It takes one to know one

In my career as a writer, editor and journalist of a little over three decades, I thought I had seen and heard it all. On this account, sometimes it pays to be proven wrong.

I have learned all these years that some issues remain simple and easy to understand and explain; others, more difficult, if not altogether convoluted. The latter, of course, requires some level inquiry, study, and investigation. Sometimes, even exploration into unknown, unfamiliar territory when the need arises.

Common sense, more than anything, helps in stitching together a reliable story. Logic, sound reasoning, a sense of consistency about the idea being broached and expounded are good places to start. But common sense leaves much to be desired if and when we’re faced with problematic issues.

Journalism, for it to be journalism, demands a level of training which can go toe to toe with the most stringent processes on data gathering, investigative work, and more often than required by a topic, some degree of scholarship. Like when you’re dealing with historical backdrop, chronological context, and the like.

Digging for facts while remaining true to the profession’s ethical standards and quality requirements leaves the journalist exhausted after a hard day’s work. It takes mental and physical strength to earn public trust, and show of intelligence and gumption to stay the course.

To be lazy in this kind of work is easy, but dangerous. Information culled and disseminated for public consumption must, at the very least, be worth the expectations of the public. Any attempt the spare the public the truth—wittingly or unwittingly—could end in disaster.

This is the reason why accuracy, more than all the tenets of the profession, makes journalism what it is.

Why am I saying all this? Apparently, there are people in government nowadays who can’t distinguish a journalist from your everyday netizen who brandishes his or her comments regardless of the time-tested methods and processes required by the profession.

To these officials, what makes a journalist is not the process and method, but the medium. They think in terms of the mode of dissemination, not the training, methods and techniques employed to arrive at reliable information.

If much of what you put out there appears in social media, regardless of whether these are true or not, then, probably you’re a blogger.

On the other hand, if you’re part of a recognized media organization, complete with registration and all the pertinent papers, regardless of whether you’re writing factual news stories or not, then you’re a journalist.

This kind of thinking puts journalists on the level of just anyone who could string a few words and make sentences and paragraphs out of these no matter how false the information may be.

That, my friends, is as erroneous and detrimental to the idea of journalism and journalists as confirming that the world is flat or the sun moves around the earth.

It is ironic, in fact, that what people call the “media” is not really about the medium used. Real journalism is about the varying disciplines and methods a journalist employs in the process of gathering data and disseminating this to the public.

Objectivity and accuracy, evidence and context: these pertain to the process of gathering reliable information. Any journalist worth his salt is trained to think in ways that are far removed from the ordinary blogger or netizen sharing his or her opinion on social media.

Which is why most everyone can be part of the “media,” I mean, the way Kristina Bernadette “Kris” Cojuangco Aquino has been tagged “Queen of All Media.”

Only those whose training at gathering data is based entirely on varied disciplines, methods, and ethical standards can be called a journalist regardless of the medium—be that print, TV, radio, internet, Facebook, Twitter, bullhorn, bottle caps or used table napkins.

But then, of course, I don’t expect these pretenders in government to know that.

Let me get right down to the point of my piece: it takes a real journalist to know a real journalist. The methods and processes a journalist employs serves as his or her insignia.

One can also distinguish a real journalist from a bogus one by reading and comparing their stories. Simply said, the devil is in the details.

The effort that goes into a news story, be it the display of understanding and intelligence, the writer’s sense of accuracy, as well as thoughtful regard to context, framework and even the use of language—these are what makes a journalist different from the others.

The fact that some officials have a vague understanding of what goes into a news story, or what a journalist must go through in order to pen a reliable news story, calls into question these officials’ true nature, if not their real intentions.

In the end, the medium matters little, if at all. If you employ a genuine regard to context and accuracy in what you write for public consumption, if the news story you post on social media is shaped by a level of training that highlights precision, intelligence and good use of language, then even as a blogger, you can be considered a journalist.

It is not by happenstance that real journalists had taken on blogging on social media. It’s a medium for information which, if used well, could reach a lot of readers. It doesn’t make them less the journalists that they have always been just because they prefer the internet more than other media.

Journalists are guardians of the national memory. In order to live up to the task, the profession’s ethics and standards must become second nature.

Let me end by quoting a commencement speech I delivered early 2016 to graduating Journalism students of The Manila Times College:

“In a nutshell, no journalist can betray his readers without first hurting himself. This brings me to my conclusion: journalism is a lifestyle. No line divides the personal from the professional. Its ethical standards, rules of dissemination, and conduct of language, cannot be severed from the person. Once you’ve introduced yourselves as journalists, once your name appears on the story as your by-line, people will have no way of telling which is personal and which is the professional. To them, we are what we do, and with it comes the expectation that you—journalist—should and must live up to the vocation.” G




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