Nondescript to Noisy: The Altered Contours of News on Television Channels

Dr. Niti Chopra*

Backdrop

News is that manifest record of events that invariably shapes thoughts and impacts action. The theories of Agenda Setting and Gate Keeping by the media as propounded years ago by communication theorists, get thoroughly reinforced time and again, and especially stand ratified in the context of TV news.

According to late Stanley Walker, former city editor of New York Herald Tribune, “…news is the inexact measure of the ebb and flow of the tides of human aspiration, the ignominy of mankind, and the glory of the human race. It is the best record we have of the incredible meanness and the magnificent courage of man”; and Mitchell Charnley at the University of Minnesota defined news as “…tomorrow’s history done up in today’s neat package.”[1]

The story of TV news in India began with Doordarshan (DD), India’s state broadcaster, the functioning of which began with only a few minutes of scheduled broadcast time. It has since then traversed a remarkable growth curve and has slowly but steadily made it to a zone of news reportage, which is today – universally and all at once– highly dynamic, competitive, interesting, and challenging! Doordarshan’s illustrious account–albeit one that seems somewhat nondescript and ordinary, but which monopolised the scenario at a time when no other channels of news were available– did indeed provide the perfect backdrop, in terms of both infrastructure and content. The pace and tone set then, turned and spiraled on, and with the passage of time, took on the contemporary hues.

Steadfast Viewership

Even as the number of people getting news from alternative sources like the internet or radio increases by the day – and we know that FM channels also would soon have licence to officially broadcast news, Television remains the only medium wherein one does not have to actively navigate, but simply go along with the information streaming. Not only that, but the viewer can also easily swap at will between local, regional, national, and international channels to satiate the mind. Besides, there IS a method in the madness, and rising above the noise and din of breaking news there are the broadcast journalists –doing their job.

For these and many other additional reasons, few of them being:

  • Audience interest remaining undeterred because of the need to know, and seeing it happen, and being first with the information is indeed the best way!
  • High ingestion trends during SPECIAL events/happenings
  • Spike in viewership during prime time slots which promise to tell it all and a lot of it too, in compressed time capsules
  • Inherent nature of the Audio-Visual medium and overt appeal of human connect
  • Use of better technology and techniques of reportage – be it of local, regional, national, or international level
  • Sense of empathy triggered from watching what may be going on in the life of others lending a kind of vindication to one’s own experiences-both good and bad;
  • And the sheer array of news from a spectrum of areas: sports, politics, art, culture, science, defence, crime, as also several commemorations and celebrations; all of which keep Television abuzz and alive with its visual appeal, getting the viewer back to her seat, every time she begins to shuffle impatiently and wander away to other enticing media.

Spool Back

If one goes into a more intense rewind mode, and begins to recollect and ponder over the many textures and dimensions, structures and formats, and the several societal facets from which substance and stories get drawn — all of it together making the visual medium what it is… challenging but alluring, … and most certainly the one with the highest mass appeal!

And one can undoubtedly reckon that of all the different kinds of content broadcast on Television, there is little doubt that over periods of time, interest of viewers in news remains most steady and sustained.

The story of news broadcasting in India, parallel to that of the overall growth of the medium in the country, is one that can be told and heard several times over, and not tire of it, because every time different kinds of programming formats and content can be referred to, and numerous incidents from the ground where production studios were being commissioned, scripts being written, props being set up, or news readers being empanelled are still waiting to be told!

For several years DD broadcast news bulletins of only a few minutes duration and years later AajTak (not the news channel we know today!), only a daily news bulletin, began to be broadcast on DD2! It was only after years of maneuvering through a maze of challenges, viz. trying to cultivate political will, attaining technological growth , putting revenue models in place, and adopting progressive policies, that the first decade of this new century in India – finally belonged to news!

Future Perfect

TV News have indeed come a long way since the time when a placard would often go up on our TV screens which would say: “rukawat ke liye khed hai!” But then one may surmise that was still better than today, when the internet which has stealthily cast its web on us with an uncanny sense of entitlement, and from where millions over the world now source their news -does very often frustrate us, but offers only a perfunctory apology!

Also, there are the regulatory bodies and mechanisms standing guard to content and distribution strategies; there are also the challenges from newer formats that emanate from the news genre like trials by media and reenactment of news as dramatized situations; as well as the protracted and ever increasing competition of getting news from other sources such as the print, radio, and now internet.

But all said and done, all these changing contours are merely the external wrap on the kernel. Content has been, and still is … king …supreme!

Kunal Jeswani, Chief Digital Officer of Ogilvy & Mather, India, who took over as the company’s Chief Executive from the 1st of March 2015, aptly believes, “TV and Digital will embrace each other (more tightly) sooner than we think. I don’t think the fight will be between TV and digital. The fight will be between pieces of content. Great content will attract money no matter where the consumer consumes it.” [2]

Television news channels will thus, continue to enjoy the pan national reach and will, in fact, continue to attract revenue, grow in numbers and hopefully in stature too, quite unabated!

Additional Information in the box below

The theme of TV News remains attractive to students for their research work. Dissertations on varied topics under the purview of TV News by Master of Communication Studies (MCS) students taken up during the last five years in the Faculty of Journalism and Communication, M.S.University of Baroda are as listed below:

  1. Emergence of Regional Electronic News Channels (GS TV and SANDESH): A Study about the Perceptions of the Audience in Vadodara City– Bhumika Raol– February 2015
  2. A Study on the Effectiveness of Hindi News Channels– Steffy Parmar– February 2013
  3. Do We Need News Channels 24×7? A Survey Study — Naman Singh — February 2012
  4. News Analysis: A Study of the Effectiveness of Analytical News in Newspapers and Television — Nishita Pereira — February 2011
  5. National Television News Channels: A Study on the Quality of News — Priya Patel — February 2011
  6. Audience Perception Regarding News Shown in Hindi (news) Channels — Chaitra Devarhubli — February 2010

Students have used various methodological approaches to attain the objective/s of their respective studies; Content Description/Analysis, Surveys, and In-depth Interviews of Experts– being the more often used techniques with sampled respondents and conducted within set time frames.

The above mentioned and other dissertations are available in Faculty and Smt. Hansa Mehta Library of MSU. Digitised versions may soon be available on Internet.

These researches have been supervised by Author, and Prof. Santosh Kumar Tewari, former Head & Dean in the Faculty (1997-2011)].

References:

  1. Retrieved: May 12, 2015 from
    http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/kaydedios-494036-journalism-whatisnews/
  2. Bansal Shuchi, Mint Interview of Kunal Jeswani, featured in MINT, Ahmedabad Edition, February 3, 2015, Pg.20.

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