Giving the broadcast media a relook

Posted: August 12, 2010 in blogging, Media
Tags: , ,

During one of my lectures with media students we were analysing Operation Bluestar, the aftermath and the manner in which it was covered by the media – which wasn’t very much because of the total media blackout.

In these days of 24×7 news coverage, and going by the coverage of the terror attacks in Mumbai, one wonders how the TV crew would have reacted to being kept out of the thick of things during Operation Bluestar. But as some of them admitted at an ongoing lecture series at the SIMC in the past few days, even for them the events in Mumbai were a new experience and something even they were not prepared for.

Sure, the news channels mishandled things, but they admit they were also shooting blind, because like the ordinary Mumbaikar, they too were completely in the dark as to the enormity of the situation. What they did say was that, bowing to the requests of the government agencies. the time between covering a particular incident and putting it on air was 30 minutes, so technically it wasn’t a ‘live’ broadcast. Interesting. Whether it made a difference to the final casualty figures or the manner in which the police and the army handled the whole incident will always be debated.

But for a hardcore print media person and someone who has despised the broadcast channel for the manner in which they report news and the quality of news, it was refreshing to interact with a young lady from one of the premier English channels.

This young lady gave a presentation on the kind of hard work done by the people behind the scenes, and all the hitherto unknown technical details, that go into putting together a news story for all of 90 seconds! It was an eye-opener for me. From getting people into the newsroom to getting connected to someone in a remote corner of the world, to making sure they had the right news clip, and most interesting was the fact that they had to get it all out in seconds not minutes – listening to the young lady was a fascinating experience.

What I also found interesting was when she spoke about how one had to keep a conversation going if they suddenly lost contact with the person they were interviewing; when they really had nothing much to say about an incident unfolding on the screen, because they didn’t know enough to even fill 30 seconds!

I don’t know how many students noticed that while some of their peers were struggling to get the news anchor’s videos set up on the screen she kept the audience engaged with her continuous chatter about the working of a news room. She would look back to see if the kids had finished and then continue to speak when she found they were still struggling. Any of us would easily have lapsed into silence and let the attention of the class waver, like we always do when the computer starts acting up or the projector screen doesn’t start. But the young lady didn’t miss a beat. That was what fascinated me.

I realise that even after 20 years in the print media there’s a lot I didn’t know about broadcast television. Also, that it is far more difficult to get a news story on air than publishing a report in a newspaper. I know some of my friends in the print media might howl with protest, but the truth is that the effort taken to publish a news story, while in its own way arduous, is far less taxing than what I was given a demonstration of yesterday.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I condone the kind of reporting done by some news channels! Some of the stuff is still puerile and some of the people who speak on TV really leave me amazed at their lack of basic general knowledge. Also there is the editing (and I mean content not visuals), which is replete with spelling and grammatical errors. Is it the time factor or the quality of people at the news desk that is the problem? Leaving all these issues aside, yes, I have developed a little (just a little) respect for the people who bring us 24x7news.

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