Datelines and punchlines

The pier in Ormoc City, which is nice but doesn’t really have anything to do with this post. It’s nice, though.

I am not sure how it happened but in the years that I have been working a desk, I have always ended up editing most of the newsroom’s regional stories.

Part of it, I guess, is a bias for community news because one of the first news organizations to give me a shot was based in Cebu and we were encouraged to consider how national news we covered would affect readers in urban centers outside Manila.

I have always believed, but very rarely say, that it is the supposedly small stories (like, for example, the provincial governor visiting a remote island that was finally connected to the power grid) that are actually of significance to the people we supposedly write the news for.

That has translated to being more patient with regional stories, not because the copy can be quite a challenge, but because I may be missing the importance of it for being in Imperial Manila.

Giving stories from the provinces as much prominence (or at least priority on my to-do list) became more difficult when GMA cut its regional staff for business reasons that were above my paygrade but we still made it work.

We picked up stories from MindaNews and other regional news organizations, but the Philippine News Agency* was always my go-to source for stories from the provinces. Maybe they tended to praise the LGU a little much but I was at least sure that the basic information was there.

That has carried over to the newsroom that I work in now and while I am glad that we have more actual regional partners now, I have always believed in PNA as a reliable, if controversy averse, source for stories from the provinces.

That changed this month after the agency made bad calls on two stories (that we know about).

Since the first bad call, when PNA apparently misrepresented statements made at the UN Human Rights Council’s review of the human rights situation in the Philippines and quoted a government official who later said he didn’t say what he reportedly said, we have been wary of relying on PNA reports.

That is really just more of a challenge for us. We have subscriptions to international wire agencies and have counterparts in the newspaper from whom we can sometimes get details and leads.

It may be a bigger problem when the flow of information goes the other way. Regional organizations like the Romblon News Network in Odiongan do not have the resources that we do and its partnership with PNA for national news was supposed to fill that gap.

Other community news organizations in other provinces probably have the same arrangement with the state-run agency or get their stories from the Philippine Information Agency, which performs a similar function.

They can, of course, write the stories themselves from press releases and documents just like we do here. But that takes time away from letting them do what they do best, which is report on what is happening in their own communities.

They can, and will likely have to, keep picking up stories from PNA — to be fair, the agency has apologized for the lapses and has promised to review its reporting process but this isn’t even the first time that the office that handles it has made rookie mistakes — but desk people in the provinces will have to deal with a little more of the nagging doubt that hounds all editors for some time.

That, I feel, is the greater loss in this whole thing, that regional news organizations will also have to worry about the reliability of their national news. Or, they can not worry and unwittingly serve their readers inaccurate news because why would your own government mislead you?

That, I feel, is where Imperial Manila failed the regions again.

* It used to be called Philippines News Agency but it got renamed to Philippine News Agency just as I managed to convince people that this was so.

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