OF BREAKING NEWS AND TIGHT DEADLINES: Experiences of a journalist in Indian TV news studios

  • SAQIB MALIK
  • Publish Date: Nov 18 2018 9:07PM
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  • Updated Date: Nov 18 2018 9:07PM
OF BREAKING NEWS AND TIGHT DEADLINES: Experiences of a journalist in Indian TV news studiosPhoto: Kashmir Ink

On a pleasant February afternoon in 2007, half a dozen starry-eyed college pass-outs had gathered in a huge glass façade building, where the popular Network 18 news network at Noida’s film city is based. The film city also houses offices of several news channels and is a sort of media hub in the National Capital Region.  A long wait over cups of coffee from the nearby placed coffee maker at the chic office premises was no less than a gossip session at the college canteen of these aspiring journalists. 

 

Day one in a journalistic career of a mass communication student could not have been more special as the group was lined up to meet their first editor-in-chief. Known for a spring in his stride and sharp acumen in his news sense, in walked RajdeepSardesai to the colorful alley for interacting with the latest recruits of his then recently launched channel CNN-IBN (now CNN News 18). The group of students of which I was a part were all pass-outs from Pune’s prestigious Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication. Having graduated with a specialization in broadcast media and two summer internships had helped us to be introduced to the basics of television news. But to the utmost shock of the entire group of freshers, television news in India which was then brewing with competition, expected freshers like me to get over the baggage of the J-school and get on to do some unlearning. For the guru mantra from the big boss Rajdeep to us was quite simple: Kill the competition before it kills you. The editor introduced television news to us, calling it a “beast that needs to be fed 24x7”. Such was the longing in India’s broadcast media circles to work with Rajdeep and CNN-IBN that doing nothing and just being a part of the CNN-IBN newsroom would prove to be a journalistic high for any news junkie. For first 6 months of my tenure at the news desk of CNN-IBN, there was not much to do. But whatever little hands on training I received on the job was priceless. Television and especially CNN-IBN was then untouched by the loud and in your face prime time panel discussions. I began my journalistic career with baby steps at the newsdesk. Despite news value of Kashmir conflict having witnessed a drastic drop in the national media circles then, K-issue remained a buzzword. I leveraged on that factor and started showing my interest in packaging of Kashmir related stories. 

 

For the next one-and-a-half year, I was part of churning video news packages of raw footages and scripts received from our Srinagar bureau. The fine quality and balanced editorial policy of CNN-IBN was exemplary to an extent that I came across hard-hitting human interest stories that were actually aired on prime time during my stint. Similar news stories in today’s scheme of things in the hyper-nationalist electronic media would be easily brushed under the carpet. Having been a spectator to the way content on electronic media took an adverse hit, in the later half of my career, I came across editorial meetings where “bhootpret” would become TRP generating news content. Amid the peak of national TV news, appearing on-air was a fantasy most of mass communication students roamed around with. Although being on newsdesk had helped me fine-tune my skills of writing for television news, gaining perfection in doing voice overs and also coping up with the strict deadlines TV news comes with, monotony and a deep desire to appear on TV landed me in an internal transfer in Network 18 as I moved to CNN-IBNs sister-concern and Hindi business channel CNBC Awaaz. As both IBN and Awaaz were based in the same premises, while I did features and lifestyle reporting for Awaaz, I remained in touch with other national news especially the way Kashmir issue was being handled by an English TV news channel. On several occasions, senior editors at CNN-IBN would be keen to carry most of news stories coming in from Kashmir but among a situation of a fluid news flow, Kashmir would get a miss. “Kashmir is a just a dot in the newsmap of India,” said one of the editors to a Srinagar-based reporter in their conversation one fine day when the correspondent was insisting that Kashmir news was being neglected. Same time around floods had hit Bihar and the editor insisted that more air-time be given to news coming in from the Hindi heartland. 

 

My experience of working in CNBC Awaaz and the English business news channel of Network-18 , CNBC TV-18 was that although economy is intertwined with business and commerce but often what happens on the Line of Control is beyond the editorial content of a business channel. My tryst with Network-18 was an eventful one as while being at Noida, I was transferred from CNBC Awaaz to CNBC TV-18. More than a transfer it was an end result of the cascading effect of an industry trend of massive retrenchment drive during the 2008-09 Lehman Brother crisis which shook the Indian economy as well. I believe the economic crisis and then the takeover of corporate barons of a news network was the turning point of TV news in India. The laying-off for hundreds of people in my organization of which I also became a victim, came as a shock to many but blessing in disguise for me as it helped me to experience new shores and walk a path less travelled. Without any solid experience of business news, I was assigned the task of covering a Union Ministry and the automobile sector. Running around to collect sound bites and attending press conferences in Delhi’s blistering heat was a new learning experience for me. 

 

The take-away from being laid off by country’s then largest news network and being hired back was that going by the phrase “once bitten twice shy” , I should have restricted myself from joining back a place where 250 odd employees including me had an unceremonious exit. During the lay-off period, I attended dozens of job interviews and learnt different nuances of the human resource side of my job. From editors to HR heads, the advice to me as a fresher and then a mid-level journalist has been to act “street smart”, learn on the job and hang on with the job even if you get shouted and yelled at every hour from the bosses.  The trick of the trade to be a successful TV journalist then for sure was all of these and remains the same. Survival on news desk and even any sort of reporting in Delhi’s TV channels was a challenging task. The positive side of working in a national news channel is that even if one is not enough skillful with meeting deadlines, over the years of your job, a TV news channel makes you get accustomed to turn-around work tasks faster than what you would do in any other profession. 

 

The economic crisis of 2008 coupled with TV news industry becoming a crowded space, drew out several of my colleagues out of this industry in hoards. As destiny had it for me I stuck around in one or another role in country’s one of largest news networks. But during all these years, every role offered a certain learning exercise for me. The most vital of them was how to conduct yourself in a news organization and in understanding the human resource aspect of journalism. With the MeToo campaign in full swing, I would say for a Kashmiri who is born and brought up in a considerably conservative society, I was too old-fashioned to be a fit for after-office booze parties and smoking cigarettes with male and female colleagues. I reckon survival in national TV at the moment is quite challenging considering the kind of news shown on TV but none-the-less one can en-cash the experience and leverage on the opportunity as had my ex-boss rightly said that TV news is a beast that needs continuous feeding.

(saqibmalik11@gmail.com)