The notice outside a room with dull pink wall screen says ‘To avoid merger of colours with the set, news presenters are requested not to wear shades of red.' Inside the room, a dozen cameras gaze from above, and studio lights illuminate one person who for the viewer is the ‘face of the news' – the calm and confident news presenter.
But there is much that goes on in the background. “It was one ‘Aadi vellikizhamai' when I had gone to the studio wearing a bright silk sari and we received the news of almost ninety children charred in a fire in a school in Kumbakonam,” recalled Aruna Ramesh, a Tamil news reader for the nearly 18 years. “I felt helpless as the visuals floated in but the profession demands you to speak with minimal emotions, lest you influence the viewer, she says. Announcing the news of Operation Vijay after the Kargil war, on the other hand, was a moment when she remembers feeling extremely relieved.
Known for their clarity of news delivery and screen presence, news presenters may be experts on the ‘big picture' who simplify the story for the viewer. But many of them say the calling is becoming more professional leaving many a good thing behind.
With the growth of private news channels, there are more applicants. “In the nineties, there used to be four to five people selected out of 3,000-odd applicants,” says Indumathy Bhaskaran, a news presenter for 18 years with Doordarshan. There used to be diction tests, audio quality tests and script reading sessions but these days channels hire people and then train them, so there are major lapses in their Tamil pronunciation, she adds. Many news presenters experience a growing disconnect with the viewers, especially with the surge in anchors. “When I started out, I had people who would come to meet me from distant towns, besides writing letters of appreciation and criticism,” says Ms. Bhaskaran.
Usually employed on contract for ten to fifteen days a month, they are paid Rs.800 – Rs.1,000 for a bulletin. Hence, most of them of take up other jobs to supplement their earnings. While Tamil news presenters are paid the same as their English counterparts, they have to sit for more bulletins to earn the amount. Live news bulletins are always a challenge, especially during the nights when there are fewer people to monitor, says J.N. Bargavi, an English news presenter with Doordarshan.
Confidence in front of the camera, an impressive voice and the right diction are important pre-requisites, says Malaiappan, a Tamil news presenter with a private channel. While many of them say coming to the studio an hour before the bulletin, and reading the script once is sufficient , Srirama Narayanan, a Tamil presenter with Doordarshan, says an extra hour of work helps putting life into the news delivery.
For Shobana Ravi, one of the longest-serving and popular Tamil news anchors, the best take away from the profession was the virtue of learning to be at her best every single day. “Every language has a beauty of it own, and you need to tap into it as you speak ,” she says.
And not everything is serious in this profession and presenters have their own share of embarrassing moments. “Sometimes, seconds after the news, the presenter remains on the frame, or the camera starts focusing on the presenter while she is adjusting her hair or micro phone,” says Ms Bhaskaran. “We just give sheepish grins and get past the moment then,” she adds.