It is boom time for aspiring journalists and the various journalism schools (J-schools) across the country as 24-hour television news channels sprout every other month and a slew of magazines and newspapers hit the newsstands.
But, in the midst of a media boom that has seen journalists' salaries soar as hiring managers try to fill newsrooms, there is a growing awareness of a long-ignored crisis in Indian journalism: an acute shortage of quality talent.
This might be surprising as there are around 200 colleges and universities that offer journalism programmes that are recognized by the University Grants Commission; some 400-500 additional colleges with other journalism programmes and 1,000-1,500 training programmes without degrees, according to S. Raghavachari, head of the department of broadcast journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Delhi.
Are they prepared? Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. Journalism schools concede there is a gap in their training. (Photo courtesy: Asian College of Journalism)But, sheer quantity has failed to deliver quality as far as the Indian journalism pipeline goes. Many of these programmes are taught by part-time journalists or professors who have not stepped into a newsroom in years. Much like journalism, journalism education in India has been an underpaid and not-well-regarded profession, often attracting those who opted out of newsrooms or were too old to be active journalists. "They have some fine teachers, but many have never stepped inside a newsroom and, therefore, are unable to provide relevant guidance," says Sunil Saxena, dean of the Online Centre for Media Studies, the first online school of journalism in India.
While some schools such as the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ) in Chennai and seasoned educators such as Thomas Oommen, former head of the Times School of Journalism and now head of Malayala Manorama Group-run Manorama School of Communication, or Mascom, in Kottayam, Kerala, have produced enough hireable young journalists in the past, a spurt in media outlets has sparked a feeding frenzy that has created a significant shortage of well trained, entry-level journalists. In recent years, this has then created an acute shortage of mid- and very senior-level journalists.
According to a report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, an industry lobby, India's print and broadcast industries are expected to grow at a compounded annual rate of 14% and 22%, respectively, until 2012. While print is estimated to become a Rs28,100 crore industry by 2012, television will be a Rs60,000 crore sector.Even this kind of growth still leaves more headroom. According to industry estimates, some 222 million Indians read a publication of any kind and only 115 million households have access to television, leaving hundreds of millions who could become media consumers.