Is it a bird? It’s a plane! No, it’s online journalism!

Voltaire Tupaz
The UST-Corona issue sparked intense online discussion

MANILA, Philippines – Veteran journalist Marites Dañguilan Vitug was just probing whether the University of Santo Tomas broke its academic tradition when it conferred on Chief Justice Renato Corona a doctorate in law without a dissertation. Her profession and news organization ended up being questioned instead. 

Saying they were “at a loss” on how to reply to “online journalism,” UST threw a slew of questions at social news site Rappler.com in a statement quoted in the January 2, 20112 banner story of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“Is that a legitimate news organization? What individuals and entities fund Newsbreak and Rappler? Do these outfits have editors? Who challenged Miss Vitug’s article before it went online so as to establish its accuracy, objectivity and fairness? Why was there no prior disclosure made? What gate-keeping measures does online journalism practice?”

The oldest university in Asia also doubted whether online journalists merit the same attention as their mainstream counterparts:

“Does anyone claiming to be an online journalist given (sic) the same attention as one coming from the mainstream press?”

The question sparked an intense online discussion on the first work day of the year.

Teach them how to click

Journalists on the microblogging site Twitter took turns in expressing their views about the UST sneer: 

“Tama ba basa ko? UST did not reply to Tess Vitug but it wanted Inquirer to get its side? (Pero oo nga naman, Inquirer, why not?), Inday Espina Varona (@indayevarona), ABS-CBN’s Bayan Mo, Ipatrol Mo head, tweeted.

But Inquirer’s DJ Yap (@deejayap) thinks “the line between mainstream & online media is paper-thin (heh) & people need 2 accept that. What must not change is ethics & standards.” 

“Sad lang that it came from the academe. Sila nagtuturo eh. What about the aspiring online journos? To be dissed like that. Tsk,” replied Interaksyon.com writer Abi Kwok (@abikwok).

Anjo Bagoaisan (@anjo_bagoaisan), a field producer for ABS-CBN News said in  tweet: “Wow, UST. I wonder what’s being taught today in your journalism department.”

“Maybe it all boils down to teaching them how to click on a link (“,),” quipped Broadcast journalist Pia Hontiveros (@piahontiveros). 

I’m a mere online journalist

Other online journalists who felt insulted used their personal blog sites to express their sentiments.

GMA News Online contributor Paterno Esmaquel II wrote on his blog:

“Yes, UST, I am proud to be an online journalist. Sorry, we don’t “deserve” your attention as much as our print counterparts do. But trust me: we also know how to write, we do have editors, and we try to reach all affected parties before we post our stories. We also pledge to be accurate, objective, and fair.”

Dreo Calonzo, another journalist writing for GMA News Online, lamented in a blog post that he felt his online work was undermined.

Feeling ko isa ako sa minamaliit nila at tinatawag na KSP. Kung sa tingin ng UST ay hindi worthy ang online media sa atensyon nila, sige lang. Wala namang kaso kung mas trip pa rin ng mga lider nila magbasa ng mga balita na sinulat gamit ang pluma at tinta sa liwanag ng lampara. Basta ang alam ko, milyon-milyong tao na sa mundo ang nagbabasa ng balita online. Sabi pa nga sa isang study, dumarami ang tao na mas nakikibalita gamit ang Internet kesa sa diyaryo.”

Bloggers vs journalists?

Asking whether journalists are still relevant in the age of the Internet, GMA News Online blogger Yasmin Arquiza wrote: “It’s an ever-changing world out there, and journalists have to adapt to an Internet-savvy society lest they get left behind, or worse, get replaced by poseurs churning out rumors to an audience that doesn’t know any better.”

But blogger and internet entrepreneur Cocoy Dayao, writing for Philippine Online Chrionicles, thinks otherwise:

“This blogging medium has from the beginning been so much apt for journalists. Blogging and Journalism fit together and don’t threaten each other’s existence,” adding that “we are seeing Old and New Media becoming one.”

“We’re bloggers; to some, amateurs and though some of us cannot nor choose to be named, ‘journalist’, but that doesn’t mean blogging the art means not following tenants of journalism. The basics remain. The Who, the Why, the When, the What, and the Hows need to be answered. The pieces— whether veteran journalist or ordinary blogger must still write what is true.”

Academic ethics 

Meanwhile, Marck Ronald Rimorin (@marocharim), head of Social Media at NetBooster Asia, believes the issue is about academic ethics.

“Really, the ‘online journalism’ remark is an aside. This is more of a matter of bending academic ethics, IMO.”

Lila Shahani, a post-graduate student at Oxford University posted on her Facebook wall:

“Dissertations are very difficult (I should know — I’ve been working on mine, which is meant to be 400 pages long without the bibliography, for several years now). You don’t have to be brilliant to get a PhD, but you certainly have to have patience, stamina and intellectual rigor: ultimately, it’s a character building process. If you don’t want to be seen as a two-bit institution that is nothing more than a glorified diploma mill, you better make sure every human being you give a PhD to is forced to pass through the same hoops. This is not even about taking political sides. It’s about upholding academic standards.”

In a discussion thread it initiated on its popular Facebook page, Tangina This said:

“It is not about him earning a PHD but UST granting HIM a PHD without a dissertation. tungkol sa kredibilidad ng UST ito mga bro.”

Blogger Tonyo Cruz (@tonyocruz) doubts “the UST officialdom actually believes what it says and implies in its derisive questions.”

“Hoping that violent reactions vs. UST won’t adversely affect open universities, distance learning and equivalency programs,” Cruz added.

Media watchdog Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) noted that “the real issue is not whether the media should be paying attention to what a school does. It is part of media responsibility for them to do so.” – Rappler.com