Newsroom Diaries 2016: Five state polls, politics and the potpourri of headlines

The state polls of 2016 featured four major states with different political players and dynamics - the challenge was bring out the critical issues pertaining to each state and present it to a national audience.

Sohini Chakravorty December 31, 2016 09:37:34 IST

Editor's note: This article is part of a series of newsroom diaries by various members of the Firstpost team. These diaries will provide you with the journalist's recollections of a particular bit of news coverage in 2016 in which she/he was deeply involved.

Defining 2016 with only a couple of major events is difficult, especially if you are part of a highly charged, often opinionated and slightly irreverent newsroom. Whether it's the Samajwadi Party family feud or the story of the Persian Hulk, the enthusiasm almost remains undiminished. There are days when we passionately explore the pros and cons of a news story, sometimes we just have to stop ourselves from going down rabbit hole dealing with a particularly complicated issue and there are days when we just manage to keep up with the breaking news. Our coverage of the five Assembly elections that were held between April and May probably explains this cycle the best.

With four major states with different political players and dynamics — the challenge was to bring out the critical issues pertaining to each state and present it to a national audience. Like any typical Bengali household, I grew up on a healthy dose of politics and Darjeeling tea, the Left-Trinamool Congress decades-old battle was definitely not an unfamiliar territory for me. What was unfamiliar was the politics of Kerala — the state that I was assigned to cover. The initial work began at a very basic level — understanding the state's political topography, the major players and the contentious issues.

Not just covering the ongoing developments, we had to concentrate on the critical issues specific to each of the state and decode the changing political climate. In fact, in some states, it was not the issues, but the political personalities that took the centre stage. We had to map the state elections keeping in mind the broader implications of the outcome.

Newsroom Diaries 2016 Five state polls politics and the potpourri of headlines

Jayalalithaa, Sarbananda Sonowal, Pinarayi Vijayan and Mamata Banerjee. File photos

In West Bengal, the biggest question was who would be Mamata Banerjee's challenger? While in Assam, the focus was on the BJP making inroads in the North East. In Kerala, it was whether the incumbent government will be able to recover from the corruption charges and in Tamil Nadu, it was all about the cult politics and what sops have the two major parties — DMK and AIADMK — have promised to woo the electorate.

The voting process that took place in phases in some states like West Bengal was covered with ground reports, analysis, social media packages, live reports, but it all culminated to the counting day. It was all hands on the deck for our first ever five-hour live web cast — Decode 2016. Senior political editors, analysts and experts were all on board for the live coverage, the news desk along with the multimedia team worked on the video packages and infographics.

My focus no longer was only Kerala, we had to prepare a comprehensive list of key issues and the main political players of the four states and one union territory. With less than 10 days, we had to create 20 video packages, make profiles of the key players and sift through mountains of data and numbers to finalise the talking points. For the next few days, we forgot everything else and concentrated on Decode 2016. The work kept mounting, the hours kept stretching and since this was a pilot venture mistakes were made, bloopers happened, but we soldiered on. Months after the web-cast, I would flinch every time I heard anything related to election, constituency, vote bank. With less than three hours of sleep, our day on 19 May started at 6 am. In addition to the live coverage, we ran live blogs and put together snap analytical copies. It was a great show, but on that day we put the celebrations on hold to catch up on some much-deserved sleep.

Looking back, the state elections were a big learning curve: Researching on the key issues and the king makers helped me understand the political landscape of the states and it's impact on a national level. Lessons on managing resources and time just came along with it.

Long hours, continuous work, keeping a track of news breaks — being in a newsroom is mostly elating and sometimes exhausting. But I can bet that in our newsroom no one would trade it for something less challenging or mundane. Of course, we did not dwell long on the success of our state election coverage. Once the results were out, we quickly moved on. The elections were held at the beginning of the year, Brexit, surgical strikes, US election, demonetisation, Taimur Ali Khan were waiting for us.

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