1 Pulitzer, A Hundred Dead

Featured Image: Tyler Franta

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It was the last week of the semestral break when the first breakdown (supposedly) for the next term transpired. I sat on the edge of my bed with my laptop in my lap — crying over my early preparation for my undergraduate thesis for journalism. I stared at my laptop’s wallpaper for a minute with a “Cheer up, future Pulitzer Prize Awardee” statement flashed in it. Aside from being a published writer, receiving a Pulitzer Prize is among my wildest dreams.

Since third grade, I knew that writing is close to my heart. For nine years in campus journalism competitions, a year being an Editor-in-Chief, five years as a freelance writer-editor, and recently a student-researcher (in the least of my experience in the writing industry), and now with only three semesters left to complete my BA-Journalism undergraduate program, still, I have yet to grasp that the heart of storytelling is to be heartless — a coldblooded narrator. After 12 years of thriving my passion, I am now in third-year college, with only one purpose in mind: to write for the people. And in the latter, muster the courage to be a heartless journalist.

To be a journalist is my childhood dream, but to momentarily live the dream of becoming a professional journalist means death, which entails no hint of attachment to stories we write and reports we narrate to the nation notwithstanding its weight, height, and socio-political value; that said, my desire to write must be objectively guided by Journalism Code of Ethics.

To feel nothing in front of the crowd while reporting is ethical — you narrate fiercely: no personal sentiments, no repentance. But establishing an emotional connection to your story is lethal in human experience. It cries you to sleep when you cover another ‘nanlaban’  narrative (term used for extra-judicial killing victims in the Philippines) or write a special news coverage that a fellow journalist was killed as you cannot do anything about it because your job is virtuously to report and narrate ‘justly’ to the masses.

Journalists on duty detach themselves to be human in the call to uphold the truth to the nation. Our profession was transformed as a piece of machinery that seeks to function in balance and fair truth-telling. Unlike ordinary Filipino citizens utilizing the freedom of expression, journalists decrying social injustices on national television are grave sinners in the eyes of ethics. It breaks my heart.

With the nation in full-glass of anger in the height of community pantries weaponized by the authorities to red-tag the people and continuous press attacks, notably to investigative reporters being critical about facts and to the government, journalists remain placid and unruffled. They were the ones left unbothered (professionally) in the public eye, but we are gunned with bullets of trauma, disputing our calling at the end of every coverage.

The veracity is, when journalists write to report the truth, we become great pretenders: we show no remorse, no sorrow, no emotion — a blank face on the television, or write in an inert tone on a daily newspaper. Because we swore an oath to serve the public — that corresponds to setting our emotions aside. We pledged to become the pillar of democracy, of the human voice; it requires us to possess strength braver than anybody. But at the back of it was like a historical façade ruined in plain sight: crashed, burdened, and desolated.

I stumbled upon a 2018 Public Service Announcement of the United Nations while I was gathering related literature for my thesis; it says, “Each year a journalist gets a Pulitzer, and one hundred get shot.” I don’t fear death; what qualms me the most is not dying. For a journalist, we dread the life of the world after our demise — a story that won’t anymore be heard, a report that won’t anymore speak its deafening volume, a voice that could silence the marginalized because no one would speak for them when a journalistic voice is muted with guns.

We are not scared to perish because journalists prepared themselves to die in pursuing stories, but we were frightened by the fact that Filipino journalists are imperiled to kill the truth.

We have been proudly parading that we are one of the safest countries in the world, without tallying the reality that we ascent as the country with the greatest number of unsolved journalist killings, and of course, not mentioning the number of human rights deprivations, oppression, and political injustices on the list.

If we contemplate on it, just like practitioners in the medical field, journalists witness death at hand and that, like a nurse attending the dying patient’s needed hospital care, we are incapable of grieving and displaying sympathy as to console is not part of our job because the armor of our work is bravery — a commitment to strengthen the weak.

Today, I still heed that behind the success of a newsworthy death story is a writer in the newsroom questioning his integrity. And in front of my reality in the Philippines as a professional journalist soon, I am anxious that a Pulitzer Prize might be a gravestone of a story silenced by the authority — trying to kill the truth as if truth dies in a bullet.