Ayushman Baruah - resipient of PoleStar Award
A young and upcoming journalist who still believes that 'good journalism is good business' - He is the recipient of the prestigious PoleStar Award. Born in Guwahati to an Assamese family and brought up in Shillong, Ayushman Baruah is an IT journalist presently working for the Information Week magazine in Bangalore. He started his career in print with noted dailies like The Indian Express and The Shillong Times. Baruah talks to us about growing up in Shillong and an illustrious journey as a journalist.
Q. Congratulations on winning the PoleStar Award. How do you feel?

Ayushman Baruah: It feels great to have won such a respectable journalism award. It makes me feel that all my years of sincerity and hard work paid off. Right from my college days and I am talking both about my graduation and master’s here, I made sure I did all my assignments with great dedication and most importantly on time. I remember reminding teachers of class tests and assignment submissions which many of my classmates then would have found it irritating but I always had huge respect for time and deadlines in my life. I feel once a deadline is given, one must stick by that, come what may. Sometimes, teachers themselves go lenient and postpone dates. But I feel it’s not fair for the ones who had taken the effort to complete the task on time. Today, this has become one of my biggest assets because in journalism, deadline is sacrosanct. You can’t afford to mess up with it. You also need to be quick and have a sense of urgency– only then you can break news and be the first to publish it.

Q. A little about your childhood, education and work.

Ayushman Baruah: I grew up in the fascinating hill station of Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya. Though I was born in Guwahati, Assam, I went to Shillong when I was just two years old as my father Dr. K.C. Baruah was called upon by the government to be the founder Director of Forensic Science Laboratory in the state. I passed my class 10 (ICSE) from St. Edmund’s school, which is considered to be one of the finest schools in the country. The legendary Bro. Eric S. D’Souza, my class teacher, has had a special impact in my life. SRK fans may be glad to know that Dasu, as we fondly call him, was also Shahrukh Khan’s favourite teacher in St. Columba’s, New Delhi. Both the schools were founded by the same person Edmund Ignatius Rice and the brothers often got transferred. Dasu taught us among other things, the choices we have to make in our life, the importance of time, and the joy of helping the poor and the needy. He was also one of the smartest and most punctual persons I have met in life. When a boy used to be late for his class, he made him stand out for days together. Perhaps, these things made me realize the essence of time even more.

After my 12th (CBSE) from K.V. Upper Shillong, I went on to study media from St. Anthony’s college, which was the first college in India to begin an undergraduate programme in media. Father John D. Jaykumar, the HOD during that time, was a fine man with deep understanding of the media. Finally, I pursued my master’s degree in Communications from Commits Institute of Journalism and Mass Communication in Bangalore. Here, I must mention the name of my journalism teacher Mr. Ramesh Prabhu for fine-tuning my skills in reporting, writing and editing. There has been no looking back after that. Though I briefly worked with other companies before, I got my first break in media in The Indian Express during which I learnt a lot about journalism and built several important contacts. When InformationWeek magazine was launched in India, I was offered to join them and it’s been a wonderful journey so far.

Q. Why did you choose journalism as a career when most of the students opt for either Computer Science or MBA?

Ayushman BaruahAyushman Baruah: I was in science stream in class 12th. So, like most other boys in my class, I too thought of doing engineering or medical. The peer pressure does not leave you with much option to think beyond that. I too ended up appearing for the typical entrances like AIEEE, PMT, and AFMC out of peer pressure. Totally unprepared and least interested, I did not crack any of them. This wasn’t surprising for me or my parents. But, time was running out by then and fear started building in. Prima Facie, I had two options. The first option was to get a donation seat in a B-grade engineering college in Bangalore or Chennai. The second option was to do BSc. This was when my Papa intervened. He quietly got the entrance examination form for B.A. (Media Technologies) from St. Anthony’s and asked me to appear for the test. The entrance examination itself fascinated me so much that I immediately decided to join. I thoroughly enjoyed the three years of my graduation learning the various aspects of media such as journalism, photography, audio/video, PR, advertising, and many more. The question for an MBA didn’t arise. I wanted to be in media all the way and a master’s in media was only natural.

Q. When there are so many media houses in the North East, especially in Guwahati and Shillong, why have you chosen Bangalore as your work place?

Ayushman Baruah: It’s not that I consciously chose Bangalore as my workplace. It’s more by chance. I did my master’s from Bangalore, so naturally I did my internships here and also got my first job here. Moreover, Papa tells me that I am not fit to work in Assam because I can’t read or write Assamese. This, I think is very true. Even in Shillong, it’s useful to be a local (Khasi). So, I think Bangalore is the perfect place for me to work. I love the city’s cosmopolitan and English-speaking culture and the people’s professional attitude towards work.

Q. As you write about the IT industry and technology mainly, where do you see India’s stand against similar countries? Do you think India is growing apart from cities like Bangalore, Delhi, or Mumbai or Hyderabad?

Ayushman Baruah: Though the Indian economy has been witnessing a growth slowdown since FY12 and is expected to grow at 4.9 percent in the current financial year, India today is among the fastest growing countries in the world. On an average, in the last 10 years, India has grown at a rate of about 8 percent. In the last few years, I have been to several countries including U.S., Thailand, Malaysia, and China and I could sense the importance of India in the global roadmap. As far as the IT industry is concerned, it is second to only the Silicon Valley in the U.S. Bangalore today is the second largest IT cluster on the planet with about 9 lakh direct and about 27 lakh indirect employments. The latest Karnataka i4 Policy suggests that by 2020, India will overtake the Silicon Valley to become the single largest IT cluster anywhere on the planet with 20 lakh direct jobs and 60 lakh indirect jobs. The next wave of the IT industry will be from the startups mainly in the products space. While companies like Makemytrip and Flipkart have already touched the billion dollar league, there are hundreds of others waiting to make it big, and they will. The ecosystem is better in cities like Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, so the majority of the action is here but these cities have reached their saturation points and companies are already expanding to the tier II and tier III cities.

Q. What next? Where do you see yourself in 10 years from now?

Ayushman Baruah: 10 years is a very long time and I don’t have any concrete plan in mind as of now. But, I would like to start something of my own – a form of media where journalism is put first. This is something not too common in most media houses today.

Q. Any advice to the younger generation on taking up a course in Media or Journalism? Do you think there is a future?

Ayushman Baruah: I definitely think there is a future. Though these days, media houses are getting more and more revenue driven rather than journalism driven, I think and I hope, good journalism will always survive. I think the industry will soon see a market correction. You must realize that it is the content that the readers and viewers pay for. If there is no content, there is no advertising. Marketing begins with a good product and a good product will always sell. So, there will always be a demand for good journalists who don’t succumb to external pressures. The ethics of journalism must be taught to journalism students from day one, not just from a theoretical perspective but from a practical perspective citing real-life challenges faced by a journalist. I have always followed one simple mantra – good journalism is good business.