The news angle after the storm

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By Ramon Dacawi

Benchwarmer

Friday, January 10, 2014


“THE reporter is a stone skipping on a pond, taking an instant to tell a story and then ricocheting to the next, covering a lot of water while only skimming the surface.”

The line is from Charles Kuralt, the television feature journalist who traveled the back roads, the so-called blue highways, the side, rural streets of America. For years, he searched for ordinary people with extraordinary deeds, lesser mortals otherwise nameless for their ordinariness, their lives and contributions unrecorded, never mentioned in media, except that he was discerning and sensitive enough to do justice to their stories in his feature series for CBS.

Courage, sacrifice and fortitude, he found out, are not the monopoly of big names, of stars and celebrities, of world and national leaders, of usual and conventional newsmakers. He found heroism among common folk. For one, he found fulfillment recording and sharing the family story of brothers and sisters, all professionals, coming home to pay tribute to their parents who broke their backs sending them to school.
He wrote about a Russian dentist and war veteran who sought him out to finally be able to thank, through the power of television, American soldiers who risked their lives to share food so he and his fellow Russian prisoners could survive in the German concentration camp.

It’s never water under the bridge to read and re-read his accounts of these human characters in his books “A Life on the Road” and “On the Road with…,” copies of which are still found in our “wagwag” (hand-me-down) bookshops.

Similar stories emerged from the typhoons and other calamities in recent years. In the rush to meet the deadline and capture the element of immediacy in the news,. thousands of them couldn’t be recorded and told by reporters, however they tried to cover a lot of water.
Given the lack of time and space, the priority angle had to be on the number of victims, the extent of damage and loss, the cause and effect of calamity, the decisions from the top for relief and reconstruction, the lessons learned, forgotten and re-learned, together with the finger-pointing that comes with the ebbing of the floods and recovery of the remains of victims.

One has to sift through the voluminous accounts and facts taken from the coverage, and pick one or two that somehow give a picture of the rest. The rest would have to be written later, or never told, forgotten as the situation normalizes and other newsworthy events to cover also surface.

Within the limited givens, media, especially television, relied on the amateur footages of witnesses and victims of the flood, for a better picture of what happened. Even in the aftermath, journalists will rely on the submitted accounts of the rescuers themselves in saving lives. These stories about selflessness are timeless for they inspire, worth telling and recalling before, during and after the next storm, fire or any other disaster.

Or even during normal times, if we can term normal this unending struggle to stand up against poverty.

It’s responsible journalism to also focus on the humanitarian efforts of lesser mortals and groups, as it is to recognize the contributions of greater mortals and agencies in easing human suffering. The analogy to this sometimes lies in a plate of ham and eggs, as the late human rights lawyer and Baguio boy Art Galace once wrote. The chicken provided the egg and that’s involvement. The pig contributed the ham and that’s commitment.

It’s fulfilling enough to write about a kid skipping his or her birthday bash and giving the party fund to another kid in need as it is to record the number of people who will join this year’s “Stand Up Against Poverty” being mounted by the United Nations. The news value of a cancer patient giving up part of her chemotherapy fund for another patients is equal to that of the donation of, say, a Bill Gates. Except for the amounts, there’s no difference in the efforts, as both are triggered by sensitivity.

Karl Marx said it so, even if not within this context: “From each according to his/her ability, to each according to his/her needs.”
That’s why we took the opportunity last December to accompany former world karate champion Julian Chees, an Igorot who grew up in poverty, to be able to record his relief mission to typhoon-ravaged Capiz where he distributed some P800,000 in cash and in kind he pooled with his students, acquaintances and fans in southern Germany. That trip provided us, too, a glimpse into the silent sacrifice of the crews of the Benguet Electric Cooperative and other electric cooperatives in helping restore the power lines of Capiz.

The difference lies in helping and not helping. As Mike Jacobs of the Grand Forks Herald of North Carolina noted in one of his winning editorials written in the wake of a disaster that hit his community, we are not what we have or own. As they started picking up the pieces, the people in his town were not also what they lost. They are what they tried to contribute to other victims, notwithstanding their own loss and suffering.

That’s why journalists, especially those on television, went beyond reportage, editorials and opinion pieces and mounted their own fund drives and relief operations. Thousands responded to their call, underscoring the power of media.

The angling, however, may need to refocus more on the donors rather than on the conduits. In the same token, a footage or two on volunteer rescuers, some of whom are also victims of sleepless nights, of hypothermia , of hunger and of injuries in the line of duty, may also help complete the story, the picture of a collective sense of community. After all, as Marshall Macluhan noted, the medium is the message, not the messenger. Not the reporter.

Kuralt was right about the limitations of reporters.

For rescuers and other people who helped and/or continue to do so, yet whose sacrifices media failed to cover and report amidst the deluge of news, here’s that line from novelist Richard Paul Evans: The greatest acts of kindness are done without audience, plaque or ceremony. (e-mail: mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments).

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on January 11, 2014.

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