Features Editor Costas Mourselas talks to beautiful English television presenter and journalist Anita Rani about her career as a journalist, current affairs, travelling and the impact of technology on traditional journalism.
Journalism has changed drastically over the past ten years. Anyone in the industry will tell you that. Smartphone technology has rapidly evolved, allowing anyone to be a witness, a reporter, an interviewer and a writer. People are gradually starting to move online to satisfy their hunger for news, opinion pieces and the like.
Naturally, traditional forms of journalism like print publications and TV stations have been hit hard, with circulation of newspapers halving in the past five years. So it’s rare to find a traditional journalist who sees this change as a positive phenomenon and even rarer to find a journalist who wholeheartedly embraces it.
Award winning presenter Anita Rani is the latter form of journalist. A veteran of the field, Mrs Rani has presented countless shows including ‘The State we’re in’, a satire show, ‘Desi DNA’ a program covering British-Asian art and culture and even ‘Four Rooms’, a show in which members of the public try to sell their valuables to one of four specialist dealers.
I started off with a softball question to ease her into the interview; and to delude myself into thinking that it was her and not me that needed the warm up.
I cited the various types of journalism she had engaged in and asked her which one she enjoyed the most.
She started off by correcting me.
‘People think I do different types of journalism because the types of programmes I do are so varied. But I would say it is essentially all the same. I am talking to people and communicating what they have to say. Whether I’m in the middle of the Philippines or travelling across Russia or in the North of England or Bristol, it’s all the same really.’
Right, rookie mistake Costas.
‘But in terms of the programs I do, I enjoy all of them! Like Countryfile which I’ve just joined, is brilliant because I get to go out into the countryside and get out of London every week. But going to places like Papua New Guinea, that was a highlight for me. ‘
Not the juiciest of answers but certainly not the most stimulating of questions. I decided to ramp things up a bit.
Mentioning the various parts of the world she had travelled to, I asked how important travelling is to understanding he world around us.
‘I guess it is and it isn’t. I think we are very privileged because we live in this amazing country which is economically stable. For young people it’s almost a rite of passage to get on a plane and start travelling. And I know lots of young people do that and it’s amazing.’
‘But what I always say to people, because I have lots of young relatives through my husband; who live in London and have never been to the north of the country, our own country, Britain, and yet are perfectly happy to jump on a flight to Thailand, sit on a beach for two weeks, drink, throw up and come home.’
‘I think it depends on what you’re getting from your experience. You can learn equally as much about life by travelling your own country and meeting people within Britain, because there are people from all over the world. But of course there is value in travelling the world, it’s amazing. But it’s a weighty privilege, I think you have a duty to understand the country if you’re gonna go to it.’
A fascinating answer and one that I wasn’t expecting. The cult of the ‘Gap yahh’ suffered a heavy blow that day. I cited her time as a presenter for a satire show called ‘The State we’re in’ back in 2003.
‘Wow, God, you have been doing your research.’
I then asked her (in light of the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks) when she thought satire went too far.
‘I believe in the freedom of speech obviously, and I believe anyone has the right to say whatever they want to. You have a right to be offended, definitely, but you don’t have a right to stop that person from expressing it. I think satire is bloody vital. We have a history of great satire. Certainly in television; we’ve got spitting image, a fantastic satirical TV show we had in Britain which was just puppets taking the piss of the leaders of our country. What better way is there, to question power, politics and religion than through comedy?’
Hear hear, Mrs Rani. I have a feeling she would love the fine folks at The Lemon Press.
I pressed her on when she thought satire crossed the line of acceptability.
‘If it’s anti-Semitic, then of course that’s horrific. If it’s out and out racism then that’s different. These are things that are protected in law. But clever satire, questioning the state of our country; if we didn’t have that, I’d be absolutely terrified.’
I changed the tone of the interview and asked her what she thought about the prevalence of unpaid positions in newspapers for aspiring journalists.
‘I think it’s a balance. If you’re going to have someone work for you for a couple of weeks, maybe a month; this is the reality of the industry we have. But this is work experience, you’re getting something because you’ll be able to put it on your CV, we get something and I always say if you have a bloody good run as a workee, you’ll probably get a job, if you’re good. If you start getting people to sign contracts and you’re there for quite a lengthy period of time, three or six months, then we need to start looking into getting something paid for, whether it be travel or food.’
‘I worked for nothing!’ she exclaimed. ‘I had no money! I lived of packets of noodles!’
I laughed nervously. Tough it up Costa, you’ll get something. One day. Maybe.
In light of the rapidly declining readership of traditional newspapers, I asked her about how the internet had impacted traditional journalism and whether or not there was still room for print publications.
‘Yes absolutely, I am a big fan of print journalism. I love buying the newspaper on the weekend. Obviously things are changing rapidly and there is this generation who are involved in the internet. In fact I buy the newspaper and magazines because I travel on the train and love having magazines and books to read. But I will still, first thing in the morning, go on twitter and that is my instant way of getting my news in the morning.’
‘Often people are tweeting the big stories and it’s a brilliant way of getting news because you’re no longer restricted to one publication. You’re getting things from The Economist, you’re getting things from The Times of India you’re getting things from wherever in the world. So now we can consume news in a multitude of ways. But I definitely think there’s a place for print media. I’m not a fortune teller, I can’t tell what things will look like in the future, but certainly now, there is still a place for print media.’
Certainly an optimistic view of the future; I can’t say I am quite as hopeful.
Following up on that question, I asked whether or not she thought that people were forgoing in depth editorial pieces and investigations for bite sized updates in the form of tweets or blog posts.
‘I don’t think it is dying. I think there will always be the people who will read the in depth pieces. I gather from your question you must be one of those intelligent cerebral people that get involved.’
I must have come off as more self important than usual.
‘Those people have always existed and will always exist. But I think there have been plenty of people, who have from the beginning of time, who will just consume what they want to consume and not take it any further. That’s just the human race isn’t it?.’
‘But I think the opposite. I’m going to take a positive spin on what you’re saying. I think that now, with things like twitter and instant access to loads of different news stories, I think people who traditionally wouldn’t have paid attention to certain news stories now will read about something that they might not have bothered about before. People might follow Russell Brand because they think he is hilarious. But all of a sudden, they’re thinking about politics. I think things are better now.’
I have always held the view that social media have made us more politically apathetic to before, tempting us with clicktivism and armchair activism. The view that we follow public figures for their wit and humour and stay for their political insightfulness is an interesting point indeed. Perhaps we truly are a far more politically conscious society that we were before the internet.
To close off the interview, I decided to quote a friend of mine from the BBC who told me that ‘Journalism is a dying industry and to stay as far away from it as possible’. I asked her if she agreed with the comment and what advice she had for would be journalists.
‘I’m not that cynical! Maybe this journalist has been around for a long time. Go for it! Jesus! Whatever you want to do! Especially journalism!’
Her voice became increasingly animated. This particular comment must have hit close to home.
‘Maybe I’m totally biased because it’s my industry and I work in television and I’m in the business of telling stories, but goodness me, what a brilliant industry to be in! You can tell peoples stories and communicate them to the world, open people’s eyes to what’s happening all over the world, whether it is the street next to them or whether it’s international debates; whatever it is. If you want to be a journalist there’s never been a better time because you can just get online and talk about it. Absolutely go for it!’
And there you have it. Anita Rani, presenter, journalist, optimist and lover of both the printed and electronic word. I had worried that conducting the interview on the phone would somehow dilute the conversation; weaken the connection between interviewer and interviewee.
It didn’t, at least not noticeably. But considering Anita Rani’s optimistic view of the future of journalism in light of how the internet and technology have changed the field, perhaps it is all the more appropriate that the interview was conducted over the phone, recorded with my laptop and uploaded onto a website to be enjoyed by the world.