Akhileshwari Ramagoud, former journalist and the current head of the Mass Communication department at Loyola Academy talks about where the subject stands in the city todayFaustina Johnson firstname.lastname@example.org
What inspired your choice of career?
I guess I was always a rebel..I wanted to do something that was not ‘regular ‘. When as an undergraduate student in Nizam College in Hyderabad, I heard that a senior of mine was doing a Journalism course in Osmania University. I jumped at the idea and after finishing BA, I joined the one-year BJ course (Bachelor in Journalism). Interestingly there were only three girls in a class of 40.
What do you have to say about the status of mass communication courses in the city?
I am very happy that mass communication courses are very popular among the young which I believe is mainly due to the popularity of TV. It has become a much accepted career choice. For some of course it is a glamorous profession, considering the recognition and fame if your job is in front of a camera. Different colleges offer different quality of courses, but it is very crucial to have good infrastructure such as a studio for TV. A good faculty is also a must. Both these are in short supply in the colleges that offer Mass Communication courses in the city.
Why do you think there is a lack of proper faculty for the subject?
Any Mass Communication and Journalism course needs faculty that is experienced in the media. This is a skill-based course. Who can be a better teacher than a person who has worked in the profession? But we have very few people who have put in some years in the profession and who can or are willing to teach. This problem has been persisting since I was a student in the 1970s. Perhaps if the pay structure can be improved in the private colleges, more media professionals can be lured into teaching.
What inspired you to take up teaching?
I taught in my alma mater OU way back in 1980s for about five years. But at that point, I felt quite constricted by the atmosphere around me and I decided to quit teaching and go back to reporting. Since then, I have never once regretted this decision. Journalism has given me everything I have in life, both in terms of fulfillment and materially. Somewhere along the line, I felt I could share all my experiences and skills with the younger generation and what better way than to teach? Fortunately for me, by the time I was ready to teach several universities and colleges in Hyderabad had begun courses in Mass Communication and Journalism.
In an average class, what kind of students do you generally encounter?
While most people of my generation dismiss youngsters as non-serious, immature or selfish, my experience with students who are around 18 or even less, is extremely encouraging. They just need some guidance, some encouragement and inspiration. I find my students very sensitive, positive and concerned about issues around them such as poverty, deprivation, caste and gender discrimination. I get the most response from the class when I relate anecdotes to them!
Is a proper academic mass com background a must for a journalist?
Earlier we used to believe that journalists are born, not made. In fact, my seniors in the profession looked upon students of journalism courses with great skepticism. A common saying in the editiorial rooms then was that students of journalism had to unlearn everything they learned in college because they came to the profession with several misconceptions. While that has a grain of truth a strong academic background and knowledge of issues of national and international importance is of great help in getting started and in understanding the issues that we report.
Tell us something about your experience as Foreign correspondent for Deccan Herald.
It was absolutely awesome! I was perhaps the only woman then who was posted to Washington DC as foreign correspondent. Most of the foreign postings were given only to men or if there were women, then they were living in those cities/countries. Deccan Herald was a pioneer in this regard as in many others. I have reported from almost every continent but reporting in India was always more challenging and so much more varied. The challenge of my five years in Washington was both professional and personal because I had left behind my two daughters in India.
Did you ever have to wake up at 4 in the morning to chase a story?
Oh yes! There were times when I worked right through the night like when we report results of elections. Considering the 12+ hour time difference between India and USA, there were days when I managed with barely a couple of hours of sleeping. As for getting up at 4 p m, the then chief minister N T Rama Rao was fond of having cabinet meetings and press conferences early in the morning. When I asked for an interview, he agreed to talk to me at 5 am! When I reached him, he not only was ready to take questions but even offered breakfast and coffee!
What was it like to be a woman in a male dominated realm when you started?
This question will take me hours to respond. I remember I was the only woman on the desk in Deccan Herald where I started my career. Later, when I moved to reporting, I would be the only reporter at a press conference. Fellow reporters would simply ignore me because they were not used to having a woman around. It took many years to be accepted and greeted by male colleagues. I recall an incident vividly, where this is obvious. After the foreign stint, I came back to Hyderabad as DH’s correspondent. A Doordarshan mid-ranking reporter asked me what I issues I reported for DH. When I replied “politics” he burst out guffawing loudly! Apparently, he thought women couldn’t report politics.
How much has changed since then?
Sadly, not much. While there is some acceptance of women reporters and journalists, they continue to be second class citizens in the media as much as in the society. Women in top positions in the media are an exception not just in India but across the world. Glass ceiling is very much a part of our lives in the media.