When I was in high school, I joined the school paper. I’ve always had a particular interest in journalism, even back then, even if there was almost nothing to really report on at my high school – no burning local issue, and nothing but the regular everyday in a somewhat sheltered private school in a somewhat sleepy suburb of Metro Manila. What got me first interested was watching All The President’s Men one weekend night, when it was showing on one of the local UHF channels for movie night (Studio 23, I think).
There’s something in the idea of going after the truth, the facts of the matter – of digging into an issue, looking at it objectively and writing to inform the public of all of its facets. The thought that there was some injustice that could be righted by the stroke of the pen. Pretty heady stuff for pubescent JM.
I learned at my high school paper the basics of journalism: how to write a lede, how to structure a piece into an “inverted pyramid” where the most salient facts were up front, how to proofread. The paper’s adviser and the head of the school’s publications office also had me learn digital prepress: he lent me this thick tome of a book over one summer break that described everything you would ever want to know about a purely digital prepress workflow. I remember gorging myself in the details: adjusting the levels on black-and-white photos to account for halftone dot gain, ensuring color photos are in CMYK, learning all about DPI and PDFs and file formats, preflighting, etcetera.
I never did get to realize any of the heady ideals of journalism though. Like I said, there was nothing much to report on.
My interest and fascination with journalism never really disappeared; I still think that it is an essential feature in any working democracy. However, I don’t claim to be any sort of expert in it – I am but an amateur, a dilletante, when it comes to any form of writing, especially anything remotely approaching journalism of any kind.
As a self-proclaimed amateur-dilletante though, the one thing I keep coming back to is the ideals of objectivity in journalism. Objectivity is not neutrality though.
Somewhere along the line mainstream journalism decided "objective" meant "neutral," and they are not the same thing at all. Objectivity is a slave to facts in pursuit of the truth. Neutrality is the art of presenting fact and fiction as equal.— Michael Lampers (@LampersMichael) July 26, 2018
I remember attending a seminar on journalism given to us staffers of the school paper by a couple of seasoned pros from one of the major Metro Manila dailies. It was a whole day thing, a whirlwind tour of getting a newspaper off the ground, from news to features to the editorials. Of course, I was more interested in the news side of things, the meat and potatoes; “stick to the facts,” the pro said, “and don’t write anything that is opinion or conjecture.”
In university, I learned about rhetoric, about writing a persuasive essay. About using fact to support an argument. More importantly, I learned how to think critically: to look at an assertion, and not to accept it wholesale, but to ask whether it is supported by the facts at hand. And as I grew older, I also slowly learned that the world isn’t black and white. That there are shades of gray to contend with, that the other side of the fence isn’t completely evil, or completely wrong.
That isn’t to say that I believe in the “all sides are equal” bullshit though – rather, I am usually willing to give the other side some benefit of doubt, since I’m a firm believer in Hanlon’s razor: never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. Maybe there’s some fact that was (intentionally or unintentionally) overlooked; maybe they’re ignorant of the complexities of the issues. But I have my limits, and in those limits lie my own moral compass. Eating babies is still a horrible thing after all.
Which just means that I try to view things through the lens of what I can support with evidence, and not with merely my opinions – because I know my opinions have to change based on the evidence. I’d like to think that I keep a nuanced view of things; I’d like to believe that I am not really absolutely correct, and just merely probably right.
That’s what scares me though about the present-day level of discourse – that there isn’t any nuance or affordance for being wrong in any shape or form, especially when it comes to politics, a topic I assiduously avoid inasmuch as it is almost impossible to present any kind of shade of gray in your viewpoint: you are either for us, or against us.