One of the most interesting debates in recent times is on the rather provocative question of whether a formal degree in journalism should be made mandatory for somebody to be able to earn a job as a journalist. This interestingly seems is the case in France. In India it is not. Anybody can become a journalist, and in fact, with the mobile phones becoming virtually everybody’s accessory today and with mobile phone cameras becoming increasingly refined, capable of taking high resolution still images and videos, together with the phenomenal explosion of social media forums on the internet, a previously non-existent notion of citizen journalist has come into vogue and anybody with a smartphone in his or her pocket has become a potential journalist of sorts. If one were to scan the journalist profession in India today, a larger number of professionals would have had no formal training as journalists. Most of the time they came into the profession out of an unexplained fascination for the profession, knowing fully well the hardships and low salary standards they would be putting up with. It must also be said that a formal training does not necessarily mean a better journalists, and indeed some of the most famous journalists India has seen had no journalism degrees. The entry of competitive television media in the 1980s however changed the scenario a little, for then it became a great advantage to have some formal knowledge of film and image making in storytelling. However the old thumb-rule continues to hold and a natural flair for story-telling and writing still scores over formal training alone without this flair.
But the idea is interesting. It is argued this would help standardise journalism. Even those with a natural flair for story-tell and writing would then be compelled to undergo a formal course first, adding more value to their talents. To take an example, it would be as in much of the humanities branches of academics. In the science disciplines, there can be no other way for somebody to go through a formal training and acquire relevant knowledge, skills and degrees to be able to discharge the responsibility of the profession, but not so always with the humanities subjects. Indeed, it is not so infrequent for people who enter the profession with relevant degrees turning out to be dull mediocres, and equally for people outside the profession, especially those in the NGO sectors and indeed journalism, with no formal training in these academic disciplines, to outstrip them in terms of research outputs or in conceptualising and comprehending social mores and events. Hanna Arendt, Richard Falk, Thomas Friedman, Robert Kaplan etc., to name just a few examples from distant shores, but obviously there would be plenty closer home too.
The debate and advocacy in certain circles for making a professional degree mandatory for entry into journalism then is not so much in anticipation of a sudden improvement in the quality of journalism, but to standardise and formalise the profession, as in the humanities branches of academics. It would also prove to be a means to make the profession a little more accountable and responsible. There is no gainsaying that today, journalism can often descend into a free for all arena, where everybody scream at each other and where anybody can write anything without a care for the likely damages that can be caused. Perhaps in the long run, this would prove beneficial and lift the quality of the journalistic profession too, making it more respectable. However, we will admit, although the debate is engaging, it is less than likely this would ever happen, at least not in the foreseeable future, for Indian journalism, with all its blemishes and flaws, is still robust. Alongside the all the unholy cabal who are ready to compromise the dignity of the profession, there are still others who have not lost sight of the original mission of the profession – that of holding up a mirror for the society to see itself with all its own moles and warts so that it sees itself in perspective. But should there come about a time a professional degree becomes mandatory for entry into journalism, one other thing is certain. There would be a multiplication of departments of journalism studies in universities across the country, as well as a matching explosion in the number of private institutes teaching journalism.