interview with Zee News Editor Alka Saxena
speaking into the microphone is bad journalism"
on 17 January 2004
always wanted to be a journalist. Ever since her name appeared
in the newspapers as a winner of a debate competition the lady
had a craving to be in the limelight. She was in class eight
or nine then. Today Alka Saxena, editor of Zee News, is not
only in the limelight, but can also be said to be the face of
the news channel, in a way.
|| As a TV personality, today when Saxena shares the same platform
with some of her former print media editors, like Hindustan
Times' Vir Sanghvi, it gives her a thrill. "Who would
have thought that I would get a chance to co-host a show with
Vir (Sanghvi), whom I admire for his journalistic skills. So much
so that she still vividly remembers a news story that she co-authored
with Sanghvi, when she was a reporter in the ABP Group's now defunct
magazine Ravivar. Sanghvi used to edit Ravivar's
English sibling, Sunday then. According to Saxena, the
badminton champ Syed Modi's murder case in the 1980s in Lucknow
saw her file reports on the issue, which were completely re-written
by Sanghvi along with certain perspectives added by him. "When
the story was published in Sunday (as also inRavivar),
I couldn't recognize it. It seemed as if the information was mine,
but the story was somebody else's and that's what made it a compelling
read," says the forty-something lady, who is also the mother
of a growing son.
|Indiantelevision.com caught up with Saxena in
Zee News' headquarters in
Noida, on the outskirts of Delhi, for a tete-a-tete. It ranged
entry into journalism to switchover to TV from the print medium
course, her own 'small contributions' that have in some way
made Zee News a
forceful contender for the top three slots, amongst a host of
that have mushroomed over the last one year in India. Excerpts:
Would you say that the medium of television, with its
breaking news and almost real time mode of news delivery,
would wipe out the print medium someday?
I won't go as far as that. My personal belief is that both
would co-exist, but TV would certainly give print a run for
its money. In a way, it may also compel the print journalists
to do better than what they are doing now or have done in
the past. You see, TV news channels compete with each other
every minute, while newspapers compete with each other once
in 24 hours. So, the print has that much more time to do its
homework and come up with more comprehensive reports and analyses.
TV journalists should also start doing their own homework
more extensively and not treat the medium as one where you
get few seconds' sound bytes from people, mix them with visuals
and put together a story.
Because TV is a visual medium, if the mixture is properly
done, it can create more impact.
|Don't you feel that in the race to break more
news, flippancy is gaining an upper hand. Even if a politician,
for example, goes to pat a cow (which the likes of Laloo Prasad
do quite often), it is treated as `breaking news'. Is such a
trend good for the news channels?
No, it's not. We all may get carried away at times, but we also
realise such mistakes fast enough. I would not agree with the
cow patting example that you have given, though. No channel
worth its salt would do such a thing.
I also feel that we should not get deeply involved in the
TRP business. Ratings do matter, but the content is more important.
It need not necessarily mean that all good content would get
you high TRPs. At the end of the day, an honest effort should
be made and that should matter more.
|Does that mean Zee News doesn't care about
Don't read me wrong. But if you go by the TRPs, Zee News'
share may be less (compared to others), but just look at our
following! The amount of mails and response that we get for
our stories, including the investigative ones, make us feel
like the No 1. All the news channels are going through a phase
of consolidation and there must be a bit of market pragmatism
about the whole issue.
At the end of the day, what matters is what you are showing
and it should be good, not just sensational to help move few
notches up the TRP ladder. And, we at Zee News strongly believe
in this philosophy.
|What, according to you, is good content for
It should be something that connects with the masses and benefits
them in some way or other.
|Is Zee News following this dictum to a T?
More or less. Our story pattern revolves round the theory 'haqeekat
jaise, khabar waisi' (we give you news that is truth). It
is a good line to follow. If you see, all our stories, whether
they are part of the investigative shows, or narratives or routine
matters, they are all handled in a way that aims at maximising
the benefit for the viewers.
If we do an investigation about the non-degree holders selling
medicines in pharamceutical shops, we have the consumers' ---
the hoi polloi --- interest uppermost in our mind. The consumer
should be told to be beware of the fakes. He should also be
informed that not every medicine that he buys from a chemists'
shop is what he had been looking for.
Tell us, what are the changes that you have brought about,
or sought to have brought about, in Zee News since you joined
few years back?
the news channels are going through a phase of consolidation
and there must be a bit of market pragmatism about the
First of all, I feel that a Hindi news channel should speak
the language of the people. Its anchors, reporters and interviewers
should speak in a language that is easily understood by all.
If there are moments when things are getting esoteric, the
attempt should be to bring down everything to the level of
a common man in the language of Hindi that he speaks. What
is the use of using hi-fi words when they won't be understood
by the viewer? This is something that I have always insisted
on and still do. The language, the style of presentation all
go on to give a channel its feel and this is very important.
Though I cannot take the credit single-handedly, but a lot
of effort has gone into training our reporters. The way questions
are asked, the way facts are presented and the way a story
is finally put together is something that has to be honed.
My suggestion to my colleagues is simple: read a lot, do
your homework and remember that we are in a medium where a
connect with the viewer has to be established in his language
Of course, when you are discussing things with colleagues,
various ideas come up, which is a plus point. They need to
be polished before becoming a reality and as a senior, one
must not flinch away from such responsibilities.
|How are stories for the day decided at Zee
Since my grounding has been in the print medium, I believe
in keeping a finger on the pulse of the people by going through
the 'letters to the editor' column. These columns tell me
various things about the masses; their likes, dislikes, needs
and attitudes. The letters are reflective of what is in the
minds of the masses and that, in turn, is fodder for TV journalists.
It also helps me to change with the time as different times
throw up different issues.
At Zee News we have the Saturday meeting where anchors and
reporters and others discuss issues, ideas and formats. The
ideas that are short listed here are then taken up for further
discussion. We disscuss what treatment to be given to them.
At the end of the day story-telling is an art and a TV journalist
should know how to do this. Just speaking into the microphone
is bad journalism.
While the weekly meetings set the broad agenda for the week
ahead, the daily morning meeting grapples with the daily issues
and new developments that may
not have figured in the weekly meeting.
Going back in time, how did you take up journalism as
Once during my schooldays, I won a debate competition and
my name appeared in newspapers. The next day I asked my parents
whether my relatives in other parts of the country had read
my name. Most of them had. Since then I had this fascination
to see my name in print.
In college, I did some programmes for the All India Radio
(Yuv-vani) and started writing for various Hindi magazines
like Dharamyug, Dinman and Ravivar. Soon after
I was offered a job in Ravivar and that that's how
I formally entered journalism.
When did you switchover to TV ?
there are moments when things are getting esoteric, the
attempt should be to bring down everything to the level
of a common man in the language of Hindi that he speaks.
After my son was born in 1991, I gave up everything and rejoiced
in motherhood. But after some years, when my son was no more
a toddler, I started feeling frustrated and thought I must
do something. At that time, TV had just started to register
in Indian minds.
Somehow, I knew that this would be the medium of the future
and for some years I did freelance TV work by scripting documentaries
and other shows. This was the phase when I learnt about TV.
In 1994, I was doing some work for DD Bhopal when I got a
call from Madhu Trehan (Aroon Purie's sister who brought out
a video magazine called Newstrack), early 1995, asking
me to join her team.
In 1995, Aaj tak as a current affairs programme was conceived
for Doordarshan and we went on air. The response that we got
was simply out of the world. Then the programme turned into
a channel and I, along with others, became a part of that.
You left Aaj Tak, the leader amongst Hindi news channels,
after six years (including the time it was a show on DD).
Is it true that your departure was acrimonious (Aaj Tak had
filed a case against Saxena)?
I don't know whether it was acrimonious or not, but I
don't hold anything
against them. Soon after the launch of the channel, the atmosphere
drastically. I started feeling that I wasn't needed in the
I left. Soon after my departure, Sanjay Pugalia (now with
Star News) too,
In between leaving Aaj Tak and joining Zee News, I had got
an offer from
Before I joined Zee News, sometime in the middle of 2001, I
had given them
Doordarshan and I almost joined them, but then I was convinced
journalist friend at Zee News to join the channel.
my feedback on the channel and what all I would want to do there.
Has Zee, as a group, allowed you to do the things you
wanted to do at Zee News?
I had heard some horror stories from people, but Zee News
has been another learning phase for me. Not only it has given
me a lot of freedom, but has backed me and others with the
necessary infrastructure and finances too.
pictures courtesy Sanjay Sharma