Himanshi Matta, alumni of IIMC, is currently working at Oxfam India as a media coordinator. In this exclusive interview with acadman.in she talks about her early life, life at IIMC, Working with PTI, News X, and why she left journalism, role of media coordinator among several other things.
How would you like to introduce yourself? Please tell us a bit about your family background.
I started off as a journalist hoping to change the world and then moved on to bringing about changes through the way of communication and activism. I consider myself to be a communication activist trying to bring the two worlds of journalism and activism together.
I am an only child of my parents. My parents were in government services. My father was working with the Ministry of Home Affairs. They gave me all the liberty and freedom that I could hope for.
What kind of exposure and aspirations did you have in your school days?
I come from an all girls’ convent school, where there were strict rules as to how you’re supposed to dress and how you have to talk. I remember an incident when while we were walking in the alley of our school and my friend and I were holding hands; our principal came up to us and questioned – ‘why are you holding a girl’s hand?’
So I come from a school where things were not that progressive at that time. Decorum and the way you should conduct yourself was of utmost importance. So my school was very strict with every aspect which also made me question a few things about the system and to be a little vocal about how I felt about the way students were treated.
So my school did help me develop an acumen and understanding of why we should question the authorities or why we should question the rules that are set and also understand better as to how things are put in place and how and why rules are made.
What sparked your interest into journalism?
Journalism happened because I felt an urge to pursue theatre. And I was trying to see if there is any synergy and if I can actually join theatre. Then I also understood that somewhere deep down my passion was to write and narrate stories which is why I started looking at mass media as an option of learning. I decided to do a course in mass media to see if theatre or story telling is included in it. So I wanted to explore my opportunities in mass media first and from there I was told by my teacher that I had an intellect to be a journalist and so a lot of people guided me to look at journalism as a career option.
How was your experience in your college days?
I had actually applied for a journalism course in Delhi University and I got through Lady Sriram College and few other colleges but since my schooling was in all girls convent I was not interested in taking the same road again. So I opted for the university which was open to all, to get more experience and I started applying and found that IP University was offering a course which was for mass media. It had a very good setup, they had community radio, they had various labs when it came to editing and other software.
So I chose IP and in the college itself we were able to use our skills in various fields and experiment with things like making films or taking up projects revolving around photography. So it kind of helped us professionally understand the entire mass media field.
How did IIMC help you in building your career?
So IIMC was a turning point and it is perhaps the turning point for a lot of journalists because that institute completely grooms you for what lies in the future, i.e a very professional competitive world of journalism.
I was enrolled in English journalism where again there were students from various backgrounds and they all had a very strong knowledge, intellect, and understanding of where they stand politically, socially, and economically. It helped me develop a very sound view of Indian politics, social systems and it broadened my perspective and took me away from my Delhi view and Delhi vision of things.
It’s like nine months of live interaction with different kind of people and learning about stories and story telling.
Some journalists in their interview with us alleged that IIMC is a useless institution. They stated that there is no similarity between what is being taught there and what we actually do in the newsrooms. What is your take on that?
Well, I won’t say it is a useless institution. It has definitely helped me understand the dynamics of journalism. I would agree that there is a little bit of difference between what is taught in any journalism school and not just in IIMC and what happens in the newsrooms.
But unfortunately the only link that is available right now for anyone who wants to learn journalism are these institutions. So there needs to be a change in these institutions for sure but I wouldn’t call it useless outright .
In the field of journalism, what was your first job and how was your experience there?
I started working with Press Trust India. I worked there for two years as a correspondent and sub-editor.
In PTI when you join as a trainee, you are supposed to monitor news channels because the fast pace of the news has to be kept up with. So when I joined, we were asked to sit in a very small room and monitor 3 TV channels at one point of time together and then update the report.
Memorable incident (laughs) was that many times, because it was so fast, and we were all young many of us used to screw up and were unable to deliver the reports. Then we used to be called in the room and… it felt like we were kids in school and were being taught journalism with a stick in hand – that ‘this is how you’re supposed to act.’
It was an interesting period in the beginning and it does help you a lot to understand the basics of journalism.
How was your experience at NewsX?
It was interesting. However, when I joined the channel wasn’t doing very well but I was able to make my own path in the TV industry. I was responsible for doing aviation as a beat.
I looked after -BJP which was in opposition at that point of time. So I had a very good experience to understand how a party functions and you could as a journalist work towards a strategy of being an opposition party to a leading party.
NewsX was actually a TV channel that geared me up for a bigger vision in life and if you are committed to journalism, if you have the right kind of understanding of how to cover news or being unbiased as a journalist, then you can learn a lot.
What kind of challenges did you face in your journalism career?
There were a lot of challenges like the constant questioning of yourself about the story that you are doing and whether it is right or wrong and how will it be presented on the channel. The second is that if you look around there are a lot many journalists right now who are trying to strike a balance in their work.
So it does de-motivate you a lot to see that people take journalism very casually, they don’t see it has a very serious profession. They see it as a job that only requires coming on camera or to just become famous.
So that disheartens you in a setup. This was a big challenge for me, you know, to keep myself motivated constantly and do stories that have to be better than others.
I was looking at a scenario where I wanted to make a choice as to whether I want to continue with journalism or I want to move to communications and work with a sector which is the development sector trying to bring about another kind of change. So I think the opportunity came at the right time and I decided to move to Amnesty then.
What are the main reasons behind leaving journalism?
Like I said the main reason was the fact that journalism industry now has become a game of money, it’s not how it should be, it should be bringing about change in the world. I think journalism should be about understanding different responsibilities that they have, before making statements or saying things.
There was a point where…I don’t want to name the editor, I did a story about a particular minister. It was a story related to aviation and some scam that had happened. I was asked to kill that story though it wasn’t breaking. It wasn’t like anything that was not been said before but it was editor’s decision and at that point in time as a reporter, you don’t really have many choices except to just argue and step back. This was a trigger for me to leave journalism.
What is the role and responsibilities of media coordinator?
Media Coordinator is basically a link between a developmental organization and the media. Media coordinator is someone who is responsible for ensuring that the work the development organization is doing reaches to the journalist because every day the journalists are flooded with stories that come from various areas. There are breaking stories, then the stories which are on the news agenda… So it is important that the media coordinator is able to give the journalist an idea of what is happening away from the breaking news scenario and give something very concrete.
For ex – In the education sector, there would be a lot of journalists who will be talking at this point in time, about something which is happening in a breaking news scenario, but very few will have time to take a step back and look at the problem in deeper detail.
So media coordinator with an organization like Amnesty or Oxfam would be able to connect with other journalists and give them an idea that this is the greater picture and this is perhaps where you should focus your energy on.
What is the career scope in this field?
It has a lot of career scope. The fact is that not many developmental organization till now have looked at engaging with media at such a vast level because now there are multiple ways in which you can do that and it has to be at a very institutional level. It doesn’t have to be at a PR level.
It is a very long engagement and now the development sector has started understanding the importance of communication or communicating with the media or communicating with people on social media and all of these profiles come under communication team.
What would be your message to the students of Mass Media across India?
Learn as much as you can from these institutes because the world of communication is so wide that you can adapt to any role where you find your passion.
When you are studying don’t think that right now you are not interested in journalism or not interested in photography or not interested in a particular field. Learn every bit of it because this is a very interchangeable industry. So any skills you acquire will always help you in life.
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