With student representation from nearly all the SAARC countries, the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ) has a pronounced emphasis on the social responsibility aspect of journalism. The institute offers 26 elective subjects out of which every student has to choose three. These electives cover a range of issues that are intrinsically connected to various facets of human life and development. The compulsory courses include key issues in journalism, media perspectives, media law, society and the basics of applied statistics.
ACJ Chennai was established in 1999 by Shashi Kumar (now the chairman), founder of South India’s first satellite channel, Asianet. The syllabus was conceptualised by a panel of eminent academicians and media personalities, including Shashi Kumar, CP Chandrasehkar (currently a professor at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University), N Ram and Radhika Menon, after reviewing the syllabus of several mass communication institutes based in the United States and United Kingdom. The first batch of this college was admitted in May 2000. The institute admits anywhere between 160 and 180 students every year.
USP: This is perhaps the only journalism institute in Asia where students are taught the principles and techniques of covering deprivation. The theoretical metrics of poverty, causes of poverty and distinctions between urban and rural poverty are essentially the focus of this training. Owing to this orientation students at ACJ have undertaken an incisive research on urban slums and rural poverty. Another distinguishing feature of this institute is that students who secure a minimum of 65% in the final term are eligible to apply to Cardiff University for a master’s degree that can be obtained within just three months on the basis of a 15,000-word dissertation.
The dissertation necessarily involves investigative work and students can earn an additional 60 credits (120 credits are accorded by ACJ as part of the postgraduate diploma) from it. Students of ACJ (subject to their securing the minimum qualifying percentage) can apply for this programme within three years of acquiring their postgraduate diploma. ACJ has a strong emphasis on subjects that fall within the purview of media and journalistic ethics. Plagiarism is one such subject where students are encouraged to examine case studies and present informed and ethical views. Yet another distinguishing feature of this institute is the South Asian fellowships that are accorded every year to two students from each SAARC country. This scholarship is also extended to Indian students from the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and dalit communities on the basis of academic merit.
Programmes: ACJ offers the post graduate diploma in journalism and offers specialisation in four streams that include television, print, new media and radio. The core of the first term curriculum is an extensive series of lectures and workshops on gathering and presenting news. Through laboratory exercises and outside assignments, students learn to seek out information and convey it in a journalistic form. This experience helps them develop a plethora of skills that are indispensable to all branches of journalism. Courses are also imparted on computer-assisted reporting and research and in photojournalism. Critical analysis of the existing news media is another important element of the curriculum in the first term. This exercise helps future journalists become aware that the way in which an event is viewed and reported depends to a great extent on the imperatives of the medium in question and on restrictions imposed by shifting outside influences. In the second term, students begin to specialise. They learn to select, report, edit, and produce pieces in the form required by the particular stream they have chosen. Under the guidance of professionals, they develop their skills in interviewing, researching and news gathering, and sharpen their ability to recognise and develop stories. Students are encouraged to use the internet and other information and data resources to discover new angles to the stories they are working on as well as new ideas for stories. Students in the print stream publish a regular lab newspaper, The Word, while students in the broadcast streams produce television and radio news programmes and documentaries.
Infrastructure: The infrastructure at ACJ is comparable to the infrastructure of journalism institutes in the US and UK. Apart from its own well stocked library, students have online access to the library of Harvard University. While the teaching aids are technically up to date, the conference rooms and classrooms are spacious and Wi-Fi enabled. The new media facilities particularly are state of the art.
Activities: The academic rigour of the course leaves little scope for extracurricular activities that are strictly leisure based. Hence, there is no specific annual college festival of ACJ. Film festivals and special film screenings, theatre and performances by music groups are some of the fun activities that are routinely organised. Every year a series of special seminars are held where experts deliver lectures. In addition, students are engaged in real world media projects.
The Media Development Foundation of ACJ, a not-for-profit public trust, was established in 1999 to foster journalism as an independent, investigative, socially responsible and ethical profession. It aims to promote excellence in the field through education, training, and media-related research and is committed to promoting diversity
“We get an opportunity to participate in something called the ‘Green Festival’ in the second term. From creating posters to staging shows on environmental awareness this is one of the most fun filled events of our institute. We want more events like this because the rest of the extracurriculur activities are fairly academic in nature,” says a student