Journalists talk: ‘Making good headlines is an art’

Speaking at conference, Humair Ishtiaq says placing headlines in columns is a craft

Our Correspondent December 07, 2016

KARACHI: How to make a good headline is an art. How to place it in a column is a craft.

An assistant editor at Dawn, Humair Ishtiaq, said this while addressing a session, titled ‘Working in Newsroom’, at the first International Marathon Conference, Media Education: Theory, Industry and Research on Wednesday.

He spoke at length about the art of subediting. It is debatable, he said, if subbing is an art or a craft or something in between. A good headline is direct and speaks itself and the reader should not have to try to understand it, he said. He gave the example of how a newspaper ran the headline ‘It’s Benazir’ when she won the 1993 elections. “It [headline] stood out like anything,” he said.

According to him, technology does not make a person a journalist - it is mostly the thinking that makes someone a good journalist. Talking about why the most number of journalists come from the public sector, he said that this is because public sector universities teach journalism while the ones belonging to the private sector teach entertainment, drama, advertisement and public relations.

“Camera use is important but what to show through the camera has to have a different understanding,” he said, adding that even if technology is brought to public sector universities, the momentum in students cannot be generated as it is something that they must bring with them from their schools.

The editor of Roznama Express, Tahir Najmi, disagreed with Ishtiaq. According to him, a very few graduates of public sector universities are worthy of appointment in media organisations.

Curriculum that is taught in journalism schools in public sector is based more on history and less on practicality, he said. Talking about the newsroom, he said that it is a place only for those who can see news everywhere - be it a reporter or a subeditor.

Jang editor Muddassir Mirza said that the top positions in the field of journalism are occupied by those who are not graduates of journalism.

Meanwhile, Kamal Siddiqi, the director of the Center of Excellence in Journalism, said that the role of the editor in news management is changing on a daily basis. Social media, self-censorship and commercials are the biggest challenges that the editor of any newspaper has to face these days, he said.

According to him, theories of journalism such as gatekeeping and agenda-setting that are taught in our institutions have become redundant because the social media has changed the entire paradigm of news treatment.

To an editor, he explained, the news related to the prime minister should be the biggest news but, on social media, the news related to some showbiz start becomes the most important. Due to this, he explained, the publisher asks the editors to bridge the two kinds of news.

‘Journalists should be jacks of all trades’

Speaking at another session on television broadcasting, executive news director at Express News, Fahd Husain, said that global media has moved ahead at a very good pace and it now requires energetic journalists who are able to use any platform for their professional work.

He said that people belonging to any genre of the media - print, electronic or digital - must have expertise in everything. Together with the skills of writing, they should know how to speak in front of a camera and how to handle social media, he explained.

Husain said that initially, when private news channels first emerged in Pakistan, there was no option but to hire people with no experience in journalism. Some TV channel owners gave them two weeks of training before sending them into the field, which is why we faced a lot of irresponsible journalism, he lamented.

Aaj TV bureau chief Farzana Ali said that the field requires passion not just a degree. She added that the field has many obstacles that can only be crossed with great passion and dedication. We have improved no doubt, said Ali, adding that there was a time when we showed the skulls of suicide bombers but soon we understood that it was not sensible reporting and we stopped that practice.

Journalist Sajjad Mir said that there was a time when experienced reporters became news anchors and current affairs show hosts but now most of them belong to the show biz industry. He added that it is discouraging for people working in the field that people from the other fields take their opportunities while reporters faces severe hardships in the field. “We have turned journalism into a field of entertainment,” lamented Mir.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th, 2016.



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