Indians Hope to Raise Journalism Standards

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MUMBAI -- With more than 80,000 newspapers and magazines and 500 television news channels, India's news media industry is among the world's most vibrant. Journalists have no qualms taking the government to task, yet critics wonder whether, in the era of the 24/7 news cycle, professional standards are increasingly compromised.

The proliferation of news media outlets, combined with concerns about the quality of reporters, has resulted in a great demand for top journalism school graduates.

India has long had well-known graduate programs in this field, notably at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai, the Indian Institute of Mass Communications in New Delhi, the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media in Bangalore and the Xavier Institute of Communications in Mumbai.

But new journalism schools have emerged in the past five years, including the World Media Academy, the Express Institute of Media Studies and the Delhi School of Communications, all in New Delhi, and Journalism Mentor in Mumbai.

One problem that has come up in recent years is "paid news," in which the media are compensated for favorable coverage. A 2010 study by the Press Council of India, a statutory body, noted, without naming names, that some of the country's biggest newspapers and TV stations practiced paid coverage. The report called corruption in the industry "pervasive, structured and highly organized."

"The quality of journalism programs is hugely questionable in India," said Shishir Joshi, a veteran journalist and one of two founders of Journalism Mentor, a small institute. "There's a huge mismatch between what is taught and what is practiced."

Mr. Joshi started Journalism Mentor after leaving his job as the editorial director of a Mumbai newspaper, when it considered the idea of paid content in its entertainment coverage.

"Journalism education has to go beyond skills alone," said Aloke Thakore, the other co-founder of Journalism Mentor. "There should be a substantive understanding of the Indian scenario. Our program addresses a multiplicity of needs."

Siddhartha Dubey, the dean at the World Media Academy in New Delhi, said it was founded when the International Center for Journalists and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, both based in the United States, saw an opportunity to teach multimedia journalism.

"India was chosen because of its vibrant and free press and the enormous energy in the nation's media scene which clamors for good training," Mr. Dubey said in an e-mail.

India is the only country in which the Knight Foundation has financed a start-up journalism school. Mr. Dubey described the W.M.A. as an "experiment." Sixty students have graduated from the academy, which is in its third year of operation. This summer, after financing from the Knight Foundation runs out, it will be an independent organization run by local Indian partners.

The Express Institute of Media Studies, which was started by the Express Group, an Indian newspaper company, began in 2009 and is run under its auspices in New Delhi.

"What is journalism is changing every day," Shailaja Bajpai, the dean of the Express Institute, said in a telephone interview. "We felt, 'Shouldn't we have a vision?' We felt a need to revisit essential core values of impartiality, objectivity."

The students, who are mostly 20 to 25 years old, are taught by working journalists from the Express Group and receive a graduate degree in journalism at the end of a year.

"This is like a pilot project, a lab," said N.P. Singh, a company director who oversees the institute.

The school had received offers from state governments to start similar programs, but Mr. Singh, speaking in a telephone interview, said he was not convinced that it was a "scalable" idea in areas outside of Delhi, where there might not be the same concentration of quality faculty and newsmakers.

Journalism Mentor, which opened three years ago, offers various options. It has held a dozen workshops for citizen journalists across India who wish to learn about police and press laws, media ethics and consumer rights. They also conduct training for midcareer professional journalists.

The longest program is a 14-month training course for more traditional journalism students. While most graduates have found jobs, the school has had a hard time attracting new students. So far, 22 students have graduated over three years. This year, five students enrolled but only three remain.

Journalism Mentor can grant diplomas, but not degrees. It works with Martin Luther Christian University in Shillong, India, which will accept Journalism Mentor credits from students who wish to pursue a postgraduate diploma or master's in journalism.

Mr. Thakore, who received a master's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a doctorate in mass communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, helped design much of the curriculum; it combines practical training with courses on Indian history, sociology, law and ethics.

"It's not a run-of-the-mill syllabus," said M.N. Parth, 21, who hopes to be a sports journalist. "We are now going to the northeast for conflict reporting," he said, referring to a volatile Indian region.

Another student, Ifat Gazia, 21, is from Kashmir, and hopes to be a documentary filmmaker. "What I am learning here, I wouldn't learn elsewhere," she said.

Jyoti Shinoli, 21, who attends on a full scholarship, prefers to interact in Hindi and Marathi, the local language in Mumbai. Her goal is to work at a local-language newspaper in that city.

Students who cannot afford to pay tuition -- 200,000 Indian rupees, or about $3,770 -- can do so after they find a job. According to Mr. Joshi, starting salaries for graduates are about 20,000 rupees per month. The school also provides scholarships. The two founders say they do not draw a salary and finance themselves through a publishing house, Font & Pixel, while 70 percent of the school's 1,000 books are donated.

"It's not an easy thing we are doing," Mr. Thakore said. "We want to ensure that this place becomes one where journalism excellence is imparted and better excellence is practiced, which is actually important for democracy."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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