Prerna Lidhoo, alumni of IP College – Delhi, is Principal Correspondent at Fortune Magazine. In this exclusive interview with acadman.in she has talked about her early life, pursuing journalism, life at IP College, working with Scroll, challenges for newcomers in journalism, among several other things.
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Would you please tell us about your life during school days.
I studied at Bal Bharti Public School, Brij Vihar from science stream. At school, I think I lacked in personal development because when it comes to schooling in India educators are not really focused on the development of each individual child. Educators should understand that every child has a different learning speed and temperament. Everybody can’t be a topper and everybody is good at different things.
I was a very average student but I loved to understand things. There were some subjects that I enjoyed like English because I enjoyed reading stories. Science was something I enjoyed a lot because I wanted to learn how things worked.
My interest in a subject depended on the teacher we were allotted. If I liked a particular teacher I would take interest in that subject.
How did your interest come into journalism?
There is a funny story behind it.There were various issues prodding inside my mind at school, like relationship issues, school problems, etc. So I started writing a diary and for the next two years, I wrote whatever happened, not realizing that I can write or have any interest in pursuing this as a profession.
But one day my father caught my diary and glanced through a lot of personal details that I would not want to share with anybody. He scolded me saying this is what you are writing, you are not interested in studies at all. But while scolding he said – ‘Prerna you write really well, but concentrate on your studies and do whatever you want with your writing… I would gift you a diary myself after you are done with your studies.’
This was something that got stuck with me that I had the ability to write and people might enjoy reading it and later I realized this is the only thing I’m good at.
You are from Sopore, Kashmir?
Yes, but I was not born there. I was born in Delhi. I am a Kashmiri Pandit. I know Kashmir through my grandfather’s memory. I keep visiting that place even now.
Where did you go for the degree in Mass Communication?
I went to IP College Delhi. There I went through an all-women environment, which was a very different experience for me.
When it comes to studies, there is only one regret that I have. Whoever is trying to get into journalism or mass communication, I would suggest them to not do it at the graduation level. For Mass Communication to be your graduation subject is really dangerous for our country right now.
First of all, they don’t really teach you anything. The colleges are not nice in terms of graduation level in India. Like my college was one of the top colleges in India; still I would say that it is not recommended for students to join mass communication or journalism course right after 12th.
You need to have a base first. If I could go back in time, I would choose history or political science or English literature or psychology; so that I have a base in my understanding. It is recommended that you go for journalism only in your masters and not in your graduation.
Did you go for any internships?
Yes, I did an internship in every vacation. My first internship was at Rupa Publications. There I was associated with the publishing department, editorial department, and marketing department. Then I went for an advertising firm – TBWA, where I did copywriting. Internships are a very important tool. But nowadays I notice that interns do not take their internships seriously.
If you will do well at the internship, the boss will notice you and this is the only chance of making contacts, if you do not have any.
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My very serious internship which turned into a job was in India today. I managed to do 28 reports in 30 days, which was quite commendable. I worked exactly as a paid reporters would do and that is how I got my first job.
What was your role at Scroll?
My role was basically writing video scripts. It is very different from a print story because in eight-line you will have to produce the entire story. I had to write in such a way that it was visually appealing. It could convey the crux of the matter and I could also send across the point of the story.
In videos, there is a golden rule of 3 seconds. The first three visual cuts you see in the video have to be very gripping.
What kind of challenges you have to face so far in your career?
One of the big challenges was facing nepotism. There is a lot of nepotism in journalism and it’s a very ungrateful profession. There is a jargon of the industry which is actually true that “you are as good as your last story”.
In Hindustan Times we would get journalist of the month certificate. The bosses would nominate us for the good stories we have done that month.
So that’s when I realized that whenever you got journalist of the month the next month you will have to work equally hard to get that particular certificate. You can’t just give up any day of your work cycle, you cannot sit back and say that I am done for the week.
I think that makes one’s mind completely exhausted thinking about stories and ideas about being different. So to be the best every day is also a challenge. I won’t call that as a pressure. I would look at it as a motivation. I think it can go both ways. This is one of the tough things about journalism.
Coming back to nepotism, there are a lot of traditional media organizations that only hire or only prefer people whom they know. So beating that competition and standing out is a kind of challenge. You have to make your own path because a lot of old journalists would obviously pick their favorite. You have to offer something really different which none of their favorites can do.
How did you get the job at Fortune magazine? On what skills the employer looked for before hiring you?
I got in touch with the Editor via LinkedIn. It was a fairly long process but I think LinkedIn is a good tool for both job seekers and the ones at the other end. It makes sure there is no filter between the two parties. So, I got in touch with my current boss and figured out if they were looking to hire.
For people who looking for jobs, it is very important to first get in touch with the exact point of contact (LinkedIn and facebook being great tools for that) and then try to figure out what is it exactly that they are looking for and can the applicant actually deliver it.
Fortune India was looking for someone who could give a fresh spin to their softer, more featurish business stories and I knew that I could deliver features well but learning more about business was the main deal. As soon as I figured I could do it, I came on board. A good hiring is always a good work negotiation.
What are your role and responsibilities at the Fortune Magazine?
Here at Fortune Magazine I am restricted in the business section and whenever you are working in the premise you are not only restricted but you also creatively challenged. So any story that I think now has to have a business angel.
Today in journalism, a new journalist should recognize their beat like Rhythma Kaul, Sanchita Sharma at HT started with health journalism. So I also wanted to be an expert in the field, so for a young journalist, it is very important to identify a beat first.