By Denise San Jose
Today is Monday, exactly a week since the presidential election. I woke up at 2 p.m. because I slept at 7 a.m.. Obviously, I haven’t recovered from my graveyard shift during the Halalan 2010 coverage. I feel so jetlagged, except I’ve only been traveling from my home in Ortigas to the ABS-CBN War Room in Quezon City.
Reversed body clocks because news never sleeps (and neither should you), stark eyes from staring into computer screens for hours, coffee, cigarettes or whatever food is free at the office for fuel, fingers tapping and jabbing at keyboards 24/7, executives arguing with their editors, editors screaming at their reporters, people generally screaming… The place isn’t called War Room for nothing.
This is journalism in the 21st century and, as mentally and physically exhausting as it is, I cannot be prouder to be part of the Halalan 2010 team. The first automated election wasn’t the only historic highlight of May 10. Local news agencies saw the dawn of a new day in news coverage, thanks to technologies like Augmented Reality and Social Media Sites. New Media has finally tapped into mainstream media in the Philippines and this is only the beginning of the transition from traditional to online journalism.
Not shoes and lipstick
From day one, I knew I was in for something big. Nothing at all like the fashion or lifestyle writing stints I’m used to and I cannot tell you how much the orientation for ABS-CBN’s Halalan 2010 Cadetship Program scared me. There were students and fresh grads from other universities and they were all so excited to be there and eager to start working. I wasn’t even sure if I was ready to commit. We were being briefed on how the Newsroom works, what kinds of technologies we’d be using, where and who we’d be working with and all the tasks we’d be doing. Basically, we had to brace ourselves for the most important event of the year: the country’s first automated general elections. I was beyond intimidated.
Just when I assured myself I wasn’t ready, that I should go back to writing about shoes and lipstick, that I should run for the exit immediately, abs-cbnnews.com’s Gemma Mendoza told us that we wouldn’t be diving headfirst into this political pool. She told us we would be undergoing a crash course on journalism, the way the Philippines’ top broadcasting institution has been doing it for over 50 years. I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking if I’m not ready, ABS-CBN will make me.
And it did. Come Monday morning, talks, discussions and workshops were given by the likes of Charie Villa (former News Gathering Head and now Social Media Head), Glenda Gloria (ABS-CBN News Channel Head) and TJ Manotoc (ABS-CBN anchor). By noon, I (along with 29 other volunteers) was already saturated with all the information, tips and tricks they gave. Self-doubt started setting in again. Was I going to survive the harsh and hazardous world of journalism?
Facing the music
As the briefing closed, Maria Ressa (Head of News & Current Affairs) told us that her approach to the election coverage was realistic. She reminded us of Murphy’s Law, that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. And then, she uttered words that resonate to me to this very day: “We’re hoping for the best but we’re preparing for the worst.” There’s only so much we can do as newspeople to get ready so I thought to myself that maybe we were all in the same boat of insecurity. We just have to suck it up and face the music when it’s there. We were given fair warning for violence, corruptions and anomalies. I should be, somehow, ready for this.
Once you’ve started with the actual work, gotten to know your co-workers and superiors and tasted the fruits of your labor (I’m talking about seeing my byline as well as getting free meal vouchers), it’s actually not that terrifying. Stressful? Yes. Grueling? At times. Undoable? Of course not.
Twitter, Facebook, and Social Media
As a Halalan 2010 cadet, I have to research, write spot reports, cover certain events and write some more. Pre-election, I had to build an extensive candidate profile database for abs-cbnnews.com. Post-elections, there’s a lot of promises to monitor for fulfillment.
As a Social Media intern, I have to be ahead of Twitter trends and monitor what everybody is saying. During elections, I had to keep my eyes peeled for people’s thoughts on #halalan in the Twitterverse. It entailed constant refreshing of my Hootsuite tab, hundreds of tweets coming in every couple of minutes.
I always knew Filipinos were opinionated, I just never thought they’d be so relentless in expressing them. That’s the great thing about Social Media: practically anyone can eavesdrop and join the conversation, it’s fast and live, which makes for a very fascinating pool of ideas. Besides allowing users to give their two cents, Twitter and Facebook have enabled ordinary people to become citizen journalists via uploading multimedia. What began as Social Networking Sites are now called Social Media Sites because of the content its users have been able to share. Social Media has made reporters out of everyone. The information gateway is wide open and its headlines and archives are for the consumption of all.
Elections may be over but my work as a cadet is definitely not over. Is a journalist’s job ever? And now that reportage is civic task, you should do your part as well. Coverage doesn’t end when the final polls are counted, not even when the winners are officially proclaimed. We will all be on our toes (and fingertips), hanging on to every word that these officials promise they would accomplish, keeping an eye on them until they get settled (or when they seem unsettled) and long after that, telling viewers, listeners, readers and tweeters worldwide everything as it is.
San Jose is interning for the summer as a Halalan 2010 social media cadet for abs-cbnnews.com.