Press-conference and press-release journalism

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PRESIDENT Duterte is doing media a big favor by refusing – for “now”, his aide said – to hold regular press conferences. Apparently he would not put up with what he interpreted as insults that come with impertinent questions such as those thrown at him by one or two reporters in a previous encounter with the press.

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Competitive, veteran journalists actually hate press conferences, as they’re transformed into mere stenographers or tape recorders in such events, where the  “best” journalism would only involve simple accuracy in relaying word for word what was said in the event, and, especially for “wire” reporters, speed, in doing that.

But he has stopped feeding the beast

But he has stopped feeding the beast

Greenhorn reporters or those with huge egos, though, enjoy such events as they provide them a chance to put excitement in their little lives when they can get a VIP to tremble at their question. Such was the case with a mediocre stringer who finally had her moment of glory that had until then been so elusive to her career, when she asked President Arroyo at a press conference, “How is your sex-life, Madame President?” (The news, of course, turned out to be about her and her question, and not the President’s answer.)
Competitive journalists, however, do appreciate reporters asking questions in press conferences, as long as they’re not inane and take up too much time.

That is because everyone gets to hear the VIP’s response to the issue at hand, so they can all report it without even having to mention who asked the question (unless it is really such a hilarious one), and the reporter who did ask can’t claim he or she had a scoop.

Competitive journalists had learned a trick to make such press conferences worthwhile for them.  As soon as the conference ends, they approach the VIP to ask him a question, beyond the hearing range of other reporters. Voila, the next day, he has a scoop (now called an “exclusive”), while his colleagues report the same ho-hum story. But that’s a trick difficult to pull off if the subject is a President with close-in security ready to jump to their feet to cordon off the VIP from anybody who tries to spring an “ambush” interview.

Sad to say, Philippine journalism has degenerated in the past two or three decades into press-conference journalism, with only very few going out of their way to seek other news stories not covered in such events.  Media has become so dependent on press conferences, and their cousins, press releases.

Commuting to, waiting for, and being in press conferences now probably account for most of the reporter’s workday. Big businesses hold their press conferences in some posh hotel, where reporters are treated with five-star lunches or dinners. NGOs have theirs in Max Restaurant, or even in some Chinese eatery. (Duterte had one in front of his gate, wearing only slippers.) Reporters’ skills, especially those for business pages, have mainly involved the ability to rewrite press releases.

80% the same

Almost 80 percent of the time, a news item you watch over ABS-CBN is the same news you will see on GMA-7.  And it’s getting worse: CCTV footages probably make up a third of what is pandered as television news.

Press-conference and press-release journalism has become dominant partly due to the fact that politicians, businesses, and even NGOs – every “news maker” practically – have learned the trick enshrined in that PR adage: “Feed the beast, or the beast feeds on you.”

That is, journalists go to work to be fed with news, and only when satiated does their day ends. So the better for these news makers to be feeding reporters with their own positive news, rather than for the reporters to look for their own news, which could be negative for these news makers, in which case “they feed on you.”

Malacañang over the years has perfected the art of feeding the beast by holding daily press briefings, in which, in this Administration’s case, inanities and motherhood statements are enough food for the press. It is for instance hilarious, maybe even sickening, how de facto spokesman Sonny Coloma, in his strained Tagalog, often answers a question with the stock “we-will-look-into-it” or “this-Administration-does-not-violate-the-law” answers.

Such Malacañang press briefings, in fact, have succeeded in filling the beast’s stomach and sad to say, I’ve never seen such a docile Malacañang Press Corps as now, far from what was once upon a time, even during the Marcos era, considered the best and most senior bunch of reporters.

In fact I’ve never seen a Malacañang reporter ask the presidential spokesperson, and much less President Aquino, a series of questions ostensibly to ferret out the truth in the same way the two journalists did with Duterte.

I wonder why such an aggressive kind of reporters, one from an internet news outfit and the other from a TV network, had not been assigned to Malacañang, whose officials, especially Aquino himself, most deserved such aggression.

Duterte’s “boycott” of the press should prod its practitioners to try out doing some real, old-style reporting. There is no dearth of government officials who relish talking to the media, either because this makes them feel important, or being “in the know,” or as an “investment” in nurturing a sympathetic mediaman who can hit out at their enemies, or of course, just simply for the sake of “truth.” Already, as a result of Duterte’s boycott of the media, a few, very interesting enterprising news reporting has been done, such as that by the TV reporter who extensively interviewed Duterte’s common law wife, Cieleto Avanceña, in their home, which gives us a good insight into the kind of person the President-elect is.

That kind of a sudden ‘celebrity status’ must be especially exciting for someone who has been working hard in obscurity, as in the case of Duterte’s officials, mostly promdis thrilled for the first time in their lives at being interviewed by the national press.  Notice how spokesman Salvador Panelo appears ecstatic about being surrounded by the press that he seems to forget the need to call them to an orderly press conference.

Duterte, of course, doesn’t realize it, but he and his Administration will be the losers here.

With no press conferences to feed them, the Philippine media will be looking, scrounging
for other “food” – stories that may be negative to him – and will eventually gnaw at his political body.  Perhaps that’s good for the Philippine press, because that would require them to use the journalistic skills that have, over the past six years, atrophied much.

That’s a welcome development for probably the worst generation of journalists this country has ever seen, which Aquino has, of course, delighted in having.

tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com

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7 Comments

  1. The so-called “boycott” is bringing some positive results to the media, if we go by Mr Tiglao’s article. And I agree. If one looks at the news put out by Philippine media these days, there is invariably a very shallow treatment of news and issues. Consider for example, the news during opening of schools, All Saints’ Day, Christmas, etc. One could almost always predict the following: classroom shortage, tuition fee hike, people going to cemeteries, unpainted tombs, Noche Buena fare, etc. These are so predictable and inane news which any self-respecting journalist will avoid like a plague. So let the press earn its money by doing some hard work and if this means a boycott, although temporary, it could be a relief.

  2. That’s good to hear. The media should be critical over the issues and give unbias reports unlike that of PDI. They feed their readers with negative, polluting stories over the elected President which are destructive not only to the incoming president himself but to all Filipino as well. This will greatly divide us as a people and sooner or later, will lead to a civil war. I hope journalists will not be happy with this big news.

    • I noticed that – PDI relies heavily on the padrino of BS Aquino as he is very close to Letty Jimenez Magsanoc, their editor-in-chief who recently died. Baka pinagbilin nya si Noynoy sa kanila – to take of him kahit natubuan ng sungay at buntot.

  3. Tiglao is on the rampage again for another day of spin-off. The real reason Duterte called a “boycott” is:

    One: he said it himself: “no briefing, no mistake”
    two: to avert a potential embarrasment. boycott the media first before the media boycotts him.

  4. when marcos was ousted and new showbiz talk shows appeared, i remember that unknown showbiz reporters hurled ridiculous questions to actors and actresses, made ridiculous and embarrassing statements about some actors. i realized later that those unknown and new showbiz reporters wanted to get instant fame, but they later faded away.