Media Talks Back: Alternative Content In The Mainstream Media
After working in television for close to five years, I left the medium with a vague feeling of disillusionment – disillusionment after witnessing first hand the inner workings of a mechanism that is both advertising and revenue driven, and as a result often sidelines products that don’t result in direct revenue for the channel. In my case, these ‘products’ were the alternative music and arts shows I produced that didn’t fare as well in TRP ratings as the makeover and food shows I hosted – and as a result, got dropped after one season (or sometimes less). Perhaps with maturity and experience, I would have found inventive ways to package this alternative content in a way that fit the parameters of the mainstream media – something that Radhika Bordia – Features Editor of NDTV – seems to understand. My conversation with her at this past IndiEarth XChange offered truly interesting insights into unique approaches that can enable alternative content to be included within the parameters of the mainstream media, in a way that can have the potential to generate revenue and still stay true to the integrity of content. “I do very strongly feel that this is a country where we need to get as much of the arts on air, in different ways, both by reporting on it, and also using the arts as a way to understand the sociology of a place,” Radhika begins. “For example our folk music, it’s a great journalistic tool – you can see caste unfold through music, gender issues unfold through music. Unfortunately space for this is very little in the mainstream media, so we’re constantly trying to see how to push this on mainstream news channels.”
Nirupama: What are some approaches you apply in order to create space for alternative arts content in the context of a medium like television?
Radhika: As space is shrinking it often doesn’t mean guaranteed slots for the arts, but we do try to peg events – take events, peg a story around that, look at things thematically – it isn’t always easy, but what we’ve managed to push through right now is one tiny little slot called Art Matters. It’s heavily rotated on the news wheel (always on the condition that there is no breaking news, and one of the first things to be axed if there is breaking news) but it seemed like a fairly big thing to be able to push it at a time when you don’t have any focused coverage of the arts on mainstream news channels.
Nirupama: What are possible solutions to this lack of focused arts coverage?
Radhika: I do think we need to look at more ways of creating these spaces, possibly even see whether people can sponsor programs like that, because news is an expensive thing to run – it is revenue driven, advertising driven. It is a tricky area in the world of sponsorship because as a journalist, it’s not the ideal situation, on the other hand – given the situation of news channels today – it’s a model that one needs to start seeing as a reality, and seeing how best one can incorporate that model while still ensuring both creative and ethical integrity for the journalist. But we are increasingly open to seeing if funding can be raised that can help subsidise programming on the arts.
Nirupama: What are the TRP ratings like for alternative programming and coverage of the arts on NDTV?
Radhika: Well NDTV has specifically said we are not making decisions based on TRP ratings – that is the purported claim – on the other hand, you do need advertising, you do need some level of viability. As journalists, for the longest time, I personally would protect myself from TRP ratings – I wouldn’t see this as something I needed to get into – I’m doing my work, I’m a journalist, this is an important story for the country – I’m putting it out. All of us wisened up to the economics of it all a little later. And now, at least with NDTV, TRPs are not being looked at. But even if TRPs are low for the arts, (and I’m sure they would not match coverage on Bollywood, or your prime time shows) – what’s interesting is the recall value. If I am remembered, for example, it is often for “We remember that story you did on that Rajasthani singer Rukma Bai”. There is that recall that exists, which makes me feel like we need to overcome this block of what we feel reporting on the arts will be (that it’s not wide viewership, that it’s not going to make for high TRPs) – even if that is true, we need to find a way we can keep it going.
Nirupama: From your perspective as a journalist, what value do you see in a space like the XChange, with members of the independent music, media and film industries coming together in the same creative space?
Radhika: As a journalist, it was interesting to be in this space to really get an idea of what’s happening in many of these forums, of art, dance and music, and what’s happening with the younger generation. I’ve also seen people actually connect – I was speaking to someone who curates a film festival in Borneo, and he was listening to some of the musicians here, and actually saying to them ‘would you be interested in our festival’ – and that at the end of the day is a phenomenal thing for an exchange program to achieve, to connect so many of these energies in a way that leads to a fruitful collaboration of whatever type possible. For me, it makes me even more determined to see how we can continue to push the arts, maybe look at some of these people and see whether they’d be interested in helping raise a corpus of funds, on the mainstream channels. I’ve also found the quality of what’s showcased is exciting – both in terms of diversity, and quality of the artists. But I’m a journalist, so forgive me but I’m sure in enough time I’ll come up with something negative as well [both laugh].
Nirupama: Have you forged any interesting collaborations while here?
Radhika: Someone who is organising a festival in Borneo said he might be able to have us come and feature that, which is interesting because South East Asian music is something India is not exposed to, even though we are part of the same continent!
Nirupama: Finally – have there been any particularly memorable moments of inspiration? Films you saw, musicians who performed?
Radhika: Well on a very personal note, it was extremely exciting to see Maya [Kamaty] perform! Because ten years ago we did a film on Reunion Island, and Ziskakan was one of the bands we were tracking – and to see her come and perform, it was a moment of sheer love. More than one particular moment, it’s been a reaffirmation of the fact that reporting on the arts is important. The demographics of this festival are very interesting – I mean you have electronica, you have Maloya, you have Vinayakram, but you also have many people at different stages of having been involved with the arts in one way or the other. That one moment of inspiration would be tough to pinpoint – but by and large, it’s been several moments of seeing various dots connect, and new ideas emerge.