What Makes a Good News Writer
You have a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering, a Master’s in Mathematics and an MBA. When and why did you decide on journalism as a career?
It wasn’t one of those well-thought-through things, it wasn’t a planned choice. I was interested in writing and was always interested in the news. I was also a good quizzer and was curious about a lot of things. I joined the profession early in my career. After my MBA, I worked for three months in advertising and then I started my career as a journalist.
Is formal training at a jour-nalism school necessary to join the profession?
It depends on where you get trained. I hire graduates from the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media, the Asian College of Journalism and Columbia University.
The students from Columbia – expats – are older and they usually come with work experience. In terms of quality, they have it down pat. They know the elements of a news story and they are adept at narrative writing styles. However, they need to learn the India context. Most of our Indian recruits are very good in terms of context, i.e. they are aware of what goes on in India and abroad, but the quality of their content can sometimes leave a lot to be desired.
So, when you hire, does a candidate with an academic background in journalism have an edge over graduates from other fields?
This is very subjective. It depends on the individual. News organisations are fairly small, so it is quite easy for managers and editors to look at individuals and rate them on a one-to-one basis. Students from international journalism schools are far more ready to start work. Indians know India, but they need training.
What are the qualities or attributes that set a good journalist apart?
Well, just because you think you are a good writer does not mean you are a good writer. Parents in India are rarely critical of their children. If a child writes a poem, the parents may make him recite it at a family function. This makes the child think that he is a good writer, which may not necessarily be the case. Ninety-nine percent of people cannot write well! Also, it is important to distinguish between journalism and writing. Journalism is clean and clear writing. Language should not get in the way of communication. A good journalist uses simple, lucid and adjective-free language. If you are working in newspapers or magazines, you should be sharply focused on structure and communication. Language should be spontaneous and not intrusive.