Zakka Jacob dedicates his big ATA win to mentor Radhakrishnan Nair

With the latest feat, Jacob has become the only Indian news presenter to have won the Asian Television Awards twice. He first won it in 2016

ZakaJaccob

At the recently held Asian Television Awards (ATA) in Malaysia, Zakka Jacob, Editor-Output, CNN-News 18, was given the Best News Presenter Award for his show Face Off@9. With this feat, Jacob has become the only Indian news presenter to have won this award twice. He first won it in 2016.

We spoke to Jacob about this big win and about the channel’s strategy for the upcoming general elections. 

Excerpts:

With a second win at the Asia Television Awards, you have become the only Indian journalist to achieve this feat. What does this win mean to you?

In 2016, I had no clue that I have won. In 2018, I knew that I had been nominated. I and Kishore Ajwani, my colleague at the Hindi channel, were nominated in the Best News Presenter category and we decided to go. Also, it was for the first time that they moved their awards from Singapore to Malaysia.

This time I thought since I have already won it in 2016, I will not get it a second time. Apparently, no Indian anchor has ever won this award for the second time. But I did not know this at that time. So I just went for the fun of it, and lucky for me, I won this award.

It is special this time because Radhakrishnan Nair, who was our Managing Editor, passed away last year after a kidney transplant. He was very special for all of us in the newsroom; he was very special to me as well, so I had to dedicate this award to him.

It was only when I came back and spoke to my Chief Executive Producer, I came to know that I am the only Indian anchor who has won this award twice. So the second win has been really special.

When we look at TV news today, it is all about shouting matches and highly polarised narratives; do you see this changing in the coming time?

I don't think it will change in the next 3-4 months because of the elections. But people are calling us and saying that we have done a great job with shows on issues like farmer crisis, petrol and diesel price, water crisis and pollution in Delhi, etc. So issues that have resonance with people and affect their daily lives are getting a lot more traction.  The political stuff keeps happening and I think people have come to expect that given that India is a big noisy democracy, there will always be slanging matches. But episodes that people are talking about and people are sharing on social media are non-political.

This year is no less than a festival for news channels given the upcoming general elections. How are you building your strategy around this big news event of 2019?

Look, election is a great time for any media organisation, particularly for TV news channels because it's made for television. Television also gets a lot of advertising during this time, so it is a very important period for us.

What we tried out in the recently concluded assembly elections was to introduce a couple of new election tools, one of which was called the magic wall. Basically, what we have is a giant map of India with all 543 constituencies. You can click on any one of the constituencies, and it pops up and shows who won in 2014, who won in 2009, who won in 2004, who are the contestants right now and what are the big factors in that particular constituency. It is a very powerful elections analytical tool.

We are hoping to scale that up for the general elections. The other thing that we used is something we call ElexA-- elections meet analytics.  Through this, we were able to narrow down on a number of factors, and all this was well received by the public. We are really looking forward to 2019. I would say we are geared up.

In your opinion, what is wrong with television news today?

There is a formula that was worked out back in 2008-09 and that formula has continued. The formula is that you fill your screen with 5, 10 or 20 talking heads and they are shouting at each other. 

The problem is that the formula is working because television news is an expensive business.  We have to spend for news gathering and to run news rooms, and we don't make a proportional amount of money because right now it is just advertising revenue. Subscription is very limited; in our case less than 15 per cent revenue comes from subscription. So unless that changes in a dramatic way, where we have an alternate and solid revenue source, television will continue to cater to the least common denominator.

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