Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Slipped desks

ON THE first day of school, I got reminded of an invaluable lesson.

I was leaving the university newsroom when I lost my feet and landed on the corridor. But after I gave the shiny floor the brunt of my accusing glare, I remembered that I already noticed the first-day sheen of the hallway when I arrived. I resolved to walk carefully then but forgot to in my distraction to get some references.

Bum smarting, I consoled myself: some of the most invaluable lessons take place outside the classroom.

The recent kidnapping of the ABS-CBN news team and their guide, which has sent shock waves in the nation and abroad, is particularly worrying in one aspect. What is its impact on the perceptions and attitudes of the present generation of Mass Communication students towards a career in news?

Dubious at best describes the pull of newsrooms’ attraction for college graduates. In the 80s and 90s, the glamour of television and advertising, and later of corporate communication and event organizing, diverted many from a life of pounding the typewriter or, much later, encoding stories for newspapers.

The lopsided competition for young blood has been recently reduced into an oxymoron with the entry of call centers’ pay and perks. Yet, it is not journalism’s undeniable lifetime of penury that makes many students turn cool about chasing the news.

A journalist’s life is risky and not worth it. That is the gist of the views of Mass Communication students of three colleges offering journalism. They either finished their newsroom internship or dabbled as news freelancers or full-time journalists at one time in their careers after graduation, according to undergraduate theses and tracer studies conducted by Mass Communication students and faculty of the University of the Philippines in the Visayas Cebu College.

Out of about 60 Mass Com sophomores and juniors met last week, less than 10 saw a life of newsprint in their future. Lack of confidence in writing, facility with English, or meeting deadlines were reasons some cited to explain their ambivalence about news gathering and writing.

But in a seatwork to select and analyze samples of news stories and interpretive articles, several students tellingly picked out banner stories and commentaries about the ABS-CBN kidnapping and the libel conviction of The Daily Tribune publisher Ninez Cacho-Olivares.

After a Makati Trial Court found Olivares guilty of libel for a 2003 article she wrote about a law firm’s alleged influence over the Philippine judiciary, administration officials pointed out the need for media to examine its sense of responsibility. If I were a neophyte about to learn how to write the news within four months, the hand gripping my pen would be understandably clammy: what separates news professionalism from the “pernicious practices” the government is accusing Olivares et. al.? When can one get away with using “he said, she said,” and when is this kind of sourcing malicious and libelous?

On the ABS-CBN abduction, any first-time news gatherer can break out in a sweat over the “ifs and hows”: was the military right when their officials decried the news team for failing to coordinate with them to pursue a scoop? Was it cutthroat competition or personal lapse of judgment that led to the ABS-CBN team taking up the invitation to an interview with an Abu Sayyaf source, the same offer that other journalists declined, citing suspicions that security arrangements seemed to be amiss?

Teaching taught me to heed students as well as updated references, industry trends and career vogues. To steer them past writing news for academic credit into contributing to public discourse, I must focus on more than the basics of crafting a lead.

More than a slippery hallway after all awaits those who leave the classroom. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 15, 2008 issue

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