Zest and zeal for journalism

Mahfuzur Rahman
Thursday, September 8th, 2016


As a profession, journalism was always exciting. And today it is thriving more on technologies and the talents of youngsters across the world. These days it attracts more people than ever before, and it allures in many ways. Even those who have already developed good careers in other fields are heard regretting not being journalists! It is perhaps its professional excitement that drives people, particularly the youth, to journalism.


During our Master’s degree programme at Dhaka University’s Journalism department in the late 80s, we found a fellowman with a background of medical education. He had a tremendous zeal for journalism, though he finally returned to his original profession. Still, I know a number of working journalists in Bangladesh who are basically from medical colleges. Barely a year back I met a private medical college student who wanted to be a journalist and received a short training course on journalism to chase his dream. When I visit my village home, many young villagers request me to make a scope for them so that they can work for national media as their local correspondents. What does actually make journalism so attractive? Is there any magic in journalism? Maybe!


The most exciting thing in journalism is its press card as it creates a scope for one to go where the general public is not permitted. Anyone, for example, cannot have access to an event participated either by the President or the Prime Minister. You cannot also enter the Bangladesh Secretariat without a pass if you are not a journalist. Journalists are also provided with accreditation cards by the government in addition to the ones given by their own media organisations. Apart from covering events, journalists also use the cards in unprofessional purposes. As a journalist you can also easily build relations with celebrities, politicians and business tycoons. When corrupt people want to stay away from journalists, others welcome the media people for their exposure.


But it is not so easy to make a mark in this profession – the road is bumpy and sometimes bumpier. Maybe journalism, as a profession, is free but there are certain standards and codes of ethics, which we must abide by. What does actually make a good journalist? That is a million-dollar question. It is a question like why does one sing so well and another cannot? It is difficult to describe. University degrees and training are traditionally said to be important part of preparations for being a journalist. But only degrees and training cannot put you in the driving seat. Journalism has its own grammar as languages have theirs. I would like to call it a social grammar which involves constant self-education and interaction that can take you ahead. Journalism is a profession where you are paid to learn. You are learning every day, everywhere.


If you are working for the print media, you will have to muster a smart writing skill for maintaining quality work, and competent writing means compact, communicative and correct writing and with wonderful expressions, which means working in style that will perfectly match the situation and sentiment. This is the area where the journalists need to prepare themselves with much care and patience.  The language is above every thing. It is the language that will make you a journalist and an author. It is Bangla if you want to work in a Bangla newspaper. It is English if you want to pursue your career in English journalism. These days hardly any emphasis is given on helping the students learn a flawless language – be it Bangla or English.


Graduates from various disciplines like Journalism and Communication, Public Administration, International Relations, Political Science, Sociology, Bangla, English, Law, and even Medical Science, as I mentioned above, take up journalism as their profession. The beginners except those who have fascination for literature have serious problems in writing flawless English and Bengali mainly for lack of their clear idea about grammar. To overcome this problem, one needs to concentrate more on grammar first. Then he or she has to achieve the mastery to write lucid sentences. One cannot achieve this overnight. It happens over the years as journalistic language is quite different from literary expression.


In journalism, one has to communicate with the masses. That is why journalism is called mass communication. Journalism students know it better. Reading newspapers regularly can help a lot. Newspaper subscribers also read newspapers every day, but they hardly turn out journalists because they are reluctant readers. We need to write down the good expressions if our memories deceive us.


Developing news sense is also important as newcomers find everything important. They cannot decide what to write and what to omit. News is what people want to know or need to know. Another problem that follows is how much we need to write. That means the size of the story. Theories should not fix the size of a story. It is always the common sense of the newsmen that decides everything – news value, news size, news treatment. When you get the feeling that you have been able to fully convey your message to the reader or the viewer then your story is complete. What we understand from the theories of journalism is that the stories should be compact and easily understandable. Knowing that from the theories will neither make you a good reporter nor a good sub-editor or a news editor. Taking the clues from the theories you need to practice again and again over months which will help you to be perfect.


A good news story is all about structure. It is quite different from other writings for many good reasons like objectivity, mood of the audience and time and space. All these things drive the news story writers to finish the job in a particular format to accommodate it in a particular space and time. In the mid-40s, many international media houses had carried out experiments on readability and they came out with a suggestion that news stories must be compact with the Associated Press (AP) recommending 23 words for an intro instead of 27 it suggested earlier. No intro or the first paragraph of a news story should be confined to fixed words. It depends on the situation and the mood. But the message is here is that the story lead has to be the shortest one. It is not only the lead or the intro, but the entire story has to be compact and lucid to ensure greater readability.


But the irony is that journalism, no matter in which language or which corner of the world you are doing, has developed some contradictions with the conventional grammars of global languages to adjust the mood of the reader and thus increase the readability. And these contradictions sometimes confuse the traditional newspaper reader.


They just wonder what on earth prompts news editors to write headlines in present indefinite tense when he is talking about the incident that happened yesterday! They also wonder why do the news editors refuse to follow the sequence of tense in their news stories? Worried at the ‘mess’, one day a former editor of a Dhaka-based English daily who happened to be a university teacher called its news editor in his chamber and said, “Why did you use present indefinite tense always in all the headlines and captions? I simply cannot tolerate all these mistakes!”


The man who lands in journalism from a different profession all of a sudden should not tolerate all this. But over the years journalism has developed its own rules sometimes sidetracking the traditional grammar to serve the greater interest of the average readers, we mean ‘average’. According to a former BBC journalist whom we met in a training programme in Dhaka, the target of any journalist write-up should be for the Grade VI students. “It’ll help you send the message very effectively.”


We can, therefore, say extensive training on journalism is needed to overcome some primary huddles to be a good journalist. Any casual approach will pay little dividend.  Wee need to be professional — fully professional — to help improve the standard of journalism in Bangladesh! Journalism graduates, as we observe, have a greater role to play in this regard.


Mahfuzur Rahman is Chief News Editor of United News of Bangladesh (UNB). Email: mehfuzsam@yahoo.com

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