Who is a journalist?

15

Or, for that matter, what is a journalist?

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No, it wasn’t President Duterte who ignited these questions.

It was rather Ms. Mocha Uson, a sexy dancer turned self-styled journalist, who set off the existential questioning and soul-searching.

Ms. Uson first got tongues wagging when she boasted on her Facebook page a week or so ago that she had gotten a one-on-one interview with then President-elect Duterte. She posted on her FB page a video saying: “Kami ang media ni Duterte (We are the media of Duterte). This is my exclusive interview with the President.”

This prompted TV5 news anchor Ed Lingao to call Mocha out. He commented: “Fascinating. So now, a visit by an avid Duterte supporter is defined as journalism.”

Authentic journalism
When criticism and skepticism poured in over her scoop, Uson tweeted: “Hindi po natutunan ang authentic journalism sa eskwelahan (You don’t learn authentic journalism in school).”

This exacerbated the controversy because it forced all journalists (real and just pretending) to ask themselves whether they are doing authentic journalism.

Mocha was emboldened to issue her brash statements because of the noisy row between Mr. Duterte and the media, and his decision to bar interviews with private media, cancel news conferences permanently, and elevate government media as his preferred channel for communicating with the public.

Mocha’s statements are presumably authentic (they came out of her head); but they are on their face foolish and illiterate.

Knowing as I do the extremes of quality and fakery in Philippine journalism (having served by turns as editor, reporter, and columnist), I have given Mocha’s claim some thought.

I will answer her by saying that journalism is a much more serious and honorable calling and public service than she knows. There is ample reason why the press is the only business that the Constitution explicitly protects from government restraint.

Believing that Mocha’s attack was made in ignorance, I point her to the words and findings of scholars and jurists who have studied the profession of journalism at length and have come up with clear conclusions on what journalism does and the real service that it provides society.

I cite first an authoritative book titled The Law of Journalism and Mass Communication by Robert Trager, Joseph Russomanno and Susan Dente Ross (CQ Press, 2010). The book discusses the meaning of press freedom, the importance of a freedom of information act, and the privilege of the press as watchdog.

A conspiracy of intellect
This book opened my eyes to a classic defense of the press penned by US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. The learned justice penned some of the court’s historic rulings on press freedom.

Justice Stewart believed the press had a particular, unique and special role under the Constitution. He said the framers of the Constitution intentionally singled out the press as the only business with a specific guarantee of freedom from government restraint because this protection was essential to the robust function of press criticism so vital to democracy.

He then offered a flattering tribute to the press and journalism as a profession. He said the press is “a conspiracy of intellect.”

He wrote that to America’s founding fathers: “A free press was not just a neutral vehicle for the balanced discussion of diverse ideas. Instead, the free press means organized, expert scrutiny of government. The press is a conspiracy of the intellect, with the courage of numbers. This formidable check on official power was what the British crown had feared—and what the American founders decided to risk.”

We are all journalists now
I take the trouble to examine Mocha’s view of journalism, because in truth she is staking a claim that many in other countries have also made.

We should look at Mocha as part of a global movement called “We are all journalists now,” a movement that has gathered steam in Europe and North America, and is now spreading to Asia.

There is a battle brewing in many countries between professional journalists (the backbone of traditional news media) and citizen journalists (the children of the internet and social media). Bloggers and other citizen journalists are today demanding the same rights and privileges enjoyed by professional journalists.

What is a journalist? What differentiates journalists from other people who seek to disseminate ideas and information to the public? Does being a journalist depend on where your words are published or broadcast?

It was not long ago that the lines between journalists and the rest of the public were clear. Those who worked for “news” organizations or news media were journalists; everyone else was not.

Those days are gone. Thanks to the internet and the growing “blogosphere,” the lines distinguishing journalists from other people who disseminate information, ideas and opinions to a wide audience have been blurred, perhaps beyond recognition.

The shattering of distinctions is forcefully discussed in a book by Scott Gant: We’re All Journalists Now: The Transformation of the Press and Reshaping of the Law in the Internet Age (Free Press, 2011).

In Gant’s view, journalism is an activity undertaken, and not a profession practiced. So he invites everyone to join the ranks of the press.

Surely, this is a good thing. The more information we have on events, surely the better. But then the question arises: if we are all journalists now, who should enjoy the privileges and prerogatives of the press? If citizens can write and attack behind false identities on social media and without the guarantee of prestigious media organizations, where is press responsibility now?

We have to ask the unavoidable question: “When everyone is a journalist, is anyone?”

Journalism with low standards
This brave new world of journalism is totally bizarre to me. I got my first job and learned my craft as a journalist by patient and sometimes even obsessive study.

During my apprenticeship, you really had to know English and how to write in order to make it. You had to call on your studies of politics, economics, history and the humanities. You could not get by by just being nice.

Today, you can make the grade by just self-identifying yourself as a journalist.

Many media organizations don’t care about the quality or professionalism of their staffs. Newspapers just blame their circulation and ad revenue decline on the internet, never on themselves. Broadcast networks blame cable news and other factors for their plummeting ratings. Advertisers are too lazy to find out why.

I am horrified by the thought that the standards for sexy dancing may be more exacting than those of journalism today.

But I say guardedly that the Manila Times reveals itself every day as a conspiracy of intellect.

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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15 Comments

  1. clarisse lilagan on

    To Sir Yen Makabenta:
    My Lolo read your article- Who is a Journalist and I decided to quote here his poem – “WRITE” he wrote a decade ago.
    WRITE!
    To write is to preserve what’s in the mind
    What we write our legacy to mankind
    Essay or poetry do it with a flair.

    To write is to articulate the mood
    Express true feeling whether bile or good
    Remember your would-be reader be fair.

    To write is to share our experiences
    The pain of failure the joy of success
    Our shame our pride our hope dare to bare.

    To write is not to malign to deceive
    Not to blaspheme to slander to mislead
    Curse nobody condemn no one beware.

    To write is to proclaim spread God’s word
    To thank to praise to glorify our Lord
    Write to your heart’s content with utmost care.

    P.S.
    Lolo thought he was a Journalist,
    Now he’s content to be a rhymist.

  2. clarisse lilagan on

    To Sir Yen Makabenta:

    My Lolo read your article- Who is a Journalist and I decided to quote here his poem – “WRITE” he wrote a decade ago.

    WRITE!
    To write is to preserve what’s in the mind
    What we write our legacy to mankind
    Essay or poetry do it with a flair.

    To write is to articulate the mood
    Express true feeling whether bile or good
    Remember your would-be reader be fair.

    To write is to share our experiences
    The pain of failure the joy of success
    Our shame our pride our hope dare to bare.

    To write is not to malign to deceive
    Not to blaspheme to slunder to mislead
    Curse nobody condemn no one beware.

    To write is to proclaim spread God’s word
    To thank to praise to glorify our Lord
    Write to your heart’s content with utmost care.

    P.S.
    Lolo thought he was a Journalist,
    Now he’s content to be a rhymist.

  3. Romeo Ablazo on

    Anybody who is discerning, analytical and has the ability of critcal thinking can be a journalist. The question is how responsible can the journalists be. I still like the brand of journalism in Singapore. It posters nationalism and nation building. Ours is patterned after the US, which works well in the US but may not work well in our country. Traditional journalism be it broadsheet or broadcast is becoming more of a tool of big politicians, big drug lords and big interest groups here in the Philippines.

  4. My advise to some journalists who whine at Duterte’s boycott: work for your material. That’s what you are supposed to have been trained on. Putting Mocha Uson down will not fly. Get used to the “new normal”.

  5. Real journalism requires investigation and exposure of crimes and issues not investigated by the police or senate investigations due to them being in the pockets of the politicians or covering for their allies.

    Most journalism outside of the fine writing done by papers like the Manila times are rare with many news outlets in the Philippines owned by foreigners or one of the elite families.

  6. A journalist with no mental honesty, writes for vested interest is a press guy for some one. His agenda is to sway people to the scheme of his employer, while disregarding the truth.

    A columnist admitted that all what is put in print has slant in this current generation unlike in his younger years. Meaning there is no more objective truth.

    Everything is subjective. In a sense, this is what Pope Benedict calls moral relativism. The blind leading the blind.

  7. Are you making sense? Are your stories believable and credible? Can I say you are writing purely from the heart and mind instead of for other vested considerations? How do your writings compare to others? These are now the biggest consideration for a reader.

  8. “The media has changed. We now give broadcast licenses to philosophies instead of people. People get confused and think there is no difference between news and entertainment. People who project themselves as journalist on television (and print media) don’t know the first thing about journalism. They are just there stirring up a “basketball game”

    • ‘People get confused and think there is no difference between news and entertainment.”

      This is exactly what we perceive from broadcast networks that dabble in what is supposedly news and public affairs. There is a hazy line between news and entertainment so much that news has become another form of entertainment. Prime examples: ABS-CBN, GMA 7 and ABC 5

  9. But why do many people has no respect for so-called professional journalist? Because what Duterte said is 100% true – and myself (and some of my acquaintances) had been a victim of those pseudo-journalists. IMHO there are more ACDC (attack and collect, defend and collect) journalist who works in tandem like wolf packs, than the so-called authentic ones. There’s a funny joke of a person that was told to buy a “suka” (lokal native vinegar) but then came home already a reporter – but its not funny to the person receiving the end of the stick.

    Bottom line: always double check anything from the media (broadcast, print, etc) including opinion makers – for they might be just paid hacks.

  10. Seem you’re hitting the messenger below the belt. Ms Mocha is only telling what’s happening on the the front line. I look Ms Mocha in social media as a freelancer during the campaign without her mostly all the ordinary people doesn’t know President Duterte well, we’re most of the media biases including you against him. The way i understand the real journalist are the one on the front line were the first real info at hand, not to other way around as consider as a gossip. so you’re information is raw? or you only read in social media?

  11. Yen, you should tell that to writers and bloggers who perniciously claim that truth is only what comes out from the mouths of beneegno, sonny, leni or the yellow propagandists whose world view is limited by the prism of their intellectual depravity and lack of academic fortitude that any contrary opinion to what they hold sacred can only come from mercenary writers. Indeed, what is more pathetic for those writers of organized media organizations and bloggers is with their papal air of infallability, they constantly fail to rebutt with scientific, legal or logical presentation with data any dismissive opinion of their piece and hence resort to name calling or innuendoes against the messenger instead.

  12. Brian Fernandez on

    So now then, Mr. Makabenta, Plaridel would not qualify as a journalist, eh? And Mr. Lingao could nail him. In any event, he is a hero of the Filipino nation, and that’s what matters more.

  13. Renante Nate on

    Based on arguments presented, i define journalism as notarized and documented statement of facts, opinion for various purposes through any media.
    -not necessary a member of media organization
    -identified and take ownership of any statement for legal accountability
    -statement or publications are documented
    -professional journalists are simply registered journalists just like any other registered professions. this involves transparency and accountability and regulations.
    The point is: anybody can be a journalist because we have no professional journalists.