These are probably the two most common questions I hear when people learn I’ve quit my job as a TV journalist. I then usually get a look of utter incomprehension when I start babbling my standard reply. "Not really. Well, sometimes. Actually you know, it was just time to pull the plug: nine years, after all. I’m still in a transition period, trying to figure out what to do next. I miss the buzz sometimes, of course." I rattle on like anyone who tries to justify withdrawal symptoms.
These days, I can usually predict when someone is about to bring up the subject of my ex-boss, Rajdeep Sardesai, and the takeover of the channel by Reliance. To pre-empt that, I usually mutter something about taking time off and wanting a change of pace. You know what, I laugh and say, I’m enjoying the weekends off.
It’s true. After my nine-year stint, a significant portion of which was on the early morning shift, perhaps it’s understandable that for the first month or two, I could just not get enough sleep. All of a sudden I was able to have proper conversations, make proper plans. I was able to slow down.
Not so glamorous
I do miss the kick. Being on air when news breaks? I can’t explain it. You’re part of the zeitgeist, as someone put it to me years ago. It’s a beautiful feeling when all goes well. Many of us are news junkies by now, hardwired to yearn for and appreciate that news buzz.
So what in the world was I thinking by quitting? Well, first, my job wasn’t quite as glamorous as you’d think. TV news is a different ball-game from, say, TV serials, though quitting elicited so many gasps and shakes of the head, you’d think I’d turned my back on acting and stardom. Try waking up at 4 am for size. I routinely lost friends. Okay, not lost them entirely, but had them wondering for sure.
There’s also a feeling of dejection and disillusionment that has crept into TV news, and as long as this mood reigns supreme, I know there’s no chance of getting job satisfaction.
Anchoring the news is not something you can do with your mind switched off. Let no one tell you differently. You are not just on display; you are being judged every second. You can’t always be prepared for breaking news, so your credibility is on the line every second. A job in news TV demands all of you.
The outside world
Even for someone who has always known, or at least held on to, the distinction between people who like you for what job you have and those who like you for being yourself, let me just say that people are nicer to you when you’re on TV or when there’s a chance that you might bring them on TV. There’s a chance the spotlight might turn on them. It does happen. After all, this is something every reporter has done: milking his or her personal life and those of friends.
I would like to say my ego hasn’t taken a hit, but I suppose there’s no point lying. I have a regular-sized ego and a regular-sized hide so may be it does hurt once in a while. Have people changed? No. My circumstances have.
One upside is glorious. The PR calls have stopped. The emails now make me feel warm and fuzzy; that’s how rare they are.
People are less willing to cut you slack. It’s almost like you’re allowed to be a jerk if you’re on TV; why, it’s practically expected of you. Sometimes you can’t help it because you don’t have time to be polite when the adrenaline is coursing through your veins and the deadline pounding in your head. But you also get away with cancelling on people at the last minute for lesser reasons.
The nature of the beast
Serious journalists who are also news anchors are supposed to disown any notion that they are keen to be on air or that they enjoy being anchors ‒ even though no one finds it unseemly when print journalists get a kick out of their bylines. There are different rules for those on TV. Don’t get me started on looks and grooming.
Ultimately, I do understand why shock is the predominant reaction when I say I've quit. There’s massive exposure, at least at a national level. There are an amazing number of real-time responses. It’s pretty incredible to be able to meet and interview top personalities in different fields, to be able to chat with regular folk trying to surmount impossible challenges and to travel every once in a while.It's been an incredible journey, all told.
Am I totally done? Who knows? I might still be in denial. Or distracted ‒ for there's nothing like having a book come out and create its own sort of buzz.
Amrita Tripathi is a writer and freelance journalist. Her second novel The Sibius Knot is on sale now. You can tweet her @amritat or visit amritatripathi.com.