Sandeep Sahu

Come election time - and the 'stars' will descend from the sky to terra firma !!

In nearly four decades of being in the profession, I haven't been able to figure out one thing: why is it that media houses of all hues parachute their 'star' reporters to the ground during election time? It's equally true of 'national' and 'state' media houses. The local reporter would slog day in and day out, the whole year round. But just when it is time to be in the spotlight, s/he would have the mortification of watching helplessly as the 'star' reporter steals the limelight.

The local reporter would do everything for his 'star' guest - arranging accommodation, transport and food; looking after every little need of the 'VIP' guest, from arranging photographs and videos to fixing interviews with the relevant people; from taking the ‘star’ guest sightseeing to buying a local SIM card (in case the descending reporter’s smart phone doesn’t work in the area). In some extreme cases, the hapless reporter would also have to fix sundry other problems like getting a broken heel of the shoes repaired or fetching the particular brand of cigarette or beverage his/her VIP guest fancies. Worse still, s/he would also have to provide all background information and insight and explain the local political equation for the ‘story’. S/he would have to be by the side of the guest for the entire duration of the latter’s stay, forgetting all family commitments. All this when the local reporter could have done a much better job of it – and in far less time. But the poor reporter has to bear all this with a grin, lest the bosses at the headquarters take offence.

Elections, however, are not the only time when the local reporter has to play the perfect host to the ‘star’ reporter. Any major happening in his/her area – a major accident, a cyclone or a flood or any other event that merits prime time/front page coverage – will see his/her thunder – and byline – being stolen away by the ‘star’.

This columnist doesn’t really know who put this grossly unfair system in place and why. Apart from the sheer impropriety and injustice involved, it also makes little financial sense, especially in these times of all-round cost-cutting. After all, the media house has to spend a small fortune on air fare (if it is a ‘national’ media house), taxi (if it’s local), hotel accommodation, food and sundry other expenses that the ‘star’ has to incur during the trip. Apart from missing out on a byline, the local reporter also gets zilch for all the services he renders to the ‘star’ guest. The sheer inequality of the system is extremely galling. More often than not, the local reporter has to wait at the airport, placard in hand, for the arriving guest (if it’s a ‘national’ media house) or at the particular location in the town s/he has sent on WhatsApp in case of a state level media house.

If the ‘star’ reporter is from the same media outlet as the local reporter, it is still understandable. But there are times when one has to play host to a senior journalist from another media house out of decency and an inability to say ‘No’. And this is when things get really exasperating. Some ‘stars’ are a little considerate and limit their dependence on the local reporter to the bare minimum. They would even offer a small amount for all the services the local reporter renders. But there are others who think it is their divine right to piggyback on the local reporter – and the bounden duty of the latter to serve them - for as long as they stay in the area.

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This columnist has been on both sides of this class divide – hosting star reporters and being hosted by others. But he has never quite been able to reconcile to this grossly unfair and unequal system that puts the local reporter at a great disadvantage. The sooner it is dismantled, the better it is for everyone, including the media houses that have perpetuated this system.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)