As Star News turns 1, innovation the buzzward

NEW DELHI: For the new Star News director of news and editor Uday Shankar, the channel can almost run on an autopilot with its format and beliefs. It can also continue to be "not No. 1" as long as its "credibility" is high.

"The important aspect is to have a high credibility and it would start getting reflecting in the ratings too, which are an industry standard no matter how questionable the methodology may be," Shankar expounds to in his first interview after switching from Aaj Tak.

Though Shankar, one of the core team that was responsible for taking Aaj Tak to the top slot in the Hindi news space, refuses to get drawn into a debate whether his former channel had lesser credibility, he does admit that his effort at Star News would be to try showing that there are newer and more innovative ways of carrying on the business of news.

"I would not like to comment on Aaj Tak now as I am proud to have been associated with it, but our attempt would be to try and break away from conventional ways of doing news," he says without showing any trace of emotion.

The difference in the two channels, according to Shankar, is the approach and the style of functioning. Because Aaj Tak is based in Delhi, it's heavy on politics, while the Mumbai headquartered Star News would like to look at things differently.

"The difference may stem from the fact that because Delhi breathes politics (maybe eats and sleeps it too), anything that happens here takes a national character. While being in Mumbai, it gives Star News the added option to look elsewhere too and take up other issues apart from just politics, including having different regional flavours," he explains.

Doing things differently also extends to other areas for Star News. The office of Star News in Delhi doesn't depict the excitement that should have accompanied a birthday and it's business as usual. The only hint comes when Star News president Ravina Raj Kohli says that a cake would be cut later in the evening to mark a year on air of the news channel in its new avatar.

It may be business as usual. But growing up to be one year old has been a roller-coaster ride. From being almost on the verge of having the plug pulled on it by Rupert Murdoch's Star Group, to trying to convince the government on various issues relating to guidelines, to emerge as a contender for the top slot, to seeing two news directors, the Star News team can justly lay claim to have made news as well as reported on it.

Probably it has made the baby sturdy too. Admits Shankar, "The one-year-old baby is a healthy one that has become the favourite of the metros. It is also ready to challenge the conventional wisdom of TV news viewing."

Coming from somebody else, it would have sounded pompous. But Shankar can justifiably lay claim to having had a big role to play --- TV Today Networks promoter Aroon Purie's frowns notwithstanding --- in Aaj Tak's trek to the No. 1 slot amongst news channels and continued dominance since then.

Pointing out that Aaj Tak's success was built on the foundation of innovations like providing live coverage with the help of technology, Shankar feels that it always pays to be different.

As an illustration, he points to Star News' coverage of the women's bill introduced in the Jammu & Kashmir assembly that, if passed, would have stripped Kashmiri women of the right to own property in the state if she married outside it.

"Star News was the first to pick up the issue and though it was a political issue, the matter was tackled differently from the angle of women's rights vis-à-vis her marriage and property rights. It was a good feeling that other channels picked up the issue later," Shankar says.

He also feels that talent and new faces are not being produced in adequate numbers in the industry to keep pace with the demand --- something that others like Rajat Sharma too have bemoaned. According to Shankar, Star News is fine-tuning some initiatives in this regard, but it's still early to spell out the details.

Though Shankar never lets go of a chance to suggest that the functioning of Star News is different and it can, well, run on an autopilot. Still there is no denying that the joint venture company that manages Star News is a bit apprehensive of the NDTV products and the growing popularity of its Hindi news channel. Not to mention the apprehension of the unknown that all the proposed news channels on the horizon entail.

Pointing out that the switchover has been smooth, Shankar's target for next year's anniversary is to be "second to none." Are people in Aaj Tak listening?

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