When I was a young reporter, I shared a desk at the Senate press office with Amita Legaspi, a reporter for GMA News Online who would become my mentor, friend, and –years later — my office mate.
She basically taught me the ropes of being a reporter, including how to skip meals because stories have to go out no matter what.
The last time that we were on coverage together was for the proclamation of the first batch of senators elected in the 2013 polls.
Right after coverage, she rushed to the hospital because of fatigue. She has been to the hospital several times since then for fatigue and stress-related reasons common to the profession and, because she is a more legit journalist than I am, will probably go to the hospital a few times more.
I mention her out of a sense of gratitude and because there was an article in the latest issue of Esquire Philippines decrying the supposed impending death of journalism.
It was written well, as Esquire articles have to be, but was really pretty much a rehash of the issues Vergel Santos raised in his book “Worse Than Free” and, without Santos’ credibility of having been in the trenches, is really more a boilerplate lamentation on the declining standards in society.
Jonty Cruz’s “Breaking News” opens with complaints everyone has already made about the state of TV news, then, with the sort of sweeping gesture that landlords use to tell their offspring that ‘one day all of this will be yours’, says “TV Patrol’s current state is only a symptom of a greater disease”, before launching into a tirade into how mainstream media is run “by a few old ignorant men.”
All fair points, although nothing really new.
What raised my barely-there eyebrows was this statement:
Today, instead of having a dedicated team of investigative and long-form journalists, they employ savvy social media experts who condense the news into 140 characters. The media today is reactive. They wait on their asses, fingers resting on keyboards as they wait for the next breaking news to drop.
Defensiveness about the profession aside, that is likely an observation by someone who seems to have never been in a working newsroom, or, indeed, has only seen one by way of free Facebook. (I may be wrong, but I have never been in the field with Cruz and know nobody who has — I asked around.)
In the first place, editorial and social media are separate teams. They work together sometimes — in an arrangement that both teams secretly hate — but they are separate entities with different tasks and performance goals, and, for that matter, are nursing a simmering rivalry.
In the second place, news is, by nature, reactive. Reporters do prep work — a quick look at the Twitter accounts of people who work in news will tell you that they lose sleep over “pre-writing” and preparing background information for stories, and that they like to complain about it on social media — but can rarely push out a story unless an actual thing happens.
You can (and should) do all the long-form journalism that you want, but that is still contingent on something actually happening. The basics are still Who, What, Where, When, Why, How — and, if you have time, What now?
I bristled most at the claim that journalists “wait on their asses” because I have had the privilege of working alongside journalists who don’t do that at all. I was lucky (on a professional level, but also because), for example, to watch Patricia Evangelista work with women and kids affected by conflict in Mamasapano earlier this year.
She did a lot of things for her series of stories, but the only time she was sitting on her ass was probably while in the convoy to and from the area. (She smoked a lot more than she sat, certainly.)
But worst, I feel, is the weak-ass exhortation in the end for journalism to not go calmly into the night (it really should be “gently” and “into that good night”, also, but, whatever, at this point) without offering any answers to the unasked “What now?”.
No suggestions were offered, so here are some from me:
- If you don’t like how news is being presented now, don’t support it. Change the channel or read something else
- Don’t share stupid stories and only spread ones that you think deserve to be read
- Read stories and talk to your friends about what you read. Stories are just tools, the real product is the conversations that readers and viewers will have about the issues of the day
- Support quality journalism that doesn’t rely on advertising. Support quality journalism supported by advertising. Support quality journalism in general
- Pick up a pen and pound a beat and show us how it’s done
And drop that “Old journalism, real journalism, stood for something that new media will never understand.”
Listen: There is no “old journalism” or “new journalism”. You are either doing journalism or you are not.