February 03, 2007

Back in the day

Today I was reading the blog of Malou Mangahas, one of the more respectable journalists in the country, and in it she talked about how cellphones have become part and parcel of our daily lives. Especially for us journalists, the cellphone is our link to the world and we will hardly be able to function without it. (Click here).
This brought me back to the days when journalism was just a lot of plain hard work.

When I began my journalism career in 1987 (tagal na noh?), I had a notebook to take down my notes with, a bulky tape recorder for interviews, a rectangular plastic container to alphabetize calling cards, and an addressbook to keep the phone numbers and addresses of my sources handy. For interviews, I would leave my home in Quezon City and travel by jeepney and bus when going to Makati or Manila. (Airconditioned na din ang bus non pero kahit naka-jeepney ka, mahihinga mo pa naman ang hangin. Wala pang air pollution masyado so pag-uwi mo sa bahay, hindi mo kelangan ng isang toneladang eskinol para matanggal ang dumi sa mukha mo.)

Sometimes I would have to wait for hours just to get an interview with an official. But that's really our job as journalists...wait to death 'til we got some answers. If there were no interviews, or scheduled press conferences, I would be at some statistics office or library researching the topic I intended to write about. It would take half a day or even days to just do that.

My beat was the Department of Agriculture then, and when I had a story already, I would have to queue for the typewriter. The older reporters, of course, had priority to use it. Do you still remember the typewriter? That huge contraption which you would insert a paper in, start typing on a raised keyboard, shift a lever to make the carriage go left and move up to the next line, and your hands would get all ink-stained because you had to replace the ribbon?

After typing out my story, I would call up my editor, who would then pass me on to an editorial assistant to take down my dictation. Yes! We had to dictate our stories then because there was no fax machine nor email in those days. Computers were very new, and were not permanent fixtures yet in the offices I hung out in. I was lucky because at BusinessWorld, the first paper I worked in, we already had the first Macs so the EA would just type up our stories easily. Pero kung medyo nabisaya ang pagdi-dictate mo, mali na ang masusulat ng EA, of course, mali na ang storya lalabas sa dyaryo. Nge. Anyway, I got to use the computer at the office a few times a week when I had the time to return to the office from my interviews. But more often than not, I was out in the field and just dictated my stories over the phone. Oo, rotary pa ang dial non at me party line pa.

After a few years, the beat I was assigned to finally got a fax machine so we had an easier time sending our stories to our offices. I had also replaced my notebook with a filofax which I used to take down notes with, organize my schedules, and write down the addresses and phone numbers of my sources. It had a few plastic slips at the back for calling cards I always referred to. I also had a pager which my editors used to beep me so I would call the office, or to issue instructions. In those days, the TV and the radio were our constant sources of news.

Nowadays, I use my Ibook to download data I need for my stories, type then email the stories to my editors here and abroad. It is also my primary news source, not newspapers. In fact I can read the news online, or watch the TV feed on my Ibook, or listen to the streamed radio reports. Yup, I sometimes listen to streamed DZBB reports, while reading or writing on my computer.

If I'm at home, I use my cordless phone to call up my sources and interview them. If not, I use my cellphone...a Sony Ericsson K800i, or my old beatup Siemens S45 as spare. I use the SE K800i to take down some notes (although I still carry a small notebook in my bag), put down my appointments, input addresses and phone numbers of contacts, shoot photos using its 3.2 MP camera, and listen to songs on its MP3 player. When I'm out of the house, I use it to send and receive email or read the latest news (it has an RSS feeder). I think it has a built-in recorder too but I still have to try it out, so in the meantime, I still use a small Sony micro-cassette recorder for interviews. I intend to change this, however, and upgrade to a digital voice recorder which I can connect to my Ibook and download my interviews already transcribed! And believe me, transcribing an interview really eats up a lot of one's time and gets your hands all cramped and unsteady.

Of course, none of these conveniences have made news stories any better nor more improved from the olden days. In fact, if you read one news item in one paper, these days, it will probably be the same as in the eight other newspapers, almost word for word. This, of course, is an issue of reportorial quality and not technology. No matter how hi-tech the world becomes, if reporters are sloppy, lazy, have bad grammar, and are on the take, we will get lousy carteled news stories.

Only one thing has remained constant throughout the years. That despite the conveniences now available to us to make our coverage easier, we're still always late for our deadlines! :-)

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