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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Them lazy newshounds before the New Media Age

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“‘Fake news’ is the new name for ‘kuryente.’”

It was during a “dry” day in 1986 when a damn all defense reporter played a prank on a fellow newshound, who often arrived at the beat late (about 4:00 p.m.) and had the impudence to ask those present at the Public Affairs Office, “Ano ang balita?”

When someone answered, “Wala pang malaki,” the reporter shot back “Ano, hapon na wala pa kayong balita?”

And, this was from someone who relied on the generosity of fellow reporters.

On that “dry” day, when aside from the usual killings and mayhem, nothing “really big” was happening in the security sector, the risque reporter took a press release sheet of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Public Information Office and composed the following story:

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines, particularly the Army and the Marines, will soon use limited nuclear warfare against rebel groups, both Moro separatists and communists, as the United States has agreed to supply the Philippine military with nuclear-tipped ammunition.

“Brig. Gen. Jose Lucban, AFP deputy chief of staff for logistics (J-4) said the Joint US Military Group-Philippines, has secured the US Departments of Defense and of State authority to provide the AFP with the new type of ammunition.

“Maj. Gen. Teddy Allen, JUSMAG chief, said the ammunition will go a long way in quelling insurgency in the Philippine countryside.

“The nuclear tipped ammunition comes in 7.62 by 51 mm cartridges or caliber 30-06 and can be fired from M-14 rifles or M-60 machineguns.

“The newly-developed ammunition can destroy an area of 200 by 200 meters and has an effectiverang of 1,500 meters, thus the danger of collateral damage as well as injury to the firer is minimized.

“Delivery of the new ammunition is expected in the first quarter of 1987, Lucban said, quoting Allen.”

The self-willed reporter photocopied his “masterpiece” several times and left the copies in the press release basket.

The patronizing new reporter soon arrived and asked in a loud voice, “May balita na ba?” Another person in the office answered the question “Ayan, o” and pointed at the press release basket with his mouth.

Upon reading the “press release,” the snooty reporter bolted out the door to return to the office.

The next day, the “story” merited good treatment on page one in Snooty’s newspaper.

Snooty was never seen in the camps since.

That is an example of fake news that is so prevalent nowadays.

If that reporter only covered the beat properly, the disaster would not have happened.

As it was, the AFP logistics chief at the time was Brig. Gen. Antonio Lukban (with a K) and Allen had been transferred to Greece the previous month.

By the way, Jose Lucban was the National Bureau of Investigation director of then President Ferdinand E. Marcos.

(Editor’s Note: The editors of Snooty’s news organization were not entirely spotless. They failed to spot the wrong spelling in Lukban’s family name, for a starter. And stories like that would merit several editor’s questions to plug what were blatantly contentious issues. But they went to town with the unedited material.)

Out of idleness, St. John Bosco said “The idle mind is the devil’s workshop” or sometimes plain pique or even nastiness, some reporters had (or still have?) the habit of planting fake stories called “kuryente” on unwary peers.

(Editor’s Note: Proverbs 16: 27 says: Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips are his mouthpiece, literally, “A worthless man devises mischief; and in his lips there is a scorching fire.”

Why is it called ‘kuryente”? Let me quote part of a column of Dick (Federico) Pascual in the Philippine Star some years ago:

“This is the background of that term, as I knew it at the time.

“A police reporter of a major daily came too late to cover a big fire (don’t be caught calling that a “conflagration,” a million-dollar word) in a congested squatter section of Pasay.

“In such a situation, with a deadline to beat, a reporter who was caught “natutulog sa pansitan” (“sleeping in the panciteria,” another term) would ask his colleagues for hurried notes.

“Fellow reporters, especially those who owe you one, usually help with enough details to start with. But they keep the more juicy details for their own paper.

“Our tardy reporter was told that five persons (not “people”) died in the fire. He was given the names (comma) ages (comma) and addresses. He was casually told also that the five fatalities were electrocuted during the fire.

“ELECTROCUTED: The reporter failed to notice that all the facts seemed to have been too neatly packaged for him. But he was in a hurry and collecting such basic data is a procedure that one cannot skip.

“He had no more time to locate and interview victims and fire personnel sifting through the debris, so he relied on good old imagination for the rest of the story.

“After all, if you have seen one big fire, you have seen all of them (or so it seems when deadline is just minutes away).

“He fell back on the de cajon formula for a fire story saying ‘Five persons were killed yesterday by live wires that snapped during a fire that razed (never say “razed to the ground”) a squatter area in… et cetera.’

“The victims,” his masterpiece continued, ‘were identified by the police as … (he gave their names, ages, addresses).’ Oh yes, he added that they all died after being electrocuted during the fire.

“By this time, I think you know the rest of the story.”

That is the story of “kuryente” in newsmen’s lingo. “Fake news” is the new name for “kuryente.”

(The author was a reporter for 20 years before spending 24 more years as news editor of Today newspaper and later the BusinessMirror).

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