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In this interview, Vinayashree Jagadeesh shares her experience as a crime reporter. Is it difficult for a woman to be on the crime scene? Hear it all from her.
In the BriefCase series, we meet women at work in different fields, different roles, and get a peek into their lives. With more women joining (or aspiring to) join the paid workforce, we live in exciting times, and this is an attempt to chronicle those times, one life at a time.
Vinayashree Jagadeesh is a 25-year-old reporter, who works for a reputed English daily. She currently lives in Chennai and loves to watch movies, play netball and badminton. She also enjoys reading and spending time with children. She has previously worked as a crime reporter and is currently working as an education reporter. She loves socialising and is passionate about her job.
In a telephonic interview with me, she shared some of her experiences as a crime reporter and her views on the field of journalism. Here are some excerpts.
Were you always attracted by the field of journalism? Why did you choose this field?
Vinayashree Jagadeesh: Yes, I first developed an interest for journalism in High School and English was one of my favourite subjects. I maintained a diary and cultivated the habit of writing. My friends and I would also conduct mock interviews of our classmates, which was really fun, since I enjoy interacting with people. When I studied journalism during my UG and PG years, I thoroughly enjoyed the subject. I was clear that I didn’t want to start off my career in a job that would make me sit behind a desk all day. I had earlier imagined myself working in broadcast but after my post-graduation, I ended up working in print.
How did everyone around you respond when you choose to become a reporter?
Vinayashree Jagadeesh: Well, my family were fine with it, but there are still many people who advise me to take a 9 to 5 job, so that I get more time in the ‘regular socialising hours.’ As a print journalist, the peak time is in the evening be it filing of copies or edit meetings. So naturally, the day ends late. However, it depends on the work there is. Sometimes it could be 7 pm or sometimes it could be 11 pm.
Were you assigned to crime reporting, or did you choose it?
Vinayashree Jagadeesh: I was assigned to cover crime right after I was recruited, as the media organisation I was working for was in need of a crime reporter. Crime reporting helped me kickstart my career and gave me the foundation I needed. Reporting needs to be very accurate and it helped me pay attention to every minor detail.
Crime reporting is linked to almost every other beat there is. Issues such as child labour, medical fraud, education scams or civic issues among many others get intertwined with crime in one way or another. So the beat serves as a good training ground for cub reporters.
Describe your role as a crime journalist.
Vinayashree Jagadeesh: Well, crime is spontaneous. So I had to be there at the scene of the crime at that moment, just after the news breaks. Being on the spot at the right time is important. My job involved interviewing the police, victims of the crime, their family and friends and even eye-witnesses. When people think of crime, I don’t think they associate it with sensitivity. But, when I went to a crime scene and dealt with those affected by a crime, sensitivity was one of the most important qualities. I needed to ask difficult questions in a tactful manner. Because, on one side of crime is the heinous nature of it, on the other side is loss and pain of the victims and their families. Many such victims have vented out their feelings to me. The magnitude of a crime can be understood in a deeper sense when you see those affected by it.
Once the data is gathered, however, I had to make sure to cross verify certain details and quotes before releasing the story.
Now that you are working as an education reporter, do you find it vapid? Or are you more relaxed?
Vinayashree Jagadeesh: No, not really. As I stated earlier, crime can happen at any moment. Perhaps, education as a beat is more organised as on most days, I can pretty much tell how the day might go unlike crime. Maybe I get more time to do my homework and familiarise myself on a particular issue beforehand comparatively. Since a number of crimes can break at any moment and it is unpredictable, there can be high pressure to meet the deadline. With any beat, there can high pressure days. If I have to compare it with crime, education is more seasonal as the pressure may be more during certain months or the examination time. One way or another, there is enough work to do.
What is the most exciting part of crime reporting?
Vinayashree Jagadeesh: The adrenaline rush – when you have to be there on the spot, minutes after a crime happens in any part of the city. Crime reporting emotionally hardened me in some ways after witnessing numerous incidents. I saw gruesome sights and injured victims and spent a lot of time interviewing them in hospitals.
What are the most common misconceptions people have about your field?
Vinayashree Jagadeesh: With regard to crime reporting, everyone believes that it’s dangerous for girls. That’s not the case at all. I noticed that there were very few female crime reporters when I started. But one of the plus points of being one of the few is that you are easily remembered by many, including officials. Plus, you get acquainted with various police sources which can only be useful.
Overall, journalism is so glamourized in the media, especially in movies but it’s not exactly the way it is shown on TV. It’s exciting and challenging in various aspects definitely, but there is a lot of hard work that goes behind a byline or a PTC.
If you had to change one thing in your field, what would it be?
Vinayashree Jagadeesh: If you look at most surveys, journalism always figures in the ‘most stressful’ and ‘underpaid’ job categories. Overworked and underpaid is a common complaint across newsrooms.
What are the challenges you faced as a female crime reporter?
Vinayashree Jagadeesh: I wouldn’t exactly call them challenges. But there have been instances where officials and even the general public altered their behaviour with me because I am a woman. There have been times when I was not considered seriously by certain people purely because their outlook was such. But when I behaved in a manner that showed them I meant business, they took me seriously. This could happen in any profession. There will always be a certain category of people who assume things about women, but it also depends on the woman to prove them wrong. The other obvious challenge would be to meet deadlines. When I started, I was a rather slow writer, but I picked up the pace over time.
On an informal note, access to food and water while out on reporting could be another kind of challenge for reporters! Instead of working in exhaustion or hunger, I would suggest carrying some energy bars along.
Do you have any tips for young female reporters and writers?
Vinayashree Jagadeesh: The way you behave as a reporter and more importantly a woman determines how others treat you. Once you meet more people, you will learn how to interact and deal with people from different arenas.
If you aspire to be a writer, work on writing on topics you are interested in and understand your strengths and weaknesses in writing. Read a lot more than you write (though it’s very hard!) – it can influence your style of writing and help you cultivate different styles as well, apart from improving your vocabulary. Depending on your interest, you can choose to write for different media.
Choose your field based on your interest or passion – magazines, radio, television, online media – and try to find out what you are good at. It will take a few years though! Internships are a great way to help you understand how a newsroom works.
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For International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women, let's look at how we 'accept' mothers who avenge violence against their kids, but not wives who fight back.
The silver screen is replete with depictions of male rage and men engaging in violence, but when women engage in violence, even when it is reactionary violence, it doesn’t sit right with us. We allow mothers (as portrayed in Sridevi’s Mom and Raveena Tandon’s Maatr) to avenge their daughters and resort to violence when all else fails, but when the abuser is an intimate partner, the rules appear to be different.
Depictions of female rage on screen garner mixed reactions. We root for protagonists and films we agree with like Mom or Maatr, but there are also films like Darlings which drew flak for its depictions of reactionary violence.
This begs the question, which women on screen are allowed to fight back and why do we root for some of these characters while refusing to see where others come from?
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“My daughter needs a husband who listens to her. He should leave his family to stay with her after marriage. He should be well-off and not let her do chores.”
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