In Defence of TV Journalism: A reporter from the ground tells you the other side
Here is an unabashed shout out to all my predecessors and peers who have been a part of making an honest effort at TV reportage.
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Journalism is a tough job. Credible, investigative journalism even more so. It requires one to gather information, sieve through details to arrive at facts, understand possible agendas of the stakeholders involved, and report truthfully without letting personal biases colour one's stories.
Honestly, I would have let it be at that, had some of the derisive remarks on TV journalists and their brand of journalism not gotten to me.
So, here I am to make a distinction: hold TV journalism out of the bouquet for a bit and possibly give an unabashed shout out to all my predecessors and peers who have been a part of making an honest effort at TV reportage.
As a TV journalist who has survived this profession for well over a decade, my advice to any young, aspiring journalist would be to not enter the profession if they are unwilling to work beyond the 10 to 6 'duty hours'.
If you are in the thick of a developing story like I, as the State Correspondent covering the Rajasthan political crisis for the India Today Group, have been, over nearly four weeks now, expect your day to kickstart at 6 in the morning and end any time after 11 in the night.
If you are in the thick of a developing story like I, as the State Correspondent covering the Rajasthan political crisis for the India Today Group, have been, expect your day to kickstart at 6 in the morning and end any time after 11 in the night.
When a story is likely to develop during the course of a day, generally, there is a 'live chat' lined up for the 7 or 8 am bulletin, which one is told about the previous night as they are about to prepare for sleep. To be prepped for the morning chat, a journalist would want to go through WhatsApp messages, morning newspapers and if time allows, then possibly speak with the sources as well.
Thereafter, amid requirements for live chats which, in case of a big developing story, such as Sushant Singh Rajput's alleged suicide case or the Rajasthan political crisis, can be there in morning, afternoon and evening news bulletins and perhaps also during prime time, a TV journalist has to get interviews of newsmakers (Tic Tacs in TV parlance), record Piece to Cameras (PTCs), do Walkthroughs and anchor links. That apart, one is required to talk to Assignment and Output Producers on the possible angles of a story, ground perspective, plan the day's agenda during morning meetings and in the evenings for the next day.
Over the last four months, despite the rising number of cases due to the Covid-19 pandemic, in the line of duty I have often travelled to areas which are not exactly sparsely populated, tried getting soundbites and ensured visuals of migrant labourers, ministers, the Chief Minister, bureaucrats, etc, mostly by reaching the location they are at. My profession of a TV journalist often requires me to be on the field in flesh and blood, and work towards getting that video soundbite, that exclusive input from the elusive newsmaker. Because, well, my work does not involve only print journalism, and I cannot do all my stories by working on my phone from office or home.
Being out there in the field, getting surrounded by a group of migrant labourers travelling from Barmer to Bihar on foot and on cycles, desperate to tell their tales during a raging pandemic or standing for live chat and fielding the anchor's questions about the Gehlot vs Pilot political tussle in Rajasthan even as the wind threatens to blow away the umbrella and rains keep splashing your face. Yes. All of that and much more is par for the course in TV journalism.
Moreover, most TV journalists are no longer just that. Apart from fulfilling their role of providing coverage for TV, they are expected to double up as print journalists and work their skills towards digital media as well. For instance, in the India Today Group, the organisation I am a part of, it is not just India Today TV and Aaj Tak news channels that a TV journalist works for. During the course of a generally newsy day, I also write stories for the digital medium and for the Mail Today newspaper, send video reporter diaries for the digital (Twitter and Facebook) platforms of India Today and Aaj Tak, record ground reports for Aaj Tak radio and also do stories for Rajasthan Tak, one of the several localised Tak channels from the India Today stable. Yes, all in the course of a day!
Often, the collective soundbites (janta bites, in TV parlance) that the TV journalists (who I truly consider frontline warriors during this Corona pandemic) get, are circulated among other journalists, who write their print pieces based on them from within the comfort of four walls.
Of course, some of the so-called celebrated faces in TV journalism, riding their high horses inside air-conditioned TV news studios have facilitated farcical debates, obfuscated real issues and diverted the attention of the gullible masses from pressing and urgent issues concerning the economy, social fabric of the country and its sovereignty, etc, to discuss inane stuff; polarising an already-divided milieu to further a pre-determined agenda. But you cannot snatch the credit due to TV journalists, who spend the better part of their 24-hour days reporting stories by going out in the field and providing coverage for the medium of TV and beyond.