Learn to read

How do you read a newspaper? You probably think I am being facetious, asking such a silly question. We take it for granted that anyone who is already functionally literate does not have to learn how to read a newspaper. In fact, in the realm of the written word, a newspaper is supposed to be the easiest to read, simple enough for a twelve-year-old to comprehend.

Apparently, there is more than meets the eye when reading newspapers. “If you read the newspapers for the whole news and nothing but the news, you may not find it there, so help you God.” That is fair warning from Mr. Vergel O. Santos who has practiced the profession (journalism) for more than forty years. Many, if not the majority, of newspaper people suffer from either professional ineptitude or visceral fortitude and in worst cases, from both maladies. By professional ineptitude, Mr. Santos means the inability to tell a clear and accurate story. Visceral fortitude has to do with a newsperson’s capacity to refuse bribes and withhold personal feelings and prejudices that distort what he/she writes.

Be that as it may, journalism in the Philippines did have bright, hopeful, if not patriotic beginnings. There was a time when, “,,,newspeope were competent and honest, the competition between them and their newspapers was wholesome, and their owners gave their editorial staff a respectable degree of independence…” explains Mr. Santos. In those days, the editors of newspapers were quite earnest, skillful, and protected the reading public from misinformation, incomprehension, and even from boredom and vulgar language. Today, many editors (especially page editors) seem to be doing the opposite.

I once had the honor of having Mr. Santos as a guest of a radio show I used to have in DZRJ. We discussed a code of ethics for journalists. That same evening, at the Filipinas Heritage Library Vergel launched his fifth book- Worse Than Free, published by Anvil- which consists of 110 essays on journalism ethics and other media issues. Anyone aspiring to be a journalist should read this book; I strongly recommend it to those who want to avoid the pitfalls of the profession.

For the information and guidance of all, I asked Mr. Santos to name the three most weighty and non-negotiable standards a journalist must uphold. He said it should be (1) presenting all sides of a story; (2) detachment and (3) apology and restoration when a mistake is committed. The first one is not as simple as it looks because it implies context, background education and continuous research; the second demands discipline in one’s own interpretation of events; the third can be excruciating as most journalists would rather choke to death than swallow monstrous pride. Lamentably, an hour was not enough so I asked Mr. Vergel for another interview. In the meantime, let us plow through his book.