Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Newsroom geek

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Let me begin this story by saying I am not tech support. Most technology reporters and editors have been known to say this to the other newsroom denizens who, for some odd reason, think that being a tech journo immediately makes them the office machine troubleshooters. Tech support is in the room next to the newsroom, thank you very much.

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What I do is write, report and edit stories to do with technology—of the digital kind—and how they are part and parcel of our lives. Over the last decade that I’ve worked as the Graphic’s tech editor, I’ve watched my colleagues in the newsroom grow their knowledge of those things I report until we all developed what we now have: A newsroom that is comfortable, conversant and well-informed about technology and how to use, troubleshoot and analyze it. As we like to say in the Graphic: Intelligent minds gather here.

I’ve covered a plethora of stories across a wide range of topics—I am even the literary editor. But my nest in this newsroom is lined with technology stories, and many of those are among my personal favorites.

I am the Newsroom Geek, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Editor in Geek, Managing Geek, and the other Associate Geek of the Graphic. With them, I’ve been able to report in depth about the technology that affects us. I’ve even earned recognition, an Intel Excellence Award in 2012, for one of the stories I worked on, headlined “Where the crime lies with RA 10175.”

DIGITAL LAW

Republic Act 10175 was railroaded into passage with barely any public consultations, if any, and it carried a last-minute addition: A libel rider that penalizes people as young as 15 for digital libel using social media platforms and other means of online communications—and doubles the penalty to 12 years in prison.

Rarely has any story been so personal to me, for, when I was writing the story, my daughters were minors with social media accounts. So I threw this question out in my story: “Republic Act 10175, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, has good intentions and was crafted with an eye to improving the country’s standing as an investment destination in a world gone digital. But what is the road to hell paved with but good intentions?”

That story took weeks of interviews with legislators, lawyers, IT company representatives and repeated attempts to interview the personnel of the Department of Justice (DOJ) who crafted the draft bill. It tested my patience, as well as my skills as a journalist and what came out, I am happy to say, was a story with as many voices and as much data as I could bring to bear, told in the context of how this law shapes how we communicate with one another over the internet.

Getting the Intel Excellence Award: The Tech Educator 2012 from Intel Philippines for this story was a humbling experience—not so much reward (though I am grateful for it) as a reminder of the responsibility on my shoulders: Fairness and accuracy of context in my reportage.

DATA BREACH

I was with Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesman James Jimenez in his Intramuros office when the news of the data breach at the poll body happened.

While Jimenez and I are friends of long standing and I was just there for a friendly, off-duty chat, my duties came on as they always do: Without warning.

Jimenez is a friend from my college days in the University of Santo Tomas—and, as with most of my friends of long standing, he was very understanding and professional when my mien went from college buddy to detached journalist in zero seconds. He also knew well enough that I wouldn’t just take his word for it. I didn’t. I went about double- and triple-checking his statements and other data I got with my expert sources.

From there, I hunted down and found independent data on the breach, did interviews with Jimenez, as well as experts in digital law and IT security. The implications of the security breach were huge, and I found myself delving into the deep web just to see how much each set of identity markers leaked in the breach sold for in the underbelly of the worldwide web. I found myself praying that my equipment and my identity would hold—I didn’t have enough money at the time to replace either my desktop or laptop, and I didn’t want to wake up to lawsuits because someone had stolen and used my identity to commit a crime.

The resulting story became one of my favorites simply because I survived the process of getting it and, when the writing and editing parts were done, the relief I felt was lovely, heady, like I’d just been given another shot at life. The story also, on a personal level, showed me who my friends really are.

 

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