The pitfalls a reporter should avoid
Er. Prabhat Kishore
In course of their reporting work, reporter will find on many occasions background materials which are given to them by the officials. These materials, if we go through carefully will reveal many things which officially these officials will not say. Sometimes in an informal way these officials will give secrete materials with a view to damage the relationship with neighbouring countries. Many of the innocent reporters fall easy prey to the game of these politicians, and publish the so-called ‘background materials’. The purpose of the political official is served by such publication at the cost of the innocent reporter.
‘Background material’ is the traditional sense means such information of a particular event to help the reporter to make his report more explicit and lucid for understanding to the readers. Reporters should exercise atmost caution to use doubtful ‘background material’ which might be passed on to them by clever politicians or officials to serve their own political purpose.
In the system of providing background materials in many Western countries and even our country, a system has come into existence which is known as ‘background lunch’, ‘background tea’, and ‘background dinner’. These are now becoming popular even in towns like Srinagar, Patna etc. It is true that reporter get a lot of juicy materials in such meets. But they should be very careful that they may not turnout to be useful pawns to the unscrupulous politicians who give such parties.
Reporter will find ‘advance copy’ of speech of important persons and politicians to be delivered at a particular date and time. The practice of sending advance copy of the speech in two-fold (i) so that it may get a good coverage and scope, (ii) so that the important portion of the speech may be called out in advance to highlight the importance. But sometimes there is danger with the advance copies also.
Great orator and intellectual Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishanan while he was the President, used to address many convocations because he was a great educationist as well. In Patna itself while he was addressing the convocation of Patna University, his speech was supplied to the press as advance copy. But most of the reporters were amazed to find that Dr. Radhakrishanan went on speaking ex tempore without looking at the textand he deviated from the written advance copy of his speech. The reporters had to take down afresh all the ex tempore portion of his speech. Therefore, it is always better for the reporters to attend the meetings and report correctly.
The ‘embargo’ is meant to adhere to the schedule as prescribed on the report. If it is for 31st October, 3.30 PM, it should be precisely adhered to. It must not go to press before 3.30 PM on that particular date. Generally, the budget speech of the Finance Minister (advance copy) carries such embargo.
Dealing with Press meets
Press Conferences or news conferences are frequently called these days in which either ministers, government officials, politicians or social workers give their opinion or their version of current affairs or political developments either in the state or in the country. It is an easy way to convey their respective view-points to the public. Previously, the politicians or social leaders had to organize large public meetings to convey their views to the public. This is done even today. But the same objective is achieved by calling a press conference which is widely circulated by newspapers.
The procedure, in short, is that the man who holds the press conference give a hand out (a written statement generally distributed at the Press Conference on which the reporter puts various questions), a short or may be lengthy statement enumerating his or her department’s point of views. He generally read it out. But in many cases copy of the statement is distributed to the reporters for perusal. Thereafter, the reporters on the basis of the statement ask questions for explanation or elucidation. On many occasion if the reporters put intelligent questions on the basis of distributed hand-out, he may get very-very important news, not given in the statement.
How we should ask questions and how we should prepare from before is as follows:
(1) First thing is to remember that we are to elicit information and never to impose our views. For this we should study the possible issues that are likely to come up at the Press Conference.
(2) It is always better to write down our questions. Donot rely on our memory for this purpose. It may be possible that some other reporter may put the same question before us. In that case we should prepare ourselves from before to put supplementary questions that may arise out of the questions. We may go on asking questions to elucidate the hazy issues.
(3) Cultivate the habit of putting questions in a polite and gentle manner. In our country the habit of asking a question with a preface likes ‘May I have your permission’ or ‘May I be allowed to put a supplementary’ etc. Never be aggressive in putting our questions. Always remember that persistence is no crime. Do not be disheartened by a peremptory ‘No’ from our interviews.
(4) Then another must be to check and possible double check all stories. Many reporters after get into trouble believing to much to accept the witty politicians, because they never cared to check what the politicians told. Most of the time the source of the news may be misleading. Therefore, in order to be sure all such reports should be checked with other sources even if possible from the hostile sources also.
In order to be on the safe side a reporter is advised to send the transcript to the person interviewed for this approval and obtain his signature in the transcript accept it with good grace. It is no good arguing with him about the corrections because afterall on second thought he might have felt that it was not safe for him to say certain things which he had said earlier to the reporter, and thus he had the right to correct it. The reporter must not embarrass his interviews by arguing on these points with him. The reporter should always help the interviewee (official or politician) and not to embarrass him.
Interview, main source of news
If we go through any newspaper of citypaper, including our own, we will find most of the news, whether national or international are based on interviews. These interviews, which are main source of news comes from various types of interviews, but each type has its own specialty. It may be classified as Personality interview, Casual interview, Telephonic interview, Interview in briefing ceremony, interview on telephone in emergent cases, and interview on whatsapp/email/facebook etc. Some of these interviews may be used for developing our news story and some other may be stored up for writing feature articles.
In personality interview, we fix a man for interview, who keeps importance in society in quite high. We telephone him and reveal our identity saying, “I am a reporter from such and such paper, and the paper has deputed me to know your opinion about the outcome of Bharat’s demand for total disarmament in the conference on CTBT. Will you give me sometime to have talks with you on this matter? Suppose he gives his assent and time is fixed, we should be thoroughly prepared with all the basic question about CTBT, nuclear countries like USA, UK. Why Bharat wants change in present resolution? Does ‘national security’ of our country demand to sign the treaty? Is not treaty just to prevent any new nuclear power from emerging? Is CTBT not to make the international community pay obeisance to overlordship of the nuclear powers and swear their own servitude to the nuclear five? etc.
These sorts of related questions should be fully prepared and drafted in the form of a questionnaire before we proceed to take this personal interview. We may ask him whether he would agree, if his name also published along with interview in order to give credence and veracity to the interview. Many of the reporters suffer from superiority complex. Many feel that because they have the priviledge of writing, they do not pay any respect to others-even to those whom they interview. But this is entirely wrong. A reporter must not be arrogant. He should always be polite and respectful and he will find that this trait of character will pay him rich divided in life.
There is another aspect of personality interviews. In this type of interview with a particular important person, a celebrity or may be just an ordinary man, he tries to find out what are his specialties. Suppose he find out that this common man, whom he is interviewing, tells him that he not only passed his M.E. in first class but holds a PhD also, but could not get employment; therefore, he has to do private consultancy business or serve on just Rs 50000/- for eight hours under a non-educated builder. In such interviews he has to bring forward those paradoxes of the society where technical education qualifications are at a discount in the employment market. May be his readers or politicians are not aware with such disquieting or alarming situation about the plight of educated technical youths.
If he is to interview great personality, who is known to everyone in the country, would he ask him and on what subject would be draw him into a conservation? In such an extra-ordinary type of interview he would put him questions which must be strikingly extraordinary or excitingly different and unusual. He has to think from before what might be those strikingly different questions.
(The author is a technocrat and an academician)