Journalism as a Career : Eligibility & Requirements

Do journalists require some qualities in them or a mere degree?

This is the standard questions an aspiring journalist often asks.

They are told the employer needs a degree but the profession does not demand it. A budding journalist must have certain qualities to be a professional. No job requirement mentions those but as you face an editor or an employer he tries to find that out.

It may be mentioned that there were many eminent editors, who set the trend globally were matriculates, non-graduates. They, however, set the highest professional standards. My editor, CN Chittaranjan, at National Herald, the highest circulated daily in UP till 1970s was one of them.

He was a wonder. His command over language, knowledge, writing skills, capacity to guide his colleagues and compress a copy was phenomenal. He knew about state, national and international affairs like the palm of his hand. Remember ha had come from a generation when formal education or training in journalism was unknown.

Does that mean a journalist can proceed without a degree? Yes, he can.

Still many small newspaper owners do not have a degree. What does it make that journalist? That needs to be pondered upon.

It is one of the most difficult professions. Salaries are still not that attractive except in some large organizations. There is no time limit for a journalist to work in a day. Be a newspaper, TV or radio, he has to be physically tough, mentally agile and should have enormous capacity. He cannot stick to his legally provided six-hour schedule.

He has to move out in most cases at 8 O’clock in morning and should not bother when he can get back home – it may be often beyond 11 O’clock at night. It can be summed up in a Bengali adage “Bamuner garu khabe kam doodh debe beshi” (It is a poor Brahmin’s cow, eats less and yields more milk).

Internationally, just not in India, the employers want in journalist a Brahmin’s cow. Truly, service conditions in the profession remain abysmal despite many wage boards.

He must be tough. Earlier, he used to move on a bicycle, was prepared to knock doors to scoop out news and had just a phone at his office or sometimes at home to get connected. He knew he cannot depend on his phone. A personal contact or call on a person is more important. Even in the day of mobile telephony, most critical news is not shared on phone, it comes at personal meetings and the “big” news often is given in just one word or at best a small sentence.

The journalist must have the phenomenal background to understand the nuanced answer.

That is the nose for news. A journalist is hired for that. Nobody has that “nose”.

One has to acquire it with phenomenal reading – newspapers, books, meeting people and what not. He has to read good, bad, unreadable – yes even in this age of Google. He must know what is happening across the world not just in his city. He has to be a ‘go getter’, the super generalists.

Editors even in these days of specialization need reporters who can look at issues beyond their immediate environment, to interpret from different angles – “Jack of all trades and master of some specialist knowledge”. Some one who has the capacity to look at local and world issues from different cultural and political perspectives.