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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Workshop on broadcast journalism by Sandhya Ravishankar

To those of my readers suffering from an overdose of travelogues and vehicle reviews,be assured that March is going to be different and refreshing.

Sandhya Ravishankar’s workshop on day 3 of Article19 (Manipal Institute of Communication’s annual festival) was one of the most interesting session for me at the event. Sandhya Ravishankar was formerly with CNN IBN and is currently associated with Times Group for the soon to be launched Business Channel, ET NOW.

Sandhya Ravishankar’s workshop on broadcast journalism gave away several key insights and tips. This post lists few keynotes of the workshop, to the extent I can recollect. If you've some interest in media this might of some interest to you.
Sandhya Ravishankar's workshop on broadcast journalism in progress

How Newsrooms Work?
Most of us only know about TV anchors and few field reporters. But a news room consists of dozens of other professionals who work in the background to make a news bulletin happen. Below are some of the key people/components involved:
  • Desk people: These are the key people who receive the initial news flash from a field reporter and do the initial assessment of its value/importance. They flash the news to other people in the office (often through a software called iNews, which basically pops up an alert in such a way that one can never miss it.
  • Producer: Producer is the person who decides which news to air and with what significant. He/she will also have the authority to reduce coverage of some other telecast and use it for a breaking news, if found necessary. If a producer says “We’re going big on this” it means this particular incoming news will be covered in detail and in a big way.
  • Analysts: These are the people who gather supporting data/statistics etc for a given news.(for example, if a bomb blast happens in Mumbai, analysts instantly ready the data as to how many blasts have occurred in the past and death tolls in each of them etc) They might get specific instructions to dig out a particular information or do it in general and keep it ready when a news breaks
  • Graphics designers: Who generate marquee stickers, animations and such supporting collaterals for the news bulletin
  • Anchor: Anchor primarily reads out the news text displayed on his/her screen. On demand they also do a phone-in or video-in with the reporter/experts as the need be. While the prepared text she reads will go through an editor, most of the live interactions are to be done on the go.
  • Reporter: the person on the field, sometimes assisted by an OBU (Outdoor broadcasting Unit) and sometime not. Reporters will have their network of Stingers and informers (Stingers are the people who are trained to take video coverage/gather some basic news from a news site till a qualified reporter takes over-when channels can’t appoint a reporter in a city deemed important, a localite, say a shop owner, could be appointed as a stinger, so that during an unexpected major event he can quickly rush to the news site and do the needful)
Besides these people there’ll be archive/library staff, marketing staff and a host of other professionals in a newsroom. When an event breaks, the field reporter sends in the initial information, whatever he could gather. This input is received by desk people and analyzed for its feasibility and value. Producer takes a call on this. If felt necessary OBUs will be authorized for dispatch to the spot. Graphics designer quickly makes stickers and animations while analyst dig out related facts. Editors compose the news lines and the same is displayed in front of the anchor, who reads it out. May look simple to read, but the chaos at the newsroom when something big happens, with so many channels wanting to be the first one to give latest news, need to be experienced in person.
Sandhya Ravishankar
Live links:
Live links are the events you’re covering live. There’ll be no editing and whatever you say or show will aired live to millions of viewers. Most of the live reporting happen amidst extreme chaos (bomb blasts/flood reliefs/riots etc)- an already tense situation/environment, extreme background noise/activity, counterparts from other channels reporting right next to you, huge crowd, instructions from your producer piercing your ears and more make live reporting often a challenging exercise. To demonstrate this, she invited four volunteers and made them report a same incident simultaneously and every one could feel how horrible it will be.

Besides conducting above said demonstrations on how a news room or live links work, Sandhya Ravishankar also shared several tips and experiences in her work shop:
  1. Anchoring is not an easy job and will not be assigned to newcomers. With couple of big cameras staring at you, with millions of people watching you and with news and instructions flowing in front of you, it is a highly demanding job
  2. There will be people who just love to talk and won’t finish at all- Learning to deal with such people without sounding rude is very important. One tactic is to have a mutual understanding with your production team who’d kill the speaker upon your secret signal (kill meaning take him off air, say by quoting a technical error or something). Another option is to wait for the speaker to pause for a while, pickup his/her last line, repeat it and takeover from there. Also never let the speaker hold the mic-let it be in your hands so that you’ll have a command.
  3. Never be afraid to stand for what you believe. Sandhya recalled an incident wherein she’d sent a report how people in P Chidambaram’s constituency, except Karaikudi town, are upset for not having some basic amenities. Due to pressure from PC she was required to submit a different story suggesting how prosperous his constituency is and she refused to do so.
  4. At the same time learn to protect yourself. Learn self defense skills and build good contacts in the police department, who can pass on the intelligence if something bad is being planned against you.
  5. There’s no secret funding in journalism like in police department. Informants need to be paid from your own pocket.
  6. Groom yourself well. Very Important, both for ladies and men.
  7. Build a friendship with senior journalists who specialize in certain fields. For example, if a particular political leader makes a small statement, you may tend to ignore it thinking “so what”. But a seasoned political reporter well versed with state’s politics and politician will know how impactful that statement can be and subsequent breakouts. If you’re negligent you’ll miss a possible story.
  8. Reporting for business channels is a different ball game altogether. There it is more of jargons (FIIs, Repo, Reverse Repo…) and there’s less competition there.
  9. Get creative with limited resources you may have. Suppose you’re required to do a story on Karnataka govt’s heli-tourism- how will you do it? Your channel will not pay you to fly all over the state- this is what I (Sandhya) did-“I started with a temple in Chennai, walked out of the frame, showed a beach in next scene, walked into the frame and so on, creating an impression that I covered temples in Chennai, beaches of Rameshwaram and many more places, all in a single day.”
These and several other tips made Sandhya Ravishankar’s workshop really interesting. Wishing her good luck for her new job at ET NOW and thanking Article19 team for inviting her for the event.

In another workshop, Ad Guru Prahlad Kakkar shared few insights on the Pepsi commercial he directed. And Nishindra Verma of DNA shared his thoughts on Future of print media.

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4 comments :

Supreetha said...

Very nice writeup. Interesting to know what actually happens behind the screen..
Hope to see more entries on your conference.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks. Glad you found it useful. I don't have too many entries on this, may be one or two more... Let me see

Ms said...

These news channels seem to have the same type of anchors -- they all appear to be shouting or angry. Instead of appearing serious, the whole production seems cartoonish to me. When I was in India last time the hot news item was the sad murder of a teen but the ridiculous non stop coverage got on my nerves. While it was a tragic story, it hardly deserved this treatment. Also there is no respect for the dead or the grieving family.
This passes for journalism in India now? Any monkey in a suit can get a job with the various TV stations opening up daily. In the mad rush to get a scoop or breaking news they sink to new lows -- as seen by the fake vaccine rumors spread by a very irresponsible channel.
Nice of Sandhya to kill a story instead of changing it but what she did by faking her audience reg beaches and temples is a misrepresentation.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

MS,

Regarding faking beaches and temples, I feel that was the best she could do, since it wasn't economical to travel all over the state for a story... Message conveyed (that heli tourism can help you entire state in a day or 2) is important that showing original places- that's what I feel...

I agree there's intense competition, commercialization and sensationalization of news...