That is the question which is often asked of a journalist when he gathers a lead, a tip, or even a whisper from his sources, friends, colleagues and even his family. And when the question is satisfied, the journalist embarks on a quest to gather all the necessary ingredients to make his story one sumptous dish.
But when does one actually know what is newsworthy and what is not? When does one know that the story pursued, gathered and prepared is worth publishing or airing? When does one know if the story is not mere gossip, scandal or rumor?
Where I come from, the news have been awash over these past few weeks with celebrities being killed, celebrities breaking up and celebrities having abortions. And while in some countries these news items are relegrated to the entertainment section of papers of news programs, here they open up the day’s headlines.
Instead of the public being made aware of the cases of graft and corruption which need to be tackled and resolved, they are lulled into the drama of the Familia Bautista-Revilla feud. Instead of being aware of the life-threatening situations migrant Filipino workers abroad face, they join KC Concepcion in crying about her failed relationship with Piolo Pascual. Instead of being concerned with the increasing number of poor Filipinos, they are divided in contending camps in the Rhian Ramos and Mo Twister break up.
While entertainment news can sometimes be as important as those of national socio-political concern, it is not always the case that an incident in the showbiz industry spells the difference between an ordinary Filipino having something to eat for dinner or having none.
I no longer know what has happened to the state of Philippine journalism over the past few years. I quit my job in the news organization of a network back in 2006 and I have been doing advocacy work, teaching and media relations since then. And although I have maintained ties with old colleagues, we hardly ever talk about the newsroom when we meet up (that’d be a ranting session).
But what I do know is this: entertainment news in this country have moved beyond being a mere segment of news programs and newspapers into being part of the socio-political news of the country. I do not have the authority to say that is good or bad, but I certainly know that they take away the public’s attention from the important issues which concern the jobs, food, education and security of every Filipino.
Back then whenever I encounter tips, leads and hear whispers, I always had a set of questions which serve as a criteria whether something is newsworthy or not. And these are:
- Is it relevant? Is it new? Is it pressing?
- Does it affect the life of a huge sector of the population? Would it affect the safety and survival of a community or the public?
- How important are the stakeholders involved? Would their involvment have effects on the socio-political structure of a community or society in general?
If all these questions are satisfied then I try to gather the ingredients necessary for one tasty story. Of course, how these questions are satisfied would depend also on the orientation of the journalist. I am sure each journo has his/her self-imposed criteria/standards to fulfill. But for me, these are the tests by which I judge stories then. If they fail these, then I ignore them.
Mos importantly, while gathering the elements of the story, one should always be guided by the desire to find out the truth. And where the truth can be ambiguous, trivial or just a private incident between two persons, the journo should always ask him/herself: Is it newsworthy?