04 May, 2011

Breaking Down News

Eleven past eight in the morning was when I woke up. That’s early by my owlish standards. The first chore is checking Facebook on my phone, drowsily. One of my old school chums, now settled in the States has just walled saying something to the effect that if it REALLY was Laden’s body they found and not a body-double, then its sweet revenge for America. That’s enough to get anyone wide awake, forget a news-hack.

Iv already typed in nyt.com on my browser. That’s logical, considering it is an American story. If it was anywhere else, the logical choice would have been one of the wires, like Reuters, Associated Press or Bloomberg. The Times has a very short story quoting an AP report that Laden has been killed in Pakistan, and that President Obama will make a statement shortly. The three biggest pointers, Laden, Pakistan & Obama, which went on to be blown up manifold over the next day was very much there in the first twenty minutes of news gathering.

I decide to double check on Reuters. Reuters also has essentially that much information, again quoting AP. Bloomberg has still not updated its website. I have a wisecrack and text my boss, and his boss. Four words. ‘Laden dead, says nyt’. That’s important, because the name of the source carries a lot of credibility. If it was Fox News saying it, the news  would have been trashed.

Ten seconds later I get a reply saying ‘we have it, we’re already running it’. I feel foolish and out of touch. By now its twenty minutes since the first report on the New York Times website. But by now all four business news channels (not to mention the dozens of non-business news channels in India) were all broadcasting the story in their own version of the flashy red Breaking News tickers.

In fact, by then NDTV profit had even made the first blooper, pronouncing Obama dead, instead of Osama. Iv worked the ticker. I know the pressure a ticker person goes through. The bigger the story, the higher the decibel levels around you urging you to finish writing that line and click on the Publish button, higher the force of the blood pumping through the veins of your hands, and in spite of that, higher the need to actually publish that line before your counterpart in the competition.

The entire competition probably would have laughed at that blooper. We allow ourselves that luxury. It’s too high-strung a world to not indulge yourself with a moment of relaxation. Very soon, we also make that same mistake. The girl who was responsible got it personally from the Chief Editor for about twenty minutes, not to mention the mails that went to the entire office calling attention to the error. She was in tears.

Within an hour, the Times had a proper 500 word article, accompanying an image of people in front of the giant screen on Times Square proclaiming Osama’s death, written, Im assuming, with inputs from their White House correspondent, and their reporter covering the CIA. This they do by getting the reporters who are regularly in touch with high placed figures in the White House and the CIA or the FBI to verify what happened. With the news already out, and America already taken to the streets in celebration, this verification should have been relatively easy. But then again, for a journalist, news is important only till it becomes news.

In the meanwhile, I continue to text a few friends about the news break. The fellow journalist has also seen the piece of news, and replies saying they’re carrying it on her channel too. The non-news friend hasn’t. And that is the essential difference between a news person and a non-newsperson. For a hack, news just has a way of finding you. That happens on different levels. For a reporter, like the AP correspondent who first broke the story, the people who make the news tell them. In this case, probably one very-high placed CIA operative, who was in the loop. For someone who’s job is to sit in the office, it comes through the reporters or the many wire services around, or if not, one of the rival television channels. But news is never hidden or obscure for a long period, and by that I mean around a quarter of an hour.

Another aspect of being in the news business is how news keeps changing like its nobody’s business. Every week, the world had brushed aside a happening event and moved on to the next.

Lets take this year for instance. In the last week of January, it was the Egyptian uprising, and the toppling of President Mubarak. In ther beginning of February, it was the arrest of A Raja and his aides. The last two weeks of Feb were about the budget. March brought the Tsunami in Japan. A week later, it was the crisis in Libya. Early April was the world cup victory. Later on the Royal Wedding, and now this. Each of these stories can vie for the biggest annual news event any other year, and we’re through with just four months in the year.

(Will probably be completed... Whenever that is)

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