The Practice of Online Journalism in the
Philippines: Personal Observations
Online journalism faces
the arduous task of helping shape public opinion for online users who
retrieve information from cyberspace, a venue where there are many
distractions and where content is not given much attention.
By DANILO ARAÑA ARAO
Gone are the days
when journalism was synonymous with the print medium. At present,
journalism education in the Philippines and abroad highlights the
multi-media character of the profession and the need for a journalist to
straddle print, broadcast (television and radio) and new media to more
effectively reach out to a broader audience.
For journalists, the
new media, particularly the Internet, has provided both opportunities and
problems. On one hand, it is welcome news to know that information on just
about anything has become more readily available. On the other hand, the
problem is exactly just that: the deluge of information.
like other researchers, are currently facing not a dearth of information
but an overload of it. In the course of their data gathering using the
Internet, there are two basic challenges that must be overcome: how to
filter the information one can use; and how to establish the reliability
of the information gathered.
There is, of course,
another dimension to the use of the new media in the practice of one’s
profession: How can a journalist maximize the opportunities provided by
the new media without being too dependent on them to the point of
complacency and compromising journalistic principles and standards?
Journalists in print,
broadcast and new media face these dilemmas as they gather data for their
required outputs. On the surface, online journalists seem to be more
dependent on new media, particularly the Internet, as they are expected to
provide, say, the necessary hyperlinks to websites so that online users
can be directed to their online sources for validation and more
information. However, the convenience of having information just a click
away, so to speak, prompts journalists – be they print, broadcast or
online – to just simply cite the available information that can be
retrieved from the Internet.
Without filtering and
establishing the reliability of information, it is obvious that
journalists do a disservice to the media audiences by either misleading or
bombarding them with information both necessary and unnecessary. We must
keep in mind that the basic task of journalism is the shaping of public
opinion by giving media audiences information that, in our best judgment,
Unlike in a
restaurant where an owner can serve food in abundance and be appreciated
for the gesture, journalistic outputs must be kept “short and sweet.” In
other words, media audiences would not appreciate the overload of both
significant and insignificant information since social reality must be
explained to them in a manner that is digestible.
The imperative for
journalists to be true to their calling becomes all the more important in
a maldeveloped society like the Philippines where various interest groups
try to win over the hearts and minds of the people and claim to provide
solutions to age-old problems. In much the same way there exist cultures
of conformity and resistance in a maldeveloped society, there are
mainstream and alternative traditions in journalism. The first seeks to
protect the status quo while the second seeks to replace it.
In the context of
online journalism, the Internet has also become a venue for interest
groups to relay their messages, putting up websites and e-groups, among
others, to reach out to online users. They all have something in common:
They claim to know the truth and they try their best to be as convincing
Online journalism, in
particular, faces the arduous task of helping shape public opinion for
online users who retrieve information from cyberspace, a venue where there
are many distractions and where content is not given much attention. Media
audiences, particularly the youth, are more enamored with network gaming
and virtual communities like Friendster. Websites are also often designed
in such a way that form gives way to content, as software programs like
Flash are maximized not for content management but for the
three-dimensional graphics and special effects it can provide.
Problem of a Dime a Dozen Websites and Webmasters
Even if the Web was
introduced to Filipinos only in 1995, websites have grown in number mainly
as a result of three factors: introduction of what-you-see-is-what-you-get
(WYSIWYG) web authoring programs; better and more varied Internet access;
and ubiquity of blogging.
In an article I wrote
three years ago, I argued:
“The introduction and subsequent upgrading
of (WYSIWYG) web authoring programs like FrontPage, PageMill and
Dreamweaver made it much easier for interested people to learn the trade.
“Web authoring skill does not require
formal education, only patience and diligence. A 2001 survey by the
monthly magazine The Web Philippines showed that 82.3% (or 65 out
of 80 web developers surveyed, with one respondent skipping the question)
learned their skills through self-study.” (Modern Technology and Online
Journalism in the Philippines, Philippine Journalism Review,
At present, there are
several ways to access the Internet. There are now prepaid cards to access
the Internet via dial-up connection, and one can also opt for the more
relatively expensive cable, DSL and wireless connections. Those without
Internet connection at home can just visit the nearest internet rental
shop. In 2001, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) claimed
that there are 3,000 internet rental shops in the country.
The popularity of web
logs or “blogs” has also made it even much easier for online users to come
up with posts that are normally packaged as online diaries or journals
that can present text, graphics, audio and video files. Through software
programs like Wordpress and Movable Type, online users do not need to know
hypertext markup language (HTML). They only need to follow the
easy-to-follow guides in uploading content.
can be seen as empowering for people who want to use the Internet to get
their message across to global online users. On the other hand, this
situation implies that just about anybody can upload Internet content.
This then gave rise
to the billions of web pages that are now available on the Internet and
the consequent need to filter information coming from websites. The deluge
of information on the Internet is not necessarily welcome news, as online
users are exposed not only to false and misleading data, hoaxes and even
That webmasters have
also become a dime a dozen means that the quality of web design is not
maintained, as knowing how to operate web authoring programs is greatly
different from learning the principles of design and layout. Form
therefore tends to overshadow the content, thus compromising the saying in
web design that “Content is King.”
Convergence and Online Publications
websites, online publications are theoretically more content-based – and,
for that matter, more professionally maintained – since their main
objective is providing data and analyses. They are also periodically
updated to provide fulfill the online users’ information needs.
An online editor once
stressed that online news has “the authority of print with the speed and
immediacy of broadcast media.”
journalism uses mainly the printed word to relay messages to online users.
Unlike the print medium, however, online publications do not have specific
deadlines that must be met since updates can be uploaded anytime. Headline
news, for example, can change several times in one day, depending on the
fluidity of the situation.
The uploading of
files has also become much simpler due to developments in file transfer
protocol (FTP) software programs and the inclusion of “Publish Web”
commands in the most commonly used WYSIWYG web authoring programs. In
fact, the updates are reflected instantaneously, unlike print and
broadcast media where media audiences have to wait until the next issue or
This then makes it
easy for online publications to issue corrections to their posts. In an
article I wrote in 2003, I noted that this can pose a problem for online
journalists who do not adhere to the highest standards of journalism
ethics: “(There is a) tendency (for) online writers to provide only
sketchy (even unverified details) with the hope that their articles will
be updated anyway. Wary of being ‘scooped’ by the competition, overzealous
online editors may also end up posting advisories and stories despite
their questionable provenance.”
unethical practices are a disservice to online users who expect
information that is not only up-to-date but also accurate.
Blogging and Online Journalism
blogosphere has given rise to what is sometimes referred to as “citizen
journalism” where a blogger can assume the role of a journalist by giving
his or her views on issues and concerns. It must be stressed that not all
blogs can be considered journalistic outputs, in the same way that not all
bloggers are journalists.
Even blogs that are
exceptional in terms of writing and depth of analysis cannot be
automatically classified as journalistic outputs though they can be used
as sources of information of journalistic outputs. We need to analyze
first if the blogger’s style of writing caters to a broad audience,
popularizing issues and concern with the end-goal of informing.
The topics discussed
must also be scrutinized, since journalistic outputs regardless of form
(print, broadcast or new media) are essentially social commentaries. While
personal experiences can be reported, these must be related to the overall
social context so that relevance can be firmly established.
opportunities offered by the new media, we must keep in mind that
journalistic outputs are mainly used to communicate to an audience. It is
imperative therefore for a blogger to know the principles and standards of
journalism before calling himself or herself a journalist.
In the Philippines,
there still remains a limited reach of the Internet. In 2000, the
penetration rate of personal computers (PCs) was at a small 1.5 percent.
We can attribute this to the generally high cost of desktop and laptop
telecommunications infrastructure in the Philippines is also wanting.
According to the National Electrification Agency (NEA), only 77 percent of
barangays were energized as of December 2000. The NTC, meanwhile, admitted
that telephone density was nine telephone lines for every 100 persons in
In another article I
wrote in June 2003, I noted,
“Online journalism therefore cannot be
expected to flourish if people were hampered by astronomical prices
related to Internet access and low purchasing power. The poor state of IT
infrastructure must also be considered since the Internet cannot be
effectively maximized and appreciated by a broad audience.
“At this point, it is very important to
break the myth that Filipinos are generally intimidated by new technology
and that this is the drawback in online journalism. The issues, after all,
are very basic and the problems confronting IT and online journalism in
particular are fundamental. In a Third World country like the Philippines,
the so-called digital divide should not be defined in terms of the
-‘techno-probes versus the techno-savvy,’ but between the financially
capable and the financially challenged.” (The Limited Reach of Online
Journalism, Philippine Journalism Review, June 2003)
For a Filipino
journalist, therefore, to be more effective in reaching out to the
marginalized sectors of society, he or she cannot rely on online
publications given their limited reach. This situation then presents a
strong case for journalists straddling the different forms of media to
broaden the reach of their outputs.
Mainstream and Alternative Online Journalism
Just like newspapers
and magazines, there are mainstream and alternative online publications.
Their orientation is mainly determined by the content and interest they
must remember that their analysis matters to the audience and that their
work must not only be confined to chronicling data and presenting the
different sides of the story. A maldeveloped society like the Philippines
requires a kind of journalism that upholds the tradition of La
Solidaridad and Kalayaan in terms of depth of analysis and
clear calls to action.
In the context of
online journalism, the intended message can be either in support or
critical of the status quo. Given that there are various interest
groups in the country that seek the attention of online users, it is not
surprising that there are online publications that are either mainstream
or alternative in orientation.
therefore lies for the online users to discern the reliability of the
information provided by online publications they visit as they seek
analyses that can guide them in making sense of the national situation.
Compared to print and
broadcast, online journalism is relatively new since Filipinos were
introduced to the Web only in 1995.
There are problems
besetting the design and layout of websites as form tends to overshadow
the content. This situation can be rooted in the lack or even absence of
knowledge in the principles of design and layout. In the same way,
blogging has given rise to what is called “citizen journalism,” which must
not be taken to mean that all bloggers are now automatically classified as
Despite the advances
in modern technology, particularly in telecommunications, there is still a
need to go back to the fundamentals of journalism and the journalists’
basic task of shaping public opinion by giving the people information that
they need. Bulatlat
This paper was presented to the CALABARZON Communication Convention held
on September 25, 2006 at the Lyceum of Batangas in Batangas City.
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© 2006 Bulatlat
Alipato Media Center
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