POSTSCRIPT / April 25, 2010 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Expecting defeat, loser predicts massive fraud

ADVANCE EXCUSE: A recurring topic in media circles is the obvious attempt of some camps and candidates to condition the mind of the public that they are sure winners.

The line being developed is: Candidate A is a sure winner by all indications, including surveys. The only way he can lose is if he is cheated. When cheated, people should take to the streets to claim the victory snatched from him.

This is a dangerous, irresponsible line being cast at a population assiduously conditioned to think that the administration of President Arroyo (although not even a presidential candidate) has set the stage for massive cheating in the coming elections.

And if Candidate A loses, the line goes, another People Power must be resorted to like the anti-Marcos forces did in 1986.

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ACID TEST: We in mass media are going through an acid test while walking the tight rope between today and May 10 when some 40 million Filipinos come out to elect an entire set of national and local officials.

The election coverage is showing media’s true colors. Even now we can already see if those claiming to be journalists have maintained their avowed balance and fairness or actually have been operating as partisans for or against chosen candidates.

Having seen press performance in past elections as well as coverage of the current campaign, my assessment is that most media practitioners will not only survive but will pass the test with good grades.

But there will be a notable few – mostly non-pros who have not gone through the disciplining rigors of beat coverage over time — who have given themselves away as partisans or mercenaries of candidates and/or political parties.

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LONG-RUN: Elections are just one of many political disturbances visiting the land regularly. True journalists who value their integrity and the nobility of their calling know that they are in this serious business not for this raging season but for the long run.

Professional newsmen know that candidates and politicians come and go, but that they and their newspapers or radio-TV networks – at least the legitimate ones – strive to be still around after the dust of political combat has settled.

The temptation to be a writer-for-hire or a propagandist disguised as a columnist is great – considering the material rewards — but the professional journalist, especially one who had pounded the beat, is likely to refuse to sell himself.

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SURVIVAL: Readers have grown sophisticated over the years (although I am not so sure about TV viewers). The more discerning readers can spot the pretenders who have succumbed to the blandishment of politicians.

Even among us working journalists, we know who among the newspapers and networks and who among the political writers are likely to survive the May 10 elections.

By “survive” we mean their being able to come out of the bruising election campaign with their integrity and credibility intact.

Many of us have been around long enough to be able to form an opinion on the matter. At this stage of the campaign, we can almost see how our ranks will break into those who kept the faith and those who sold out.

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TESTED ROUTE: Most media old fogies have noticed that many of those who take lightly their journalistic responsibilities are newcomers who just cropped up from nowhere to claim a niche in opinion pages.

The well-trodden route is to work up from the beats (plural) over a number of years. During that apprenticeship, one is whipped by his elders until he is able to recite (and apply) the journalistic ethics, the newsroom guidelines and required writing style almost without thinking.

It used to be that when hiring new staffers, the paper would give much weight to the quality of the writing output and not the diploma brought by the applicant.

Hiring an honors graduate and placing him at the desk to pass upon and edit reporters’ copy does not always work. Bereft of beat experience, the brand-new deskman or subeditor is sometimes unaware that the copy he is checking for grammar and style is nothing but a rewritten press release.

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WINNOWING FACTS: Cunning reporters are able to run circles around inexperienced deskmen. Many green deskmen sometimes are not even aware that the story filed by a reporters is just a rewrite of a press release emailed from an air-conditioned motel room.

An editor who has been around and who has gone through the beats will know a bum story the first time he scans a reporter’s copy. How does he know? Somehow, he has developed that sense of knowing what is fact and what is fiction.

It may not be fair to say this, but there are senior writers, who had cut their teeth in a related business and simply crossed the street to an editorial office with the help of an insider. They stand out as lacking the discipline imbibed only by years of beat coverage.

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CHRONIC FAILURE: They stand out by their chronic failure to balance their stuff while hammering on their victim of the day or the enemy of their friend and client. You can also spot them by their unfamiliarity with the writing styles of the paper (such as their spelling of titles, dates and such details).

But these details are not of the substance. What is galling to those who have printer’s ink in their veins and know the rules of journalism better than the Ten Commandments is the bogus journalists’ failure to observe the basic rules of balance and fairness.

That may have been the result of their not having gone through beat reporting.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 25, 2010)

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