Republic of Politics

Filipinos love politics.

So we politicized our military. What was once clearly isolated from politics, distinct from the national police which is civilian in character, has become an indispensable political ally. Politics runs deep in the military that retired military generals either get appointed as cabinet members or run for political posts. Those kicked out of the service for leading coups can become senators.

We have also politicized the church. What was supposedly isolated from the state has become a political kingmaker. Religious leaders have become political endorsers, if not politicians themselves.

We have politicized the media. We did not even spare showbiz. The best way to get elected is to first become a TV personality. The current senate is composed of four actors, one fresh from a box-office hit, and two gentlemen married to two of the country’s most popular actresses.

And now, we have finally politicized our judiciary. What was once an independent institution has become another political playground. Its Chief Justice, feeling bullied by no less than the country’s President, fires back sounding very much like a traditional politician.

It seems the process is complete.

We have politicized all our major institutions. It seems perfect, especially in a country that treats politics as entertainment. It does not come as a surprise, therefore, that it’s more fun in the Philippines. We turn politics into entertainment, and then we politicized everything.

Breaking news or breaking the newspaper?

This is the abstract of a paper I presented in a conference in Peru, my second conference presentation as a doctoral student.

In a survey of 110 newspaper and website reporters in the Philippines, this study found a manifestation of medium-based loyalties, consistent with previous studies that found differences between perceptions of journalists tied to different media: Newspaper reporters were more optimistic about the future of their own medium while website reporters rated their own medium more positively.

Though journalists get socialized into the practice of journalism, it is apparent that within the profession are several sub-groups. A sub-group could be based on medium. But in as much as medium-based loyalties have significant effects on media convergence, the shift to converged newsrooms is also likely to affect the conceptualization of medium-based loyalties: If converged newsrooms succeed in creating multi-media journalists, where will their loyalties lie?

Presented at the World Communication Association 2011 Conference in Lima, Peru.

So who is a journalist?

UST, the Philippine’s oldest university that has produced many of the country’s good journalists, is posing questions that touch at the core of how we define a journalist. Here are some of my ramblings.

Who is a journalist?

If we go by the University of Sto. Tomas’ (UST) statement against an article that had questioned the doctoral degree it had conferred to Chief Justice Renato Corona, then Marites Vitug, a multi-awarded journalist behind the respected Newsbreak group, is not.

UST’s argument is simple: Though the article was reprinted by the Inquirer, the Philippines’ leading broadsheet, it was originally a blog post on a new website.

So UST asked: “Does anyone claiming to be an online journalist (sic) given the same attention as one coming from the mainstream press?”

In a statement quoted in another Inquirer article, the UST further asked: “Who challenged Miss Vitug’s article before it went online so as to establish its accuracy, objectivity and fairness? Why was there no prior disclosure made? What gate-keeping measures does online journalism practice?”

These arguments by the country’s oldest university rest on the old assumption that journalists are identified by their medium. This no longer makes sense.

Journalists are now expected to disseminate news in all possible platforms: print, broadcast, online, and even through mobile phones. A journalist who reports on TV, tweets about events he is covering, and then writes an online version clearly cannot be tied to just one medium.

Yes, numerous blogs lack the same level of gatekeeping that mainstream news organizations practice, but equating being online and lacking gatekeeping is haphazard. The medium used to limit the shape and processes an output can take. This no longer holds true.

That Vitug posted her article on a new website does not make her less of a journalist than she once was when Newsbreak took the form of a magazine. A journalist is better defined by what he or she does, rather than by his or her platform for dissemination.

The mainstream-versus-new journalism is a false dichotomy. Technology has helped journalism reach more people and reach them quickly, wherever they may be.

But technology is not journalism.

It seems that what really bothered UST is that the Inquirer—a mainstream press by its standards—carried Vitug’s article as its banner story.

But in questioning the integrity of Vitug’s new website Rappler, UST has also unwittingly conferred Rappler’s “online journalists” mainstream status and attention any new site will be very happy with.

The spread of pseudo-events: Covering the Influenza A(H1N1) Pandemic

This was my first conference presentation as a doctoral student. 

Boorstin sounded the alarm in 1961: Staged realities, or what he called pseudo-events, were flooding the American press. In a content analysis of 200 online news articles on the Influenza A (H1N1) pandemic, this study sought to apply his concept to the coverage of a real health crisis. It found that news articles based on pseudo-events slightly outnumber those based on spontaneous events. But establishment sources, like government officials, that previous literature showed to be the most active stagers of events, were also heavily quoted in spontaneous events. This study found an interesting trend: News articles on spontaneous events were more common before and after a community outbreak. However, during the outbreak itself, there were more articles based on pseudo-events. Though staged and mediated events have been frowned upon, the findings of this study point to a value of pseudo-events. The staging of events can also be a response to a real need. In times of crises, people need information not only to understand what is going on but also to feel reassured and prepared by feeling they are adequately informed.

Paper presented at the International Communication Association 2011 Conference in Boston.