South Asia

  • India receptive to science journalism training

    Ranjit Devraj

No one thought that organising a three-day workshop (31 March— 2 April) in science journalism for post-graduate students of mass communication in New Delhi would be a piece of cake. After all, this was the capital of one of the world’s noisiest democracies, featuring a wildly free press. The host, the AJK Mass Communication Research Centre (AJK MCRC) at the Jamia Millia Islamia, rates among the finest of its type in the country. Shah Rukh Khan, Indian cinema’s most popular actor is an alumnus. This year one of the Centre’s convergent journalism students bagged a prize at the United Press International’s Freelance Contest for an environment story.

On being contacted by SciDev.Net – South Asia, AJK-MCRC director, Obaid Siddiqui, and course director, Richa Pant, were quick to see the value of a science journalism package.  Despite a crowded academic schedule they had little hesitation in handing over custody of their convergent journalism students to SciDev.Net trainers for three whole days.

Asked by Keith Ricketts, SciDev.Net consultant trainer, at the start of the workshop, what they thought of science journalism, the students responded with descriptions like ‘dull’ and ‘boring’. The challenge then was to hold down the interest of a lively batch of 20 journalism students by employing an interesting and varied package that had relevance to their future careers. Raring as they were to plunge into the raucous, highly politicised world of Indian media, they had to be enticed to take a closer look at the more rigorous world of science journalism. A mix of lively presentations, interesting anecdotes, news room simulations and interactive sessions was clearly in order.

Time was devoted to discussing India’s big, controversial science-related issues — space exploration, nuclear power, genetically modified crops, the telecom revolution, the pharmaceutical industry and climate change. The students were eager to know where to sources science stories, how to get around the bureaucratic red tape that enwraps India’s science establishment and prospects for careers in science journalism. The answers came from the experienced, resource persons roped into the workshop;  Archita Bhatta, chief editor of a publication at India’s department of biotechnology, Mohamed Waqas, associate editor with ‘India Today’, a leading weekly news magazine, and Praful Bidwai, one of India’s most celebrated science journalists and author of books on nuclear power and climate change. 

It was almost magical how the initial scepticism gave way to enthusiastic participation. A common complaint heard at the end of the workshop — and reflected in the feedback questionnaire — was the shortness of the course.  

“With the different activities at the workshop we learned how to see the science angle in many stories,” says Naureen Khan, one of the students. “We no longer see science stories as uninteresting or too technical to tackle.”  

The workshop showed up the gaps in science journalism training in India. Discussions held by SciDev.Net with the directors of the prestigious Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, only confirmed the lacuna.  Both institutes have shown keenness in SciDev.Net organising science journalism workshops for their post-graduate students and ‘training-of-the-trainers’ courses in the next academic year. 

The workshop was organised by Keith Ricketts and Ranjit Devraj on behalf of SciDev.Net.