I had barely settled in the Metro beat when in less than 48 hours political gridlock seized the city of Makati and government services were left in shambles.
Monobloc chairs thrown against dented police shields, two mayors each staking a claim to the country’s wealthiest enclave—the whole thing unfolded within a highly concentrated area of the city, but the tension arced far and wide beyond its nucleus.
And I, a lowly intern with three college units to complete, was there to witness everything.
The thing is, one undergoes years and years of training in a prestigious undergraduate school, learning about news writing and the many ways one can successfully write a story. The 5 Ws. The difference between a soft and a hard lede, and when to use which. How to interview people. Mencher and Harrower, Kovach and Rosenstiel.
But in the face of disorder, can one really summon up institutionalized learning to guide one through one’s work?
During my first days as an intern in the Inquirer, I could barely grasp what was happening because I wasn’t up to speed with the city’s narrative. And yet there I was, mechanically arranging facts and details draft by draft, deadline after deadline, following the inverted pyramid and putting together a workable draft, if only to conceal the fact that I was completely lost.
And that, I realized, was really, really bad practice of the journalism profession.
Beyond writing techniques, we are also taught media theories (how the media function in a society) and ethics (what any decent news outlet must do with any story it puts out), but most importantly, of our place in society—that our job as truth-tellers is to serve the public interest. We provide information for a self-governing public. That is the essence of journalism.
What exactly is it that I feared during those moments? That I can write, but cannot do journalism. That I am unable to protect the very function it serves, simply because I boxed myself into what I could learn from the academe and forgot that the flux of local government units, politicians, organizations, and the people is what makes a story, not its structure.
But I improved, or so I hope. With my mentor, reporter Mau Brizuela, to whom I am grateful for guiding me, I became acquainted with the narrative of the city. I would go after the day’s events and go back to my desk, excited about the day’s discoveries. By my second week I had begun to understand the issues and from where each stemmed.
I hope that, toward the end, my drafts were no longer just an automated homage to every tips-to-newswriting book but, rather, purposive story-telling, directed to the people who needed to hear the things we hear, see the things we see, and understand. So that the next time—God forbid—their beloved city runs into trouble again, they would know what to do—preferably, how to avoid the choices that may lead to the same scenario.
It seems like a lot to expect to happen with my intern status and only 200 hours of work, but if the reports I have cowritten as an intern affected public discourse in some way, then I have done a rare thing: I have transcended the requirements of the academe. And if not, then all the more reason to study and improve, but this time, less of the rigid and structural learning that the university espouses, but more of the people and their needs.
Krixia Subingsubing, 19, studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman where she is an Inquirer scholar. She was an intern in the newspaper in June-July 2015.
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