Where the news term 'kuryente' came from
CURRENT TERM: Where did the pressroom term “kuryente” come from? What exactly does it mean?
We received these questions from many readers who encountered it in the reportage on Faye (oh no, not again!) Nicole San Juan, the sixth grader who did the incredible feat of winning a non-existent global science competition!
The news reports and commentaries said that the Bread of Life pastor who listened to Faye, the reporters and the columnists who jumped in — plus a majority of their readers — fell for it and were “nakuryente.”
“Kuryente” (literally “[electric] current”) is a term used only in Philippine journalism to refer to a bum steer, a false story, planted or otherwise.
When a reporter is “nakuryente” (literally “electrocuted”), that means he fell for it, wrote it and his story saw print. Across the Pacific, they would say the reporter and his editor (an accessory to the crime) swallowed it “hook, line and sinker.”
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TRACING ORIGIN: I will contribute what little I know about the term to provoke the older hands to come in to correct me and give more authoritative accounts of who generated “kuryente” decades ago.
By the time martial rule was imposed in September 1972, when I was covering the old still-sedate Senate and the opposition for the old Manila Times, the term “kuryente” was already in use among newsmen.
This means that the term was coined or came into use before September 1972. This is one reason why we have to hear from our older colleagues in the oldest profession.
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CONFLAGRATION: This is the background of that term, as I knew it at the time.
A police reporter of a major daily came too late to cover a big fire (don’t be caught calling that a “conflagration,” a million-dollar word) in a congested squatter section of Pasay.
In such a situation, with a deadline to beat, a reporter who was caught “natutulog sa pansitan” (“sleeping in the panciteria,” another term to be discussed later) will ask his colleagues for hurried notes.
Fellow reporters, especially those who owe you one, usually help with enough details to start with. But they keep the more juicy details for their own paper.
Our tardy reporter was told that five persons (not “people”) died in the fire. He was given the names (comma) ages (comma) and addresses. He was casually told also that the five fatalities were electrocuted during the fire.
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ELECTROCUTED: The reporter failed to notice that all the facts seemed to have been too neatly packaged for him. But he was in a hurry and collecting such basic data is a procedure that one cannot skip.
He had no more time to locate and interview victims and fire personnel sifting through the debris, so he relied on good old imagination for the rest of the story. After all, if you have seen one big fire, you have seen all of them (or so it seems when deadline is just minutes away).
He fell back on the de cajon formula for a fire story saying “Five persons were killed yesterday by live wires that snapped during a fire that razed (never say “razed to the ground”) a squatter area in… et cetera.”
“The victims,” his masterpiece continued, “ were identified by the police as … (he gave their names, ages, addresses).” Oh yes, he added that they all died after being electrocuted during the fire.
By this time, I think you know the rest of the story, but I will continue anyway.
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HIS CONTRIBUTION: The next day, the “kuryente” angle and not the fire itself was the biggest story in jocular media circles, with everybody (minus our reporter) having a good laugh. What is more, there were fewer than five persons killed.
(Btw, my saying “our” reporter does not mean he was a Philippine STAR staffer. This great paper was to be born years later.)
Everybody was referring to the poor reporter as “nakuryente,” a term that he inadvertently contributed to the lexicon of Philippine journalism.
I wish I could identify our reporter so he could bow and get the proper credit. Rather, I appeal to older or retired colleagues to first confirm, belie or revise this account and, if true, to give us his name.
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STATESIDE REPORTER: Related to this is another police story involving a reporter who covered the police beat and scored what could rival a “kuryente.”
Unlike most of his colleagues, this reporter drove his own car, smoked a pipe and wore a tie! Nobody covers the police beat in that getup, but this one did. Kasi he boasted of a journalism diploma from a Stateside university.
He covered and sat at a make-or-beak meeting of jeepney drivers and operators on whether to stage a strike or not in the metropolis the next day. Deep into the night they decided to go on strike “at walang atrasan!” (no turning back!).
He left hurriedly to phone in the new lead to his advancer, and drove home.
His final report said the capital would be paralyzed that day by a jeepney strike… et cetera. The reporter’s final report ran as the banner story in the city that at that time had not gotten used to transport strikes.
Unknown to him, after he left and the group dispersed, cooler heads made hurried phone calls and in the consultation decided to call off the strike.
“JEEPNEY STRIKE TODAY!” shouted his paper’s front page as newsboys peddled the news in the streets clogged with the usual jeepneys plying their routes.
It was not “kuryente,” but something just as embarrassing.
Early in the morning, he was awakened by the banging on his door. His cigar-chomping editor spat out some choice expletives and thrust to his face the competing paper’s front page on the calling off of the jeepney strike. You imagine the rest of the story.
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ANOTHER ONE?: I am sort of lazy this slow Sunday and am not inclined to snoop around, so I will pass on this email to the news editors and budding detectives who might want to test their skills at pursing a Faye-like story.
A dentist, Dr. Maritess Q. Lopez, told me in her email that, still recovering from the Faye shock, she noticed a billboard at his son’s school that she identified as the Union Science Elementary School in Malate.
The billboard, she added, was congratulating a certain Alyssa Riezle Pedrosa for “winning” as an Australian Mathematics Competition Credit Awardee. She claimed that a “source” told her the pupil was in the premiere section in Grade 3.
Do not let the mention of Australia make you drop the subject.
The doctor added that she searched the Internet and found in the website http://www.sei.dost.gov.ph of the Department of Science and Technology a press release dated Oct. 26, 2004, on contest winners/awardees but that it did not include the name Alyssa Riezle Pedrosa.
She asked us if this was “another case of kuryente ?”
Frankly I don’t know. Some news editor or pastor or columnist may want to help out, and possibly stumble on another fairy tale.