Journalism And Literature

This was the question I was confronted with since I was 14 and thought I could do well if I took up writing as a profession. By the time it was time to choose between the two seemingly congruent fields, a new 3-year Bachelor's Degree program in Mass Media had newly been introduced in Indian universities, and I just joined the swarming crowds of future's trained advertisers and journalists.

The first class in journalism and I knew, "O God! This is not where I belong!" The opening lesson laid down clearly how unfit a 19-year-old, dreamy-eyed, book-loving fantasist was in the 'realities of the real world'. My story-writing skills had no consequence with the story-writing of a newspaper. In fact, with little room for creativity, there was no place at all for imagination. No wordplay, no symbolism, no flowery descriptions, not even a little harmless subjectivity.

The most disturbing distinction between a fictional article and a newspaper report, for me, was the fundamental style in which the two are normally presented. Those meaty pieces of information that I would have ordinarily kept for the last or sprinkled here and there to keep the suspense building and make my story interesting, HAD to be given out in the lead paragraph and leave the boring odds and ends for the rest of the article. They call it the inverted pyramid structure. To me, it was the murder of all appeal.

Of course, they have their reasons why newspapers settle on such an arid, uninspired style of writing. You know, you'd be worth zilch or almost zilch (for at least you don't have sloppy grammar, we could do with difficult vocabulary) if you were a gold-medalist Master of English Literature. But, if you can write 'crisp', bone-dry, unimaginative stories with 'working knowledge' of the language, then you are in some demand (but, only if you are not too money-minded. Patience teaches you penury is a great virtue.).

No, it wasn't a complete waste of three years, this degree course in Journalism. There is another offshoot of journalism where the rules of writing are slightly relaxed and one can choose almost any style. It is called 'feature writing'. These are 'newsworthy', human-interest stories with the freedom to express your point-of-view, but one needs to make sure there's little self-indulgence (the use of first person, 'I'). Or you could be a columnist where your topics could be specific or anything under the sun! But for you to be accepted as a columnist by a newspaper... you should have had spent donkey's years gaining credibility as a journalist or you have got to be a celebrity of some kind, so that your words have some 'news value'.