Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How will India's media boom survive the talent crunch?

In what seems like a dream-run for the next generation of journalists - the so called beholders of India's democratic information ecosystem - finding a job is not going to the first problem he/ she will have to worry about, when they pass out of grad school.

Which one to choose, is the million-dollar question.

There are so many jobs on the platter and entry level salaries are surprisingly high, for people who are still not equipped the required skill-sets. Training courses for once, specially like BMM (Bachelors of Mass Media) in Mumbai, are light-years away from an industry standard.

And with the University doing away with the Entrance Test for First Year BMM, filtering the best talent just got difficult. By rough estimates, this year's BMM-batch alone, which comprises nearly 500 journalism students from Mumbai, will see confirmed placements of atleast 200 of them. What happens to the rest of them?

Some of them, of course, will pursue post-graduation studies, thanks to unsatisfactory feeling BMM, as a course gives you. At the end of 3-yr course, a student's knowledge becomes extremely theoretical and focus gets blurred. Even post-graduation or diploma degrees in journalism, I'm told, give you the same feeling that undigested good generates.

For example, in the final year of journalism, Public Relations as a subject is something that syllabus makers have criminally given a miss. News-gathering on a variety of beats, working in B2B publications, networking, source building and news-sense are some of the major loop-holes in this myopic course.

Moreover, for an industry which in the next one year is going to witness a slew of business channel launches - they desperately need skilled talent - the BMM course is doing almost nothing to ensure that graduates pass out with atleast a fair knowledge of operating beta cameras, collecting sound bytes, reading off-the prompter and editing video on consoles. The syllabus is crammed with too many things at the same time and timings allotted to lectures are too short.

Which is why, retaining skilled talent is going to be difficult. While there is too much training on how to write a good report and edit, et all., there is absolutely no training on surviving in the profession...on sticking it though. Almost when the journalist begins to get into the groove of his beat, he gets noticed. And getting noticed, it seems is the worst thing that could happen to his organisation. What will it do? Stop giving him bylines? Lol...

Wage hikes alone are not going to work, today. I work in an organisation - DNA - which started the wage hike in the first place. Three years ago, thanks to the launch of this newspaper - and a couple of others - wages across the board for journalists, sales staff, editors were hiked by 100%. Ironically, it is the same organisation, that today, is facing a terrible talent crunch, especially in beats like business where atleast a substantial backgrounder about business news is important at entry level.

And this has got nothing to do with the paper's credentials. Take DNA, for example. According to industry readership surveys, DNA is the fastest growing newspaper in India. Its readership in Mumbai is second only to The Times of India and it has left competitors HT, Indian Express, Mid-day, Mumbai Mirror, Mint and others far behind.

This gives rise to a simple fact, that department heads, HR managers and editors must accept. Wage hikes are no longer a criteria for retaining talent. The person is simply going to wait for the hike, take it and paste the numbers on his next resume as 'current CTC' and expect atleast 25-30% higher CTC in return from his next employer. All of this, within months of getting the raise.

Its the nature of talent companies are dealing with. Young employees are fickle consumers. Dangle a fatter wallet in front of him and they'll fall for it. Of course, perks like a 5-day week work routine and cordial workplace are a huge attraction.

Which makes me come to the question - what are some effective ways to retain talent, that is settling into your media organisation? Better pay-packages? 5-day week? Regular meetings? Get-togethers? Going out for dinner sometimes? Note: A journalist-driven workplace is different than any other organisation. Doing all of the above may not be possible always. Especially, for a newspaper that is growing and expanding into newer markets, input costs are very high, margins are low and salary hikes across the board are not the first thing the CEO likes to think about when it comes to retaining talent.

Share your thoughts.