Today marks the fifth year since I joined the ranks of the laziest, dumbest, most corrupt, most hardworking, smartest, and most idealistic, the best, and the brightest of Philippine media.
Also today, the President gave his State of the Nation Address, the subject of my first feature article for the UPLB Perspective in 2000. It was by a different President, in a different language, and I cannot really say I wrote it because I had a writing partner and an editor who basically told us what to write. But there you go. It had my byline and my clumsy attempt at a punny title.
Considering my lack of actual training, it’s amazing that I made it this long without a libel case, death threat, or a drubbing from an anonymous social commentary blog. Not amazing, or very surprising, is that I have made it this long without being much wealthier than I was when I started.
“I’m quitting journalism,” someone on my Twitter feed said recently after being criticized for making an error in an article. It was a minor error, easily acknowledged, corrected, and apologized for. Certainly nothing career ending or even career threatening.
That prompted a realization that you have to really want to be doing this–not even want to succeed or be known for it, necessarily–to do this.
If, for example, being called out (politely, too) for a minor error will make you quit “journalism”*, how will you be able to get past a senator telling you to check your figures because your question is premised on an incomplete appreciation of numbers?***
Or, for that matter, the fear that you’re wrong about what you’re writing about. “We say so many things like we know so much,” a fellow reporter who has since resigned once said. To this day, I hesitate for half a second before clicking on send or publish.
Because getting it wrong should mean more than just a hassle or some personal embarrassment. Getting it wrong means you failed to understand what you’re writing about, forgot to answer questions readers should ask, forgot the mission, basically. The mission being to present all sides of something so readers can make up their own minds about that something. Also, to do it well so readers will stick around until the end.
It’s easy to lose sight of that with deadlines and due dates and everything else. Incredibly easy to get complacent and forget that feeling of being under deadline, sweating from the stress, fingers shaking from excitement and–let’s face it, fear–as you type. So easy to forget the second guessing that you will subject yourself to until you go over the story again and it makes sense. And even then, you won’t ever really be sure.
All you’re sure about is that it’s an important story and that what you’re doing is more than just a paycheck or a freelance fee, it’s a goddamned profession that better people have bled and died for so you can stand on their shoulders and deconstruct their legends because you can afford to.
I’m writing this so I’ll remember.
*Quotation marks because I don’t refer to myself as a journalist unless I’m trying to impress a civilian**. In front of people from the industry, I will always refer to myself as a reporter. I have probably explained this to death by now.
** A more civilian civilian.
***You check your figures and admit you made an error, basically.