5/03/2018
Connecting the dots

I don't like the label, to be honest, but for the purposes of this essay I will embrace it.

I am a blogger.

I have been a blogger for the past thirteen years. Most of that has not been of any consequence: it's just me writing about what I feel, what I think, like many of my peers did when we were teenagers, when we started. Over the years I have learned a lot more, understood a lot more, including how I should not say a lot about myself - but I digress.

I started blogging because I've always seen myself as a writer. I began doing so in elementary school; when I was introduced to blogging in my later years in high school it seemed like a really natural extension. That said, I never saw myself as that sort of writer who's going, at some point, to write a tome that will define a generation, if not the entirety of humanity. I wasn't a Hannah Horvath, not that I'd ever be. I didn't have the patience for a really long piece; my head flies about. No, my writing inspiration came from the newspapers I read as a child. More of half-read, really - I just flipped through the pages - but it told me there were stories to tell, stories that are of actual consequence.

I did not fashion myself as a journalist, either. I took up communication arts with the vague pretense of fulfilling my lifelong ambitions in the media, but I knew I wasn't cut for it. I met actual journalists, have seen part of their work, and felt I wasn't willing to give up the comforts I thought I had. I cemented this belief when I bumped into one of my journalism professors at a mall a couple of years after I graduated, when I was not happy with my work and contemplated what to do next. "If you're not in it for the money, you can always be a writer," she said, or something along those lines.

But then, I understood journalism, or at least I thought I did. I read those books in the library; I knew what was demanded of me. I was not going to be out and about hunting down the facts and holding power to account, but one way or another, that knowledge is going to help me someday. Now I write a fortnightly column for a trade newspaper, and whenever I make arguments about how one thing or another isn't right, I hunt down the facts. At least I got half of it right.

Still, as a blogger, I felt like I got to do some sort of journalism. When something doesn't feel right, you raise a flag. That's what I did five years ago, in the early years of the music blog I ran, when a music festival hyping itself so hard wasn't announcing a line-up weeks before the actual event. I just observed my friends being hesitant about plonking an entire month's salary (well, maybe not for them) and thought I could stink a pin on that. Release the line-up before we decide to buy into it, I argued. You have yet to prove yourselves.

The next thing I know, I was watching that music festival for eight weeks, live-blogging the developments and taking in whatever I could take. I was relying on official announcements, but also connecting the dots from what other bloggers have been saying. Yes, they're mostly rumors, and I reported them as such, but more and more people were finding the connections between the dots - bloggers, bloggers who work in the media, actual journalists - and suddenly we had a story in our hands. Was it a money laundering operation? An actual journalist raised the question that up until a week before the festival was just a bunch of whispers between interested parties.

I ended up being part of the story myself, when, to keep the live-blog going, I reached out to the organizers, got an unsatisfying answer, and then got the tweets deleted. It even went as far as having the festival's official Twitter account follow my personal account with a vaguely threatening "we'll send you a direct message" - which never came. That, alongside a lot of comments about how I'm just a butthurt nobody who's not rich nor cool enough to be part of a music festival I never intended to go to anyway

I will be the first to admit I saw this as my one shot to at least pretend to be a journalist. I was so close to having someone cover the festival for me - he had tickets, regretted having those tickets, and ended up not having access to those tickets for some peculiar reason involving lost passports. I just wrote a round-up based on tweets, half of which were from people who badly wanted to prove that we're just "haters" who are out of their circles, and the other half, from underwhelmed people who knew how marijuana smelled like.

"For all of its hype about inclusivity, the event was ... all about being cool," I wrote. "But if you’re a festival invoking the Philippines, calling yourself the biggest thing of the year, spewing out all this baloney about it being for everyone - then you better do it. You better welcome everyone. In the two months I’ve written about 7107, I never felt welcome."

It wasn't ideal, but I could only do so much. And, to be honest, the "hater" label would have been more valid if it wasn't for actual journalists picking up the thread and using their resources to connect the dots. In the end, I am just a blogger. All I really am is a guy with a laptop and too much time to write about things rather than experience them. All I really am is a guy with dreams - no, illusions - of being a journalist. All that I did - all that I do - is just wish fulfillment. I can't even get myself a press pass, much more cultivate sources.

I had a phase when I was intensely interested in Watergate. Well, all right, I was just interested in the film Frost/Nixon, which meant I bought the books based on the original interviews, which led to me reading up on the work of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. It still amazes me, seeing journalism done well. Whether it's the most objective form or one fighting for something - not necessarily someone; that's a different thing altogether - it amazes me, seeing how they connect the dots, whether it be a newly-unearthed document or some public pronouncement from the past, all to give the public a greater understanding of the things that affect them. (What does it say about me, the fact that one of the first people I followed on Twitter is Rachel Maddow, and I watch her lengthy expositions on YouTube alongside my late night shows?) I keep that in mind whenever I write now, whether it be for the day job, or for this blog, where I have my own understanding alone in mind - but with one absolute caveat: I will not have the time, or the resources, to go further.

It also goes without saying that there is a lot of journalism that is not done well. It's not just about the obvious suspects - the entities with an agenda to push, or a personality to maintain - but it's also generally being sloppy with details, or lacking the imagination and failing to see the forest for the trees, or failing to be skeptical, especially with official sources. That's the one thing I'll never forget from that journalism professor. Be skeptical. Always question.

But yeah, asking questions in this atmosphere automatically means being too nosy, and that makes you a hater, and that makes you a person with an agenda to push, or a personality to maintain, as if the person accusing you of being untrustworthy is not one with an agenda of his own, too. That, and everybody has the tools to ask those questions - I'm one of them - as well as to fling those allegations around. It's such a muddled pool, this.

When done right, journalism can provide some clarity in this muddled pool. Sure, it's not the one thing that will save us from whatever we're in; chances are, when power is held to account, we'll just see more of those "you're biased!" allegations that just obfuscate things further. We'll still need people being both skeptical and open at the same time. We'll still need a better environment that supports this ecosystem of proper discourse - with media outfits resorting to frilly clickbait to survive, and people unwilling to shell out money for online news the way they used to do for a newspaper, well, we'll still remain in a muddled pool.

But proper journalism - the sort you read about in high school libraries - remains important. It's up to us to ensure it remains that way, by keeping standards up, keeping the quality high, so it isn't easily shaped by tyrants, with their petty agendas and selfish interests, into something they can call worthless.

And your responses...

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