Suhail Akram did his Masters in mass communication from Kashmir University. Currently, he works as Global Engager with AlJazeera Plus. Before that, he was a newscaster with Doordarshan and has also worked at BBC. Suhail shares his thoughts and experiences with Aasif Sultan
Q: Having been in some top news organisations and that too at the beginning of your career must have taken a lot of hard work? Or was it luck or something else?
In my case, it had never been luck. It was mostly the risks that I have taken. When I finished my Masters, I didn’t spend a lot of time in Kashmir. I always wanted to head out to explore different frontiers of journalism. I went to Delhi where I started my career with an internship with NDTV. After that, I did an internship with Amnesty International before moving to Doordarshan as a news anchor. Then to the BBC and now in AlJazeera.
Q: Is there a difference between journalism you do outside and journalism you do here?
The political acumen of Kashmiri journalists is sharper than their counterparts in other places. The reason is that we live conflict and politics. When it comes to telling stories, you would want to tell non-conflict stories from Kashmir. But there is a huge demand for conflict stories from this place.
Q: You started off as an English newscaster on Doordarshan National. You were really shaping up well as an anchor. Why did you give it up?
I think that news anchoring is the dumbest job a journalist can have. You don’t have any freedom and you have to ask those questions which cater to the entertainment side of TV journalism. It is all scripted. I am very suspicious about what comes on television these days. On the other hand, online journalism gives you mobility and freedom.
Q: When you got into BBC World Service, the pressure of performing at that level must have been tremendous?
Frankly, there wasn’t much pressure. Kashmiris are very smart in terms of understanding news and projecting a story as news. Whether it is a human rights story or something else, we tend to do better. But you have to pull your socks up when it comes to news writing and news production. You’ve got to acquire skills required in a big organisation like the BBC. You may not have those skills in Kashmir, but when you go outside you don’t have any option but to learn them.
Q: You didn’t have much technical training for such an assignment. How did you pull it off?
In my case, I learnt on the job. Second, I took to Google for online workshops and training sessions. And there is no harm asking your colleagues and seniors about things that you don’t know. It makes you humble and you learn different skills that are required in the job.
Q: What is your job at AJ+ like?
I produce the popular AJ+ one-minute, two-minute videos. I also help commission stories from this part of the world. We do a lot of research, keeping an eye on social media and convert them in pitches for our teams in San Francisco and Doha.
Q: Is there any scope of introducing AJ+ type platform in Kashmir?
There is a huge scope. A lot of videos come out from places where a gunfight or protest is taking place. Though there is a lot of print journalism in Kashmir, visually we are lacking. We need to tell stories not only through print media but also through videos. You need to tell the world your stories in real time through videos as to what is happening.
Q: It needs a huge budget, does it?
You don’t have to buy hi-tech equipment like that of BBC or AlJazeera. We have to acquire the skill of mobile journalism and tell real time stories. You need people who understand social media journalism and a couple of editing machines and you can get going.
Q: What is the work atmosphere like at a top organisation like Al Jazeera?
It is very professional. Nothing is published unless it is fact-checked by a copy editor, a producer and the guy on the ground whether it is a field producer, reporter or a host.
Q: Your suggestions for youth who aspire to get into media and hopefully in some big time outlet.
Foreign agencies expect a journalist to have multiple skills. What happens in our case is that there is complete thrust on one form of journalism. They think that a print journalist can only be a print journalist and not a video journalist or a photojournalist. You need to master a number of skills.
Q: Do we have such institutions here that can train students in multiple skills?
There is so much that departments which impart journalism education can do. But they are not doing justice to that. Second, if a student is determined to move forward, he can do it of his own. Journalism in not MBBS where you need to have a thorough degree to be a professional.
Q: What sort of professional skills would you recommend for these aspirants to make it into current digital media era?
If you are fascinated by digital journalism, try to observe and follow what top digital media outlets are doing. The kind of format they are using. The kind of stories they are telling. How they use audios, videos and other stuff.
Q: At a personal level, you have had to leave home for your career. What has it been like?
It has been difficult as you miss your home. But at the end of the day, you get a sense of satisfaction because you work with some of the best minds in the industry. If you work hard, you not only get paid well, you are treated well. That is the joy you receive when you leave your home for the purpose of achieving something.