How to Cover the Sridevi Death: A Guide by Indian TV Channels


How to Cover the Sridevi Death: A Guide by Indian TV Channels

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

It can’t be easy working at an Indian news channel. There’s cut-throat competition, the public’s attention span verges around… uh, what were we talking about again?, and there is the grind of the 24-hour news cycle to put up with. Tack on the need to keep your corporate sponsors and advertisers happy, and the ease with which politicians violate press freedoms, and you wonder why anyone would want to be a TV journalist. But then, something big happens – a superstar like Sridevi passes away suddenly – and it all seems worth it again.

Judging by the frenzy with which English and regional language news channels have descended onto the story of Sridevi’s death, it’s fair to assume that the passing of a celebrity is like Christmas Day for Indian TV news. Tis the season to be insensitive. It is an occasion to drop all restraint and forget good taste by going all out on the sensationalism.

Here’s a step-by-step guide for aspiring TV journalists on how to craft your Pulitzer-winning story.

Real issues… whatever

Here’s a simple rule for journalists in 2018. KISS… Keep It Sensational, stupid. Nobody cares about real news unless it involves a famous actor, so don’t bother with stories about adivasis being lynched or Supreme Court judges dying mysterious deaths. Save your investigative powers for when you really need them, i.e., when you need to recreate someone’s final 15 minutes in a hotel bathroom.

Sources are for suckers

It doesn’t matter if an official investigation is underway. Journalists are the modern-day detectives, and they are the new-age Sherlock Holmes. The information most readily available – in most cases on social media or on WhatsApp – is enough to spin into a “sansani” story. A person might have died of cardiac arrest or drowned in a bathtub, don’t bother waiting for a medical account. Always remember, where there’s a rumour, there’s a report.

Turn your broken heart into art

In case there are no pictures to accompany your “Mega Exclusive”, do not panic. Put the graphics department to good use to create a tacky and garish representative image which appears like the set of a B-grade Bollywood film. Go the extra mile and replace your new anchors’ regular chroma backdrop with a mood-setting bathroom interior, if you want to really transport your viewers to heart of the action. And if you want to be a cut above the rest, have your correspondent report from inside a bathtub.

Sound bytes that create a lot of noise

Remember, there is a legion of B- and C-level actors who are waiting to extend their 15 minutes of fame by hopping on to a hot topic. Give all your old and inconsequential contacts a call, and see if you can get them on screen to offer a banal and pointless soundbyte on their more famous colleague’s passing. And if you can’t get anyone else, there’s always that human equivalent of a garbage recycler Subramanian Swamy.

When in doubt, allege murder

If you’ve tried all of the above steps, but the ratings still don’t come, fall back on the trusty “foul play” angle. Hint, nudge, wink, and do everything but scream, “I’m doing this for the TRPs” while trying to raise suspicion about the cause of death. Everyone loves a ripping good whodunit.

If you can turn into a detective, there is no stopping you from becoming a conspiracy theorist. “How could a trained dancer slip in a bathtub?” “Did her cosmetic surgery affect her health?” “Did she OD on pills or drugs?”

That’s as fool-proof a plan as you’ll ever get for covering a celebrity death with the style and class we’ve come to expect from our broadcasting fraternity. Because TRPs ki liye kuch bhi karega. Perhaps even consider using these methods to cover real issues, if you plan to go that way. Here are some headlines to get you started.

“Butter Chicken or Biryani? The Last Meal of Judge Loya”

“Is Jewel Thief NiMo’s Favourite Film?”

Can “alcohol in the blood” solely explain Sridevi losing consciousness and falling to her death?  

Oops. The last one was a real headline.