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Vidyottama Sharma
Business Head – Content
Percept Profile

Why have we stopped mentoring?

This write-up is aimed more at senior professionals than the new entrants. And though written for the in-house audience, it is a comment on the media scene across organisations, all over India.

There was something about that young journalist. Eager to learn. Hungry for news. Enthusiastic about making pages. Every time I saw her, I couldn't help smiling. What was it about this young professional that brought out the protective and eager-to-teach journalist in me? What was it? I realised a couple of months later: She reminded me of me. The younger me. She reminded me of a few other colleagues who had started out as trainee journalists with me. Whenever I saw her getting frustrated about not getting the right angle for a story, I understood. It was a pleasure to guide her.

I experienced the same feeling with a few other trainee media-persons later – whether I was with a newspaper or magazine or a television channel did not matter. I remember the young boy who was about to leave an organisation on account of obstinacy and insubordination when I joined it. I held him back. And soon enough, he went on to become one of the most reliable team members. Today, he has launched his own company and makes successful programmes. Boy, am I proud? You bet!

Why bring up these personal incidents on this public forum, you may ask? Simply because I have been wondering for the last few years: Where have all the mentors gone? Why have we stopped mentoring? Why don't we take pleasure in shaping the future of a few younger media professionals now? And by that, I am referring to all streams of media, not just journalism -- the field I come from.

When I joined journalism as a young trainee with stars in my eyes and a spring in my step (yep, I was younger then :), there were a few seniors who took me under their wings. They taught me why I could not have a double column report under a double column report ('it ruined the balance of the page'), why I could not place all the photographs towards one part of the page ('it made the page heavy in that portion, and hence, imbalanced'), etc., etc., etc. It came so naturally to them! To mentor, that is. To mentor a young novice who was still studying journalism at XIC. Satish Pednekar, Sadanand Godbole, Inder Kumar Jain… I can never forget them. I lapped up every piece of information they had to share with me – it honed my unshaped, undefined skills, you see. Now here is my question: How many of the youngsters who have reported to us can say that about us (the senior professionals I mean)? How many thank us for giving their career a direction?

So, the next question is: Why don't we do it? What are we afraid of? Have we stopped caring? Or, have we forgotten the professional ethics we built our career on? There are quite a few reasons I can think of actually. First and foremost: in trying to retain our jobs in this ever-changing media scenario, we have just stopped caring. The next: The technology has changed so drastically in the last few years that we find it difficult to keep pace with it whilst the youngsters are, what is the clichéd word, oh yes, 'pro' at it. So, we want to keep what we know close to our heart and not share it as that is the only skill the new generation cannot take away from us. Also, in today's changing era, a professional with just three to four years' experience, occupies senior positions. How much experience will such a 'senior professional' have to share with the 'subordinates'? And yes, there is another angle to it too. Today's 'parasite generation' is, more or less, not interested in pearls of wisdom. It often, not always, comes with what I call the 'Abhimanyu Complex' – it knows everything there is to know.

But then, as seniors, it is our job to show the way. I think it is time we took a pause and reflected on our ever-changing ideologies. It is time we decided to mentor, and mentor well, at least two professionals every year. We owe that to our professions. We owe that to our professional ethics. We owe that to our conscience.

Our children are growing up to enter the professional arena. They will need mentoring. The question is: Where will they get mentors from when we have all decided to bury the tradition?

(PS: When I had joined a television channel as the Programming Head straight from my print background, my entire team that reported to me became my mentor. The youngsters taught me the technical aspects while I ideated and conceptualised! So, it is a two-way process. What I had given was reimbursed to me with rich dividends when I needed it the most! Happy mentoring, friends!)

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