By Raïssa Robles
[My speech today before the Philippine Press Institute and the National Association of Newspapers during the conference on “Watching the Watchdog: Re-examining Ourselves.” ]
I am honored to be part of this gathering. I think I know why I was chosen to tackle the topic: “How the new technology is reshaping the way we bring news to the Public”. I view myself as one of the most qualified, full-time journalists to expound on it – because you see, I’m very much digitally challenged.
Using information and communications technology or ICT – – from desktops to laptops to tablets and smartphones – has never been easy for me. I had to learn how to do it step-by-step, like a baby. There were many frustrating moments when I would save a file on my PC, and not know where it went and how to access it. Until I learned for myself how content management systems work.
It was my fellow journalist-husband Alan Robles who dragged me kicking and complaining into putting up my own website – raissarobles.com – from scratch.
He’s the geeky one who taught Internet and Journalism for years at the Berlin Institute for Journalism where I also once studied in. Years ago he wrote computer game reviews for the PC World magazine, as well as the Philippine Daily Inquirer. I remember that one of his most memorable moments was when he suddenly won the Manila Rotary Club Journalist of the Year Award for in-depth political reporting in the early 1990s. He remembers it with fondness because he used the prize money to buy himself a PC 386 color computer — so he could play Wing Commander.
Surprisingly, gaming was also the way I lost my fear of computers. It gave me an attitude of playfulness and honed my ability to keep trying various approaches everytime I failed.
I cannot count the number of times my website has crashed – – from a viral attack or because I did some tweaking.
As I became more at home using ICT, I made the difficult decision to drop my print subscriptions to three newspapers – the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Philippine Star and the Daily Tribune.
But I ended up reading even more newspapers online.
It is partly due to people like me that local papers are losing circulation and wondering about surviving.
Alan and I have often discussed this and one of the things he said struck me. He said many newspapers are run and edited by the “digital homeless.” This phrase was coined by Internet visionary Nicholas Negroponte in the 1990s, to describe those who weren’t young enough to grow up surfing the Net, or who were not old enough to have the spare time to get to know it.
Alan told me Negroponte predicted that the digital homeless would “tend to be the decision makers, executives, and politicians” even if “they are not part of this digital world;(and)they don’t understand it.”
Maybe this is why Congress enacted a highly oppressive Cybercrime Law – our legislature is populated by the digital homeless.
I still consider myself a part-time member of the digital homeless community. And since I’m also a journalist, I can share with you what I’ve learned on how digital technology is reshaping the way we bring news to the public.
Because of ICT, consumer attitude to news is changing. But is the attitude of news providers changing, too?
The consumer wants his news now, not tomorrow. He wants to access it on his smartphone or tablet, not on paper.
The once-a-day cycle is gone and newspapers don’t seem to care, perhaps relying on the fact that most of their readers are also digitally homeless. But those numbers are shrinking.
News used to be a one-way street. The press told readers what stand to take through the editorial. It tightly controlled feedback through the Letters to the Editor section. Its role as a watchdog over government and business bred a sense of entitlement among many journalists.
Now, with digital technology, it’s no longer about entitlement. It’s all about people empowerment.
Dissemination of news has become multi-channel. Feedback from consumers of news is now instantaneous, uncontrolled, unedited and at times very rude. Readers have become part of the news process. Readers have become the watchdog over the press.
Alan made the observation that there has been a flattening of roles on information exchange. It’s no longer top-down – or from the newspaper to the reader. It is now collegial. The consumer has become a content provider and the provider is also a consumer.
Personally, I’ve also noticed that social networking sites encourage a different attitude toward elderly and authority figures. Philippine society is quite hierarchical – older people and those holding senior positions in government and business are accustomed to being addressed more respectfully and formally by their younger or less senior counterparts. But Facebook and Twitter has put everyone on the same footing.
There’s a third, equally important development due to ICT. The archipelagic barriers – that set Filipinos apart from Aparri to Jolo and even globally for decades – are down for the first time in history. I have used this tremendous advantage. Through Facebook and Twitter, for instance, I have managed to interview sources who would otherwise be out of reach.
Three years ago, nine people in Angeles City were murdered. The police there told me they traced the suspect through his Facebook account. I found two of the victims also on Facebook. And contrary to what local dailies insinuated about one of the slain girls being a mail order bride, her Facebook posts and those of her Briton lover showed they were mutually introduced by the Filipina wife of the Briton’s best friend.
You can find a link to my South China Morning Post story in a copy of this speech uploaded on the PPI website. [see http://www.scmp.com/article/721032/targeted-death-expat-paradise ]
Some political analysts have said that the recent elections weren’t affected much by the buzz on the internet. They’ve argued that most of Facebook’s 30 million Filipino members belong to the rich and middle class; whereas most Filipinos voters are poor without internet access.
True. The poor have no access. But analysts have not taken into account the ripple effect of ICT. What goes viral on the Net eventually ends up on radio, TV and newspapers.
This was what happened to my impeachment trial stories last year.
Another thing about Facebook. The Filipinos there have similar profiles as the readership of the largest local dailies. They are the audience the dailies would love to have.
Last year, I happened to ask Vergel Santos how many copies of the three largest Philippine papers were physically being printed daily. Around 600,000 copies, he said.
How can newspapers with a combined print run of 600,000 – the equivalent of over six percent of our total population – retain their clout in the digital age?
This is what this conference is partly about.
We don’t know if newspapers – as they are right now, printed on paper – will survive. But Alan and I believe journalists will survive, provided they are equipped with at least four skills. These are:
- the ability to RECOGNIZE SOMETHING AS “NEWSY”;
- the ability to get the facts as completely and accurately as possible;
- and correct them as new information comes in;
- the ability to get the other side or the contrary view;
- and the ability to sense a pattern of events and make sense of it.
The last skill is the hardest to learn but it’s what will make the press survive no matter what century or what the new technology brings.
NOTE: You can read more about the day’s proceedings by going to the blog of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.