II. “YOUR PROVINCIAL NEWSPAPERMAN”
A speech given by ERMIN GARCIA, May 19, 1962
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning best-seller, PROFILES IN COURAGE, written while he was a member of the United States Senate, John F. Kennedy said, “In no other occupation but politics is it expected that a man will sacrifice honors, prestige, and his chosen career on a single issue.”
As we dispute the validity of this statement when applied to many Filipino POLITICIANS, we offer a parallel and complementary thought: that in no other profession but JOURNALISM is it expected that a man will renounce friends, personal convenience, and even family in the faithful discharge of professional duties.
Personal heroism in the newsroom and on the newsbeats is a day-to-day routine, but in the anonymity that is the hallmark of journalism, you never get to read about these bits of heroism. The columns of your newspapers are replete with sagas of heroism of government officials, soldiers, professionals, taxi and bus drivers,——but rarely a line on the heroism sometimes demanded by the gathering and writing of certain news.
THE ONLY NEWSPAPERMAN HERO IS A DEAD NEWSPAPERMAN. Recognition comes only with death. The complete story of the savage conflict that rages inside a newsman between truth and camouflaged falsehood, between principle and convenience, between heart and mind, between conscience and popular favor, is never told and so is never appreciated—until the newspaperman is maimed or is killed, and only the do you get an inkling of implied heroism between the lines of his obituary.
This inner struggle that convulses a newspaper-man’s being almost everyday is fiercest and most taxing in the local or provincial press. And we do not refer to the material and physical handicaps, such as inadequate, sloppy facilities or improportionately low financial remuneration that would make less stout hearts and less dedicated souls quit in disgust and disillusionment.
Out here in the ramparts of community life, where the newspaperman is in frequent contact with most of his news subjects, his efforts at objective and impersonal reporting are constantly buffeted.
Public officials under fire could be his relatives or intimate friends. He moves around in the same orbit as the very people he must write about sometimes sympathetically, often times vitriolic ally.
Each unsavory news published about any person of consequence in the community is certain to have been disgorged through a riptide from within the newsman, a riptide of conflicting emotions, of heart-breaking pressure from friends and even members of his own family, of sleepless nights and tasteless meals, of hair-bleaching, soul- searching, and sometimes unshed tears. Because of the harsh demands of objectivity, a newspaperman has to be callous, stone-hearted, and cynical.
Yes, thus he must strive to be, if he must keep faith with his public and the lone commodity in which he deals, which is TRUTH. But between the fact, or the event and its actual publication, there invariably is a heart-rending inner conflict that subjects the moral strength and the sanity of the reporter and especially the editor to a grueling test.
Members of the local press have to cope with extraneous pressure of every conceivable shape or color. Sometimes they have to make decisions on impossible situations, in which they are damned if they do and dammed if they don’t.
They are often caught in the middle during bitter political battles, in which the newsmen receive more criticism and condemnation than the protagonists themselves.
Rival factions among the community’s professional groups fight their battles in the newspapers, and the press is often caught in the crossfire with unhappy results. There is hardly any facet of community activity wherein factional strife does not make local news-writing a risky, complicated and involved affair.
And then there are the community crusades against evil, against sin supposedly. It would simplify matters for a local newspaper to jump into the bandwagon and poke the fires of mob frenzy. As a general rule a newspaper couldn’t miss with such a policy. But there are crusades wherein the leaders stampede in fanatical zeal and in the process crush the rights of a few, defenseless people.
Even in such irrational moral pogroms it would be to the advantage of a newspaper or a newsman to join the mob and be a hero, but at the expense of truth and justice, at the expense of the weak and numerically inferior, at the sacrifice of his self-respect.
Truth and right are not necessarily on the side of the majority.
As Mr. Kennedy said, “There are few issues, if any, where all the truth and all the right and all the angels are on one side.” That is a rule every self-respecting newsman must always remember.
The local press wages unrelenting, but seemingly-futile, war against syndicate gamblers and vice lords who have the powerful and the mighty bought and sewed up to their ranks. But it must also reject witch hunts and crusades inspired by self-righteous in tolerance.
A few years ago practically all the elements of a certain community rose as one tidal wave against a handful of night club hostesses and sought to ram through a proposal to summarily ban all night clubs. One newspaper defied the mob and the self-canonized saints turned their wrath on the newspaper as the community’s vanguard of sin and iniquity.
The newspaper won its point eventually, but to this day it continues to suffer from the battle scars of the conflict. At every turn, the embittered and frustrated reformists, who make it a living to cast the first stone at every suspected sinner, continue to hound the newspaper with lawsuits in collaboration with dubious characters.
Local racketeers in the ranks of labor, who exist only to debauch their fellow workers, were exposed by the provincial press, long before the current government crackdown on the labor force and long before the community’s commercial establishments had been liberated from labor blackmail.
Crooks in provincial and municipal government offices and regional agencies have been blocked by the press in their attempts at extortion in the past. However, the workers, the businessmen and the people who have benefited never knew that in the process, certain newsmen were the recipients of death threats.
Your local press keeps watch over the affairs of the people of your community. It expresses your hopes and your aspirations, echoes your frustrations and disappointments, and chronicles your glories and your successes, as well as your tragedies and your agencies.
A newsman cannot adequately write of these matters without deeply feeling a gamut of deep emotions. Thus he dies a thousand deaths as he writes about people’s tragedies. And in the process, his own mental attitudes waver in cynicism with his ringside view of man’s inhumanity to man.
But all the time, he must have an instinctive urge to keep faith with himself—to be honest with himself and all the people he deals with or must write about.
He is so wrought up sharing the tragedies of his people that he is deprived of the luxury of grieving over his own personal tragedies.
He is thus forced to seek refuge behind an armor of callousness to maintain a hardboiled fidelity to truth; yet at the same time, even as he vituperates, deep down inside him, his heart bleeds with compassion and understanding, bitter at the society and the factors that make a man that way, or the things that force helpless women to walk the streets.
He must, whether he relishes it or not, condemn ill-doing without trying to do it in self-righteous judgment over the inherent worth of any individual—keeping in mind always that even an alleged prostitute or a thief has a God-given right no man or society can take away—the right to be heard.
This is the merciless challenge and these are the grim responsibilities that a conscientious newspaper-man is up against every hour of his waking day. His conscience is weighted down by the agonizing problems of his community and people.
THOSE HEADLINES ON YOUR WEEKLY NEWSPAPER ARE PRINTED NOT ONLY ON PRINTER’S INK. THEY ARE EMBLAZONED WITH THE SWEAT, THE TEARS—AND POSSIBLY YET—THE BLOOD OF YOUR NEWSPAPERMEN.
This, ladies and gentlemen of Pangasinan, is your own press. Take it to your bosom, if not with pride, at least with faith and understanding.
Speech given by ERMIN GARCIA
Induction, Pangasinan Press and Radio Club
May 19, 1962
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