Sunday, September 16, 2007

Death meets deadlines

DEATH may be the great equalizer, but there’s nothing like a passing away to set apart the journalist from the rest of humanity.

In a life dictated by scoops and deadlines, an untimely death, or a close brush with it, is a major setback, a potential debacle. A colleague’s equanimity was rocked when a Hollywood actor’s hospitalization was later revealed as caused by a suicide attempt. In another case, a celebrated singer passed away just when the pages were about to be sent to the printer.

Only a timely look at breaking stories on the Web saved the editor from keeling over herself from shock had she missed those “milestones,” journalese for anything requiring the top fold of the paper, bold headlines and high-resolution photos.

When such catastrophes are sidestepped, that’s when you’ll hear angels mentioned in the same breath as deadlines.

The practice of preparing a “tribute” for an ailing notable anticipated to kick the bucket anytime soon (or preferably, just before the paper is put to bed) must seem like a ghastly, not to mention ghoulish, practice for those who sleep well and are not kept perpetually bug-eyed from drinking three-in-one coffee or thinking of pages to fill.

Of all the journalistic quirks, this unconfirmed anecdote remains a favorite for revealing the extent of desensitization from walking daily in an information mine field. Looking for his assistant to retrieve a file, an editor was told that she had taken the day off to attend to her mother’s wake. “What is she doing there?” the harassed newsroom executive was reportedly heard to grumble.

But just like life, death gives the front-row journalist an unexpected view of mortality, writing and remembrance.

The number of website views, visits and hits may now sum up a late person’s prominence, but it is often the small and telling detail that captures the public’s lasting impression of a news personality.

No two people could have been more unalike in life than broadcaster Nenita “Inday Nita” Cortes-Daluz and “opera superstar” Luciano Pavarotti.

Yet, when both recently passed away, the Cebu opposition stalwart and the Italian opera singer deserved the muted but genuine tribute of being referred to as “The Voice.”

Inday Nita was remembered as using her soothing, maternal tones to rally a people to denounce a dictatorship and human rights abuses. Pavarotti’s “vibrant high C’s and ebullient showmanship” was hailed for making possible high-brow opera’s crossover coup with the masses.

Perhaps more than the obituaries, the coverage of enforced or involuntary disappearances reveals media’s soul, if ink-stained.

In a profession hostaged to the ceaseless scrambling for minutiae, often to keep the trivial but sensational in the public eye and media consumption habits, the sustained coverage of the search for missing activist Jonas Burgos is anomalous.

After the initial alert on his disappearance, the trail has since then become cold. The developments are uneventful, mired in petitions for habeas corpus and quashing of subpoenas. The photo of the missing son of the press freedom icon Jose Burgos has been so often used, it blurs the line between visual cliché and pop image.

Yet, it is because of the plodding press that Jonas and mother Edita burn into a consciousness that would otherwise be focused only on the Piolos, Britneys and Aguileras of the world. The bespectacled, calm-faced Editha lends an articulateness to the struggle of other women searching for sons and husbands, like the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina who refuse any form of reparation or compensation as they insist that the regime "took them away alive so we want them back alive."

It is doubtful if young Cebuanos know the Redemptorist priest, Fr. Rudy Romano. In 1985, witnesses saw the priest dragged from his motorcycle by military intelligence operatives. He remains missing.

In the Cyberspace Graveyard for Disappeared Persons (, there is a tombstone and a flickering candle dedicated for “Romano, Rudy.” What media remember, let no one forget. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Sept. 9, 2007 issue

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