Asian College of Journalism
There aren’t too many true-blue journalism schools in the country. While there are tons of so-called “media schools”, only a handful of institutes offer quality post-graduate programs. However all these courses are broad based – embracing Corporate Communication, Public Relations, Advertising, Media Management, Film, Television and Mass media in general.
The B.D. Goenka Foundation, backed by the Indian Express Group had set up the Asian College of Journalism in Bangalore but was struggling to keep the institute going. At about the same time, the Media Development Foundation (MDF) was looking to start a full time journalism school in Chennai. The ACJ in Bangalore had already built up a reputation of sorts and thus in order to keep the brand name, the MDF took over the school. The first batch of students of the one-year post graduate program passed out in 2001.
The Columbia Connection
For those of you who aren’t in the know, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism is the Mecca of journalism education. The school awards the Pulitzer Prizes every year, has produced America’s greatest journalists and is by far the world’s most prestigious place to learn the ropes of reporting. One of its alumni, N. Ram (now editor of The Hindu) thought it would be a good idea to set up a school on similar lines but tailored to Asian conditions in general and Indian conditions in particular. The one-year course is modeled on Columbia’s Masters program. While you won’t get a degree from Columbia, you will be taught by faculty of the school thanks to a MoU between the two institutes
Three PG Diploma courses of ten month duration are offered by ACJ:
1) Print journalism – 40 seats
2) New Media – 20 seats
3) Broadcast Journalism – 30 seats
The curriculum of the ACJ is far superior to any institute in the country. Highlights include a compulsory course called ‘Covering Deprivation’ – an attempt at making third world journalists conscious of the social issues surrounding them. After a rigorous lecture series, students go on a week-long tour of a remote part of South India to get a feel of the issues in the ‘real India.’
The first trimester is common for students of all streams. Courses include Media Law, Media history, Key Issues in Journalism, Tools of the Modern Journalist and the cracker of a course, Reporting-Writing-Editing. If you thought your English was good, this course will bring you down to earth pretty quickly. Students get a basic grounding in all three streams.
The next two trimesters are dedicated to “stream work” and electives. The broadcast journalism students take a 12-week course taught by a qualified BBC journalist cum instructor. They then go on to producing full fledged daily news bulletins with reports from around the city, often scooping the mainstream media. They also go through a documentary making workshop and make short films. The Print students learn the basics of layout and publishing and run a weekly newspaper which is circulated to a wide audience in the city. New Media students learn to navigate cyberspace and run a 24-hour website called Digantik. In the final trimester, students have to submit an investigative project as well as a 10,000 word dissertation.
The most fun part of the course for many however is ‘Electives’. Students can chose 4 electives out of a long list that includes Arts & Culture, Business, Politics, Sports, Science, Environment, International Affairs, Photojournalism, Gender etc. Students often sit in for classes from electives that they have not opted for.
Infrastructure and Faculty
The Infrastructure is outstanding. The college is fully air-conditioned, which is half the battle won in sultry Chennai! The broadcast studio in the sprawling basement is fully equipped with a production control room, sound booth and editing facilities (linear and non-linear). Camera equipment is plentiful and the facility is excellently maintained. The college is one of the few places that can actually boast a computer for every student (An entire floor is dedicated just to computer labs!) and nearly all lectures are taken with audio-visual support. There is a well-equipped library and an auditorium that can seat more than a hundred people. The canteen is on the sprawling terrace, where underarm cricket is the official sport.
The Chairman of the college is the formed head of PTI News and later founder of AsiaNet, Sashi Kumar. He occasionally gives lectures, conducts workshops in anchoring and provides feedback on bulletins. The core faculty of half a dozen comprises full-time professors while a large part of the faculty serves in an adjunct capacity. Many of the electives are taken by practicing journalists from The Hindu group of publications. The endless stream of visiting speakers will expose you to a range of ideas that will totally blow you away. To be honest, the real strength of the institute is the sheer spectrum of experts that it can assemble to speak to the students during the span of a single year.
Fees (gulp!) are very high. 1.5 lakh for print and new media and a whopping 2 lakhs for broadcast. There is no hostel facility either since it isn’t a residential campus. The college does however make arrangements for students to stay together. If you factor in rental and living expense it is an expensive affair for one year! Also, a lot of people especially from the North have a mental block about studying in Chennai even though the language problem is rather overplayed. Those of you with strong right wing/neo-conservative or free-market capitalism ideologies beware! This is hardcore liberal, left-wing and often commie territory.
Look out for newspaper ads in the month of May and keep checking the website http://www.asianmedia.org . The written exam is held in all the metros in mid-June and consists of an English paper and an extremely difficult Current Affairs and General Knowledge paper. The interviews are held only in Chennai. There are 90 seats in all though 12 are set aside for overseas Fellows.
There are a number of partial and full scholarships offered on a merit-means basis. The college also administers the SAF Madanjeet Singh Fellowships to one girl and one boy from each of the seven SAARC countries and Afghanistan. All fees are waived and fellows are paid a stipend as well. Due to political reasons, Pakistani students haven’t yet been able to make it even after receiving the fellowships though the guys and gals from Bhutan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Afghanistan more than make up for it. The foreigners are usually experienced journalists, so all you America bashers watch out! These guys will give you more than a mouthful on how India is as much of a bully in the region…
All the major news outlets in the country have ACJ grads working for them and the alumni network is beginning to kick in as well. Lots of people tend to go the NGO / Independent Media way as well. Those who are interested in academics usually apply for PhD programs in the US and UK and their ACJ year is accepted in most big places as a Masters equivalent year of study.
ACJ has within a couple of years established itself as an outstanding institution with one foot in the hi-tech future. However it’s not the kind of time-pass course one should do just because you can’t figure out what you want to do after graduation. This is a full time highly intensive course which can be tackled only by extremely motivated junta.
The intellectual atmosphere on campus according to students is electrifying and says Yamini Narayan, 2002 print journalism student, “People in the South have already nicknamed it the NLS of Journalism.” Not a bad comparison, for NLSIU was virtually unheard of when it came about and within a decade it established itself as a world class law institution without peer in the country. Incidentally the guy who topped my batch is a lawyer who happened to be Rank 1 in the all India entrance for NLS.
(Abhimanyu graduated from ACJ in 2003 and is now a correspondent at CNBC TV18 in Mumbai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)