ONE of our editors engaged me in an intellectual conversation, something Filipino reporters rarely experience and most of the time qualify as an oxymoron when it occurs among reporters.
Anyway, the talk was about paid content.
Newsmen like him, he says, are worried that paid writers, mostly bloggers, are getting not only the readers but also the moolah: two major elements that make newspapers successful.
But I dissented. True-blue journalist pounding the streets almost everyday for news should fear less the paid hack than the columnist.
As far as I know, most columnists are paid by the news agency that hosts their opinions. We reporters are paid by the news agency for submitting fact-based stories.
News remains the altar of legitimacy and opinions are still dung sprayed with perfume. As a media expert said, citing Marshall McLuhan: Talk is cheap.
Columns are regarded in the industry as weapons for AC/DC style of journalism: attack and collect, defend and collect.
So I proposed to my editor that we kill the columnist and turn over the crime scene to people paid to dish out content.
Instead of paying columnists, I added, we should get paid for “leasing” the space for these hacks. I bet people won’t notice the difference, anyway, between columnists and paid hacks.
But disclosure should be non-negotiable. The writer must let the public know that the piece they dished out is paid by so and so entity.
“Disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way,” a New York Times story cited Justice Anthony M. Kennedy as writing in a ruling on the First Amendment rights of corporations in relation to elections.
Although it is arguable that some reporters also fail to disclose that a so and so source shelled out give-aways or gifts after a presscon or worse, cash or gift certificates sans a press conference.
Still, what separates reporters from paid hacks is that we are aware our profession is strutted with ethics.
Paid hacks can easily throw away ethics along with the kitchen sink. Reporters can send ethics to whatever universe but they are very much aware they're violating a cardinal rule: not accept anything to influence the story.
Doing so would send you down from the pedestal among the bottom-feeders and the paid hacks where yellow journalism is treated more with a tinge of respect.
Abs-Cbn News is noteworthy because their stories almost always come out with a disclosure that an entity cited is also operated by their owners.
I, for one, edit for the OFW Journalism Consortium.
Before, I got paid for doing so. Now I just do it for pride for the advocacy I took up seven years ago on good journalism for and about overseas Filipino workers. Still, the weekly inebriated sessions funded by someone else’s wallet deserve a disclosure.
We in the Consortium just don't publish stories online so it gets lost amid the child pornography and digital junk on the Internet.
We also disclose that we got money from an entity cited favorably or unfavorably in a story.
We believe that once we hide that from readers, it would be the demise of values journalists fought, died, and we live still for everyday.
I personally believe I can only survive as a journalist in a capitalist society by paying a premium on the values this society is trying to commoditize.
So if an article is published and the writer gets paid, well and good. But let's tell the public.
They’ve been fooled before and, I’m sure, as The Who sang, they won’t get fooled again.