'We intend to produce professionals and not students' - Soumyadipta Banerjee, Director HMMRA

Gareema Bali updated on : 31 May 2017

In conversation with Mr. Soumyadipta Banerjee, Director of HMMRA, where he talks about media industry, journalism, vocational courses and much more. Read the complete interview here.

HT Campus speaks with Mr. Soumyadipta Banerjee, who has rich experience of over 20 years in Media and Journalism to know the insights of the media industry. Mr. Banerjee is the Director of a prestigious Institute, Harkisan Mehta Institute of Media, Research and Analysis (HMMRA) and here he shares with us his views of studying journalism, its scope ad career prospects in the industry. Also, he talks about vocational courses, which have set another trend in the country.

Read the complete conversation below.

HTCampus: From spending more than 20 years in the media industry to being the Director of an eminent Institute, Harkisan Mehta Institute of Media, Research and Analysis (HMMRA). How has your journey been till now?

Soumyadipta Banerjee: I started freelance journalism when I was still a student of St Xavier’s College in Kolkata. When I was in my third year of BA (I graduated with an honors in English Literature) when I got a full-time job with The Telegraph. A year later, I joined as a Copy Editor and Correspondent with The Times of India who had just started an edition in Kolkata. I stayed with The Times of India for more than 10 years in three spells. In between I also worked with Network 18 (Formerly CNN-IBN Group) and DNA (where I worked for little less than five years). During my last spell with The Times Group, I was designated as Chief of Bureau of Mumbai for an outstation edition. That was, in short, my journey as a journalist.

When I decided to give up full-time journalism, I started writing blogs. I was named as one of the most influential bloggers in India (in 2015). I continue to blog today, occasionally taking breaks as I suffer from chronic writer’s block.Teaching started at the same time as writing blogs, I first started teaching at Whistling Woods International as a Guest Faculty for their MBA students. I used to teach Communications and Journalism. At that time I was the only faculty of Journalism at the institute and single-handedly mentored all the Journalism students despite being a Visiting Faculty.

The former director of Harkisan Mehta Institute also invited me to teach there a few years back. I accepted the offer and that was how I was introduced to my present institution. It’s been an association of five years already.

HTCampus: What according to you is real journalism? Also, please discuss about the pros and cons of the media industry.

Soumyadipta Banerjee: I don’t think that you get to see real journalism these days in most media. Journalism, in the real sense of the term, is to expose the truth without taking sides. Journalism is not about telling a part of the truth or only sticking to a particular part of a narrative. Journalism is supposed to take into account all sides of the story and all the angles that are involved in the narrative. Journalism is also not about bothering whom your story offends as long as you are presenting the truth and the whole truth.

As you might have guessed already, I would disagree that real journalism is practiced in India with most journalists openly displaying their political colours. Most journalists today present only one part of the narrative and of course, too busy trying not to offend the organizations that they are affiliated to. Real journalism has ceased to exist in India. It is still practiced in pockets but real journalism is an exception rather than the norm.

Being a journalist is succumbing to something that you are passionate about, the moment you start calculating the pros and cons of being a Journalist, you are not a journalist. The cons outweigh the pros in this profession. We stick to our profession because we love Journalism.    

HTCampus: We do come across people who do not possess professional degrees in journalism but have made their mark in the industry as novelists, established columnists, content writers, bloggers or youtubers etc. If so much can be achieved without any specific degree then what is the actual use of studying journalism? Is journalism more about learning through books in classes or nurturing your passion?

Soumyadipta Banerjee: I agree with you on this count. You don’t need a degree to become a journalist. You can be a graduate and that is enough to be a journalist. Many students ask me, ‘Sir, why do I need a journalism degree. How will it help me?”

You see, we learnt our job through a trial and error method. There was nobody there to tell us whether we are doing it right. We made mistakes, we fell down, we got up on our feet again and learnt from our mistakes.

Veterans like us will tell you numerous stories about how we made ghastly mistakes and were saved by a mere whisker (mostly because we had the support of our seniors). Many contemporaries of mine were not as lucky. Some even lost their jobs, as there was nobody to tell them what is right and what is wrong. A proper course in Journalism gives you that knowledge – to differentiate between the right and wrong. To distinguish between what is done from what is not done.

In most leading institutions, journalists teach you journalism. They will tell you how to go about doing your jobs. They will teach you the tradecraft. They will teach you the rules and the ways to break those rules as a pro. You can just concentrate on the content, on the story, on the facts and not waste your time deciding if you are doing it right. This is why you should do a course in Journalism because it just makes things easier for you. A course in Journalism makes you an efficient journalist right at the starting point of your career. You have an instant edge over other beginners who haven’t learnt journalism.

HTCampus: Majority of the youth who pursues Mass communication wishes to be a part of entertainment industry nowadays. They are passionate about becoming a TV reporter, movie critic, bollywood reporter etc. Being a bollywood journalist yourself, as per you how exciting, welcoming, rewarding or inimical this industry is?

Soumyadipta Banerjee: I don’t think most aspire to be a part of the entertainment world. Sports and Travel Journalism have a lot of pull as well.  Talking about entertainment journalism, most newspapers have turned their entertainment supplements into paid advertorials. TV news channels mostly end up promoting the films and the actors. Most of the entertainment content on newspaper and television these days is fluff. However some of the websites like Huffpost, Scroll and Wire do good stories about our entertainment industry. The beat is different and can get quite frustrating at times because access to films and stars are strictly regulated here.

HTCampus: What is the vision and mission of Harkisan Mehta Institute of Media, Research and Analysis (HMMRA)?

Soumyadipta Banerjee: We intend to produce professionals and not students. Our students have an edge over others because the best professionals teach them.

Yes, to be a Lecturer at HMMRA, you need to have at least 10 years of relevant work experience behind you. Also, the opportunity to teach at HMMRA is strictly on invitation. Nobody can walk into HMMRA and become a teacher next day. We pick our teachers and they are among the best in the industry.

HTCampus: The alliance between TISS and HMMRA is expected to set a new benchmark in imparting education on vocational courses in India. How do you think this collaboration will be able to stand upto the expectations? Kindly share your views on this.

Soumyadipta Banerjee: The Tata Institute of Social Sciences - School of Vocational Education (TISS-SVE) has given the nod to SVKM's Harkisan Mehta Institute of Media, Research and Analysis (HMMRA) to launch graduate degree programmes in Journalism, Graphic Design and Radio Production.

Harkisan Mehta Institute is the only private institute of Shri Vile Parle Kelavani Mandal (SVKM) and is located on the first floor of Mithibai College. The institute is a leading private institute which conducts media courses for the last 26 years. This is for the first time that the Harkisan Mehta Institute will induct affiliated degree courses from Tata Institute of Social Sciences along with its recognised diploma programmes. Admissions has commenced from May 2017 and will continue till July. HMMRA will start the TISS affiliated B.Voc. programmes with a limited number of 100 students and classes will be held in the evenings to facilitate students to work and study during the day.

B.Voc. degrees are at par with all graduation degrees in India and comes with guaranteed internships from registered industry partners.

HTCampus: Please throw some light on the Bachelor of Vocation programmes offered by HMMRA and about the standing of B.Voc degree in this industry and corporate world.

Soumyadipta Banerjee: The B.Voc degrees will be granted by Tata Institute of Social Sciences - School of Vocational Education which is considered as one of the best Universities in India.

The B.Voc courses prepare you for the vocation through a logical mix of theory and practical knowledge. Gaining practical knowledge through on-the-job training is a must and it carries a lot of weight (credit points) in the final evaluation of a student.

The students gain industry experience through the SKP (Skill Knowledge Partners) or companies that partner with the University to impart knowledge. The student has to complete a required number of training with the company and his supervisor at the company evaluates the student at the end of it. The student also gains knowledge through classroom lectures.

More, a student can exit the degree programme after completing first year and he will still get a Diploma in the vocation. Similarly in the second year, het gets an Advanced Diploma and after successfully completing the third year, he gets the B.Voc Degree. The B.Voc. is a recognised graduate degree and the student qualifies for any competitive exam that requires a graduate degree. The student can also do any Masters Degree that requires a graduate degree after completing the B.Voc degree.

HTCampus: What are the job prospects available with the students graduating with B.Voc degree?

Soumyadipta Banerjee: The job prospects are immense because the main aim of the B.Voc programmes is to establish you as a professional. Most institutes will talk about providing you with an internship. Here we are working towards establishing you as a professional. By the time you pass out, you will already have vital industry and on-the-job experience. In any other graduate degree, you will just have the degree in your hands. In B.Voc. you will have industry experience to go hand-in-hand with your degree. When everybody else will be looking at internships to gain some work experience, as a student of B.Voc., you have already passed that stage.

HTCampus: How efficiently does HMMRA cater to the industry needs of Human Resource? Discuss about the placement record of HMMRA.

Soumyadipta Banerjee: We have a cent per cent placement record. None of our students are unemployed. Some are lapped up by the industry immediately while others take some time. Typically, within a month of passing out, almost 90% students are placed. In about 70 days, all the srtudents get placed.

In the Human Resource scenario of the media industry, there is hardly time for a senior resource to train a junior resource. Most professionals are busy to perform and meet their own job requirements. They don’t have time to train a trainee. Some organizations don’t want to train its interns because they are apprehensive about the intern leaving the organization after getting trained.

We bridge the gap. We provide better quality training and make a student job ready. This is the reason why our students are in high demand in the job market.

HTCampus: Initially, most of the class 12 students face issues in analyzing or realizing their passion. They are confused about choosing a field or course for their further studies. Can you list out some of the basic points to help a student analyze that s/he has that zeal of being a journalist or a Mass Communication student?

Soumyadipta Banerjee: If you have a flair for writing or speaking then you already have 80 per cent raw skills needed for the media industry. After that, it is time to listen to yourself. Note that I haven’t asked you to heed to your parents or your friends. I have requested you to you listen to yourself. Talk some time off, sit in a quiet corner and ask yourself, ‘Do I have strong urge to go into Advertising/Journalism etc If the answer you get is a ‘yes’, then go for a career in media. Media is such a field where your passion is directly proportional to your success. That is why, we say at HMMRA, “Make your passion your profession”.

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