Pulitzer Prize winner American journalist Jimmy Breslin described media as “the plural of mediocrity”. Milind Kokje discovers why.

Pulitzer Prize winner American journalist Jimmy Breslin described media as “the plural of mediocrity”. Milind Kokje discovers why.

Teaching media students was a revealing experience. On my very first day, as a warm up exercise, I bounced a few general knowledge questions off students. “Who was Sir Winston Churchill?” I asked. A long spell of silence followed. I appealed for a show of hands. To my amazement, just one student got up, and in a barely audible tone, said “America’s prime minister.” This was my eye-opening moment.

Cut to another class. I was analysing an editorial on Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. A student interrupted me and asked indignantly, “But who is Nitish Kumar?” The respondents were third-year students of Bachelor of Mass Media (BMM) and also those enrolled into the journalism diplomas. These were the same students who would one day join the media industry as reporters, editors, analysts and, opinion makers.

“Nandan Nilekani is someone who is connected with Wipro,” said a student replying to a query on him. I was exalted. At least he knew that both Nilenkani and Wipro had something in common, the IT sector. Interestingly, the question was asked in eight different colleges immediately after the stalwart’s visit to Mumbai to deliver a speech, which had received extensive media coverage. However, only one student responded and what he said was the nearest he could reach. None knew about his Adhaar or UIDAI connection. A diploma student wrote a final exam without using a single punctuation mark in her answer book. Ironically, the subject of examination was editing!

Who are these students who join specializations like BMM and why? Glamour seems to be one of the important reasons. With the growth of TV channels, the glamour quotient has gone up. Nineteen out of 20 students in a class want to be TV “anchors”. Bollywood reporting is another fascination.

I was on the interview panel of a TV channel, which was hiring people. During the process, we asked candidates to choose their area of interest so that we could question them on that area. Most wanted to report on Bollywood but had no clue about the film industry, even new releases. The ‘anchors’ were nonplus when asked about information on important developments on the regional, national and international news front.

Reading is important in any profession, more so in journalism. My interaction with the future journalists showed complete lack of this. How do such students spend time if they don’t read? Watching movies is a common activity but they have very little knowledge in this field too. Facebook? Everyone from the six colleges that I taught in was constantly glued to the Facebook, but few knew the name of its founder, Marc Zukerberg.

All this is but a reflection of the abysmally low level of education that we impart in our schools. Reading is a habit that needs to be inculcated in early school life. What is to be learnt at the degree level is analysis of news, writing news and not basic knowledge.

- The author is a senior journalist

Mentor Speak

Manju Nichani, principal, KC College

“One reason for the plummeting quality of students in the BMM course is the increase in the number of colleges which offer the course. When the Mumbai University started the course over a decade ago only a few and best colleges in the city offered the course. This was because it was a professional degree course meant to provide the media industry with the best talent.

Another reason is the elimination of the rigorous admission procedure which was set up to select the best of the lot to pursue the course. It involved an entrance test, followed by a group discussion and then a personal interview. Personally, I believe this was the best process to identify students who had an aptitude for this course and a career in media.

However, the process is now purely merit-based. As a result colleges admit students who have secured 90 per cent but don`t have an aptitude for the course. A student might get good marks in English but not necessarily be well read or have in-depth knowledge of current affairs. Due to the merit-based admitting procedure, BMM has lost out on students who would be more deserving than the ones who have secured high percentage in their class XII exams.”

Student Speak

Azka Sheik, SYBMM, National College, Bandra

“An education counsellor recommended me to pursue Bachelor of Mass Media (BMM). Even though the rigorous admission procedure has been stopped, it wasn`t easy to get the college of my choice. I got admission in the third list of St Andrews and National college, thanks to high-cut offs and quota. On the first day of college, I encountered a shocking fact. Our course coordinator asked a class of 120 students why did they sign up for this course? 50 per cent of us said they joined the course because they were either confused about their career or because BMM didn`t have Maths in its curriculum.

After the first year I realized that BMM is a dynamic course. Individual and group projects assigned during the course are a challenging part of the curriculum and open up a whole host of avenues to explore one`s thought process creatively. Next year is going to be a crucial for me as I have to choose a specialization. I wanted to opt for journalism in the third year; however, I have changed my mind.
Journalism is not just about being on TV and looking pretty. One needs to be quick and efficient. I, personally, don`t see myself as a journalist, so I am going to opt for advertising and will eventually go for a career in public relations. I would like to tell aspiring BMMites that the course is not about having fun. It is a serious professional course that needs your complete attention and not a stop-gap arrangement until you find your calling.

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