To be a journalist or, an entrepreneur for that matter, is not an easy job. Both the careers are interesting even as they place tough demands on practitioners. Media Watch set out to talk to a few of them who have plunged into new businesses after going through the grind of news-gathering for many long years.
Some of the tribe have had to set-up independent news operations to cater to different tastes of a billion plus population that is witnessing drastic changes, including its media-scape. Some others have set-up business around organic farming and publishing while some others have launched niche magazines. There are others who have set up public relations or film making firms while yet others have established mountaineering clubs and even big media houses.
The obvious question is, what are the reasons a journalist plans to switch over to entrepreneurship and what makes them successful in their endeavours? It is felt, this begins with journalism itself as its practice requires the knowledge of a space other than journalism. Even if there is something a reporter doesn’t know, they learn and try to master the issue around it. So the skill sets one develops here are tuned to detect and address relevant problems.
Look for the reasons for their change-over to being on their own from being a journalist, they all echo the same feelings – disenchantment with the profession, stagnation at work places and frustration. They all talk of mediocrity or insensitivity of their seniors, partiality in favour of non-deserving colleagues and office politics which pushed them into striking out on their own. Also, the entrepreneurship bug bit others to pursue their urge to create something new beyond breaking news and be an agent of change. The idea of being adventurous was even more enticing.
Take Chandrashekhar Hariharan for instance. After a short stint as a Chartered Accountant, Hariharan explored new cinema, became an activist during the emergency days and then went into journalism before he found his calling in conservation and founded his company Biodiversity Conservation of India Limited. He also launched the Zed Group of Companies, which has been building eco-friendly houses since 1994.
However, there is a word of caution for those who are eager to move out of media and to be on their own. Being a journalist does not qualify you for a start-up life. Entrepreneurship is about building a sustainable business. Let’s just say that there’s a lot of pragmatism and practical math involved.
This bothers many journalists who have phobia of arithmatics. When asked what she countered most difficult in her new avatar as an entrepreneur, Shibani Ahuja, CEO of Wanderland Globe and Wanderland Inc says, “Dyslexia with accounts and administrative work. All I knew until I became an entrepreneur was to count the few numbers of my salary as a journalist!”
Ahuja, who worked initially with the national news agency – Press Trust of India and later edited in-flight magazine of the Air India, Namaskaar, began thinking out of the box when she took kids from the family and the neighbourhood out of Delhi for vacations. Initially dismissed as a time-killing effort, her family took her seriously only after she persisted in the venture for a few years and rolled out two successfully running travel firms! With an annual turnover of Rs 4 crores, what keeps Shibani still going is that her story of entrepreneurship is still ‘worthy of news’.
Similarly, pushing into new frontiers after every few months or years has made Girish Chadha, the former Hindustan Times and Times of India journalist an entrepreneur. He builds and sustains businesses around water – the precious drops of life.
Comparing his journalism days to his new life, Chadha says, “One day you could be highly motivated and not the next day. Somebody else will be quite high that day. But the organisation will run. Same is not the case when you are a boss. Time is of essence. If you are not disciplined, you will lose out on personal ambition, and steam that takes you forward,” he warns as he stays invested in a leading and expanding organic agriculture business.
As already mentioned before, the reason for many young and middle level journalists opting out of journalism is often the frustration over the attitude of senior editors, some of whom are known for their notoriety, and unprofessional behaviour and practices.
This is what happened in the case of Punnoose Tharyan who bid goodbye to his employers twice. First it was over a ‘byline’ in a leading national daily. And the second time, it was over ‘profits’. That was when Punnoose decided to be on his own and launched Mowtown India and Car N Style two years back. Though bleeding, Punnoose hopes for success soon.
“The high point of my career was doing a story in the Hindustan Times wherein I broke an economic story of great consequence. The story appeared on page one of HT. Because the story had inputs from a couple of my seniors, they decided not to give me a byline. I felt miserable and wondered why a person of the calibre of an editor should feel threatened if I had a byline for my hard work!”
Not everybody feels that way. “Disillusioned might not be the proper expression to describe this situation. If Gabriel Garcia Marquez can still say that journalism is the best of the professions, who am I to get disillusioned? The feeling of stagnation? Yes! I am averse to routine work and I will be happy if I could make changes to the way I work every few years, and in a way it is personal”, says Ganesh Yellapur, who set up his own translation and content job.
What worries all these old and new journalists-turned entrepreneurs is how to pay the salaries of their staff and this has made them more humble than ever before.
“I have more bosses than when I was ‘salaried’. I say ‘sir’ to more people than I did when I was salaried. I have the added burden of having to worry every month-end about where the salary money will come from to see that we pay on time!” points out Hariharan.
As these worries haunt new entrepreneurs, they sometimes miss the hustle and bustle of the newsroom. Renu Kaul Verma, CEO, Vitasta Publications acknowledges this, despite publishing around 100 titles in the last six years. She accepts, she sometime misses her journalism days.
No doubt, all these journalists-turned entrepreneurs have moved on in their lives and work beyond the narrow confines of bylines. But, even as they strive hard to meet deadlines of their new careers, they hit headlines in the process.