The “Life Achievement Award” recently given by the Rotary Club of Manila raises a lot of questions which I believe need answers. First of all, what is a journalist? How do you define journalism as a profession? Can all those writing in newspapers be classified as journalists?
From the internet, the definition of journalism is “ the activity of gathering, assessing, creating and presenting news and information. It is also the product of these activities.
Journalism can be distinguished from other activities and products by certain identifiable characteristics and practices. These elements not only separate journalism from other forms of communication, which make it indispensable to democratic societies. History reveals that the more democratic a society is, the more news and information it tends to have.
There are certain elements of journalism which separates it from other professions, these are:
1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
2. Its first loyalty is to citizens.
3. Its essence is a discipline of verification.
4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
6. It must provide a forum of public criticism and compromise
7. It must strive to keep the news significantly interesting and relevant
8. It must keep news comprehensive and proportional, and
9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience. “
From my point of view, having been a journalist more than a lawyer, journalism is more of a calling than a profession. It is for these reasons why I believe that it is more a calling than a profession because there are times when a journalist will not hesitate to lay down his life for the sake of truth, and for the sake of press readers in the pursuit of common good and national interest.
The most critical question is, what is a real journalist? First of all, a journalist must possess curiosity, which makes a journalist ask questions in the wake of a controversy, why did it happen and that there must be a reason for it.
When I wrote the exposes when I was still a Business Editor of the defunct Philippines Herald, I was always curious about things happening at the Central Bank, so much so that I always made my rounds at every office, always asking questions.
Together with the Central Bank at the old Ayuntamiento Building at Intramuros, I made my daily rounds at the Manila Stock Exchange, being friendly with every stock broker, asking questions.
Because of my curiosity, I found out that some Monetary Board members were playing the stock market.
This aroused my curiosity more when I started asking stockbrokers about them.
I soon learned from the grapevine that they had been given dollar quota allocations by the import department. I soon confirmed my suspicions about the three Monetary Board members and wrote about them.
It was headline material.
That started questions from Congress and soon enough, Malacanang asked them to resign.
That led to the day I was kidnapped and made to spend the whole night in a room of the old Hotel Filipinas, under guard by a well known mobster from Cavite, whose only reason for kidnapping me was that the son of his friend, one of the three Monetary Board members, just wanted me to hear his side.
Naturally, I acceded since a journalist must find ways to get both sides of a controversy.
Then President Ramon Magsaysay met me and I told him about the issue, and he asked me whom I would recommend to replace the three MB members, and all I could think of were three honest men, Col. Jaime Velasquez of Ayala, Dr. Gumersindo Garcia of the University of the Philippines, and then Undersecretary Amado Dalisay.
President Magsaysay said, “Done.” But that isn’t the end of the story.
President Magsaysay had security guards assigned to secure my family.
Those were crucial and trying days because my wife complained that even when she would go to the bathroom, the female security guard had to accompany her, And I had to house and feed them.
Another thing that a journalist must have is communication skills. Strong communication skills are a must for a journalist. These skills are used on a regular basis to interview sources and to write in-depth stories and reports.
Tech-savviness. With the advancement of information and communication technology, tech-savviness is a must. Journalists are expected to know how to use social media as a tool to report happenings and to provide transparent coverage on ongoing events.
But, I must warn journalists to separate truth from lies because social media are often used by bloggers for disinformation and misinformation.
It is also necessary for journalists to have analytical minds.
My advantage is that I am a lawyer and I was trained to argue on both sides of a question or controversy, to analyze things and to distance myself from my emotions regarding stories
Sound judgment is a must for a journalist and he must use it on a regular basis. Even when there are strict deadlines, a journalist should hone the skills to report stories accurately and truthfully.
A journalist is accountable and responsible for what he is writing, while bloggers and vloggers are not.
It is for this reason why I cannot see the justification why bloggers and vloggers must be accredited to cover the President. Whoever recommended it must be stupid.
The last question that often comes to me is: are all those writing columns in news real journalists?
The answer is a big flat “NO” because a true-blooded journalist must go through the mill.
By going through the mill, as I have, refers to the fact that a real journalist must start from the bottom, like covering beats from the police as a start.
The highest beat in a newspaper is being a member of the Malacanang Press Corps. Of course, when a journalist like me, who went through the mill, becomes a chairman of the Editorial Board, that’s an achievement in a journalist’s life.
Those who write columns in newspapers are not journalists. I consider them contributors. They lend their expertise, like experts in geo-politics, governance, business, sports, lifestyle, entertainment, society goings-on, environment, agriculture, and even culture.
Priests who write a column lend their expertise in religion, military men their expertise in military matters and so on and so forth.
There are of course those writing a column who are considered more as journalists because of their expertise.
Columnists like Rigoberto Tiglao to me is a real journalist, having written at The Economist, and my colleague Tony Lopez is a real journalist, publishing the BIZNews Asia and having been a correspondent of the defunct Newsweek.
Years ago, only journalists who had earned their spurs, to speak, could write a column.
Now, anybody who thinks he or she can write, writes. Santa Banana, I had to earn my spurs before I could write a political column and I had to qualify as a radio and television commentator and interviewer.
A lot of my friends will resent me for this column on who are true and real journalists, but I must say it.
Journalism profession, to me, is more a calling than a career.
You will never get rich being a journalist. Surprisingly, our mainstream newspapers are full of columnists. In one newspaper alone, I counted 27 columnists. In other words, column-writing has been bastardized.
And now BBM’s press secretary wants to accredit bloggers and vloggers to cover the President, Santa Banana, she wants to bastardize the Malacanang Press Corps!