POSTSCRIPT / July 26, 2018 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Today, I’ll bore you with trade secrets

IF YOU’RE a media specialist, please don’t read on. I’d be embarrassed having you listen to a basic and possibly boring topic that we discuss to death in journalism school – deadline writing.

It’s just that some friends asked how I sneaked in that Postscript column on Tuesday (“House revolt bares crack in leadership”) on the President’s third State of the Nation Address that he delivered after our deadline.

While most opinion pieces that day discussed other interesting subjects, mine was on the cold meat of the SONA (no big deal really) – spiced up by that surprise power-grab at the House that delayed Duterte’s delivery by one hour and 21 minutes.

A peep into how I work may be in order at this point. I’m a one-man operation – having no staff, no secretary, no researchers, no legmen, no ghost-writers, no driver. But I do have friends kung saan-saan.

And I have no office. In this borderless world, my work place is where my laptop and my cellphones happen to be when I sit down to write. When I wrote about the SONA that was scheduled at 4 p.m. Monday, I was abroad where it was well past midnight.

Writing on the SONAs of some previous presidents was easier. I simply asked my Malacañang contacts for the latest script. That copy helped, although there was always the embargo at the top of the cover to check against delivery.

A news bulletin or an opinion piece could be written based on the embargoed material. Fast editing or rewriting, based on ad libs and major deviations from the draft, is routine work to seasoned copy editors.

But one day, I don’t remember exactly when or which presidency it was, that changed. A TV network that enjoyed Palace access pulled a big scoop and its irate rivals vigorously complained. The selective leaking of SONA materials stopped.

With the levelling of the field, it was back to imaginative and enterprising journalism for all of us. By imaginative I don’t mean fiction-writing or speculative reporting, but coverage preceded by detailed preparation.

In the days leading to the President’s third SONA, there was no total radio silence as in a submarine suddenly emerging from the depths and firing a torpedo. We knew more or less what Duterte was going to say.

To anticipate where his stream-of-consciousness might lead him, we reviewed his previous speeches. But we had been warned that this time he would stick to the script, and refrain from spitting out expletives.

It was also good that there were Palace insiders willing to talk about the SONA’s content for whatever reason — be it to be of help to media, to generate publicity, or to have the boss notice that they were communicating his noble intentions.

The missing parts of the advancer that I had in mind were the vital talking points. The lifeblood of a speech story is in its choice quotations – which the Malacañang communications office could not provide before 4 p.m. Monday.

To be steps ahead of the field, we prepare an advancer which is so written that it could be quickly edited to dovetail into unfolding events. Background materials are added to give it depth and context without having to run back to research.

I emailed my advancer at 9:55 a.m. Monday with an alert to Op-Ed editor Mon Lim that I might send revisions based on actual delivery – but that if my draft deviated drastically from the SONA, and with no time to rehash it, I would withdraw it altogether. (He had a ready replacement.)

My advancer was based mainly on Communications Secretary Martin Andanar’s YouTube preview of the administration’s accomplishments that the President was sure to report. The “from the heart” aspect was not too hard to squeeze into an opinion piece.

All the while, friends and sources were telling me – via email, Viber and text (overseas calls are expensive) – about a brewing “coup” to replace Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez with Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and that the President’s daughter Mayor Sara Carpio had been lining up congressmen behind GMA.

At 3:45 p.m., with my sources’ updates on the impending coup coming in faster, I texted my editor that I would email a new column – and Mon said OK. With information already on hand, I surmised writing a new lead won’t be that hard.

For the SONA itself, however, I had to wait till the dust settled. Back from their huddle with the President, Alvarez was at the podium with Senate President Tito Sotto when Duterte began his labored 48-minute speech at 5:21 p.m.

By that time, it was slightly past my deadline, but with my early alert to the desk, I begged the office to tweak the schedule a bit for this late-breaker if it won’t upset the print run. It didn’t.

 Why the Speaker of the House was replaced

YOU MUST have read this apocryphal story, or one of its variations after it first appeared on Facebook, purporting to explain why the Speaker of the House of Representatives was replaced.

We think it highlights, in a humorous way, some of the perils of the tricky business of real-time communications, so we’re sharing it:

Direk Joyce Bernal sabi kay Andanar after assessing the Batasan sound system: Basag ang tunog ng speakers, dapat palitan. Mas maganda yung maliliit lang na bagong model.

Umandar si Andanar, sabi kay Bong Go: Bong, pakisabi kay Mayor dapat daw palitan ang speakers sa House ng maliit lang.

Bong to Digong: Mayor, sir, kailangan daw para sa SONA palitan ang speaker ng maliit.

Digong: Sige… Mahilig sa components si Baste, sabihin sa kanya palitan yung speaker ng maliit. Bilisan lang.

Baste to Sara: Day, busy ako. Ikaw na lang gumawa niyan. Palitan daw ang speaker ng maliit para sa SONA

The rest, as they say, is history. (Will somebody please tell us who wrote the original masterpiece? – fdp)

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 26, 2018)

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