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Monday, November 14, 2011

What it means to be a TV news reporter-2

SUSHMITA CHATTERJEE
Commits alumna SUSHMITA CHATTERJEE (Class of 2008), who was the Aaj Tak/Headlines Today correspondent in Bangalore, discusses some crucial aspects of television news reporting: 

Well, my junior Neha Mehta has already given you all a good idea of what it means to be a TV news reporter. While she has covered most of the tougher aspects of television reporting, I thought of sharing some personal tips that I learnt as a reporter with Aaj Tak/Headlines Today.

Yes, TV reporting is tough, but I sincerely believe if you’re passionate about it, you will love it. I most certainly did!

Okay, so you are passionate and you would love to do stories that can change someone’s life. What next? You have to keep some crucial aspects in mind if you are planning to become a TV news reporter. Here are a few pointers.

1. YOUR STORY IS YOUR BABY TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR IT
“Wow! I have the power to do things that my other friends can’t!” “I have access to places where no one else can think of entering!”

When you are new to TV news reporting, these are some of the thoughts that can cross your mind. But remember, however clich├ęd it might sound, with power comes great responsibility. Also remember that what you say on screen as a reporter does hold great importance. Your story might change the lives of many, but if it is portrayed wrongly it can not only ruin your channel’s reputation, it can also put your career in jeopardy.

So, treat your story as your own baby. Research your idea thoroughly. Find out all possible angles for your story, figure out whom it can impact, and, if possible, speak to all of them. After you have collated all your information, fight for your story to go on air. Do not let anyone scrap it from the channel’s run-down if you know you have the content to back your story.

2. PITCH FOR STORY IDEAS THAT WOULD INTEREST YOU
When planning your story, think of yourself as a viewer. Would the topic interest you? If it doesn’t then most likely it will not impact your viewers either. Remember that your story should appeal to you first! Read through newspapers, journals, magazines, watch other television news channels, look through public data and crime reports to find a peg that grabs your attention. And then weave your story around it.

SUSHMITA CHATTERJEE IN ACTION FOR HEADLINES TODAY.

3. BE NOSY, BE THICK-SKINNED
When I say this, I don’t mean it in a negative way. During my career as a TV reporter, I realised being nosy was one of the most important qualities you need to acquire. To give you an example: I got a half-hour special story ‘Boy Chained by Family’ by talking to a friend who went shopping and saw this boy in one of the shops. Remember, you can get your story from the most unexpected person just by talking with them.

Poking into other people’s lives comes in handy for TV news reporters at times :-). Ask questions! Sometimes you might get bad-mouthed for asking questions people term as ‘stupid’. But as Ramesh Sir says, No question is stupid. As a TV news reporter, you always need to keep these golden words in mind. That’s what I mean when I say be thick-skinned, do things that will impact the end-result: YOUR STORY!

4. KNOW WHEN TO STOP WHILE TAKING SOUND BITES
It is difficult, but you have to learn to do it. A lot of times you will meet people who can go on talking, though it might not add any value to your story. You, as the reporter, should know when to stop them after you have got your desired sound bite without making it evident. The best way is to tell interviewees in the beginning about the story line and discuss the contents of the sound bite with them.

But there could be cases where some people reveal a lot of details while they are talking. If you expect such a thing, do not stop them. The best way is to reduce the duration of each sound bite by asking questions in between. This would make the task of selecting crucial sound bites easier for you.

SUSHMITA CHATTERJEE, ALONG WITH OTHER ALUMNI, WAS AT COMMITS EARLIER THIS YEAR TO JUDGE THE SECOND SEMESTER TELEVISION NEWS BULLETINS.

5. MAINTAIN CORDIAL RELATIONS WITH
REPORTERS FROM REGIONAL CHANNELS
Regional channel reporters can be a great source of information. I say this out of experience. If you are working for a national news network, always remember that a regional news reporter would have much more access to different areas as compared with you, often because of the sheer fact that they are more in number. Regional channels have specific reporters for each beat, but since you are a national news reporter you focus on three to four different stories in a day. Hence, maintaining cordial relations with regional news reporters will help you get to know some stories which might make it to the national network, too.

6. DON’T FORGET TO FOLLOW-UP ON YOUR OWN STORIES
This is what most people forget to do. When you do a story and see it on air, don’t just forget about it right after. Every story you do can give you a new perspective a few months down the line. It can throw up another new angle. Hence, following up on stories is very important to keep your story ideas flowing.

7. STAY HEALTHY!
You might not get this tip from any book on journalism. But this is very important! Yes, as a reporter you might never get a chance to eat on time because of the numerous assignments you will be working on! But try carrying your food along, or at least something to munch on, be it biscuits or bananas. Only if you are healthy will you have the strength to run behind your stories!

These were just a few of the things that might make your dream of becoming a TV news reporter easier. I enjoyed my stint with television for two years. And I hope a few of these tips will help you carve a better future too. It’s absolutely true that the feeling of seeing your story on air after a hard day’s work is worth all your effort. All the best!
  • Sushmita Chatterjee now works as an Instructional Design Analyst for Accenture's Content Development Centre in Bangalore.
  • Want to know how to have a successful internship at a TV news channel? Read this post.