Sensationalism is Not Journalism

The moment you append the word “journalism” into your role – whether you’re a journalist or a citizen journalist – you need to live up to a few standards.  The moment you profess to the public that you’re broadcasting “news,” then you need to follow a few ground rules.  It doesn’t make you a “rebel” or a “revolutionary” to violate a few standards and rules that make up the essentials of journalism: tell the truth, state your sources, and disclose your purposes.  If you profess to be a journalist, you have to be journalistic.  If you profess to publish news online, then the expectation is that you publish news online.

Sensationalism is not journalism.

Usually I don’t like taking the holier-than-thou sanctimonious road where I tell people how to write, if only because I am not in a position to do it.  I am no expert in journalism or in writing, but I think I have been doing this for quite a while now that from time to time, I do live up to the standards I preach.  Unfortunately, this is NOT one of those times.  On the road to 2010, though – or on the path to some controversial issue where everyone wants to put their two cents in – some people have the tendency to play hero, cross the line, and violate those essentials.  It is wrong, it is despicable, and personally, it makes me sick.

Yes, this is one of those days… and just in case, pardon my Latin, because I’m going to vent and violate my own rules.

Journalists, citizen journalists, pseudo-journalists, and feeling journalists are expected to fulfill the basic minimum required of journalism: truthfulness, fairness, and exhaustive research.  It doesn’t matter if you have horrible writing skills, as long as you play the field as fairly and as truthfully as possible especially when you’re passing something off as news, and most especially when you’re passing yourself off as a journalist.

My feathers as a writer, as a blogger, and as a passing journalist may be pale compared to the true giants of those fields, but I think I stand for everyone when I say that it’s grievous enough to misrepresent – and boy, do we hear that term a lot – but there are bigger sins.  Like malice and the deliberate, concerted attempt to mislead the public in the name of readership, or in the name of hits.

The road to 2010 is a gold mine: there are enough news stories and controversies and issues to make 100 journalists and 101 bloggers famous.  Yet informing the public is not an incestuous relationship between people who produce and publish information: people read us, people engage us, which means that if you have not yet learned how to be the least bit responsible, you have to learn now.  Or at the very least, pretend to be, especially if you’re passing something off as news.  Most especially if you’re appending the word “journalist” into your general self-description.

There are people out there who will do anything to get a story, to get their 15 minutes of fame, to ruffle feathers and stir the pot.  There are people out there who will give themselves self-congratulatory pats on the back and shake their own hands – mission accomplished – thinking that they have accomplished something big or something “patriotic” after committing acts of slander.  There are people out there who pass themselves off as “journalists” when they commit shameless acts of slander.  There are people out there whose only revolutionary contribution to society is one that happens in the stomach.

I am sickened, disgusted, offended, and appalled by this kind of sensationalistic coattail-riding that threatens the credibility and the respectability of what I do for a living, and what I do to pass the time.  And if that’s enough reason to piss me off enough to ramble and rant in long, incoherent sentences, I am completely and totally sorry.

Sensationalism is not journalism.  Where journalism informs, sensationalism misinforms.  Where journalism is a public trust, sensationalism is self-promotion.  Where journalism ends, sensationalism begins.  Hindi ito tungkol sa kung paano magsulat at mag-ulat, kundi sa diwa ng pagsusulat at pag-uulat: mga simpleng prinsipyo ng malaya, prinsipyado, at patas na kuro-kuro. Walang labis, at kung may kaunting kulang, pwedeng idagdag at isama sa susunod, huwag lang isalsal sa istorya.  Kung ano ang kuwento, iyon ang ilalabas.  Kung ano ang nakalam, iyon ay ipaaalam.  Kung ano ang sapat, iyon ang isusulat.  Kung ano ang naisulat, iyon din ang ilalapat.

When you elevate – or for that matter degrade – your occupation or hobby to that standard called “journalism,” you have to adhere to things like balance, fairness, and research.  You have to disclose your sources, and you have to be upfront and honest that the facts stand where they are.  If you suppose, assume, and surmise in something you pass off as a news report, take the word “journalist” out of your self-description and do not desecrate the profession of my dreams – a respected profession and position in public service – with the kind of shit you throw around for your fucking hits.

It is none of my business to tell people how to write, how to blog, how to be journalists, or how to be writers, and no matter how angry this entry may seem, it’s free advice.  It is up to you if you take my word for it or not, and if you follow it or not.  I did not invent those guidelines; they were there even before I started writing.  And if the effort at reiterating fails, I hope that every ounce of my anger was made-buhos into this entry.

Marck

ID for almost everything: @marocharim

2 Comments

  1. The moment I became a journalist…

    Happened years ago. Lawyer asked me: So what should I put in occupation?

    Me: Jobless

    Lawyer: Doesn’t sound good. You do nothing at all?

    Me: I’m a writer

    Lawyer: Scripts?

    Me: No short stories, trying to write a novel

    Lawyer: You’ve published?

    Me: Yes, about twice a year.

    Lawyer: lagay nalang natin “journalist.”

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