BLOGGERS, even prolific ones whom one Red propagandist calls, rather stupidly, “citizen journalists,” are not journalists. They are a new creature disseminating ideas and information solely in cyber space, a creature of the digital age. Period.
Many of the most widely read bloggers, claiming hundreds of thousands of views have even disappeared.
The prime example of this is the vociferous anti-Duterte blogger, Jover Laurio (PinoyAko), who got to be the Yellows’ rock star that the Philippine Daily Inquirer named her as one of its Most Outstanding Filipinos for 2017. Hardly anybody reads her blog anymore, unless one would want to contract her as travel agent, which she announces in her blog is her main work.
But such a fate to some extent has also befallen a few bloggers on the other side of the political fence, which confirms one feature of blogging — it feeds a lot on emotions rather than on facts and logic. With no Yellow candidate or their followers to yell at, a few pro-Duterte, and pro-Marcos bloggers appear to be slowing down to a crawl.
Journalists, e.g., columnists like me, however, whether having a few readers or thousands, have been writing for years roughly at an unchanged rate, in the case of this newspaper three columns a week since 2013, and in articles in Business Day, Manila Chronicle, Far Eastern Economic Review, and the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
I’m not romanticizing journalists. Why we say we enjoy writing, our primordial reason, except for the rich among us, is that we’ve got to have an income. We get paid for writing. Only a few bloggers — even only one, I think — have managed to build a substantial following they earn from their opinion blogs. But Facebook and other social media platforms are cruelly efficient: a slight drop in viewers, and they don’t pay. If I were wealthy, I’d probably not be a journalist but a blogger, for the fun of it, to write only when I feel like it, without an editor breathing down my neck reminding me of deadlines.
An important result of regular writing in a newspaper is that an opinion writer gets to develop a reputation, that he or she is regularly read, and therefore, whether his readers are aware of it or not, molds his readers’ worldview.
The strongman Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.’s most powerful means of convincing Filipinos to support his martial law regime was not to shut down the press nor his vast propaganda machine. It was rather the respected and very readable columnists — the most important of whom was Teodoro Valencia — who wrote daily columns to support — overall, but not on a daily basis — the regime.
In the post-Marcos era, it was the likes of Maximo Soliven, Randy David and of course the vociferously anti-Gloria Conrado de Quiros — who wrote very regular columns — and thus molded a lot the political viewpoint of the upper and middle class in the era of the Yellows.
Here in our country, there is no blogger who has attained that level of widely-read and respected opinion makers, although many have been entertainment-makers. There are several though in the US and the West, most prominent of whom is Arianna Huffington, who leveraged her stature to found the web-only news site Huffington Post, which she later sold to America Online for $315 million.
I am not putting journalists on a higher plane than bloggers, especially as their flaws are increasingly becoming worse.
An old-timer in traditional newspapering had bashed bloggers: “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.”
That commentator, now in his late 70s, is living in the past, when newspapers were newspapers, when editors would often be heard in the newsroom scolding a reporter for writing what he thought was “unadulterated trash.” Legendary among reporters of my time was this editor — I forget his name — who tore up a reporter’s copy to his face, and threw it in the wastebasket.
But those were in the olden days. The sad truth is, ever since reporters were no longer required to report to their offices, write their articles on typewriters there, ask the copy boy to hand carry it to the 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.” Reporters now practically decide for themselves what to write, or what angle to take.
Reporters now simply email (or Viber) their stories to the newsroom. He would get a call or text from his editor only when he writes something so obviously false. Reporters, sad to say, also rely a lot 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 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 editors who’re from the old days — has also gone down, or they don’t think bothering with a reporter’s copy is worth the salary they’re paid.
Editors provide checks? Well, if this Yellow copy editor at the Manila Times last year had been 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.
In short, the journalistic quality of many (not all of course) bloggers are often on par with 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 Antonio Contreras, Malou Tiquia and Ben Kritz, who have proven to be topnotch columnists.
A most important difference, for which bloggers should accord us respect, is that what we write is “for forever.” Long after this columnist’s ashes have been dispersed in his garden, his byline on his columns, and better still in his three books, will be somewhere accessible, in black-and white. All of his entire body of writing will be kept in some Cosmic Library in the future.
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 reading a nonsense piece written by me.
Not so for bloggers. Blogs can disappear overnight — when the blogger can no longer maintain his website, and when Facebook or Twitter deletes his blogs. How will the Cosmic Librarian find a blogger’s works, whose chains of ones and zeros have long vanished?
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