A reporter's New Year resolutions

Smita PrakashThese are my New Year resolutions. I hope to dutifully keep them. I promise myself that I will really try. I already feel silly listing them because they are actually rules that all reporters should follow but well, we often either forget them or ignore them. Just like those miserable diet plans and food charts. So here is my list:

Don’t be a cheerleader: Reporting out of the country’s capital, it is easy to get swayed one way or the other: Akbar Road (Congress) or Ashoka Road (BJP). Either you are co-opted or you are the villain. And somehow we take it upon ourselves to convince them that we are neither. We don’t need to convince anybody but ourselves. To be equidistant is difficult but not impossible. But most critically, it is important to not consider access to either one or both as a reason to be a cheerleader.

Crystal clear: News should be comprehensible to all, not just the erudite

Dig for facts, tell the truth: Google made it really easy to do this. So use it. Sift and get the real stuff, even if it dull, won’t be sexy, nobody might read it, and has been said before. Hell! Better than sexing up the story, even though army generals have been known to do that before. *wink *wink. The story is about the information you are sharing in as unbiased a manner as possible. The story is NOT about you.

Soundbite is the new shorthand: If you do not know what shorthand means, you are forgiven. It isn’t as ancient as the Morse code but almost. If somebody can’t speak in soundbites, then he shouldn’t be interviewed. Empathise with outdated politicians and celebrities who moan this fact, but strike them off the list. It will save you the heartache of editing and junking the interview after all the hard work.

Beware of Soundbite Sharks: #3 and #4 are Siamese twins. Delhi is full of soundbite specialists, who wing their way from studio to studio pontificating on every issue under the sun. So tempting to just fall back on them when you are running close to deadlines. But there are other cities and towns in India, use the phone, use a stringer, use talent out of Delhi to seek opinions of Indians outside Delhi.

Run the non-journo test: Read out your report to a non-journalist. Just an aam admi or aurat. It matters. Do they understand what you mean when you say NBCC, NTPC, NTRO etc. And even when you give the full form, do they understand what you are saying? If not, drop it, change it, don’t be smug and talk down to your reader or viewer. This isn’t dumbing down of news. It is an effort to make news understandable.

Breaking News is a dead duck: Finish my story one hour before deadline. Never mind if I don’t have the breaking news of the day or the exclusive. The viewer doesn’t really care who broke the story and how many minutes or hours later. If you tell your story convincingly and honestly, that’s all what matters.

Audio can deafen: Breathlessness is okay before an India-Pakistan cricket match or your board exams. Not when you report a story. Stop, breathe and speak like you are in somebody’s living room. Don’t yell, there is no need to. Even monkeys don’t. The viewer can see the tear gas shells being thrown… don’t scream… breathe.

Be polite to bureaucrats and politicians, even under adverse circumstances: They will be gone in a few years; you will still be around, reporting. They don’t know that, you should. Some begin to think they are God’s prophets on earth. Don’t try to tell them otherwise. Praise them and tell them their predecessors were trash and it’s the deluge after them, and watch the exclusives wing their way to you. But learn some humility. In the pecking order, you do not come after them, the people do. They have forgotten it, remind yourself that.

Trend is not your mother-in-law: Keep an eye on trend, follow it at times. But not always. Mindlessly following a mother-in-law or a trend is convenient — and mind-numbing. Get the trend or mother-in-law to follow you at least once. But not because of sensationalism or drama. Just because.

Identify, Craft, Target, Impact, Ethics: Make this your Panchsheel. This is the framework under which everything you do fits in. Improve on each of those traits, be a learner always.

Statistics show that most New Years Resolutions are broken by the end of the first week in January because we set unrealistic targets which overwhelm us. Hence my resolutions are very basic, and not that hard to keep. The year ends with most of us feeling dejected and dissipated. Hopefully the shock that we all went through collectively as a nation will waken us to make changes in our lives and attitudes. Happy and peaceful 2013 dear readers.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash 

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