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Are bloggers journalists?

FOR the prolific and regularly writing ones, I think so. But what matters is if you are read, whether you write for the “institutional press” (a US court’s definition of mainstream media) or just write in your lonely room, independent of any editor or publisher.

Bloggers RJ Nieto and Sass Rogando Sasot, I think, are read by more Filipinos than me (at least judging by the number of followers they have), and regularly write what we define as journalistic products, pieces that collect relevant data on things and events interesting to people, and present them in readable form.

There is a spectrum though of what are claimed to be journalistic products from mere stenographic reporting (which I think characterizes Philippine media) to opinion pieces, to extended propaganda narratives (as many articles by the Red-controlled Philippine Collegian now are).

The question, though, has become relevant with the proposal of the incoming head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, Trixie Cruz-Angeles, to accredit bloggers to cover Malacañang press briefings. Indeed, if bloggers Nieto, Sasot, Darwin Canete or Cruz-Angeles (also a blogger before) had been accredited to Malacañang as journalists during President Aquino 3rd’s administration, we would have had more interesting and enlightening press conferences at that time.

The most vociferous opposition to Cruz-Angeles’ proposal comes from my former editor at the Manila Chronicle in the late 1980s, Vergel Santos, a trustee of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, which has received a total of P52 million from the CIA-linked National Endowment for Democracy since 2009.

Santos wrote: “A blogger decides for himself or herself. A journalist does not. A journalist, apart from being put through a rigorous training in the discipline and skills, a journalist’s works are put through a system of checks to ensure that the information disseminated is truthful, well-contextualized and not malicious. Bloggers don’t understand those things.” I wonder who checks his, the CMFR’s forever-Yellow head Melinda Quintos-de Jesus’ or the anonymous “CMFR staff’s” so biased articles in their website, and in the self-important Journalism Review — NED representatives?

Time warp

Santos, who would be in his 80s now is in some time warp, living in the past, when newspapers were newspapers, when Santos’ shrill voice would often be heard in the newsroom, scolding a reporter for writing what he thought was “information not truthful.” Legendary among reporters of my time was this editor — I forget his name — who had this sadistic penchant to tear up a reporter’s copy to his face, and throw it in the wastebasket.

But those were in the olden days. Even editors in the most well-paid newspapers in the US don’t bother to check the accuracy of reporters’ copies, a fact that journalists like Sheila Coronel and Maria Ressa have taken advantage of to write outright lies, misinformation, and non-contextualized and malicious articles on their own country. Their editors don’t really bother to check the information and analysis they write, assuming that since they are Filipinos, they know more about the Philippines than anyone in the newspaper or magazine.

The sad truth is, ever since reporters were no longer required to report in their offices, write their articles on typewriters, and ask the copy boy to deliver it to the nearby News Desk, and wait for an editor’s OK-you-can-leave-now, there are hardly any “system of checks to ensure the information disseminated by print reporters are truthful, well-contextualized and not malicious.”

Contrary to Santos’ ancient view, reporters now practically decide for themselves what to write, or what angle to take.

Email

Reporters now simply email (or even Viber) their stories. He would hear from his editor only when he writes something so obviously false. Reporters, sad to say, rely on their “packs” (their fellow reporters in their beat) to validate if his information is accurate, by checking on whether or not it deviates from those written by his colleagues.

Sorry to say, but because of the very low pay scale in the industry (mainly due to the fact that paper costs have zoomed), the quality of editors — except of course for my editor who’s from the old days — has also gone down, or they don’t think bothering with a reporter’s copy is worth his salary.

Reporters are “put through a rigorous training in the discipline and skills.” Yeah, right. So many newspaper editors have recruited UP Mass Communications graduates, most of whom have been so brainwashed if not in Mao Zedong Thought, then in that school of journalism, made popular by the Woodward-Bernstein team of Watergate fame, that a journalist’s task is to oppose governments.

Editors provide checks? Well, if this Yellow copy editor at the Manila Times last year were the editor-in-chief, he would have spiked an article I (and even the publisher-emeritus) wrote on an anti-Duterte conspiracy, which was based on intelligence documents.

Quality

In short, the journalistic quality of many (not all of course) bloggers are better than many of those of mainstream media. In fact when this newspaper’s owner, my old friend Dante Ang asked my help in 2013 for me to beef up the Manila Times’ editorial page (which he innovatively thought would put it ahead of its competitors), the only people I could think of recruiting as columnists were bloggers, among them Sasot (who however for some reason resigned), Antonio Contreras, Malou Tiquia, Ben Kritz and several others.

The line between media writers from the “institutionalized press” (the US term for “mainstream media”) and bloggers — the successful and prolific ones — has become extremely hazy. Many bloggers, here and abroad, have many more readers than columnists. Straight reporters (i.e., those reporting only facts, or he-said articles) would soon even be extinct, when a good wire service emerges, helped by artificial intelligence.

There are of course differences between bloggers and print journalists. One of them is obvious. Writers like me depend for my livelihood on my fee as a columnist. Bloggers don’t, although more and more, advertising in successful blogs generate more income than columnists’ fees.

Second is that I do have an editor, whose task however is limited to ensuring that my copy is free of typographical and grammatical errors, or an obvious absence of reason and truth. Gone are the days when editors, especially the editor-in-chief, would ask a reporter to follow up this or that topic. Bloggers don’t have editors, but there is no inherent obstacle for them to hire editors — at their expense.

For forever

The third, most important, difference, for which bloggers should accord us respect, is that what we write “for forever.” This newspaper, with our columns, will be kept on file in the libraries here and all over the world. An error, a stupid column will exist till the end of time, as it were. That makes us in print media more careful and circumspect in writing our pieces. I wouldn’t want a great-great-grandson of mine doing research in a library, and read a nonsense piece written by me.

Not so for bloggers. While they can revel in the fact that they can instantly delete an error, blogs can disappear overnight — when the blogger can no longer maintain his website, and when Facebook or Twitter deletes or buries his blogs.

What matters really is whether a blogger or an institutional writer is read, to justify his or her efforts in writing (or being paid by the newspaper). It is a sort of free market in the cultural sphere: Sooner or later, if nobody reads a blogger or a columnist, he or she would realize it is not worth his or her mental efforts.

There is though a practical matter for the PCOO to decide who to accredit to Malacañang press conferences. In the case of print and broadcast, the reporters assigned to cover the presidency are, of course, given such accreditation. What criteria would the PCCO use to decide who would be accredited? Number of followers? A qualitative evaluation that this blogger reports or discusses governance and not gossip about celebrities? I suggest an independent committee does that, to avoid accusations of political bias on the part of the PCOO.


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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Oli

    Insightful post. The last few days, my wife and I were discussing this over breakfast and here are my suggestions to the PCOO when coming up with the measures/metrics to accredit bloggers:
    1. identify bloggers with significant no. of followers AND active content creation/posting;
    2. identify content/post relevancy (this can be tedious, but there are online free online tools that use ML/AI that identify relevance and quality.
    3. last, and the most important – post engagement. In my experience with social media brand management, this is missed out by social media strategist in the early 2010’s. Right now this is gaining attention with even IG measuring engagement, post saves, etc.

    All in all, it will take these three to help the PCOO team to initially identify quality and engaging bloggers; but it doesn’t stop here – an iterative approach must be engineered as the media and technology landscapes change so fast.

  2. Dorina Rojas

    I totally agree with you, Sir, but even with the mainstream media, I find trashy publications as if everything is for showbusiness people or some sci-fi movie. I am very hopeful Malacanang will be very objective and intelligent about vloggers’ accreditation. looking forward to your assistance in the evaluation of these bloggers.

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