and publisher of Madras Musings.
VINCENT D' SOUZA
Get the basics right
Disappointed with the new trends. Most entrants are poor in basics. Journalism is not taught; the buzz is Visual Communications, at least in Tamil Nadu.
Most journalists seem to pursue desk-driven reporting and their writing is average. The media is keen to plan specials, pullouts and deals to keep the revenue pie. But things are pretty dirty at the mid and local level of newspapers.
Space for budding journalists is important; they must be encouraged. But they need training in the basics of reporting and writing.
One challenging assignment was an investigative feature on Tamil Nadu as the backyard of the LTTE (Tamil Tigers); how the Tigers had their training, medical assistance, manufacturing, PR and print, arms, transfer, transport all laid out in this state.
Get the facts. Avoid bias. Push the limit. Say ‘no thanks' to freebies.
Vincent D' Souza, Editor, Adyar Times/Mylapore Times/ Arcot Road Times.
Young people are doing a good job
Earlier reporting was practised in water-tight compartments; reporters were confined to their beats. But with the advent of television journalism, it is no longer possible to stick to one field alone. For instance, they should know about nuclear reactors, politics, election and even crime at the same time.
A positive trend I have observed is that a lot of young people are coming in to this field and reporting on sensitive issues. I feel they are more articulate and have good networking skills; they accumulate information easily. They build contacts easily and in not much time know about their sources and where to get the right information.
But, I think that they don't have the capacity to hit the road running. The training they receive in colleges is not enough; the courses need to be restructured. Importance should be given to general knowledge and practical training.
They say, “If the T.V. story is the F.I.R, print story is the charge sheet”. There is always room for both. T.V might break the news, but a newspaper gives more in-depth and analysed reports. News channels try to bring this in through discussions. Every morning I read four newspapers. I feel restless when newspapers don't come out on holidays. The news media are, thus, interdependent.
Giving space for student reporters is a boon. My tryst with journalism started in Std IX when I sent a letter to the editor of The Hindu and it was published. Most of my letters focused on civic issues. When subsequently action was taken, I realised the power of journalism; of getting my voice heard. Students didn't have a separate platform then, they had to compete with the adults. NXg is a ready-made platform for students and they should make the most of it.
Having worked for NDTV for 14 years, I have done a lot of stories and I can't pinpoint one. But covering politicians in Tami Nadu has always been fascinating; it was a learning curve. Reporting about unsung heroes like ‘Traffic Ramaswamy', and credible NGOs gives me goose bumps.
One practice that I have always followed throughout my career is to crosscheck the information before presenting it to the public. Being in the T.V. media there's the urge to break the news immediately, but it is important to never take things at face value.
Sanjay Pinto, Executive editor, English News, NDTV Hindu and Former bureau chief, NDTV 24x7.