Television

Stress 24x7?

On a typical day, you could see Sujay Gupta juggling three phones, hurriedly taking notes and issuing advisories to his team of reporters. The chief of Mumbai bureau’s job in a premier news channel like NDTV 24x7 is much sought after but not so for 38-year-old Gupta. One day, on a drive back home, he took a considered view and gave it all up. He ended the lease of his cosy apartment in Bandra, and took the first flight to Goa.

“The nature of the news television market in India is such that there is very little scope of decreasing stress levels,” rues Gupta. “Pressures to perform are a part of newsrooms across the globe, but in India it’s different given the number of channels we have. The demand is no more on doing big or better researched stories; it’s all about breaking stories.”

It is indeed

There was a time when viewers were left with no choice but to watch national channel Doordarshan. But with Indian television going through a revolution and given the arrival of as many as 80 news channels it’s a very different story now.

While there are no specific recruitment forecasts available for the sector, global staffing services firm Manpower says the media and entertainment industry has the highest employment potential in the country, with 58 per cent employers intending to hire more people in the third quarter this year.

So while viewers are flooded with a variety of options when it comes to watching news on the small screen, the rise of so many channels has also given birth to greater stress in the newsrooms.

Every channel is under pressure to deliver something new, that little extra which is more relevant to its viewers… a story that is perhaps the first of its kind!

Says Gupta, “We have more news channels than whole of Europe put together. The trouble is that the competition is not just between offerings of the same genre. National channels compete with even regional news channels. For instance, in Mumbai, NDTV not only locks horns with CNN-IBN but also with a Marathi channel like Star Majha.”

Evidently, the concept of a straightforward story doesn’t exist any more. The objective is to look at every conceivable angle and generate at least three stories from what would be just one. Plus, the pressure to break news.

Veteran journalist and media educator Paranjoy Guha Thakurta puts the blame on media owners. “These days, proprietors do not want to invest in human resources. Consequently, a person is forced to multitask. The technology too ensures that a person can easily do the tasks that two or three people would do earlier. So with media owners not investing enough in experienced manpower, even though the younger lot of people are intelligent, hardworking and very talented, they do not necessarily have a good judgment of the important news. This leads to an increase in stress levels.”

Some media professionals who are currently sailing in the same boat too corroborate the view that young journalists are impatient and this attitude also often leads to stress.

Says CNN-IBN deputy foreign editor Suhasini Haider, “There is no single reason behind the rise in stress levels. One of the major factors is a huge increase in competition. Apart from this, people today have no personal opinion about a particular subject or topic. There are no niches. So journalists are made to do stories on a wide range of issues. Also, newsrooms these days are younger than ever. Young journalists do not prepare themselves mentally before joining. They just want to report as soon as they join.”

IBN7 executive editor Sanjeev Paliwal believes that the stress is caused by the demands of the job. “We are living in a very competitive and challenging environment and the entire country relies on us to bring news to them in an accurate and timely manner. With expectations soaring, it is obvious that pressure in a newsroom is bound to be high. New channels ask for newer ways of gathering market intelligence being devised. This is good for the industry but is also leading to a lot of extra pressure.”

What’s more, this greater stress has also at times directed to loss of life. Senior journalists Appan Menon and S P Singh, who were stars in the early days of non-Doordarshan-run news programming, lost their lives at an early age. And one of the reasons cited was mounting newsroom pressure.

Thakurta, 52, feels that though stress is escalating it also depends on individuals and their way of dealing with stress. “Late S P Singh and Appan Menon were brilliant journalists. Yes, it is true that they died at a young age. Both of them worked at a time when Indian news television industry was at a nascent stage and I presume that both of them faced stress. I too suffered a heart attack last year. Having said this I would like to emphasise that though stress is prevalent in this industry, it’s also a state of mind. And it depends on individuals on how they cope with stress.”

But there are many in the profession who feel that media is all about stress, and those who do not have the capacity to endure the pressure, should not enter the profession. “I do not agree that stress is increasing,” says Times Now editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami. “In fact it is wrong to use the word stress,’’ he adds. Television newsrooms, says Goswami, are now “buzzing with excitement”. “A newsroom does not operate like a bank… it’s more animated. There is more action, a zeal to do something exciting. Therefore, people who cannot face the heat should not enter the kitchen.”

According to NewsX newsroom head Arup Ghosh, stress is not a new entrant to the newsroom, “I don’t think that stress is something new for journalists; it was always there. The longer hours of work also impacts personal life. One reason for this is increase in competition because of presence of so many channels. Another fact leading to rise is stress is dearth of talent. The established and the experienced management is under pressure to nurture fresh talent; at the same time retaining talent is also stressful because the moment the young talent pool that comes in learns the technique, the tendency to switch jobs increases.”

Just chill!

Some medical practitioners feel that its about time that news channels take the responsibility towards providing an opportunity to destress. Dr Sanjay Pattanayak, a psychiatrist at Delhi’s Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (Vimhans), says work and peer pressure are the two basic reasons for stress levels going north. “Journalists now have less time to relax. Thus, it is important for them to have a good social support, good diet and exercise regularly to unwind.”

Leading psychiatrist Dr Sanjay Chug explains, “These days’ news channels give greater focus on TRPs than the actual job. Also this has led to much competition which in turn has erased the concept of fixed working hours. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that, the nature of the work in journalism is stressful enough and all these factors have added to increase in stress.”

And what is the solution to beat stress? Says Dr Chug, “Ideally, there’s need for a change in the work culture of our channels, but since that is a long-term task, there are smaller steps that can be taken to cut down pressures and prevent breakdowns.”

He advises the mandatory and routine drug tests for all, mandatory and routine psychological assessments covering anxiety like depression levels, suicide risk assessment, adjustment problems. “It would also help if a counseling cell is provided to employees. Also, news channels can have 10 minutes of destressing every few hours which can be applicable uniformly to the entire workforce wherein people can do on-desk exercises, power naps, guided relaxations etc.”

Even as there are conflicting views from practitioners on stress levels in the profession, many newsroom HR heads seem to be aware of the problems on hand. Says India Today group corporate head – human resource Geetanjali Pandit Gupta, “In this business, the performance is reviewed daily. Hence it increases stress levels. Destressing has to begin with correct manning and solving the external factors.”

At some organisations, the first step has already been taken towards ensuring employees have few reasons to complain.

Network 18 Group head – HR Rajneesh Singh elucidates, “At Network18, we understand the pressures. So at the basic level, we provide our employees with facilities like cr?che, shuttle service, cabs and 24-hour availability of food, water and security. At the next level, we have a gym and offer facilities for games so that employees can unwind. We also organise workshops, celebrate birthdays, have monthly parties and off-sites that gives everyone a chance to enjoy together, have fun and relax.”

But INX media head – human resources Dhruva Sen believes that parties or get togethers need not be the right prescription for bringing down stress levels. “They only divert attention for a bit.” So what’s his solution? “Possibly establish a recreation room where people can enter and read or sit simply loosen up.”

The onus of destressing employees, India Today’s Gupta hastens to add, should not fall only on the HR of a company as employees are aware of what they are getting into. “There is only one way of getting rid of stress. And that is to provide employees enough resources to do their work,” she says.

Thakurta says tensions are an inherent part of any news channel as one can never know what is going to happen next. Also the fact that media owners do not wish to invest in experienced people leads to increase in stress as young people might be intelligent, hardworking and talented but they are not better judge of importance of news. Experienced people know which piece of news is more important to cover. This has further lead to dilution of standards including ethical standards.”

And while some in this profession have learnt to cope with stress, there are others like Gupta who have succumbed to the mounting pressure and have either left or are continuing with much difficulty. Gupta chose to opt out, and is chronicling the Scarlett Keeling saga for a leading London daily, advising a corporate group on starting a local channel and an assorted number of things to achieve nirvana. “It’s important to enjoy what you are doing,” he says while revealing plans to promote the Goan feni. Nirvana, surely.

The story first appeared in Indiantelevision.com‘s The NT Magazine. The PDF of the magazine can be accessed at http://www.ntawards.tv/y2k8/nt_mag.pdf.

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