Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Times Now and anchor of News Hour, India’s leading prime-time news show according to TAM, a TV rating agency, says he is one of the oldest members of his editorial team at 38. Excluding him, the average age of his team is 25. At a rival channel, Headlines Today, the head is Rahul Kanwal. His age: 32 years. We let go and didn’t ask him the average age of his team. Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN, who is in his forties, describes himself as a “near-dinosaur” managing a twentysomething team.
News on TV, if you haven’t noticed, is young and restless. Its young reporters are everywhere, demanding answers for everything, 24x7. It’s a world of hysterical PTCS (piece-to-cameras), of soundbite warriors, of cacophonous debate. It takes high energy levels and single-minded professionalism to cope with the rigours of TV reporting. It can be taxing on the not-so-young.
“Television is an energetic business and requires oodles of energy, madness for news, in fact, a mad passion for news.”
Arnab Goswami, Times Now
Take the coverage of Anna Hazare’s fast, which recently made big, breaking news for days running. For a news channel, it meant having a reporter, a camera crew and a live production unit day and night at Ramlila ground for 12 days, because a viewer may put on the channel at 3 am to find out the latest. Now that was a movement captured as “television moments” and brought to you by young journalists covering a series of youth mutinies across the country. “Journalism has to do away with this ‘age’ mindset,” says Goswami. “I don’t agree with the logic of ‘young is inexperienced, old is wise’.” He says most crucial editorial positions at his channel are manned by the young and he’s amazed at the passion and enthusiasm they display for news.
Sardesai too sees enormous energy in young members of his team, combined with the willingness to stalk a story for hours without end. “Take the Latur earthquake of 1993, for example, and compare it with the recent earthquake in Sikkim,” he says. “For the complete picture of the Latur tragedy to emerge, it took a week. The Sikkim disaster was brought home to us in a matter of minutes. It takes young people to do that.”
“I learnt a lot from my seniors, but I don’t think today young reporters are as privileged as I was. No one has the time.”
Ravish Kumar, NDTV India
In India, this breed is not more than 15 years old. The journalists who joined TV fresh out of college in the early 1990s are all senior editors now, in their forties or thereabouts. The teams of reporters, camerapersons, video editors they have, however, are far younger. And the demand for TV professionals is only growing. At last count, there were nearly 366 news and current affairs channels; many more are waiting to take off. That’s a lot of television, influencing the opinions of millions across the country, across classes. It may take youthful energy to collect all that news, but isn’t it too much responsibility entrusted to people too raw? An interesting aspect of TV news is that while the young drive the news, those who watch news are mostly middle-aged. According to TAM, half the viewers are 35 and above. Do young journalists have the perspective to address this older group? “Quite often, TV news is like an FIR. For in-depth analysis, a sense of history, politics and context is important,” says Sardesai. Sudheesh Pachauri, a TV critic, says, “There’s very little characterisation and narrative in news now. It is an incestuous relationship between newsmakers and the reporter—and that’s the trouble. The young have abundant energy, but news has to be passionately backed by ideology and context and by showing the real thing, not staging it.”
“Quite often, TV news is like an FIR. For in-depth analysis, a sense of history, context and politics is essential.”
Rajdeep Sardesai, CNN-IBN
There has been such an explosion of news channels that nobody has had the time to pause and think—not the senior editors, not the young reporter out in the field. NDTV India’s Ravish Kumar, who anchors the popular ‘Ravish Ki Report’, says he is worried at the future of the medium: he says it’s suffering a midlife crisis, characterised by monotony and tiredness. “When I did my first report, NDTV’s Radhika Roy sent me a four-page mail on what I had got right and what I had done wrong. Which senior editor has the time or the patience to teach youngsters today? Without enough mentors, this medium will only get worse,” he laments. Many youngsters join television thinking they are bound to become instant celebrities, says Kanwal. They can see the mighty and powerful turn into shrivelling wrecks in front of the cameras. The spectacle and the denouement that attends to a prime-time news bulletin is the stuff that TV journalism is made of—and thrives on. “Many are lured by the sound and the bluster and get frustrated soon, as they are unprepared for the relentless plodding and serious homework needed on subjects they are reporting on,” says Kanwal.
But TV news will always remain with the young. It works best when there is a breaking story, and to be on the spot in double-quick time, to be able to give updates, bulletin after bulletin, night and day, editors and anchors depend on the young. “We have come a long way from the soundbite-chasing tag. Television news has been at the vanguard of some of the biggest news breaks in the recent past. Young journalists have broken big news again and again,” says Goswami. There is no argument against that. So when there is a terror attack next time or a flood or an earthquake, or if Anna Hazare goes on yet another fast, to be sure there will be a young TV journalist in front of the camera, giving you the news—even at 3 am.