Friday, Oct 24, 2014

‘Our essential qualifications have changed… but a reporter’s life is more fun than before’

Shekhar Gupta Shekhar Gupta
Written by Shekhar Gupta | Posted: June 16, 2014 12:01 am

I had promised to write specially to my fellow reporters. I am delivering on it now, sure enough, just before the deadline runs out. Which is so typical of us.

I had said also that I shall write this note even at the risk of being accused of crass tribalism. But it isn’t just that. In our more vain moments — which assail a reporter’s mind often — I have somewhat stupidly used the analogy of a typical Air Force to illustrate the unique mindset of the reporter: fighter pilot. All others are equally important and no Air Force will get airborne without them, but fighter pilots “are” the elite.

That era of those magnificent men (and women) with their typewriters is now over. And there is more to it than just the arrival of the drones.

It is because of the way journalism has changed. Our tools have become sharper, more powerful, our reach greater. At the same time, our audiences are better informed, more questioning and demanding. They demand quality, depth, trust and not just what our TV screens and news blogs call breaking news.

That is because breaking news, irrespective of who breaks it and where, takes a microsecond becoming common knowledge. In this hypersonic news environment, no exclusive survives. Not when every TV channel within minutes, and some newspapers the next day, begin to flaunt it as their own “exclusive”. As a reporter, I so often wish we could return to the old ways. Or that news-breaks could come with a TM attached!

But all is not lost. If you look closely, the news environment is more exciting than before. It calls for better skills, greater knowledge, more reliable sources, and that most valuable quality of all now: domain knowledge. It is no longer enough to get an exclusive sliver of a news-break. You need to back it with depth and knowledge, not within that particular story, but also with your track record on the subject. A reader will give you that extremely precious gift of time only if she is convinced you know what you are talking about.

Our essential qualifications, our basic KRAs have therefore changed radically, and for the better. Just as fighter planes have changed over the decades, calling for a completely different skill-set unlike the old-fashioned, buccaneering dash and aerobatic daring.

We have to now read, not just on Google, and preferably never on Wiki. Read books, seek quality time with genuine experts in our fields of interest — yes, there are many, many people out there who know enormously more than us in areas in which we think we are dadas. Usually they are also generous with their time and knowledge with journalists. But you have to go to them as a curious student, or rather, as a humble reporter. The internet, a well-placed phonecall, old clippings, a leak, nothing substitutes for going and meeting a newsmaker, even those we unfairly describe as continued…

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