Ladies of Lune: Shereen Bhan

Ladies of Lune: Shereen Bhan

Being a television journalist requires tons of grit, determination, tenacity, passion and relentless drive… every single day on the job. It is not for everyone, and even the ones who do pursue this profession don’t all become a household name. Unlike Shereen Bhan. She needs no introduction — Shereen is the Managing Editor of CNBC TV-18 where she has spent nearly two decades honing her skills as one of India’s most bankable and reliable business journalists. She’s also the Series Editor of Young Turks, among India’s longest running shows focusing on new-age, savvy entrepreneurs with bright ideas.

Interview: Sindhuja Balaji 

Pictured above: Shereen wears the Nagally pearl strand necklace with a Miramar small pearl charm with lock,
Homecoming medium vase of plenty necklace, Essential axis circle choker, Posse of paisley bracelet, Aaoka ring and Nova opal oval ring

This is a career worth celebrating, but not many know that Shereen Bhan almost considered a different career path. “I hail from a family of doctors, so it felt like a natural career choice to consider. I even spent some time doing an internship at my aunt’s nursing home but the sight of my first surgery made me realise immediately that this wasn’t the path for me!” says the journalist with a hearty laugh.

While medicine wasn’t her calling, the field of humanities certainly was. However, journalism was purely accidental for Shereen. She pursued Philosophy from St Stephen’s College, Delhi, nurturing a dream to become a documentary film maker. During this time, her mother’s friend told her about an up-and-coming communications and film making course at the University of Pune. Shereen thought this was the ideal next step to getting to her dream job. In her first year at University of Pune, she did an internship at BIG Synergy, which is owned and run by India’s quizzing guru Siddhartha Basu. There, Shereen helped produce a show called Question of Answers, anchored by veteran journalist Vir Sanghvi. “This was an audience-based show, and my job was to prep the audience on what the day’s episode would be about. In between takes, Vir told me: ‘You have a natural smell for news and should consider a career in TV journalism’. Honestly, I really enjoyed my stint at BIG and ended up doing two more internships with them, while studying broadcast journalism.” Shortly after graduating from University of Pune, Shereen worked with veteran journalists like Karan Thapar and Tavleen Singh, producing news shows like BBC Hard Talk India and some others.

By 2000, she was approached by Network 18, initially to produce shows for a new channel planned by the network that would cater to South Asian NRI audience. However founder Raghav Bahl had other plans for her. He called her for a second meeting where he suggested she considers becoming a business news anchor. “I had never done anchoring nor business journalism, but Raghav said I would eventually learn. I started the very next day with India Business Morning.”

Pictured above: Shereen wears the Nova opal oval ring, Aaoka ring, Homecoming mini vase of plenty ring and Posse of paisley bracelet  

It’s been nearly 20 years since that day. Shereen has since produced and anchored several shows for Network 18 such as Young Turks, India Business Hour, Power Turks, The Nation’s Business, Overdrive, Ministers of Change and What Women Really Want. She has won accolades such as ‘FICCI Woman of the Year’ in 2005 for her contribution to media and was named ‘Young Global Leader’ by the World Economic Forum. Her days are full and busy and start quite early as she dons the greasepaint to anchor her morning shows, followed by meetings with her team of reporters, producers, editors and anchors and shoots. “Television is such a powerful medium. One can truly influence, move, educate and initiate reforms through television news. In India, the medium is just about three decades old but in this short time, the space has evolved by leaps and continues to do so. When I started out, journalists would have to carry cassette tapes to uplink offices as we didn’t have Outside Broadcast (OB) vans. Today, anyone can upload high-definition, real-time content from their smartphones,” she says.

Television news has polarized viewers in the past few years, and she is very mindful of the tectonic shifts taking place in the industry. “What concerns me is that news channels today are not entirely doing what they ought to be doing, which is service the viewer with information, help them see the world for what it is. News has become agenda-driven and opinionated, so the big question is how do you get the focus back on news for what it truly is? I believe the television news industry is going through an existential crisis and as leaders, we must rally together to bring it back on track.”

Pictured above: Shereen wears the Miramar big baroque pearl huggie hoops and Nagally pearl strand necklace with a Miramar small baroque pearl charm with lock

Social media too, is playing a definitive and powerful role in shaping public opinion, which makes the job of a journalist today inordinately harder. Shereen believes this has impacted the way viewers consume news and her endeavour is to constantly weigh in on social trends, reinvent programming and explore innovative narrative building exercises through various mediums like websites, apps, social media, on ground events and the mainstay, the television. Constant reinvention is the name of the game, and this is Shereen’s professional credo as well. She conceptualized Young Turks 19 years ago with the goal of showcasing India’s brightest minds and freshest faces in business, at a time when startups and entrepreneurs were unheard of in India. “To me, this was the most exciting element of Young Turks. There were young college graduates, fresh out of IITs and IIMs and self-made professionals with big ideas on changing the world. They didn’t come from big money; they didn’t inherit their family wealth but all they had was conviction in their ideas and fire in their bellies.” Today, Young Turks has taken a life of its own and is one of the longest running shows in India. To many entrepreneurs, being on the show was a moonshot into widespread recognition in their professional community and a validation of their hard work. Young Turks is now a book, featuring the triumphs and tales of India’s most celebrated tech entrepreneurs, co-authored by Shereen and her former colleague Syna Dehnugera, who worked with her on producing the show.

Pictured above: Shereen wears an all silver look with our Crater choker,
Crater slender bangles, Small crater hoops and  the Sculptural odi v ring

What is like being a known face? Has social media made your job tougher?
I am not enamoured by celebrity culture, it doesn’t affect me too much. That said, thanks to this job, I am so grateful for the recognition and acclaim. Sometimes, it can be a bit unnerving but I don’t let it bother me much because I’m a very private person. I enjoy the company of a few close friends and my idea of chilling out is having a meal with them at home. Social media has put a spotlight on known personalities like never before. It has made a journalist’s job tough when you consider how brazen trolls are today. I don’t have the stomach for it at all. I’m a non-confrontational person and to see vitriol being poured on a person deeply unsettles me. It is especially risky and scary for female journalists, and organisations should address this proactively.

What have you brought to CNBC TV 18 that is distinctly you?
For the first 10-12 years, CNBC TV 18 was known as a channel that tracked the stock market. While that continues to be a key focus area, the channel has evolved to incorporate so many elements of everyday life that have a strong business element. Almost everything we do has a monetary aspect and involves money. Business isn’t just for section of people, it is for everyone. So much is discussed about big reforms and policies, but how do these reforms impact the common man? This has been a key element that governs the criteria we explore to develop programming and conceptualise shows. Other than that, I have built a collaborative, equal opportunity, initiative and merit-based workplace that thrives on transparency. Another aspect that I have championed is supporting female employees during their maternity and post-maternity phases and giving them a reason to return to work.

Your most memorable interview?
This job has been so gratifying from the perspective of being able to meet so many people across different walks of life. There have been many memorable ones but one that stands out for me was an interaction with a senior member of the Vajypayee government. I questioned him on the findings of a CAG report on a disinvestment and it wasn’t something he was expecting because no other media outlet had picked up on this. He got very annoyed with me and threw his lapel mic, offended that such a young girl was questioning him. But, I was prepared, focused and knew I wasn’t in the wrong so I stood my ground. It is very easy to get brow beaten in this line of work but this interaction taught me the significance of standing my ground and have faith in my abilities.

Your role model?
I have been privileged to learn from some of the industry’s best. With Karan Thapar, I learnt the art of being thoroughly prepared, sometimes over prepared! With Prannoy Roy, I learnt humility. I remember at an event Delhi, he waited for me to catch up to him only to compliment me on my work. For a young journalist like, it was so humbling. My mentor Senthil Chegalvarayan has taught me how to lead a newsroom from the front. And growing up, Oprah Winfrey had a huge influence on me.

Pictured above: Shereen's awards at her home in Delhi

What is your style statement on-air and off-air?
I like keeping it all minimal. I also don’t have a drastically different look on-air. How I am on television is similar to how I am off it. I usually swap out earrings every couple of years and wear a bangle. I’m big on dressing for comfort, mainly because this job demands it too. Journalists are out reporting in weather conditions that compel us to think practically about fashion, so its mostly loose, comfortable and breathable clothing. Of late, I have a taken a fancy to wearing saris so Fridays are Sari Days at work. I believe in being true to who you are and living your truth, so to speak.

About the author: Sindhuja Balaji is a seasoned content strategist, with a keen interest in technology and influence on society. A former journalist, she has worked with some of the nation's most reputed print and television channels. She has a penchant for non-fiction works on national and international politics, but every now and then, a good fiction read is welcome. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, yoga and cooking.