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Reporting Sensitive Breaking News: A Tightrope Walk

June 15, 2008

I have been chewing on whether or not to write this piece for several days now given the dilemma we who are part of the fraternity of journalists feel.

When news runs in your blood and journalism is the one craft you think you know, and it is the profession (no matter how imperfect) that has helped you keep body and soul together, you seldom realize that breaking, gut-wrenching news can and does strike very close to home as it has in the week-long abduction in sulu of journalist and friend Ces Drilon, her remaining cameraman Jimmy Encarnacion and Mindanao State University Professor Octavio Dinampo.

When does one abide by a story embargo requested by a giant broadcast entity and long-time colleagues while the main source of official information, the government, clamps an information blackout.

In much the same as when a power outage occurs in the dead of the night, the society, the public – our consumers, are plunged into darkness.

So what to we, and they, instinctly do? We try to find a candle so we can see where things are, and we can find our way forward.

Absent a lighted candle, we feel our way around, ask ourselves what has happened, or is happening and failing to do so, we attempt an educated, logical guess. At worst, we speculate.

And even if we do find a candle, but a small flickering one, our vision of things become unclear, even distorted.

This is the same way wrong or manipulated (“managed”) information works, and absent the correct information, the vacuum that sets in allows for individuals or institutions who serve an agenda other than the public’s right to know, can and do ‘operate’.

But how about peoples’ right to privacy particularly when reputations are at stake or the very life of people whether we know them personally or not, hang in the balance?

Such, indeed, is the tightrope that journalists have to walk.

At the end of the day, we turn to our best lights, seek guidance from the Almighty, and deal with the breaking news as best we can, hoping that while there will always be among us who care and live only for that headline-making ‘scoop’ will themselves stay sober, not get drunk, mislead their audience, and sacrifice public welfare and with the people in the center of the story, in this case the victims in the abduction in Sulu, becoming tragic collateral damage.

Everybody loses.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 16, 2008 3:28 am

    A consolation to lean on during trying periods of sudden darkness is that, eventually, some light always shines through. Truth is always present. No matter how hard others try to suppress it or hide it, it still always lurks, never flees, and is there for those who truly want to seek it.

    The human eye – and, in an extension of this analogy, human nature – is such that, given time, the eyes adjust to the darkness and where there once was an absolute void, shapes and forms slowly come to view, enough to adequately navigate the strange surroundings. Given enough time and effort, even things hidden start revealing themselves.

    Believe me. I speak from many years of experience attempting to navigate dark hallways during midnight bathroom trips.

    (But that was too much information, wasn’t it? Forget I said that last part.)

    It is sad that too often, like you said, everybody loses. But that loss can be tempered by making sure that lessons are learned from the loss so that history never has to repeat itself.

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