Wow! This is the first Ask Ralph Letter from another country! It’s a short letter with no easy answer.
Here it goes:
It’s been my dream to become a great newscaster one day. If I get the job, what can I contribute as a newscaster and what do you think makes a successful newscaster? Thanks in advance.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Thanks so much for your letter. It really takes a lot of courage — guts — to be and want to be a news anchor. To be a newscaster or news anchor is the dream of many, but whether one is in the Philippines, Malaysia, or anywhere else, getting to where you want would take skill, dedication, and even luck.
I will answer your first question first: what makes a successful newscaster? There is no easy answer to this. But given the trends now, a very important ingredient or prerequisite to becoming a successful newscaster is that you are a good (field) reporter. Gone are the days when newscasters are just figures on television who merely read — but do now know anything when they step aside the studio. Newscasters now need to establish credibility, which is usually only the result of many years of field work. The audience knows which media practitioners are just readers, and which ones are those who have really worked hard and have been covering important events in history from where it actually happens. For a long time in the Philippines, some of the news anchors were quite settled in their anchors’ chairs. But because of the competition, and because the audiences here are place a greater premium on real credibility that goes beyond projecting with a good voice, even these anchors have started to go and report from the field. Which is good. So not surprisingly, many of those who refused to go on field, are not in the business anymore. Somehow, they’ve lost their credibility.
A good newscaster still produces stories and brings in exclusives to the networks. Here in the Philippines, I must say that I have always admired Arnold Clavio, Korina Sanchez, Karen Davila, and Ces Drilon. They are all anchors who still produce their own stories. And they can produce their own stories even if they don’t have a production assistant or segment producer trailing them. In the US, you can observe the stories of Brian Williams and Katie Couric. Both of them produces stories from the field as well. Truth be told, the only time I would actually miss my past life is when I would see Williams and Couric out on coverage, doing it because it is part of their jobs, and not really making a big deal about it — and they don’t bring an entire entourage just to do their story.
To be a good reporter on field, now, let me refer you to my past answered letter from another reader: Advice for Would-Be Journalists.
Aside from being a good reporter, from the experience of many journalists in the Philippines, it takes luck as well. It’s funny how in the Philippines, one reporter may need to be hit by a rock or caught running on camera to follow a president to gain the public’s attention. It sometimes requires that you are at the right place at the right time. Of course, this does not happen to everyone. So what can you do? Produce enterprise stories. If the exclusives don’t come to you — produce them on your own.
Of course, being a good journalist may not be enough and that is the case with many aspiring journalists in the country. I am not very aware of the situation in Malaysia, but both in the Philippines and the United States, one cannot discount office politics as a factor that influences network executives and bosses in their decision-making.
What would be the most important ingredient? I must say that at the end of the day, a successful journalist, anchor or newscaster is someone who is dedicated to his or her job — and the country. Being a journalist is not just a job, but an opportunity to really serve the community and even your country. Be dedicated to your audience, and be in touch with their realities. Know their needs and wants. What drives people. What makes them tick. What they think of issues. Your audience serves as your compass in producing the best stories.
Really, it is not enough to be a pretty face on television. But of course, if one is already gifted with that, it is something to take care of. It is not just about having a title to be known and be remembered for. It’s your real work that counts, your dedication to your craft, and the dedication and sensitivity to your audience and the people that you work with daily.
And kidding aside: Please, when you have your own show, do make sure that you are able to pronounce correctly the title of your very own program! Some are not able to do that here.
For your other question: What can you contribute as a newscaster?
Of course, your stories. And the more that you produce good stories that help bring solutions to society, then the more you are able to leave an imprint in your industry.
Secondly, your very own self. Your person. Being a journalist, being a news anchor gives you a unique opportunity to be known by thousands, if not millions of people. It is an opportunity for you to be a good role model — not just for your viewers, but also for the people inside your news organization, whom you can even mentor with your good example. Advocacy journalism is an issue being debated on in the Philippines. Some schools of thought are against it. I am for it, as long as the cause is universally accepted, and is in no way a conflict to your job. So if your advocacy is serving or helping charities, helping people out of povery, or supporting a cause like the environment, then go for it. Not everyone has the opportunity to speak out to millions of people and be listened to.
Well, Natalie, I trust that this helps. Do send me an autograph when you become a successful newscaster one of these days. Good luck!
As always, thank you for the letters, and I look forward to receiving more and more. I thank all the readers — both from the Philippines and abroad. I am humbled by the trust that you give me. Click here if you wish to ask me about your problems and concerns. Like in the previous post, I’m inviting former colleagues to make comments on this post as well, to contribute their perspectives and insights.