Sunetra Choudhury is an anchor at NDTV 24×7. She started her career with The Indian Express, moved to Star News (ABP News) in 2002 and to NDTV in 2003. She is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Mass Communication.
In this interview with acadman.in she talked about her early days, working with the three media houses, her book, among several other things.
Please tell us a bit about your early life, your school education and your aspirations at that point of time?
I am the daughter of a government officer who spent a lot of time in Delhi but was also sent abroad. That meant a wide range of experiences, meeting all kinds of people that influenced me. My parents wanted me to be in the government perhaps but I knew by 14, I wanted to be a journalist. I used to love Oprah Winfrey so I didn’t know how I could be an Indian chat show host but I knew that I could definitely be a journalist.
How was your college life? What was your subject? Were you sure that you want to be a journalist?
College was a bit unsure really. I did English literature, again for the love of journalism and books and writing. But my biggest regret is that I didn’t do something which was more beneficial to my career like history or political science. I would have the read the literature out of love in any case but history would have really helped me do focussed reading. But I guess I chose Literature because it came easy to me and I just wanted to do something I enjoyed.
How motivated you to pursue a career in journalism?
As I said, I knew very early on that I was going to be a journalist. My thinking was- which other job was going to pay me for going and meeting people, trying out experiences and writing about it!
Your first job was at Indian Express? How did you get there?
I was an intern at Hindustan Times and during the 3-week internship I got lots of bylines and even one on Page 1. So I confidently went to ask editor Bharat Bhushan for a job. At that time, things were quite staid, so Bharat Bhushan said to me- `You don’t have any experience.’ I was really hurt at what I thought was an unfair system. So I took the phone book out (there wasn’t accessible internet in 1999) and called all the editors. Somehow, I still don’t know how, Shekhar Gupta answered the landline. He asked me to call Raj Kamal Jha. I did, and a test later, I was hired as a trainee. I also got a job as an assitant producer to TVI. But a family friend knew Coomi Kapoor who advised Indian Express as the better option. Do you know that I accepted the job without knowing how much they were going to pay me? It was a grand 6000 rupees.
Do you recall any memorable incident from that time?
So many. It was a real adventure. I remember my first real front page scoop. It was about a CSIR scientist moving in with another married scientist, causing MM Joshi the minister to order a fact finding committee. A sex scandal which was appreciated for the kind of restraint I showed in my reporting. Then there was one right after Kargil war- about the government holding backchannel talks with Pakistan. I was a trainee but the BBC called asking for me to be on their show- you get that exclusive and you are hooked for life!
Please tell us about some of your stories which had made a huge impact or which was most difficult to report?
I have been working for 16 years so there are so many stories to tell. I think the most difficult are the ones where the people are distrustful of the media. In the recent past, that’s been the Kashmir floods. There the locals were at the same time antagonistic towards the media, they attacked them when we went to speak to them and yet how could you not go and tell the story of the widespread devastation.
You have worked with Indian Express, ABP News and NDTV. Would you like to compare the work culture and work environment at the three media houses?
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The print culture is lovely actually. You have enough time, if you like, to mull over your opening lines, to make it a sparkling copy even though the digital age means deadlines are not as relaxed as they once were. But, personally, I love the challenge of telling a complex story with the immediacy that television commands.
What are the major differences between Hindi and English journalism?
Nothing really except perhaps a work culture. I found the particular Hindi newsroom I worked in still quite patriarchal where men decided everything. In Indian Express and NDTV, there are more women in decision making positions and you don’t feel the gender divide.
Which skills do you think are required to become a successful journalist in Electronic Media?
Patience and persistence and an open mind.
Being a woman, what kind of challenges did you have to face in your career?
Nothing that women in other fields don’t face. Patriarchal attitudes are everywhere but fortunately, the media has abundance of women so we don’t take things lying down.
How are your experiences at NDTV so far?
I have been here for 14 years and not moved which speaks for itself, wouldn’t you say?
What made you write Behind Bars?
I met someone which led me to the story. It kept growing, till it became a book.
Should interns be paid or not?
I think they should definitely be paid conveyance and it should be time-bound after which they should be considered for jobs.
Which 5 people interview you would like to do if given a chance?
Arundhati Roy, Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee and Preet Bharara.
What would be your message for students of journalism?
Read a lot, read good journalism as that’s the only way to learn to do good journalism.
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