by Jeff Canoy

     Jeff is a correspondent of ABS-CBN Integrated News and Current Affairs. He covers the police and defense      beats, as well as disaster response agencies. Some of his recent work are on the Marawi siege, Boracay island     shutdown, the Mayon Volcano eruption and the war on drugs. He is currently the host of Red Alert, ABS-CBN’s     public affairs program on public safety, health and disaster preparedness.

“PROBE ON ahead or turn back.” It’s a question Captain James T. Kirk asks himself in a 1966 episode of the sci-fi classic Star Trek. An alien entity, spinning and swirling like an August cyclone, had just attacked the starship USS Enterprise. Defenses are down. Destruction is imminent. When I was younger, I wanted to be an astronaut. Much of it was because of Star Trek. A gung-ho crew in space, sailing into the unknown, living among the stars and jumping from one interplanetary adventure to another. Every episode, the show would start with its mission statement:  “Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before.” It was a declaration of fearlessness. Needless to say, I did not end up trekking the stars. Instead, I became a journalist. Which, all things considered, is light years away from space travel but the mission isn’t quite far off as one might suspect. There’s the sense of leaving your own comforts behind and plunging into the vast unknown. It’s a pursuit of truth and an exploration of humanity and its limits. We also end up in many strange, strange worlds. One day, I’m in a three-piece suit covering a business meeting. The next, I’m in a disaster area, knee-deep in mud and grief. Then in a congressional hall filled to the rafters with politicians doling out empty promises. Then dodging green-tipped bullets in the middle of warfare. The next, who knows. “Probe on ahead or turn back.” It’s also a question I often ask myself as journalist. Especially in an industry that, in many ways, has transformed in warp speed. 2019 feels so much like the future we all talked about in what feels just like yesterday. In 2007, I became a television reporter. I would often go to work with nothing but a pen and a steno notebook. Newbie reporters would visit every police station in the metro — pan de sal, instant coffee and the latest gossip in tow as offering to desk officers. We’d chase after a fire story on the other side of the city, and if we missed it even just for a few minutes, we would all go home empty-handed. If we need to do a live shot, at least a dozen crew members will show up to mount a live point — lights, audio, editing and all. When we’re done with the story, we go home, and wait for the primetime news at 6:30 PM — fingers crossed that our story would make it on air.
Nowadays, it feels reductive to even identify someone as a TV or radio or print reporter. In the last decade or so, the world has become multimedia and multiplatform. That means that journalists need to evolve from a singular role to one with a more multi-faceted skill set. The work of twelve people is now the job of one. The old watchdogs were required to learn new tricks: shoot your own video, edit footage, transmit on your own, take photos, write a long-form piece, report in Filipino then turn around and do the same thing in English, post on social media, and live tweet. Sit and roll, optional.  And in an era of peak TV, streaming services and content being produced every minute — journalists are now expected to do a story, and then promote it right after. To make sure that the story doesn’t fall by the wayside of the huge amount of content pouring in on digital, minute by minute. Not everyone waits for the 6:30 PM news anymore. And of course, you want your story seen or read. You want your subjects heard. You want the effort of all parties concerned to matter.  It’s an exhausting new world but in many ways, liberating. You’ve got more platforms to tell stories and more ways of reaching people. There’s more space to go to the infinity and beyond of storytelling. But the landscape has also changed in that there are many more black holes that suck you into doing really, really bad journalism. There are many “journalists” who are more into who they are than who they cover. Promoting a story is one thing, self-promotion is another. The light we use to illuminate darkness is the same light that blinds. Like those who rile up an interview subject for the sake of good television rather than great journalism. Those who see credibility as a way to sell products rather than build stories. Those who think fame can replace a solid body of work. “Journalists” who don’t even know how to write and produce their own copy, much less spend time in the trenches. Can’t reach the burning building across town on time? No rush. You’ve got a slew of cellphone videos from people on the scene at your disposal. Security footage has also become a crutch. To a point that some journalists don’t even bother going there anymore to bear witness. So-called “Viber journalism” too has completely taken over beat coverage. Some journalists are over-reliant on photo and video handouts, on press releases and text updates from sources. Nobody questions the information they are given anymore. No verifying from another source. Or physically going there to see for yourself. What happened to the sense of discovery? It’s not easy being a journalist. It wasn’t easy back then. It hasn’t gotten easier now even with technology at our disposal. The fast-paced, high-pressure environment has evolved but it’s still the same environment. The pay is still not commensurate to your output. The hours are still extra-terrestrial; the frustration is still out of this world. Still, many persist. Even when efforts are unrecognized. Even when that good ole pat-on-the-back from the boss never comes. Because in the end, it’s already an achievement for journalists to beat the deadline, to complete the mission and to not f*** it up.
“Probe on ahead or turn back.” It’s a question that the industry too is constantly asking now. We live in a time where journalism is under constant attack. Journalists are discredited to pave way for lies to fester and breed. Journalists are threatened with trumped-up charges, imprisonment, sexual abuse, death and decimation. “Fake news!” has become the new hello.  Our defenses are down. Destruction is imminent. “Probe on ahead or turn back.” The thing is — journalism was never built on this question. It’s never a choice. The answer is to always seek answers. To move forward. And to boldly go. Before we look ahead, however, it’s important that we take a moment to look back to the many veteran journalists who have showed us the way and have left a constellation of stories to follow. Those who defied all odds to safeguard the truth and deliver stories. Those who made mistakes then learned and challenged the new generation to be better. It’s important that we look around too — to our peers — who want to continue that legacy. There are still many journalists who spend more time on the front lines than in a studio camera’s eye line. Those who refuse to fixate on the stars, and instead plant their feet on the ground to do the work. There are many journalists working who still put a premium on the process of reporting and verification. Those who have accepted that they probably can’t change the world, but it’s more than enough to change someone’s world or their view of it. Those who accept that it should be about the story and are aware that they are only as good as their last story. That even with the new tricks, the old standards remain. There are still those who remain steadfast in the fight against disinformation and the fight for public trust. Journalism is an imperfect institution. But it’s still an institution. We’re going to make mistakes. But you can bet that there will always be accountability. Sometimes we’re lost in space but we will always strive to course correct. We live in an age of uncharted territories. But there are still brave crewmembers fighting to keep the ship alive.  Because it doesn’t matter what time or space we’re in. The mission remains the same: To boldly go.  So I guess, we just need to keep going.