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Reasons behind the talent crunch in media

Last updated on: September 29, 2010 08:47 IST

Reasons behind the talent crunch in media

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It will be many years before the trial and error ends to produce a basic quality of media practitioners, a la medical practitioners writes Vanita Kohli-Khandekar.

Newspaper editors will talk of the struggle of finding someone who writes a decent paragraph. TV editors will pull their hair out at the thought of dealing with dolts who can't spell - the bloomers on the tickers of most TV channels show that. Marketing heads will crib about how candidates lack numeric literacy or presence of mind.

What is the issue? Are the wrong kind of students taking up media as a profession? Are mass communication courses badly structured or have poor faculty? Or is it because media pays badly at starting levels.

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Image: Media hit by talent shortage.

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Those may be some of the reasons but they do not fully explain the lack of good people at starting levels in this business.

In 10 years of tracking this industry, I have taught at Mudra Institute of Communication (Ahmedabad) for three years, at Xavier Institute of Communications (Mumbai) for two and have interacted with hundreds of students for some reason or the other.

Sometimes I am pleasantly shocked at how good they are. My first two batches at MICA were outstanding. They asked tough questions, made me think about things and forced me to work harder for teaching them. Not surprisingly, almost all of them are doing very well within the M&E industry.

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Image: Mudra Institute of Communication.
Photographs: Courtesy, MICA website.
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However, the last batch I taught at MICA almost brought me to tears. The students had no interest in the subject and no aptitude for figuring it out. That happened again at a workshop in a university down south.

Funnily enough, the students doing their PhD in media-related areas in the same university were uniformly good.

That just tells you that it isn't just the basic quality of the students - that is a mixed bag, just like it would be in any other discipline.

Maybe one of the reasons - and all my friends in academia are going to hate me for saying this - is that there is too much leftist baggage in media education.

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Image: MICA.

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A mix of ideologies is always good because it exposes you to the variety that you will see in real life. But in media education there is no variety - everything private and for-profit is bad, and everything not-for-profit and developmental is good.

This breeds a judgmental, subjective approach to work, instead of an objective, enthusiastic one.

For instance, irrespective of where I have been to teach, most students have no idea about basic things such as, how big this industry is, what are the key components, which are the top companies.

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Image: Media education.

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They all think films are the biggest business in India, that foreigners are taking over Indian media and that all media companies are becoming monopolies.

In many cases, these are opinions they hold after more than a year of media education. It is very difficult for them to grasp that media is a small, insignificant part of India's GDP.

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Image: Films.

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That the entire media industry is just two times the size of, say, the largest telecom company in India or that news channel is really a small business.

As a result, at the end of two years of media education, all they have is a sneery attitude toward popular mass media and entertainment. Almost 70 per cent of the students will say they want to make documentaries or get into developmental media. However, this not-for-profit field cannot accommodate so many students.

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Image: Media, small business.

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Not surprisingly, by the time they pass out, most are forced to opt for mass media options in metros. That is where the jobs are. But these students are ill-equipped - skill-wise, attitude-wise and knowledge-wise - to deal with the hyper-competitive world of television, films or newspaper publishing.

Many institutes, such as MICA, try to bring in more perspective by getting people from the industry. But because the industry itself is not evolved enough, the discipline too is not like, say, medicine or engineering. So the books, the pedagogy, almost everything is ad hoc and depends on whether you land a good professor or school.


Image: Many ill-equipped for jobs.

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