Veloso survives gallows for now, but not poor headline writing

As the country woke up to the great news that Mary Jane Veloso’s execution had been postponed, the President’s Daily Inquirer had a nasty scoop: nope, the poor domestic worker was actually dead. Because as the paper’s banner headline screamed, “death came before dawn” for Veloso whose scheduled execution by firing squad had whipped up a storm of condemnation here and even in Indonesia.

Did the PDI know something that the rest of us didn’t? What were they thinking? We know.

This is what happens when people running a traditional news medium go reckless while trying to cope with the demands of the 24/7 news cycle. They resort to guesswork while forgetting about what they and their colleagues had been preaching all along: never assume. And who was it who told us to get the story right first?

The mighty PDI editors could argue that the brutally misleading headline referred to the eight other inmates who were not as fortunate as Veloso and another convict, a French man. The body of the story itself was probably accurate. But taken together, the headline and the text of the story made the unmistakable conclusion–Veloso had been executed.

Veloso’s plight had all the elements of a great copy. Driven away by poverty back home, she pushed her luck abroad but only to be duped (as her defense claims) into becoming an unwitting drug mule. She was jailed and sentenced to death while those running the drug syndicate remained free, a victim of ugly circumstances and for which she was condemned to die.

But then came the 11th hour miracle, one that PDI’s print edition could no longer accommodate because of the inherent limitations of the medium. What could possibly prevent the execution when another PDI article declared that President BS Aquino’s “last chance” appeal and strategy had failed?

Well, PDI might have given up on its hero, BS Aquino, but the strategy, coupled with a Filipino recruiter’s decision to turn herself in, apparently worked. Guess the paper failed to guess that.

The Veloso execution fiasco should encourage PDI editors to put more trust in the news organization’s online platform (and even its trailblazing radio station) to deliver real-time news.

It reminds us of the infamous “Dewey Defeats Truman” blunder by the Chicago Daily Tribune of ages past. But we know PDI is going to survive its latest gaffe and continue (whether bitter Rappler likes it or not) dictating the national news agenda.

So influential is PDI that an event is not a story until it comes out in the paper, its editors love to boast.

We submit: take it from PDI, Veloso was executed until the paper says she wasn’t.

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Online ‘journalism’ goes to the pits

We were supposed to be dead and buried, silenced for good, resting in peace six feet under, with the realization that all was good in Philippine media.

Not even the self-centered, souvenir-laden, Me Journalism of a coverage of the Papal visit by select reporters on board Shepherd One, not even the mouthpiece reporting of major media outlets on the Mamasapano fiasco, could resurrect us from the dead.

Well, guess what. We’re unfortunately back, thanks to ABS-CBNNews.com and bitter rival GMA News Online, the same news platform that once singlehandedly terrorized the English language.

Someone over at the Kapamilya’s online newsroom decided to play around with singer Nikki Gil and her much-publicized virginity. Her promise to surrender Bataan only to her fiancé, a businessman curiously named BJ, gave ABS-CBNNews.com’s headline writers enough material to fool around. The result:

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The news website later edited the headline, but not after it triggered feverish online traffic at the expense of its network’s own talent.

We’re all familiar with the dark side of social media, the fact that it also serves as a big stage for inanities. As shown by GMA News Online, there won’t be any shortage of lunacy in our Facebook feeds, especially this Holy Week.

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This kili-killer story on Ina Raymundo’s allegedly dark armpit has lowered the bar even more on “news stories” culled from the “social media” beat. We don’t know if GMA News Online’s competitors could ever go any lower, unless the Sabado Nights sex icon posts an Instagram photo of her other armpit and another online hater finds it even darker.

Speaking of bashers, we suspect the armpit critic is a minor based on her social media accounts. In which case GMA News Online should have been more forgiving and simply ignored the “story.”

But news organizations under pressure from the competition would go to great lengths to generate online traffic. So thanks to Raymundo’s armpit, GMA News Online found something to report about. We hope they would produce a follow-up to a running story that now requires expert opinions to deepen the furious debate on whether Raymundo’s armpit is indeed dark, much like the online debate on whether a dress was gold and white or blue and black.

Human of the Year: The Newbie Journo

The year is about to end and it’s time to pay tribute to that person who made a significant and indelible mark in journo-town. We’d like to depart from tradition this year to give a group of journos the attention they so desperately deserve. They’re no Maria Ressa, for sure. But there’s no stopping them from believing that they’re the next best thing that happened to journalism, the next Glenda Gloria or Carmela Fonbuena.

Meet the Newbie Journo, our Human of the Year for 2014.

There was a time when greenhorns knew their place and patiently bore the daily grind ’til they were ready for primetime. Those days are gone. Armed with MacBooks, digital recorders, and imitation Moleskine notebooks, they storm their beats and fear no one, not even the turf-conscious cartel veterans.

One look at their social media accounts and you’d get what we mean. Unlike their veteran counterparts who started their careers with Wordstar or the Underwood, the newbies arrived in the age of Facebook and Twitter. And boy, do they know how to use ’em! Like their opinions mattered, they supply the Twitterverse with a steady stream of status messages on anything from EDCA to the Binay Hacienda.

You can see it in press conferences where they make sure to hog the spotlight and premise their questions with their own “expert” opinions as if they’re the second coming of Amando Doronila. But they are, we suspect, afflicted with the “Karen Davila Syndrome,” a condition that makes one look and sound intelligent by merely parroting the views of subject-matter experts. In the case of the Newbie Journo, he also does a fast reading on an issue so he can present himself as the smart guy in Q&As.

These kids are also well-travelled (having junketed to a grand total of two Southeast Asian countries perhaps) and are thus able to contribute to the foreign policy debate. Their grammar, however, is the kind that would make Luis Teodoro see red and regret giving them their diplomas, unless they came from that poor excuse for a J-school on España, in which case the old guy would cringe.

Unfortunately their geopolitical know-how does not translate to their copy, even if they think they got Kim Jong-un’s nukes with their “toldas” and “exclus”. It’s really more like Saddam’s missing WMDs. The NFA will have a hard time solving the rice supply deficit with the sacks of rice they still need to consume to earn their creds.

To compensate for the talent deficit, they turn to selfies at work or with politicos, making their job look more awesome and glamorous than it actually is.

Just a few months on the job, the newbies are ready to change the world. Imagine what three or four years would do to their egos.

The sad part though is as they get popular in their own Google circles, their skills are very much far behind.

bigas

Rated PG: Reporters go ‘rawr’ over raffles

‘Tis the season to be jolly for many of our colleagues in media.

“Journos” unheard of since the last “buffet press conference” reappear in the flesh contributing to the exponential growth of media population during the holidays. They “orbit” beat parties with laser-like focus on enjoying good food and of course, winning raffles. It’s like a belated trick-or-treat with strong emphasis on treat. No one loses in most media raffles, a practice that emboldens reporters’ sense of entitlement.

We actually pity our colleagues for having to carry all those goodies during the hellish holiday commute. It’s a back-breaking chore really. Imagine the weight of those flatscreen TVs, iPads, iPhones, washing machines, grocery packs, and Christmas hams. Even Santa’s reindeer would complain! If only donors would be considerate to deliver raffle prizes to journos’ homes. Nanalo ka na, pagbubuhatin ka pa?

It’s all part of Christmas tradition and you can see why many journos look forward to the “ber” months. It’s the season of getting.

But make no mistake. Journos especially those in prime beats can also be discriminating. With inflation comes inflated demands, though not necessarily an improvement in taste.

No wonder Arnold Clavio, a paragon of virtue, ranted about a senator’s raffle prizes in a recent Christmas party. In a blind item in his morning radio program, Igan ridiculed this senator (clue: he’s a fan of Coup Ledesma) for giving away slippers and towels, taking the cause of poor journos victimized by this grave injustice.

It could indeed be appalling for someone like Igan, a champion of “air on board” practice where broadcasters are paid to read ads during radio programs. He and Mike Enriquez have mastered this lucrative enterprise, adroitly weaving paid ads into their normal news reading.

Last time we checked, news sources were under no obligation to provide raffle prizes for newsroom or beat parties. But journos can be pesky solicitors, using their news-gathering skills to collect gadgets, appliances, and “pangkabuhayan” packages from even the most obscure government offices. It’s a different hat they’re wearing for solicitation work, their persona far from the messianic journos that they are whenever they lecture government officials on how to run government and root out corruption.

ABS-CBN boss Ging Reyes has a gentle reminder on how her reporters should behave in this “season for giving and receiving gifts.”

She pointed them to the company manual’s provision saying that Kapamilya journos “may accept seasonal gifts of nominal value according to Philippine tradition and practice.”

“However, gifts above P2,500 should be declared to your supervisor,” the manual adds.

More importantly, Bossing Ging exhorted her “team” to “hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards for journalists” and be “prudent” to “avoid situations that may raise questions on how we uphold our own code of ethics.”

It’s a step toward the right direction and we hope everyone got the memo.

A journo’s guide to instant news sources

It’s a slooow news day: no “botcha” confiscated in Balintawak, no python caught in the ceiling of a Galas shanty. Nothing’s on the CCTV too and Miriam Santiago’s not in the mood for her usual pickup lines.

But you need to churn out something–anything–for the highly demanding 24/7 news cycle. Unless you want Rapplerettes, God’s Awesome Gifts to Journalism, to roll over you, leave you eating their space dust.

Who do you call then?

Bring out that rolodex ‘coz we have a few names in mind, those camera-shy news sources most unwilling to be interviewed because they detest any form of media exposure. But in fact, they’re all over the place like journalism’s version of 7-Eleven, open 24 hours for reporters in need of quotes or sound bites.

They all deserve a place in our “Mount Rushmore of Talking Heads.”

1. Harry Roque

For anything that concerns international law, Harry Roque is the man. Wake him up in the middle of the night and he’ll probably have a template condemnation of EDCA, VFA, or Mutual Defense Treaty. Damn you, Uncle Sam!

He’s also known to promise exclusives to certain reporters, who do not necessarily have any idea that they would actually share them with the rest of his favored pack.

We were deeply impressed with Roque’s October performance at Camp Aguinaldo where he confronted lowly military guards, demanding to confront Joseph Scott Pemberton. We thought the outburst was unnecessary but that’s how you ensure maximum media mileage. For good measure, Jeffrey Laude’s German boyfriend and sister jumped over the fence. Great job, Harry!

2. Ramon Casiple

For instant political analysis, the professor is just a phone call away. The guy’s stock knowledge of conventional wisdom is too much to be contained inside the classroom. He has a way of packaging common knowledge or barber shop talk into something smart and academic. But listen closely and you’ll probably realize, “Teka, alam ko na yun ha!”

3. Tony Leachon

Dr. Eric Tayag used to be the loudest voice on public health issues as chief of the National Epidemiology Center. He branched out into dancing to promote health programs and we couldn’t fault the man if he was very much into the groove.

The megaphone now belongs to the talkative Doc Tony, media’s instant commentator on anything health-related. He has built a wide network of media contacts, feeding them with angles and “exclusives.” Lately he’s all over the place commenting on Ebola and controversies at the DOH.

For his unaparalleled concern for the health sector and dedication to media interviews, we won’t be surprised if he gets a call to serve at the DOH, probably as Secretary Ike Ona’s replacement.

4. Dante Jimenez

Last but definitely not the most quiet is the founding chairman of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption. Ping Lacson once said that Jimenez would “jump at every opportunity” to be on cam. Or something to that effect.

But who can blame Ka Dante? He’s got the rare gift of producing “quotables” and steering stories to his favor. He knows what reporters want and he’s only too happy to produce the quotes they need.

Tip: If you want to win a VACC award, interview him often. You’re welcome.

Honorable mentions:

Too bad we could only pick four, but equally deserving are Liling Briones, Ben Diokno, Astro del Castillo, and Edmund Tayao. Wait! We almost forgot all-time Kapamilya favorite Josephine Aguilar.

Atom reprises ‘wet’ role in ‘Ruby’ coverage

It’s showtime!

If not for Typhoon “Ruby,” which the President’s Daily Inquirer has alarmingly compared to “Yolanda,” we would not have witnessed a fitting sequel to the “Guy in the Rain,” last year’s pre-Christmas blockbuster of a coverage starring ABS-CBN’s Atom Araullo.

The boy wonder is back, this time reporting Sunday morning from Eastern Samar where Ruby first made landfall. As was expected of an Atomic coverage, he defied nature’s wrath, reporting in all his royal wetness while battling strong winds from what appeared to be the balcony of a building.
It must have been very chilly out there for Atom Boy. But all we could think of was his hotness, like a fireball that couldn’t be extinguished even by a superstorm, especially when he removed his bull cap to show off his disheveled hair moments before he reported live for “Salamat Dok.”
We consider ourselves lucky. We waited more than a year to witness that same guy who chose to stand out there in the rain in Tacloban in the service of the TV Patrol viewer. The Twitter intelligentsia, led by the smart and loquacious Bianca Gonzalez, was all over Atom, praising his courage and dedication.
Fast forward December 2014. It’s another wet Atom, this time with an enormous supply of facial hair, on our TV screens. As usual, he chose to get very wet for that in-your-face feel of reporting, when he probably could have picked a better spot.
Had it not been raining during his standupper, we would have offered to be his production assistants and given a couple of sprays or an ice bucket. Atom had to be wet. There was no other way.
Unfortunately, he set the bar  for “Me Journalism” so high that even he could not outshine himself. His Yolanda “stunt-upper” is the gold standard for disaster reporting, a perfect 10 for showmanship.
Wet standupper is to Atom what “shawl” reporting is to Abner Mercado. 
We find it ridiculous that other reporters sent out for Ruby coverage seem to be trying their darn hardest to mimic Atom. It simply cannot be done unless they pick that that right spot, that perfect moment right before a storm surge for their standupper. The last man standing will be the new Atom, the undisputed box-office king, and Bianca will be like parang “OMG!”

PNoy paper turns Poe endorser

From the President’s Daily Inquirer to Poe’s Daily Endorser.

By now it should be crystal clear who mighty PDI wants to succeed its patron saint, President BS Aquino, in 2016. It’s none other than Grace Poe, a senator whose main qualification is her late father FPJ’s enduring popularity.

Believing they’re kingmakers, PDI editors have begun devoting their trademark “suggestive journalism” to boosting the chances of a Poe presidency. Notice the Yellow Paper’s Oct. 28 banner story about her privilege speech, a relatively inconsequential story by PDI’s high standards and which could have been buried in the inside pages on any given day.

Even the most ethically challenged papers in North America and Europe do their endorsements on their op-ed pages, not disguising them as banner stories.

But Poe’s “lament” on poverty was a perfect fit in PDI’s pre-election narrative, a storyline that began with peddled “exposes” (which might actually be true) about Vice President Jejomar Binay’s much talked-about “corruption.” Any other public official facing such serious allegations would have been banished to political limbo. But Binay’s chances in 2016 are still very much alive. His performance and trust ratings dropped 15 points, but they still stood at 66 and 64 percent, respectively, last month.

Indeed, the malignancy of the corruption allegations has not vanquished Ate Kuring’s “maligno.”

By the looks of things, Binay’s detractors would need more media lumberjacks other than PDI to fell Binay’s presidential ambition. They seemed to have gotten one in the Kapamilya network, which aired Poe’s privilege speech on poverty live on ANC, a teaser included.

We wonder if Sen. Cynthia Villar, one of the most exciting and eloquent orators in the Senate, would have gotten similar TV exposure.

The PDI narrative goes like this: Binay is corrupt so he shouldn’t succeed the spotless presidency of BS. But he’s still on track to win anyway, unless we could find an alternative.

Enter Poe, the U.S.-educated adopted daughter of the late Filipino action hero. She’s got a spotless public service record because there’s basically no such record to speak off yet. (Sounds familiar, BS?)

Dropping all pretensions, PDI asked in an accompanying story: “Will Poe be an alternative to Binay?” #AlamNa!

The Yellow Paper wants us to gamble on her, instead on a corrupt Binay presidency. PDI is probably right, but its shameless endorsement of Poe and its single-minded attack on Binay are not exactly serving the cause of journalism.

Perpetual Gloria apologist Rigoberto Tiglao called PDI’s anti-Binay reports a “travesty of journalism” and he’s probably right, what with PDI’s fondness with single and tainted sources so long as they fit the news agenda. But coming from Tiglao? Heller?

We suggest he devote an entire column (on the front page at that) criticizing his paper’s own brand of “hate journalism,” how it pursues its own agenda much like the way PDI does in the service of BS and now, Poe.