Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How everything began

Sunstar Davao's former newsroom
No matter what kind of job you have—be it gloomy or glamorous, your first day at work is always bound to be full of embarrassing, awkward moments until you get familiar with the job. My foray into the world of journalism is different. It feels like it is my first day every day, even after 10 years.
I guess my career in writing began at the very early age of two, when I learned to use my right forefinger to write in the muddy front yard of our house during rainy days, and drawing figures in the dust despite the constant sermon of our babysitter. I thought I was going to be an artist then, judging from the complicated abstract figures I always drew but reality hit me full force in Grade one when we were told to draw our seatmate. My seatmate looked like a fat louse in my drawing, and she did not talk to me again until I moved to another school in third grade.

Frustrated with my elder sister who turned out to be left-handed, my mother decided to make it up to me and spent more time teaching me to trace lines and curves ever so patiently, with my right hand.
I guess I learned fast because after that, I think my mother regretted teaching me how to write, and that’s when I became a full-pledged writer. I wrote on walls, tables, chairs, and wallpapers, and everywhere, particularly on areas that are resistant to soap suds or chlorine solutions.

After a few months of writing, I decided I had enough and stopped. That's when I entered first grade, just when I was required to write.  Long story but to make it short, where are we again?

Oh, my career in writing industry was not handed down to me on a platter. Neither did I sweat and labor in college to get a journalism degree. I know I love to write but that’s it. That ‘love’ stopped the time I was ordered to go out and gather news and write four of them and submit them before the deadline day after day.
But seriously now, I never envisioned myself to become a reporter for a daily newspaper covering politics, court drama and the action-filled police beat. I dreamed of writing but it’s more of feature stories where I am my own boss, write at my own leisurely pace and time, travel and eat and get paid to write. Nice life, huh?
It all started with a deadline
The moment I got out of college I got employed right away—by myself. I was happy and earning good in the marketing world, never knowing what it is to quake and run when a boss gets cranky, until one afternoon 10 years ago when I saw a newspaper Ad announcing the need for a reporter.
It was almost 4pm on the deadline day, and I had barely an hour to make a resume and get to the newspaper office at the other end of Davao City two rides away, just when traffic starts to get heavy. It was a challenge I couldn’t let pass and I decided to try my luck, more of beating the deadline than actually thinking about the job.

At exactly 4:58 pm, two minutes before the deadline, I pushed open the doors of Sunstar Davao and submitted my papers to a woman who was sitting on top of the table nearest the door. Everyone was waiting for the two minutes to time out and leave work.
The woman briefly scanned my application and asked if I had  any experience. When I shook my head, she said nonchalantly “we’ll just call you”.
I told her I had no cellphone and no landline either. I just put the location of a food stall at the bus terminal as my contact point, if ever.
“We’ll just send you a telegram,” she said in a tone that dismissed me as she tucked my papers in her desk and got her bag. Experience was obviously important, and she was clearly not impressed with my application. 

Haha and good luck, as if telegrams still exist. I bit my lip to stop telling her RCPI and PT&T telegraph companies had closed shop years ago. I learned later that Miss Olive, that woman, was the general manager of Sunstar Davao. 

I forgot about it all until one day two weeks later at the Ecoland Bus Terminal when I waiting to board a bus for Cotabato City. A man with a big camera slung on his neck and a vest most photographers wear was staring at me. He looked at the papers in his hand, looked at me and back to the papers. I was getting alarmed when he hesitantly called my name and asked if he can talk to me for a moment.
Truly alarmed now, I glanced at the papers in his hand and blanched when I saw my photo. I grew up in a small town where bombings and gunshots and people getting shot and killed are considered normal, but when a stranger stares at me and my photo was in his hand, it’s a different story.
Then I remembered that application letter.

The photographer which I knew later as Kuya Seth told me to report to the office to take the entrance exam, and said I must have had a very impressive resume as it was the first time the office asked anyone to search for someone at a very busy terminal, one who doesn’t even have a cellphone.

The Exam
Needless to say I showed up for the exam and met three other applicants, all with journalism degrees and with the ‘right connections.’ I only had three units of Journalism, three units of Creative Writing and no connections. I also learned that of all the applicants, 12 of us were called for the exam and they need only four.
Reality sure slaps hard. 

The others were from Davao City and had published some stories in the newspapers for their requirements.
I stared at the questions and the sheets of yellow paper supplied for our answers. 
And suddenly I wanted to start laughing. The questions covered local and national politics. What do I know? I always read the lifestyle pages first and the headlines one week later. Name at least 30 elected and appointed officials of Davao City. Again how was I to know? I even get lost in the streets. Senators? I remembered only 12 of the 24. What’s my opinion on the pressing issues like the mining at Mt. Diwata? Nothing, except that everyone in my family has visited the place, except me.

Anyway I did not submit a totally blank answer sheet. I scribbled an unsolicited essay at the bottom, explaining the blank pages and being honest about being not familiar with Davao City, and how I could have copied from the others if I wanted to. 

We were told to wait for their call. If they call, that means we passed the written test and had to report for the interview. I waited and waited for the call, forgetting I had no cellphone, no landline, no nothing. I also only check emails every two weeks or so. Then I remembered I was told to call and check.
Which I did a week later,  although I knew I would never pass that test. Miraculously, Donna, the newsroom admin assistant scheduled for an interview right away.

No longer funny, oh i mean it's funny!
I was wearing my usual denim jeans with slits and holes in the legs, an over-sized t-shirt with huge cartoon prints all over, and open-toed sandals. I was not going to spend even a cross-eyed peso to shop for clothes or have a makeover just for an interview for a job I was not even serious about in the first place.   

A friend lent me a presentable blouse and I refused the jeans, telling her that if I won’t pass the interview just because of my denim jeans, so be it.

I was told to wait for the publisher, a “Sir Tony” to interview me. It was my first job interview and I was nervous, expecting to face a dignified looking man in a coat and tie on a swivel chair. Taking a deep breath, I I entered the conference room and found a shirtless man in shorts with a towel slung on his shoulders, shampoo and soap dish in his hand. Sir Tony was obviously on his way to the bathroom and stopped by to interview me. He had a room at the office, I learned later. Sir Tony bluntly told me I don’t know how to write a news story at all but he is willing to give me two weeks try out as a paid apprentice.

I never found out why he hired me, but I bet that unsolicited essay in my exam must have made some impact.
Anyways, I am still laughing.

 *Watch out for my real first day of work as a reporter, and how I quit on the second day.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Inside the Newsroom (What you're not supposed to know)

A peek into the Newsroom
Have you ever been inside a newsroom? If not, then read on. If you have, please read on.
Newsrooms vary in size, color, shape, smell, atmosphere and the occupants of the newsroom but they all serve the same purpose. It is where stories are ‘sliced and diced, prepared, cooked and left to the editor for serving.’
 I haven’t been to a sophisticated newsroom, but I can bring you to the newsrooms that I have lived in—just three actually, in a span of 10 years going 11 (where else? lol)
I’ll take you to my current newsroom which has been my extension house for over five years now, and hope my co-reporters and those in the higher-ups won’t get my hide for this. I will try not to be as graphic as possible to hide some of the dirty secrets. 

Coffee, one of the basics of any newsroom.
Our newsroom is where the smell of food and coffee will greet you when you open the door, where unwashed cups of coffee are found in some computers stations including mine, though not all reporters drink the poison. It is where individual trash cans are filled up with crumpled papers and food leftovers (oh not anymore lately after the office issued a directive to throw food leftovers outside). It is a room separated by a glass door from all the other sections of the building, where one is never free from the ringing of telephones, where reporters take on an automatic ‘autistic mode’ when they enter, especially in the late afternoon which is deadline time.
 My current newsroom is just a narrow blue and white room with six computer stations all lined up on the side of one wall. The other side is the ‘pathway’, which, translated, means there is no privacy as everyone can see anyone’s computer screen. We don’t have the private cubicles that sophisticated newsrooms do.
When I joined Marianas Variety in 2008, most of the computers have CRT screens and we shared a very close relationship with the screen just a few inches from our faces. Thankfully LCD screens were born.

Privacy is an unheard of thing in the newsroom. It’s where you talk to someone or interview news sources on the phone and everyone can hear it. The cold blast from the aircon unit is another thing. If we turn it on, occupants on the first three stations claim they freeze, including me. If we turn the A/C off, the other three occupants of the room claim they are burning in hell. There’s just no halfway about it. If I forget my jacket at home, I can never stay long in the freezer aka newsroom.
In fact, I blame the A/C for the writer’s block a lot of the times—my brain just freezes with the cold.
here is my station, the space i call "mine'
I’ll skip the details of whose station is which so you’ll have some work looking for whom if you visit the newsroom.I do believe in reporter protection program, but if you plan to deliver coffee, chocolate or flowers, mine is Desk 3. Haha  

There is no TV set in our newsroom, but we have a radio where we can tune in for the 6 pm news on KSPN to check if we missed anything big, and music for the rest of the time.
The most intimate relationship I have in the newsroom is with my desktop, especially the keyboard. It is the mute witness to all my moods—the daily pressures, joys and frustrations and everything else.  

Back in my Sunstar days in Davao, we have a somewhat square spacious newsroom with our computers against the wall, and our backs to each other, which meant we also don’t have privacy. Everyone can see our monitors. There is a TV set where we can watch the news, and a padded bench beneath it where anyone can just spread out his limbs to grab 40 or 41 winks when needed but they just moved to a new office.
My newsroom in Palau for Island Times newspaper is far from memorable. We used to be housed in individual cubicles alongside the cubicles computer technicians and everyday was pure hell listening to their blaring music, translated ear-splitting noise, until we were transferred to another room. There were only three of us, and since the paper comes out only twice a week, we don’t have the same pressure as the daily news.

Lucky Me?
I entered the newsroom arena when computers are already in existence and editing is done through the network servers.I haven’t experienced being in the newsroom during the heavy Underwood typewriter days. Those were the days where reporters and editors have become masters of shooting the crumpled balls of papers containing disoriented thoughts into the waste bins.

I didn’t experience the agony of seeing ‘red marks’ in my drafts (those days are forever buried in the transcripts of history, during the Formal Theme writing days) In short, I haven’t mastered the art of dodging when your editor crumples your thoughts on paper and hurl the ball at you for spreading your confusion to the readers but I have had my share of stories from those who had been there.
Some reporters still carry the habit of pounding on the hard typewriter keyboards and bang the soft touch computer keyboards loud and strong. Poor keyboards.

Peace on earth can be experienced at the newsroom in the mornings because everybody is usually out but if you want to see what a madhouse looks like, visit in the afternoon, and you will get a taste of what a newsroom looks and feels like. Just don’t be hurt though if no one will entertain you. Everyone will be short-tempered and immersed in their own worlds with headphones plugged into their ears as they try to transcribe interviews from their recorders.

I guess I did not reveal everything but I will keep my eye open for emails from my boss or co-workers I guess. Lol. Watch out for more! The worms haven’t started to crawl out yet.