I like to believe I was born a writer. For the first 18 years of my life (and I’m barely 21 so that’s not saying much), I knew no other way but to write. It was where I found my home, and it was where I grew. I’ve always found comfort in words – both in the abstract and the concrete. I draw particular pleasure in being able to sound out the right words for the right sentences. I think the best writers are made, trained to master the pen (or in these times, the keyboard) with a might that can slice through glass gracefully like only a diamond can. But I’d like to think that most writers just know they are made to write. And an egoistic part of me likes to believe I’m just like that.

Naturally, the only path for me was to pursue journalism. I never even took a second glance at creative writing. My words were never flowery or imaginative. They were always clear, simple, and direct to the point – just like a news article. I joined the school paper when I was 12; I was the only 6th grader in a paper run by high schoolers. I eventually became editor-in-chief, and that just cemented my view that I was to be a journalist. Up until my first semester of senior year in college, I clung trepidly to the dream. My yearbook write-up, which a good friend (herself a very good writer) kindly wrote for me ends with a prediction that I will be a journalist.

Clearly, something seismic happened in the world and my world shifted. Law school has kept me on my toes (and dare I say, entertained) so I’ve forgotten all about my childhood dream. Until I read today’s Inquirer in the library (the only place I can get newspapers now), and saw a story inside its pages.

It was about a 16-year-old girl, who was running for valedictorian in her class. She was also the Sangguniang Kabataan president of her barangay. While in a town meeting, a former barangay captain barged in and started to methodically shoot every person in the room. She texted her father, a farmer, “Father, help.”

Her father ran 1.5 kilometers from their house to the barangay hall. Underneath a table, enveloped in a pool of blood, was his daughter, with a bullet hole between her eyes.

It’s the story that can break hearts. But what caught really caught my eye wasn’t the story, but the picture that accompanined it. In a 2×2 inset, the girl, all made-up, smiled at me.

I don’t get the need to put up that picture. I don’t know whether practices have changed since I was a journalism student, but I remember our professors always ground on us the importance of going after the story – not the sensationalism. Sure, the picture of a 16-year-old girl may not be as sensational as, say, the Maguindanao massacre pictures, but she’s still a minor. A little discretion would have been nice. Usually, the names of minors who have transgressed the law are never printed in stories. But victims like these, they are always posted. Yes, it’s a way to let the story reach the reader. More often than not, however, they become ploys to catch attention.

The story itself was enough. It didn’t need the picture to catch attention. I felt that it was unnecessary — and all things unnecessary must be struck out in a news article.

Now, I find myself asking this question: if I were on the other side, if I were the writer or the editor, would I have included the picture?

Today, I’ll answer it with a resounding no. But if someone had asked me this a couple of years ago, I would have leaned more towards publishing that photo. Consider the picture of the construction workers who died at the Eton site. Both Philippine Star and the Inquirer published on their front pages photos of the dead men, hanging from the platform, piled on top of each other like metal beams in broken disarray. When I saw that, I felt really disappointed andn disgusted. Why publish those? The dead aren’t there to be gawked at. Have some respect, I mentally chided at the editors.

But if I were the editor, would I have let my competition publish the photo and restrained my writers knowing full well that more readers will buy my rival just to look at the photograph? Humans are morbidly hypocritical beings. We chide the media for putting out too much information that damage our sensibilities and borderline lean on the audacious, but we lap them all up the same. I’m hypocritical. I may have disagreed with the posting of the photos, but I let my curiousity get the better of me, and I examined them all the same. It’s a cruel cycle, really.

I have so much respect for the men and women who give up every day of their lives in order to get the truth printed. I envy them for having the tenacity to stick through their passions to the bitter end. I envy them because they can do what I can’t — focus on writing a good story and passing the deadline. It’s a great sacrifice to numb yourself from the plight that surrounds you. Only those who have the bravest souls can stomach the cruelty of the world every single day, and report on them in an objective and fair manner. Sometimes, it’s hard to give the other side the space when you know that all they’re saying is crap.

Journalists, they have it hard. They need to be fair and objective, so they have to supress the empathy that they feel when in front of the camera, or when writing the story. Only a few get to express their opinions and publish them. Most are confined to saying the story as it is. It’s heartbreaking – that feeling of helplessness.

I walked away from that. I couldn’t do it. But I know people who can, and who are doing damn fine jobs. To you guys, hats off.

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