Staying On The Job

People are getting shot in Dumaguete lately. One of my co-staff members in tWS was a witness to one of the shooting incidents in Calindagan. Last Sept. 10, my comrade was just two buildings away at the back of a person when two gun men overtook and shot him five times. He wrote about the shooting, about the guy getting two shots in the head and three on the chest. The moment I knew about it, I joined him in thanking God for preserving his life. The city is still generally safe, but not as safe as before.

If there are people who can attest that life’s unfair, that would be journalists.

Calamities, terrorism, corruption, death, hunger – these are just some themes journalists write about.It might be easier for some to hide the heartbreak due to the ugliness they see in reality, but even veterans are struggling with coping.

Patricia Evangelista, a known Filipino journalist who writes for Rappler, was able to compose a column on difficulties of writing harsh realities after seeing a dead baby inside a backpack. She saw the corpse during a coverage one afternoon in Tacloban, 15 days after Yolanda struck the city.

Because the situation in Tacloban was very devastating, it took her almost three months before she was able to write about it.Journalists, according to her, are supposed to be “tough as nails” and brave, just to deliver stories. After all, it’s a job. Informing people with the right information has always been a huge responsibility; one has to stay sane enough to achieve it, and that includes not giving in to overwhelming emotions.

As a student journalist and someone who has experiences in national and community print media, I’ve seen journalists try to elevate heavy and negative feelings towards their news beats. Evangelista enumerated smoking and sleeping too much on her list of coping mechanisms, and I believe there are more for others.

I saw desk editors turn to food, munching a lot of nuts just to not go nuts over an article about a burnt slipper factory where skeletons of workers hugging the grills were all that was left after the fire. I saw photojournalists take photos of gumamelas after seeing dead, molested minors inside an apartment in Tondo.I saw correspondents stare silently at the traffic even if it’s not a pleasant sight just to distract them from the bad news for a while.

I saw myself walking around the campus on late afternoons after attending assemblies and interviewing students about harassment and intimidation cases to let fresh air inside rather than rage. I saw my co-staff members resort to listening to upbeat songs, getting a haircut, and praying to the “god of publications” to finish articles despite how exhausting coverages were.

Some can’t handle the impact of coverages enough to stay on the job, though. Kevin Carter, a photographer who won a Pulitzer Prize, committed suicide after taking a photo of a starving little girl being preyed upon by a vulture in South Sudan, Africa. Because of malnutrition, the girl was struggling to pick food from a UN plane. The photo got published in New York Times in 1993, and the staff  knew they couldn’t do anything but to do coverage because it’s a rule there to not touch famine victims in order not to acquire diseases.

But if there are people who can attest that there’s still hope, that would be journalists.

Purpose overpowers negativity. Journalists stay as journalists because they know stories are worth toiling for as they remind themselves on their crucial social roles: to make people care for things that truly matter, to make people question injustice, to make people fight for their rights, among others. Sadness and anger over a Philippine or campus issue is necessary to achieve a kind of writing that empowers people and instill hope that all problems have solutions.After all, the voiceless still have to realize that they have a voice. Good stories still exist, waiting to be told. And these, in order to be shared to others, require staying alive.

By: Andrea D. Lim
(Bringing dead lines to life)

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