Murders, rapes, riots, and acts of terrible cruelty... What does it do to you, to talk about these issues day in and out?
"It didn't always look like this. As a journalist for more than a decade (now on a break from the manic pace of 24/7 news), I can tell you about a bright and shiny time, when many of us loved inhabiting the world of TV news, as much as we enjoyed watching and following the news. We were part of the 'zeitgeist', as a sociologist once told me. Working as a broadcast journalist provided a massive adrenaline kick, especially if you loved the news. It was addictive. Most broadcast journalists I know, including anchors, are massive adrenaline junkies. We enjoy the way the news ebbs and flows. It's a rush, a buzz, a massive kick, to be live! On air!
But it's also very sobering, given what the news is—most of the time. It's rare to have good news dominating the wheel, though that also has something to do with our negativity bias, one presumes. It's not surprising then that we tend to get desensitised—you have to, or you'd end up a basket-case. I've been an emotional sponge, often, internalising emotions from everywhere in my vicinity... To be honest, it was not the strongest tool in my arsenal as an anchor. (I find that it works well if you can empathise as a reporter, interviewer or writer, but that's an aside.) As a news anchor, at least an old-school news anchor—of which you see less and less on Indian television news today—you're meant to present the news, keeping your emotions and biases firmly in check. Yup, it was the golden age before shouting opinions became the norm.
That said, it's impossible to not empathise at some level. It's impossible when you're reporting or anchoring the news about a civil war, a cyclone, urban poverty and squalor, or when you're interviewing a father who has just lost his child in a hit-and-run, a rape survivor who is almost defeated by the system, an adult talking about rebuilding relationships after years of abuse as a child...it's impossible to not feel something. That's the essence of humanity, isn't it? I'm sure it makes us better, more humane as people and probably helps us add something to the story we tell. Till it tips over and becomes counter-productive, that is.
What are good coping mechanisms? Simple things—taking a break, stepping back from the situation, getting enough rest. These are really not a given in a news room. It's surprising actually, because that's probably the best way to counter the negative. And that was the kernel of truth in my novel Broken News, a dramatic tale set in and around a newsroom. The protagonist's life mirrors this manic 24/7 world, her relationships are a mess and she does eventually burn out...after running pillar-to-post, fighting the injustice and tragic fall-out of a friend's sexual harassment case.
Reality bites. I mean, burn-out is pretty high in this sphere, and sometimes it feels like the nature of the beast. Add to that our obsession with social media. Everyone wants to Tweet the news first, share pictures from their shoots, and respond in real time. It's great fun, but like everyone, we're now always on call. (Without the feel-good factor of saving lives that doctors and nurses have!) And while we may have heard about, reported on, or preached digital detox, it's much harder to pull off, in real life. Don't you agree?"