The secret diary of a news anchor
News anchoring is quite underrated in Pakistan. People regard it as merely reading a script. A month into anchoring, and I’ve realized what a misconception this is.
News anchoring is quite underrated in Pakistan. People regard it as merely reading a script written by brilliant copy editors. But after one month as a professional news anchor on Express 24/7 and I have realized what a misconception this is.
When I told some of my friends about my new job, they asked me why not a show? My response was - why not news?
Is news anchoring only about reading off the prompter? Surprisingly, news anchoring is still an alien concept to a lot of people I’ve come across. A lot of times the response I get is, "Oh so what is your show called?"
My response: "It’s the news dammit!"
Yes, you’re reading news. But if you’re relying only on what is written in front of you to read from the camera then a newsreader is all you remain. Most people I know could do that in sixth grade as well. However, when you are in 'live' situations, for instance covering a tragic plane crash or a suicide bombing, and have to talk to correspondents telling you about limbs strewn and dead bodies strewn around a news reader wouldn’t quite know how to handle that. At least not with the level of sensitivity, intelligence and respect required.
It’s a challenge every day for an anchor when he or she steps inside the studio. You don’t know what might happen next in a remote village in Balochistan, if a minor girl will be raped in Charsadda, if a minister’s son will be shot dead in Nowshera, or if a plane will crash in the Margalla Hills. In such situations, what is the right thing to ask? What would sound insensitive to the families of those affected by the incident? What would be irrelevant? What would be stepping out of boundaries? Should questions even have boundaries? What would be mere speculation? Or sensationalism? Or plain stupid?
I have a lot to learn. But in Pakistan, one week can give you a lot of experience. Target killings in Karachi, blast in Mingora, unprecedented floods, government officials being shot dead. Unfortunately, we are never short of stories - and tragic ones. If you rely only on questions and information fed to you by people sitting in the newsroom, you are setting yourself up for future.
When you are anchoring, it is assumed that you know everything. From Obama supporting the building of a mosque to a rap artist running for President of Haiti whether the story interests you or not and regardless of whether you’ve had a good day or a miserable one, you are expected to know everything about everything. Expressing ignorance to one piece of news is enough to spark questioning glances. One fact misrepresented (unintentionally of course) and your career is suddenly in jeopardy.
At times surprise situations are thrown at you. For instance just because the people in the newsroom were able to get hold of an important minister, they’ll throw the call to you, give you three seconds and expect you to come up with smart questions. Especially during blasts and suicide bombings when the only information you have is that a blast was heard in city XYZ, now talk to the reporter. The rest is left to you to handle on national television - live!
It can be a mentally exhausting job if you are one of those who want to make sense out of what they say, have a future in the profession and eventually have your own show. Otherwise wear 10 layers of make-up and corporate clothes so you can look presentable, sit, read, ask questions like "So did the suicide bomber die as well?" take your pay cheque and go home!