I’m at my wit’s end. What makes news?? As an intern, my primary task at IBN is to come up with story ideas. It sounds simple enough, especially because this is what my job also included when I was working at AM850. The only problem is, here, in Chennai, what constitutes news for the large English national channel is different than what constitutes news in little ole’ Gator town. In Gainesville, everything was news. For IBN, nothing is news.
But what concerns me are the stories that are given up and the ones which are picked up for the sake of headlines and competition. In J-school, we learn about the battle between Hearst and Pulitzer’s competing publications during the era of yellow journalism. That was then, I thought. But now I see that scandal, violence, conflict–these are what sell even today.
Yesterday, the Dalai Lama was in Chennai. Knowing that no one is our office was covering it yet, I called up one of the reporters and asked her if I could do the story. World leader. In chennai. Speaking at Madras University. Again, this is something I would expect would scream “story” in the eyes of any news organization. But she told me it wasn’t worth covering.
What?? A major world leader, proponent of peace, visits India, not even two months after the Mumbai attacks and it isn’t worth covering?
I later asked one of the other girls working why this wouldn’t be newsworthy. Her response: “Well if there was violence going on in Tibet or something, that would be a great story.” Ahh ok. Now I understood better. Just the other day I heard our bureau chief turn down another reporter’s story idea about property thefts asking, “Is there any murder linked to these property thefts? If not, it’s not a story. I need a recent murder.” So we’re looking for blood and guts, the rated-R stuff. Gotcha.
This realization of what makes news and what doesn’t has somewhat discouraged me. At a time when I’m thinking about my graduate school options because job prospects are limited, such episodes only deter me from journalism. I chose it because journalism is fun, you have to know a little bit about everything, you meet extraordinary people, you can write about your interesting experiences, and you do something different every single day. It isn’t your average 9-5 cublicle work. I know there are catastrophes, murders, kidnappings, and natural disasters to report, but it depresses me to know that these are the stories news organizations seek out at the expense of lighter, equally newsworthy topics. Sensationalism isn’t why I chose this field.
They say internships not only pad your resume and give you practical experience, but they give you some insight into what you may like to do in the future. Well, if these little instances are indicative of what to expect at the larger bureaus of other major news networks in the U.S., then I know for a fact that it’s not where my interests lie.