The Heady Adventure of Journalism


Try searching for a journalist who is bitter about his or her job and you should not be surprised if it is difficult to find one. I have been one for 40 years and there has not been a boring day. I have always felt that I got paid to have fun.
Journalism is exciting as it challenges the practitioner all the time. You get exposed to your own ignorance every day. You never know which news story will emerge from the shadows. There is excitement in the air all the time for a diligent reporter who can find a story anywhere and everywhere.
Every day is a learning experience. One of the most rewarding things about being a reporter is that it teaches you something new every day. No other profession can give you such a platter to choose from in terms of learning. On Monday, you may be covering the prevalent degenerating political culture. On Tuesday, it may be the popularity of traditional medicine. On Wednesday, it could be growing teenage crime. On Thursday, it could be of the growing alienation among India’s neighbors. On Friday, it may be about how the Indian economy needs reforms and on Saturday, it might be about new gadgets that are capturing the imagination of the young. The weekend reward is a bagful of new experiences and insights. Life is happening all the time.
But this is the glamorous part where they meet exciting people, travel across the country, be present at all the hot spots, unraveling information and investigating. The tough part is that they work 24/7 on something or the other. There are no designated working hours. If something happens on a holiday, they do not opt out saying that they were off duty. Hours are usually long every day. But when you are in such an exciting environment, you do not feel exhausted. The intensity of the kind of work they do ensures that their adrenalin keeps flowing.
Across mediums of print, television and the new media, reporting today has become more challenging than ever. There’s lots of competition and a journalist has to constantly whip up content that is different and exclusive. It also has to be presented well. Good reporting is enhanced by good writing.
Writing is a craft and anyone can learn it. The adage that it is a god given gift is a myth. It is not rocket science. But one has to trust one’s creativity and work hard at learning it. It takes a lifetime, but it is worth it. The best way to learn to write is to start writing regularly. You learn to write by writing and reading. The more you read, the better you write as good writing styles subconsciously rubs off on you and you start writing like authors you read.
Writing must be made a compulsory subject in schools and colleges as it is a skill that will always help. But, the stress today is to learn technical stuff. Soft skills that are so crucial to succeed and shine in life are ignored.
I chose to become a writer at the age of about 14. I did not get carried away by the glamour of engineering or medicine or even management which was a rage in the seventies. I am glad I made that decision as it opened up a new world for me.
Journalism lighted up my life. I reported and wrote on things that I would never have even bothered to look at. Like street children recycling blood-stained cotton thrown out of a hospital. Or tribals eating roots as they had nothing else. Or children orphaned by senseless communal riots. Or youngsters who wanted to commit suicide. Or rich teenagers who got involved in crime for the fun of it. Or the vagaries of war in Sri Lanka. Or investigations on corrupt politicians and judges. Or children who were sexually abused. Or farmers who were struck with cancer as they were using pesticides that were carcinogenic.
One can go on and on about what one has seen. The list is endless. But, that is the stark reality in India that many do not see or choose not to see. It is not a pretty picture. But that does not matter. What matters, in the end, is how experiences of these people have enrichened your life in developing a larger perspective.
I am not bitter with what I have seen. Nor am I cynical. It is important to have a positive bent of mind to keep going on doing what one has to do in the larger good. It is difficult to keep prejudices and biases aside, but that is the challenge. We have to be as objective as we can be. I always told myself that journalism was my only religion. It helped me from not suffering from myopia.
After many years of doing such work, I got into the colorful path of filmmaking. I worked on nearly 20 documentaries that dealt with social subjects or environmental degradation. It was a fulfilling experience. Dealing with visuals requires as much skill as writing with words. The visual medium has more power as it engages with the senses of the viewer.
I then got involved in corporate training. This had nothing to do with my journalism background and my peers were wondering what I was doing. My rationale was simple: It was wonderful to work with people, train them in soft skills, build their inner resolve, strengthen their emotional bandwidth and help them live fuller and happier lives. It is such a great feeling when someone walks up and says that life took a different turn after attending a life skills session.
We often stereotype ourselves doing just one thing all our lives and usually it is in areas where we specialized or graduated in. For instance, how silly it is for an engineer to be just involved in engineering for the rest of his or her life? We must do different things all the time to make our life interesting. After all, we just have one life.
I also got into teaching. I loved standing in a classroom of eager and bright youngsters as they also taught me so much. It was also important to give back to journalism what it had given me. Nothing excites me as much as being in a classroom sharing and learning at the same time.
What has helped in my myriad journey is the propensity to always dream. People who do not dream do not get anywhere. People also laugh at unusual dreams. But while they do that, they secretly wish they could have had the courage you did. Dream as you would live forever, but live as you will die tomorrow to keep the passion of living life as time is running out for all of us.


Ramesh Menon

Author, Journalist, Film maker, Corporate Trainer and Educator

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