In Journalism, it was not fashionable to do a doctorate in the 1980s and 1990s. A Master’s degree was considered an over qualification when we made our way into the profession. The norm was any degree and post graduation in English was preferred. Most practising journalists thought that journalism cannot be taught in universities.
Usha Raman, the sharp featured, bright senior of mine both at the Nizam College and the Osmania University Department of Communication and Journalism was one exception, who went on to do a doctorate from the US in Communications and made a mark as a communicator, teacher, researcher, author and columnist.
She has managed to remain contemporary with the changing media landscape and challenges smoothly transiting from academia to mainline print, to podcast and now digital platform, while teaching at the University of Hyderabad (UoH).
It was no surprise that Dr Usha Raman has recently been elected as the Vice President of the 2700-member strong International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) for a four-year term (2020-2024). It promotes media and communication research throughout the world, addressing socio-political, technological, policy and cultural processes. The UNESCO provided the founding for the association in 1957.
Usha, was from the Class of 1980, BSc ( BZC) of Nizam’s. She was known to me as the studious and bright type. The BZC Group (Botany, Zoology, Chemistry), though began with a strength of 60 would dwindle as students would try MBBS till the final year and leave.
Having missed MBBS and nurturing the hobby of writing from school days, Usha decided to pursue BCJ at the Osmania University against an M Sc. She won the Gold Medal, topping the class of 1981. With goals of higher education Usha went to the US and joined Post Graduation in Communications studies at the University of Georgia. She also obtained a PhD from there.
After her Master’s, Usha wanted to work in New Delhi and become a career Journalist. “I met S Venkatnarayan, senior Editor at India Today and Dept Alumni, who favoured my working in a smaller place like Hyderabad than the ocean of Delhi,” she recalled. She persisted and worked for a couple of years with the Computers Today magazine in Delhi.
Back in Hyderabad , Usha took to editing with the Orient Longman, helped them launch Teacher Plus, a magazine for helping School Teachers and wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, including a Science Column for Deccan Chronicle. She also did some audio visual films and communication with Satyam Computers for a few years.
She joined the LV Prasad Eye Institute as a Communication expert on health issues. From 2002 to 2010, she worked closely with the Director, Dr G N Rao, Dr S Balasubramanian ( Ex-Director of the CCMB), Sam Balasundaram and several senior eye doctors, popularising eye care aspects as well as publishing some interesting research papers.
Usha Raman belongs to a family of distinguished academics from Hyderabad. Her father, Dr M V Pattabiraman, was Principal of Nizam College (1982-84). Her father in law, Mr K Subramanian, was noted for his widely popular Column ‘ Know your English’ in The Hindu and worked in the EFLU (English and Foreign Languages University). Her husband, S Upendran, now continues the column and also works in the EFLU as professor of English.
Science, Cricket & Media
During her stint at the LVPEI, I had the chance to re-establish contact since I returned from New Delhi and was busy renewing contacts in the Scientific world in Hyderabad. I had the privilege of being featured in a couple of paras in her book on ‘Writing for the Media’ by Oxford University Press. It was about taking quick and spot decisions in reporting as a team leader of a bureau. I was quoted for the late evening story based on some important, extempore points made on the economy by Dr Y V Reddy, then Governor of the RBI, unexpectedly at a routine event like convocation.
Interestingly, Usha’s daughter Ananya has emerged as an India A team cricket player, performing well for the Indian women’s cricket team, which is marching ahead at the global level too. Ananya is lucky to have parents like Usha and Upendran, both keen followers of the game. They have been very supportive of her. Their other daughter is Achala.
At the University of Hyderabad, Usha has been instrumental in introducing courses on reporting health and science. She became the Head of the Sarojini Naidu School of Communications. Her work attracted good attention and in 2016, she won a Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship, which took her to the MIT in US for 6 months. I too got associated with the UoH as a member of the Board of Studies. The faculty consisting of Prof Vinod Pavarala, Usha Raman, Kanchan Mallik, Vasuki Belavadi, Satyaprakash, Anjali Lal etc. have taken the department to the top bracket among communication schools in the country.
Our most recent association was in an interactive session on communicating science to the media, which Usha Raman organised in February, 2020. A lively session with the science faculty and researchers of the University and Me, Dr R Prasad, Science Editor, The Hindu and Gopalakrishna, Science Reporter, Sakshi Telugu daily followed, with the Vice Chancellor, P Appa Rao, too actively taking part.
Usha Raman has taken to podcasts, chats with authors at public fora, webinar’s and has moved smoothly into the emerging online and digital modes of communication. With the global role at the IAMCR and versatility she is in for many more years of contributions to mass media.
Somasekhar Mulugu, former Associate Editor & Chief of Bureau of The Hindu BusinessLine, is a well-known political, business and science writer and analyst based in Hyderabad.