If You Were To Anchor The News, Whom Would You Be?
5 anchoring archetypes I have encountered + A checklist & recommendations from NWMI.
From 2004 to 2009—a period of six years—I anchored the news every day. First at Headlines Today (now India Today) and later at CNN-IBN (now CNN-News 18). I did three bulletins a day, but towards the later half of 2008 and 2009, I started doing discussion shows as well.
From 2010 to 2014, I did the occasional bulletin, preferring instead to work behind the scenes on the ‘desk’. This was because I had developed a distaste for the kind of anchoring that was expected of me, and if I’m being honest, partly because I was losing hair.
In 2014, I left TV news for good, and for the past eight years I have had plenty of time to think about my time under the glare of the studio lights.
All of this is to say that when the Network for Women in Media, India (NWMI) asked me to comment on how TV anchoring has turned into a shrill and toxic performance, I was ready to speak. This was at their December conference titled, Interrogating Masculinities in the Media.
You might ask, what’s the connection between TV anchoring and masculinity? Thought it might not be obvious, the current grammar of TV news delivery is rooted in a particular type of masculinity: aggressive, blunt, loud, in-your-face and intolerant of ambiguity. It’s macho and driven by testosterone. The easiest way to thrive in this atmosphere is to adopt such a persona. Even if you’re a female anchor.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other models of anchoring to emulate. When asked to speak of my experience, I thought it would be interesting to see how many archetypes or models of anchoring I could think of, and how they connect to masculinity.
I presented these archetypes at the conference. They were also published [pdf] in the media monitoring report released by NWMI. Here’s a slightly improved version.
1. 'Breathless reporter' archetype
Here, the anchor's persona is modeled on that of a reporter with the latest facts. The body language is crisp and lines are delivered in a no-nonsense style. The challenge for the would-be anchor is that in order to be successful in this style, one actually needs khabar or news, which can be hard to come by unless the anchor is also a reporter.
While the term breathless reporter is a caricature, one person to have channeled this archetype with substance is Barkha Dutt.
Difficulty level: Easy to imitate style-wise, but difficult to pull off consistently, unless one has actual stuff to say.
Potential for aggression: Medium. This style doesn’t necessarily lend itself to aggression, but it obviously depends on the person.
2. 'Angry young man' archetype
Anger is the probably the easiest emotion to tap into, because there are so many cultural cues to do so in the world of TV and films. For this reason, it’s easy to see many anchors whipping themselves into a self-righteous fury.
The most famous proponent of this style is Arnab Goswami.
Difficulty level: Easy, which is why droves of people settle into this archetype.
Potential for aggression: High, whether the anchor is a man or a woman.
3. Narada archetype
Narada is a much-loved character from the epics. He is a traveling musician who carries news and plants ideas in people's minds. An aspiring anchor can carry off the Narada archetype so long as they have oodles of charm and substance.
This archetype can be seen in the work of Rajdeep Sardesai (when he's not in T20 cricket mode). He is one of a few who can concede a point with grace. (Disclaimer: Rajdeep is a former boss of mine.)
Difficulty level: Difficult, but one can train oneself.
Potential for aggression: Low. But an anchor can easily switch from the Narada archetype to the angry young man archetype.
4. Bhishmapitamaha archetype
Bhishma is a complex figure in the Mahabharata, but can easily be caricatured as a 'wise old man'. The anchor who channels this archetype can come across as a weary know-it-all. If not self-aware, the anchor can come across as patronising and condescending.
This archetype can be seen in the work of Ravish Kumar.
Difficulty level: Easy to imitate at a superficial level.
Potential for aggression: Low.
5. 'Mr. Reasonable' archetype.
Perhaps a reaction to the 'angry young man' epidemic in TV news. This archetype reminds us of the pre-aggression era in TV news, and anchors come across as calm, neutral and reasonable.
Difficulty level: Medium.
Potential for aggression: Low.
It’s worth pointing out two things.
One, it takes years for an anchor to find their voice, refine it, and improve upon it. Because of the seductions of the ‘angry young man’ archetype, many people don’t develop beyond it at all. Or, as in Arnab Goswami’s case, it may be a deliberate choice by an anchor who has years of experience in channeling other types.
Two, aggression isn’t the only marker of performative masculinity. It is possible to be a ‘Mr. Reasonable’ on air and still utter toxic B.S.
What kind of anchor are you? A checklist
The resulting report on the media monitoring project by NWMI has a checklist for anchors as well as recommendations.
Do you feel a constant urge to tell your panellists that they are wrong, totally wrong, completely wrong?
Do you ask your panellists questions, but interrupt them after the first two words?
Are you immediately offended on behalf of every institution of power in the country - the government, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the neighbourhood uncle?
Do you ask rude and loaded questions to put panellists on the spot?
Do you never notice that your panels are all manels and/or savarna?
Do your friends sometimes say, you have changed a lot since you start working in TV?
Recommendations from NWMI:
Allow panellists to make their points.
Respectfully listen to panellists even if their views differ from yours/the channel.
Do not instigate panellists into pointless arguments.
Intervene when panellists attack each other.
Create conditions for healthy, non-boring debate.
Remember: it's not your job to defend the ruling party or
Be considerate when dealing with survivors of crimes and/or
their loved ones.
Construct your panels for a diversity of views and dissenting
Clench your fist when you feel the old urge to bang that