TATYANA VOROZHTSOVA ON JOURNALISM OF THE IMPOSSIBLE
One can talk about journalism forever. My interlocutress supposes that 4 years of studies are not enough to teach it. After working as a journalist for her whole life, she now delivers her knowledge to students. Her name is Tatyana Vorozhtsova, she is the dean of the Faculty of Journalism of IGUMO. We asked her, what remains behind the scenes in television.
- You worked on TV, within the hasty atmosphere for a long time. How can you describe it?
- That was the most unpredictable of all my jobs, compared to newspapers and radio stations I worked for. I am a well-organised person, so at first I tried to contain that chaos. At some point I understood, that it is impossible to consider everything, something will always go wrong. For example, I had an episode, when I called and instructed everyone, brought three extra batteries, four cassettes… Then we came to the studio and saw that it was locked from the inside. The cameraman locked the door for the dinner break and fell asleep. He was in such a deep sleep he wasn’t disturbed by our knocking and phone calls. He slept all the time we had for recording. Was it possible to foresee it? At that time I understood, that one should try to consider everything and be ready for surprises. I even began to enjoy solving the unsolvable issues. My colleagues called me Ms. Impossible. When someone was sure it was impossible to make some footage, they told him to ask for me. For instance, they gave a video cassette without accompanying text they lost, or vice versa – press release without any footage. The point was, that I had only an hour to make it. I succeeded every time, even got some sort of excitement from such jumping.
The most frequent reason of all that was the human factor, of course. Once we were preparing to shoot a very important event with our partner from Italy. I am not sure whether Italians think it preferable, but he arrived wearing a T-shirt and some stretched sweater half an hour before the shooting. We were shocked. I tried to convince him to buy a suit jacket, he told me that he didn’t need one. I asked why he didn’t take one with him, he said that he thought it is okay to come wearing what he wore. My husband was in similar shape, so I called him and asked to bring the suit jacket he was wearing that day. He was glad we did not need his trousers… However, I told him that his suit jacket would become the most fashionable, as the head of Italian fashion company would wear it. It is only funny now, at the time we were frightened.
- How did you save your nerves?
- Everyone has their own nervous system. In that sense, I am lucky. I dedicate all my energy to solve the problem and only then I start to get anxious. Anxiety only comes to me after everything is done. When experiencing something similar, some people shut down. That is why I give my students some stressing tasks to teach them how to control anxiety.
For example, my favourite management game is called Our Guest Won’t Come. I tell students they have 5 minutes until the radio air time. They have to talk for 10 minutes. The topic is free, the point is to sound interesting. Of course, we only use voice recorder. The first attempt always fails, the second one is better, the third is rather good. Such training helps a lot. One of my students once visited some event as a print journalist. A cameraman who knew her asked her to interview an artist and pushed her to the studio, as the host did not come. And she succeeded. I am sure that it is possible to train stress management. I needed it when occupying senior position. My boss once called me and said: “Quick. Come to Ostankino, there will soon be a meeting with NTV board about the X show. They are planning to close it because of the ratings. I spent loads of money to create it, we need at least half a year to just break even”. I tried to remind him that I have nothing to do with that particular show. Our holding was creating 20 shows or so for different channels. I only heard something about that very show. He said: “You have to!”, and turned the phone off. On our way to the place, I asked the executive producer to put me into the picture. I wrote several ideas and gave it to my boss just at the entrance. He said: “That is not what we need, I will begin and you will understand everything”. So, here is the full board of NTV sitting in front of us, my boss greets them and…starts to cough. He ran out of the room saying, “Please, continue”. My colleague saw all that. I noticed how she started to feel worse. I was afraid that she could faint… When the boss returned, I already arranged everything. My secret is simple. When you do not know, what to say, just ask questions. They will buy you some time to think and understand your partners’ mood. While returning from the television centre, my colleague was repeating: “Please, continue…I would have died there”. In my point of view, not only journalists should study stress resistance.
- When I came to my first editor’s office, they told me that it is no use studying journalism. It is better to become a lawyer, a biologist, etc. first and then acquire journalistic abilities. How do you think, is it necessary to study journalism?
- I think journalism should be studied much longer than 4 years. Ideally, one should study it for the whole life. The educational process continues after graduation. Every text, every footage should teach you a lesson, otherwise, there can be no self-development. The arguments on higher education are eternal. We all know the examples of people who came to journalism from different spheres. They often acquire useful skills and achieve success. Unfortunately, sometimes such people ruin journalism. As you study for several years, you become absorbed in the profession, you start to understand journalistic ethics. From day one you are surrounded by future colleagues. You value their opinion. You will not be able to lie. A person, who came from a different sphere, would be able to say something like that: “My lies would not hurt anyone. The main thing is that people read my texts and I get the money”. Once I heard an exclamation of a girl who came to the editor’s office from an academy of dramatic arts. She said: “Yes, I misprinted her surname. What’s the deal? She is from Georgia, that is her fault”. People who came from different spheres often see nothing bad in their unethical behaviour. Here, in IGUMO, we host workshops of working professionals who share their experience. One of such meetings lasted for only 5 minutes. Our guest told the students that he was a culinary institute graduate when he decided to become a journalist. To do that, he started to visit different events with false ID. That way, he gained experience and became a successful journalist. "What would you like to know?", he asked. For my own joy, the students answered: “Nothing. We do not think it right to start the career by lying. We visit events hosted by the real editor’s offices from the first year”.
Maybe it is just my personal experience, but working as a journalist for a long time, I witnessed unethical behaviour of mostly those, who were not professional journalists. Of course, there always are people, who both acquire useful skills and observe journalistic ethics. The Faculty of Journalism provides many advantages. My students graduate with both great portfolio and professional relations: groupmates, members of editor’s offices they practiced at, etc. Many graduates ask me to send someone from IGUMO, when their media have job vacancies.
It is normal that focused journalists are always valuable. That is why editor’s offices will always hire people knowing a particular sphere, but without journalistic education. However, working outside of your professional practice is like living in a foreign country. Firstly, it is very hard to adapt. Secondly, even with the deep knowledge of a foreign lesson you may not understand all the features of its culture.
- Were you always honest in your profession?
- I think, there is no person who never lied. Sometimes I had to practice it too, but only for the greater good. For example, before shooting business reality show The Candidate (the Russian analogue of The Apprentice), the director and I went to New York to see how the rightholders do it. They asked us, how many people worked in production, how long we were preparing for the shooting, etc. We answered as they wanted us to answer, otherwise they would not let us work on it. In fact, production took us only 2 months and the team was very small. Speaking about American show, 20 people worked on tasks for the participants for a year straight and so-called dream team of 16 members tested those tasks. We managed to do the same with 6 editors in two weeks. We did a good job, as Americans took some our version’s features for next seasons of their show. We also performed auditions, wrote the scripts, etc. Everything was done in the short term and in a small group. The shows ‘The Candidate with Arkadiy Novikov’ and ‘The Candidate with Vladimir Potanin’ were very hard in production but incredibly interesting. It was great experience.
- Some call journalists a lost cause, as they are very superficial.
- News reporting, for instance, does not require great depth. The main task there is covering about important events. Everything else depends on personal setup and media policy. Unfortunately, many of my colleagues do not dig any deeper. When I was appointed editor-in-chief of ‘Cleanup With Oksana Fedorova and Nika Ganich’, the previous team finished their last programme about a famous actress. It seemed very boring. It turned out, that our colleagues just used random pieces of host and actress talking. We just could not let this show release. Nobody made us remake it. They even said: “You would not get paid for that. Just leave it as it was”. Nevertheless, we took the sources, reedited them and got a tremendous story of a person’s life, which made one think.
And it is not about the topic. You can write superficially about something you know well and, vice versa, write delicately about something you know nothing about. Some journalists are focused, others are all-rounders. I was both. I like both. When I worked as a special correspondent for Channel One’s morning show, I had to make footages about contemporary art exhibitions, oil-loading platforms, handball championships and what not. Sometimes it was too hard to study some issues. However, it was always a great pleasure to make it good enough for the topic-related professionals to like it. After that, I began producing the space show. I immersed myself in the topic, which was amazingly interesting as well.
- I heard that some members of Ostankino spend the nights there. Have you ever done that?
- Fortunately, firefighting was a rare thing. When they happened, I preferred to come home for 2-3 hours. Nevertheless, one can meet people with toothbrushes and pyjamas in Ostankino early in the morning. Once I was in a business trip and had to sleep on some chairs in a conference hall. The reason was the delay in rocket testing. If we came to a hotel, we could have missed one of the brightest events in my life. Just imagine: fire from a vehicle streaming so fast soundwave literally knocks you down. It was very noisy, very hot, very bright, but so beautiful! We were so amazed that went over the footage for 30 or so times. Generally speaking, journalist is a physically demanding job. For instance, one should shoot for several hours in the freezing cold before the rocket launch or, vice versa, in a very hot department where they melt the glass. However, such impressive frames justify it all. Most people can see this beauty only on TV, but we see it in real life.
Nowadays, many TV people work with projects. You are very busy while filming or editing something, but before and after that you are freer. I even had half a year when I literally did nothing and received my salary. Our CEO told me that it was easier for him to make it like that than trying to find someone instantly when the project came out. It was comfortable for me. My daughter was graduating from school at the time and enrolling to an institute, so I had to dedicate more time to her. I was not searching for a new job, I was waiting for a new project.
Working on a project, one literally never sees the light of day. Once my husband and I rent a flat to live closer to work to spend less time on our way to it. My friend was giving me a lift home for three months. Once we were close to my house, when I looked out of the window and said: “That is not my house”. She told me that she had been driving me there for three months. I noticed a blue shop near the house and said: “I would have remembered such a bright spot, as we had some dark shop nearby”. Then I saw my husband going out of the hallway and asked him: “Was the shop repainted?” He said, that it always was the same, I just came home early for the first time in three months…
Being tired, sometimes you start to doubt your sanity. Once we had a terrible firefighting. We barely had time to edit the video and inserted the cassette just when the host was saying: “Let’s find out by watching our footage”. We were still shocked. It was already dark in the television centre when we went out of the elevator and saw two white sheep. At that moment, I thought I went insane. It was clear I had an eloquent facial expression. Our administrator, whom I did not notice, said: “Do not be afraid. Everything is fine. We need the animals for the show”.
- How did you start working with the topic of space?
- Bad journalism caused it. As an editor-in-chief and a producer, I made many shows for national television. At some point, the situation changed drastically. Our bosses began claiming yellow material. I understood I could not work for big channels anymore. The last straw was when they asked me to write the synopsis for a documentary about a great person, saying the following: “Concoct some mistress for him to make it interesting to watch”. I turned it down, of course. And then I got the offer from Carousel channel for children. They wanted me to work on Space Time show. I was very glad to get it. Firstly, I consider production of children’s shows a noble work. Secondly, we had a very harmonious and professional team. Thirdly, space is so interesting! My former colleagues were shocked: “Are you out of your mind? Carousel after Channel One…” However, I am interested in the work itself, not in some success markers. Thus, I was joyfully creating the children’s show for several years. We communicated with great people from cosmonauts to scientists. They are amazing! Compared to some artists, communicating with people who really do their jobs and are humble is truly joyful. However, it is harder to create a show for children. It is nearly impossible to describe engine design for everyone to understand and enjoy it.
- At the beginning, journalism was male-dominated. Now faculties of Journalism are full of girls. What, in your opinion, is the role of women in journalism?
- All in all, gender is not that important as professionalism, which has no gender. I think that both women and men have their own weaknesses. Comparing to cosmonauts, men endure serious, but short stresses more easily, for example, in the course of take-offs and landings. Thus, women endure routine more easily. The same goes to journalism. There is a stereotype that men are more mentally resilient than women are. However, I saw plenty of examples when men could not bear stress and women broadcasted from places of terrorist attacks. Journalism’s advantage is that you can choose to do what you like: some people work in hot spots and some broadcast fashion shows. Personal preference decides all, not the gender.
- What advice would you give to starting journalists?
- Firstly, check and recheck information. Secondly, gain professional relations in different spheres to have opportunity to call a doctor to clarify the term or, for instance, invite an artist for the show. To acquire such a network, though, one needs to be a good journalist. If you write a bad text or make numerous mistakes in a footage, nobody will be your friend. One mistake can nullify all your efforts. The trust you gained will serve you for a long time. I do not work as a journalist for 4 years already, but I still manage to make deals with familiar cosmonauts. Fedor Yurchikhin visited IGUMO. Anton Shkaplerov answered children’s questions from space. Our DOCA festival hosted Sergey Ryazanskiy’s first photo exhibition dedicated to space. Third and the most important advice would be to constantly think of consequences of your words. Unfortunately, I have plenty of examples of ill-considered questions that led to tragic consequences and even deaths. A word is like an atom. It can create and destroy. It is essential for my students to become real journalists, who make our world a better place with their materials.
Agata Korovina, news agency of the Eurasian Women’s Community
Translated by Nikolay Boykov