Has it really been over two weeks since I blogged? In defence of TV journalism

I cannot bear to watch Indian TV news. I will do so only because I have to. But because I am a contrary person, this post is about defending Indian TV journalism.

Being a print journalist, I have never felt the fascination for television many others I know feel. Us journalists are like that — one or the other, almost never both. And especially since I know how easy it was to get into (I got offered a job that I interviewed for over five other TV stream journalism students) a few years ago, it holds no glamour for me.

I am also the first person to criticise megalomaniac anchors that we cultivate in India. Anchors and news presenters who love nothing more than the sound of their own voice. I’ve said it often enough and even did a post on it when I was really angry.

But with the Air India Express crash in Mangalore I’ve seen people go at TV journalists with a viciousness that’s savage, if not uncalled for. It’s very easy, and pleasurable, to sit back on the couch and call Arnab Goswami all sorts of deserving names. (Replace AG with the anchor you hate most and this statement still holds true, you know.) But honestly it’s pretty difficult to get out there and stand against the backdrop of a crashed plane, keeping curious riffraff at bay, watching charred bodies being extricated while reporting in an undramatic and mature way. The last part almost no one manages on TV, they all look like they lost their best friend in the crash but never mind that. What’s news without a little drama, eh?

I’ve heard at least a dozen people say, “TV handles survivors and relatives of victims with such insensitivity.” Can someone elaborate? What do they want the reporter to do? As long she’s not thrusting a mike in  someone’s face and saying, “How do you feel” I honestly have no idea how she can be sensitive in a situation like that. In my book, doing anything but sitting there quietly and being by the side of whoever’s grieving or hurt, is insensitive. But our reporter has a job to do. She cannot, even if she wants to, ignore that she has to go out there and get a story. If not for her, we would all have absolutely nothing to do but watch reruns of Friends.

Here’s what I know a reporter does. It’s not easy watching death and devastation. But a reporter puts that behind her or him and moves on to ask the questions that need to be asked. Most times, they also ask ridiculously asinine questions but that’s because most don’t know a Boeing from an Airbus or a black box from a bento. But that’s okay. They’re getting information, giving it to you, making complete asses of themselves while at it but doing the job that they get paid to do. It’s a difficult thing, even today, for someone like me to step back and not lend a helping hand in something of a crisis situation. But if  a reporter’s going to do that, then you guys sitting comfortable on your couches have nothing to bitch about.

Many times it’s not comfortable to report what they’re reporting, and it shows in the woefully ill-informed way they report. But they’re doing it. They’re going out there leaving their dogs, mums, significant others and possibly a dying plant behind for a couple of days, taking uncomfortable road journeys, braving other hacks to in order to do better coverage. So if you have more than just, “Why can’t he be sensitive to the plight of the victims,” to say then I suggest you tell them what kind of coverage you’d like to see.

And stop following all of them on Twitter. It’s people like you who give them that swollen  head.

13 thoughts on “Has it really been over two weeks since I blogged? In defence of TV journalism

  1. Sumira Khan

    I agree totally. The problem lies in our attitude. We try and find things to criticise. Where's the fun in praise? That is how the collective mentality works. Sad but true. 😦

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  2. CognitiveLocomotive a.k.a Thought Engine

    Hmm..I agree, partly, but I'd like to suggest that they report like Dawn from Pakstawn or Al Jazeera. Their reporting, to me is objective and factual.
    Don't make them sound like martyrs by saying they leave their homes,dogs,milkmen n all, cos they do it cos they get more coverage also. Their core competence is to get coverage for themselves, news and facts are a side duty. Barkha Dutt treats imminent personalities with disrespect, cutting them off, putting words in their mouths, and thrusting her opinion on them. She needs a lesson in humility and how to keep mum when someone else is talking.

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  3. The Restless Quill

    Sumira: Exactly, we love to find things to criticise.

    Cognitive: Okay, did you just say Indian TV journalists report factually and objectively? What channel have you been watching? Also you're confusing two things — BD is not a reporter. She's an anchor, a star. She has all the coverage she needs. And why pick on BD alone? Let's start with the king of obnoxious — Rajdeep Sardesai. However, I am talking about those who go on the field. I didn't mean to make them sound like martyrs at all — I was stating facts, they do leave everything behind but that's their job. So appreciate it. Besides, I disagree with you — a reporter's main motive is not to get coverage for themselves, almost always it is the news itself.

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  4. Raj

    Today every news is a breaking news and monetization of news is not going to die any time soon. If “sachin joins twitter” can become a national news, then i don't blame reporters for it. It's either the fault of viewers, who are happy hearing it or the owners of the media outlet who are looking at gaining market share for adverts

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  5. Journomuse

    It has become more fashionable to blame television for anything and everything that goes wrong. Its a convenient punching bag. But the anchors need to set certain standards. Unfortunately there seems to be no watchdog for the media

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  6. Satish Bhat

    Hi S !

    I'm a Spore lurker and have been reading your posts for a while now.They are superb !

    For all the heat that anchors generate on TV, I think they are held ransom to the millisecond attention-span of TV viewers. The result-over the top class participation tactics.

    Although a BBC addict, I think they balance their opinions and the facts very well. What do you think?

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  7. Abhipraya

    Ha it is indeed surprising that you are defending TV journalists 🙂 But as some one who wielded the mike in front of camera once upon a time I do agree with you partly. I say partly cos it is not easy covering something like the crash. It is heartbreaking. But there is no justification in asking “aapko kaisa lag raha hai” to the survivor. There are better questions to ask.

    The problem I'd say lies in the whole packaging. The senseless headlines and the discussions that follow in the studio kills the genuine intent behind the report. If I had hit the producers who asked me to bring close ups of tears and dead bodies every time I covered something like this, I swear the studio would have been empty.

    End of rant 🙂

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  8. The Restless Quill

    Journomuse: YOu should know. 🙂 Anyone and everyone can criticise television and feels they know exactly what they're talking about sitting in the comfort of their homes.

    Satish: Welcome to the blog and thanks for delurking 🙂 and the kind words. BBC is guilty of looking down every once in a while, which I have no issues with because that's the stand they take. My problem is with the ridiculous way anchors behave in front of the camera. That said, it takes a lot to do coverage on the spot and I will always stand by them for that.

    Abhipraya: Yeah that's what I meant — that a reporter puts the heartrending scene behind her and does what she needs to. And yes, there's no justification for asking that. But what is a sensitive question to ask, tell me that. The packaging and the positioning is a whole other post.

    Curry Pan: Heh heh. I just couldn't write, you know?! But thanks for missing me. Muah!

    Anon: I am not supporting anything. Here I am just saying lets give those people a break. They have hectic lives, almost no social life at a certain point and many times they're not satisfied with what they do themselves. Let's just give them just a little rope to do their job.

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  9. TheFatOracle

    At most I can accuse them of incompetence, definitely not laziness. Yes, its a tough job and I really do appreciate it. But when the focus is on personalities and crotch-grabbing headlines, inanity at best and trumors at worst is what we get instead of facts. The problem is worse of course. The anchors/field reporters get or act emotionally involved – which by definition is biased. End of the day – I don't trust anything I hear in a high pitched voice (why do they always scream even when not at a crash site?)

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  10. Chinkurli

    Good post, something we don't hear too often. And as someone who was a TV reporter, I completely agree with what Abhipraya says! People who criticise – and with good reason, in some cases only – don't stop to consider how hard that reporter is slogging to get that one thirty second story!

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