11/18/2020
How to be a journalist

I think it's a good thing that the president insists on delivering his weekly rants to the nation very late at night. Not that I have paid any attention to them over the past few months. While his words set the tone, for better or worse, they are ultimately theater; what's more important is how these pronouncements impact policy and governance. But, you know, those televised speeches pop up from out of nowhere despite its supposed regularity that I don't even notice them anymore. "President Duterte will address the nation later tonight," you'd see in a tweet, just as you're washing the dishes, squeezing in one or two games of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and preparing to go to sleep. Ignorance is bliss, in this case.

That ignorance lasts just a few hours though. Like you, I scroll through my social media feeds the moment I wake up, and I can no longer justify it as "it's part of my work, arguably"; it's automatic now. As I slept, people have already raged about whatever the president said. People still stay up for this? I think. And then, so he said that, all right. And then, people still stay up for this?

Today, though, the rage is unusually palpable. I'd understand, since the president apparently spent all the time allotted to him essentially trashing Leni Robredo. So, of course, the tweets are all about how, during the past few weeks when strong typhoons hit the country, he wasn't visible, and therefore he doesn't really have the right to complain about it, or something. I don't know. I haven't really bothered reading them. Much like the weekly addresses, the weekly rage scrolls come with alarming regularity, and then you just stop paying attention to it. Again, all of it is theater. I'm a bit tired of predicting that this is when the pot starts to boil over, that this is when the anger you see on social media translates to something less virtual.

What's interesting is how this time they were so angry that they went for the journalists. GMA's Joseph Morong has been dutifully taking notes of every one of Duterte's late night sessions since he took it to himself to regularly update the nation on the state of his mind. I don't follow him on Twitter, but then I don't have to, because people will retweet his summaries anyway. This time though, people went for him. I guess it's because they're particularly incensed by what the president said this time around - what essentially amounts to unfounded and misogynistic attacks towards the vice president, including a claim that she misled the public about his whereabouts at the height of typhoon Ulysses. Why aren't you fact-checking him, Joseph? Why are you being a terrible journalist, Joseph? Do you even know how to be a journalist, Joseph? Fact-check the motherfucker!

I guess they were also following how American television networks covered their recent presidential elections. Donald Trump has peddled a lot of lies in the past few months, most recently spreading false claims of voter fraud that, if undone, would guarantee him victory. Some networks have spent a good amount of time refuting his false claims after the presidential debates; I understand how that can be very satisfying to those who are exasperated by his tendency to lie. They've done pretty much the same thing now that he's pretty much lost the elections. Still as satisfying, I guess, and perhaps more so when the traditionally pro-Trump Fox News did the same thing, albeit during their news blocks.

Why aren't you fact-checking him, Joseph? Pia Ranada can do it. The Philippine Star can do it. Why aren't you? Why are you being a terrible journalist, Joseph? Do you even know how to be a journalist, Joseph? Fact! Check! The! Motherfucker!

But they're just notes. That one tweet is not all the reporting Joseph will do about the matter. It has to be said that GMA emphasized the false natures of the president's claims on their social media posts, and their later reporting did the same as well. Sure, it is satisfying to see these things debunked as soon as they are spouted out, and in a perfect world that's perhaps ideal, but journalists don't do things one way. Some can do it on the fly, while others would prefer to wait for the whole thing to drop before going through it with a sieve. It doesn't make their journalism any less valid. But, yeah, I know we demand instant gratification in everything, even if it goes at odds with journalism's tendency to take time, especially when it comes to digging through stories not on the surface.

Ultimately, though, it's not about how we want to get things the moment we realize we want them. Rather, it's about how we want to be affirmed every time. Unfortunately, that means we define "good" journalism to be the sort that confirms our biases and makes us feel good about our choices - and that goes for everyone, not just the "bobong DDS" the "dilawan" are so happy to denigrate. But then, journalists are not supposed to affirm what you believe in. All good journalists should have a commitment to delivering the facts, and that may take time. (As long as they're being ethical about it.) This fact has gotten lost in the haze of our so-called conversations becoming more polarized. We trust news outlets not because of their body of work but because of how they make us feel, and it's a bad thing in the long run, never mind your intentions.

Not that crusading journalism does not have its place in society. Rappler is good at what they do because they have a clear point of view, and have spent their time honing their expertise on certain subjects, which shines through on the stories they cover and the way they cover it - but it doesn't mean their way is the only way. (Although, arguably, you might want to be wary when news outfits suddenly become "woke"; I'm sure the Star does what it does on social media in part to boost engagement metrics.) You may call the major networks afraid for not being a bit more outspoken, but their "here are the facts; you make up your mind" approach can hit the spot, too. And I'm not saying that we cannot hold journalists into account; they can (and have) done wrong (or at least inappropriate considering the situation, like perhaps in this age of bold-faced misinformation) things, and if they are to continue serving the public in the right way, then we have to call them out on these things.

But in the end, this painting in a pixel is because we're angry, and as I said before, we want so badly to know that there are people who believe us and have our backs. Anyone who fails that criteria will have to be scorned, perhaps by being told that you're bad at journalism by non-journalists who spend their days doom-scrolling and rage-tweeting. (Disclaimer: I am not a journalist, although I do write a newspaper column, and I have studied journalism, and there was this one time when I kinda did as much towards a music festival.) Anything to affirm our beliefs, because we're on the right side on this one, aren't we?

I guess I can sympathize with that, though. I mean, every single time I believe the anger on the feeds will translate into something more palpable, but then it doesn't. We deny that we really feel hopeless about our situation. We have resigned ourselves to the fact that we have to watch our leaders enrich themselves and wreak further havoc on our institutions for two more years before potentially kicking them out - and even then, we might not be able to do it, because everybody else, everybody who doesn't see things our way, is either stupid or willingly sleeping through all these atrocities, right? So, we lash out at our journalists for doing things differently than we expect of them. And then we flock to the news sources that we think agree with us. We sow more mistrust on the Fourth Estate as a whole, deliberately or otherwise. We just want some release, damn it. Guess who still wins?

And your responses...

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