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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What it means to work on the desk at a television news channel

Commits alumnus DIPANKAR PAUL (Class of 2009), who worked on the Times Now news desk in Mumbai, gives television news aspirants an insight into the responsibilities of the subs: 

The sub has mainly one broad role in a TV news channel: Writing news so that the anchor can read and the viewer can understand.

That said, there are numerous other responsibilities that lead up to the anchor reading the news out aloud on air.

DIPANKAR PAUL WORKING THE NIGHT SHIFT AT TIMES NOW.

BREAKING NEWS
During a 'newsbreak', a sub is usually required to operate the ticker. The ticker is a place where the viewer sees the latest news in real time.

More often than not, in such a breaking news situation, information comes in via text messages, or off the screen of another channel. And both are prime sources for mistakes. The text message may have a typo (for example, while a reporter may have intended to say "1 killed", he may inadvertently type 11, or 12), so it's a great idea to call the reporter and verify. And taking news off another channel is OK only if you can verify with either your reporter, or if at least another channel puts out the same news.

However, that said, in the (highly competitive) world of TV news, where time is of the essence, mistakes do get made. The only thing to do then is to put your hand up, make the correction, and move on. Just ensure it never happens again.

SOUND BITES
A substantial part of a sub's day goes in listening to press conferences, and other bites (collected by reporters on the field). Most bites are lengthy and rambling; some are full of propaganda, especially if there's a political party involved.

The trick is to listen to the entire bite, and then select which part you think is most effective in adding value to the news at hand. At the beginning of a career, the sub is not expected to make calls on selecting sound bites. The senior editors will usually decide which parts of a press conference or a bite will go on air. However, as experience grows, that responsibility falls entirely on the sub. In fact, the sub is the unseen face of a TV news channel. (More on this later.)

CUTTING A BITE. COMMITSCION AAKASH VERMA (CLASS OF 2004) IS ON THE LEFT.

GRAPHICS
Today, all TV news screens are an explosion of graphics. There are 'top bands', 'story slugs', 'infosupers', full-frame graphics, 'stamps', and a plethora of other variations of text on screen, all of which serve one purpose: Informing the viewer.

A lot of importance is laid on graphics because the general assumption is that people watch news with their TV on 'mute'. So, all information that would otherwise be in the script is pasted on the screen.

WRITING THE NEWS

I call this the most important, and the most neglected, duty of the sub. A sub spends so much time on selecting the perfect bite, getting it cut and published, and on creating graphics that there is little time (or so the perception is) to think through a script and write.

But at the end of the day, all frills aside, the job is all about processing the news and presenting it to the viewer. Language must be crisp, precise, devoid of ALL subjectivity. A sub must remember that there aren't a lot of words to play with (a story is usually not longer than three minutes; the bites, PTCs, and graphics will take up close to two minutes, leaving 60 seconds or 200 words to actually write).

FINAL TOUCHES AS A NIGHT SHIFT GETS OVER WITH THE FIRST BULLETIN OF THE DAY.

It is important to know that a TV news script is not the same as a newspaper article. There is absolutely no scope for 'flowery' language. Viewers don't sit with a dictionary when watching the news. The prose must be conversational; it must never be preachy, and never look to incite the viewer: Present the facts as they are; let the bites do the talking.

Most TV channels, though, are likely to have a defined stance (pro-government, or whatever), and this can seep through into the scripts being aired; the subs' challenge, therefore, is to keep their integrity intact.

DIPANKAR PAUL (SEATED, EXTREME LEFT), ALONG WITH OTHER ALUMNI, WAS AT COMMITS EARLIER THIS YEAR TO JUDGE THE SECOND SEMESTER TELEVISION NEWS BULLETINS.
  • Want to know how to have a successful internship at a TV news channel? Read this post

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