Friday, September 13, 2013

And I called it 'quits' on the second day

SO it was one humid Monday morning in February 2003 when I set out on my first day of work as a ‘reporter’ for Sunstar, one of the three major newspapers of Davao City.
My three other companions who were hired with me were already deployed to their beats to tag with the regular reporters. One went to the Business section, one to the Sports and the other one was sent to cover the political beat. I was given a trial at the police beat. 

With no experience to back me up, to say that my first day is a nightmare is an understatement. The regular police reporter told me to meet her at the regional police office at 9 a.m., and I had no idea where on earth it was. I just boarded a Jeepney and kept watching for the gate with a signboard. I was so busy looking and when I finally saw it, the jeepney was passing over another car on the road. I had to walk back over 200 meters in the sweltering heat and another 250 meters more to reach the police office.
The regular reporter had already left. She had no way of contacting me as I didn’t have a cellphone and she didn’t even remember my name or my face in the first place. I introduced myself to the police on duty and he handed me a thick police blotter.

I have never seen a police blotter in my entire life, and I could not make a head or tail of the jumbled pages of reports from all police stations in the region.I stared at the folder and started leafing through, hoping something will make some sense so I can get a story. I stared at one page for eternity, trying to make sense of the capitalized initials like OOA (how could I know it meant ‘on or around,’ to describe the time the incident happened, MOL for more or less, and NFA—I often hear those initials when the price of rice goes up and the National Food Authority sells low quality rice at lower prices. How was I to know it meant ‘No Further Action!’

Luckily, the police reports that came in at the regional police office were mostly typed, although obviously the fifth or sixth copy and barely readable. Little did I know that the worst was yet to come. I was about to encounter police blotters with entries that look like doctor’s prescriptions, and in English constructed in such a way that looks like it’s still under construction. I gathered small bits from the report I was looking at and learned it was a stabbing incident and the suspect was detained at the San Pedro Police Station. 

I scribbled notes, which meant I literally copied that whole police blotter into my brand new notebook (digital cameras were not even in my bucket list yet)  and headed to the San Pedro police station, hoping the regular reporter is already there. She was, and she was interviewing somebody from the detention cell, protected by the bars. The smell was overpowering and I stayed as far away as I could, scared of the mass of jumbled bodies inside the detention cells. 

I stuck to feature writing in college and did not even try straight news writing and I definitely did not have an idea how to transform a police blotter item to a readable story. All computers were occupied and the regular reporters were busy beating their deadlines. It was as if we newcomers didn’t exist and when one some of them went out on cigarette breaks, we were told to use their computers.

Another shock awaited me. They were using WordStar and I have never seen it before. The newsroom admin was kind enough to set it for me and have it ready so I can start typing. It took me bloody forever before I even typed one sentence, distracted with the cursor which kept on blinking horizontally below the letters. Double terrible first day pains.  I sat there for a couple of hours, having no idea how police stories are made until in desperation, I copied the police blotter to the computer then left in a hurry, crushed with the realization that I always thought I had a good command of the English language and discovered that I knew nothing at all.

I reported to Sir Tony the publisher the following day and told him “I quit” because I can’t do the job. He asked me to stick it out for two weeks and the rest is history.

Read how I got my first banner story, and how it turned my world upside down so that I had to ask for a ‘reporter protection program.’