Home / Essays / Most Important Wisdom Journalists Should Learn in Today’s Modern World

Image from PDI

Image from PDI

A very beautiful piece written by Conrado De Quiros in response to Nick Joaquin’s Magsaysay Award speech in 1996, 8 years before he died. It gives writers, especially journalists, important lessons about how a journalist should present news, and how these are related to creative writing: literature. That there really is no difference between journalism and creative writing.

The piece also provides insights on how journalists should behave in writing news stories. That never should a journalist be superior in giving his/her opinions through his/her craft. It also explains why many journalists have forgotten its own fundamentals in delivering news because of self interest, because of the desire to regale the readers out of their stories.

Read below Conrado De Quiros’s essay which was first published on May 6, 2004 in Philippine Daily Inquirer:

(I WANTED to comment on Nick Joaquin’s 1996 Magsaysay Award speech, which we reprinted over the weekend, which talked about literature and journalism, two worlds Nick lived in. But I remembered having commented on it when it first appeared. I retrieved the piece, or pieces [it was two columns] and was delighted to find I still agreed with much of what I said then. I have compressed the two columns into one.)

Nick Joaquin’s speech offers three lessons in humility: the first has to do with the apparent contradiction between self-expression and communication. There is none.

It should help, says Joaquin, that “creative writers” become journalists too.

I remember how we used to think of journalism and literature in these terms: Journalism dealt with the outer world, creative writing dealt with the inner one. Journalism looked at the world subjectively. Journalism demanded lack of emotion, creative writing demanded passion. Journalism demanded hustle, creative writing demanded sensitivity. Journalism reached out to a mass public, creative writing held out to a mass public, creative writing held out to a selected few. Journalism was knowing what to say, creative writing was knowing how to say.

I suspect a lot of people, not least journalists and “creative writers.” still think of those professions in that way. But you grow older and practice both crafts, and you realize how it’s really an artificial division of labor. One that only makes the “creative writer” narcissistic. I don’t know why the term “creative writer” shouldn’t be scrapped altogether. It patently discriminates, and little encourages humility or a sense of realism among poets, fictionists, and play wrights. It’s implication, of course, is that other writers create manuals. “Creative writers” create art, other writers create havoc.

It’s a fallacy, and leads to a dead end. I remember how many of the aspiring poets in my time who were so absorbed in self-expression merely ended up writing poems about writing or about poetry. As a friend pointed out, it was the dragon feeding on its own tail. Or as a more cynical friend pointed out, writing obscurely was just good excuse to write badly. You could always blame the reader’s lack of depth for your incomprehensibleness.

Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, self-expression is the last refuge of the inarticulate.

Nick Joaquin’s second lesson in humility has to do with good and bad subjects. There are none.

“There are no hack-writing jobs, there are only hack writers. Journalism trained me never, never to feel superior to whatever I was reporting, and always, always to respect a basketball game, or a political campaign, or a ‘fashion show, or a murder case, or a movie star interview.

Truly, there are no “bakya” topics, there are only “bakya” writers. More hat merely a good journalistic-or literally-practice, taking a movie-star interview as deathly seriously as a political campaign is a good attitude toward life. The world is full of wonders. All you have to do, writer or gravedigger, scholar or ditch maker, is have eyes to see it.

But it’s not just literature that encourages the view that some subjects are loftier than others, journalism does too. The whole division of “news” into “hard news” and “soft news,” a division physically carved out in the newsroom in News and Features, opens the door to such judgments. The very words “hard” and “soft” invite them, the first suggesting emotional mush. “Hard news” is the political and economic stories, “soft news” is the “human interest” and entertainment ones.

Presumably, the “proper” subjects for “serious journalists” are the President, the members of Congress and corporate CEOs. The “serious” is in quotation marks because that is only how the “serious journalists” think of themselves. That is not what they are. What they are is solemn. There is a difference. Solemn journalists take themselves seriously, serious journalists take the world seriously.

Nick Joaquin offers third lesson in humility. That is to stand in awe before the wonders of writing.

Indeed, beyond it, to the wonders of life itself. Writing is too awesome to confine to the boundaries of journalism and literature, life is too magical to pare down to news and “human interest.”

Indeed, beyond it, to the wonders of life itself, Writing is too awesome to confine to he boundaries of journalism and literature, life is too magical to pare down news and human interest.

At the very least, it is an attitude that must translate into respect for craft. You respect your craft, you do not ward off new ideas and techniques like unwanted intrusions, you invite them in like new friends. You keep extending the limits of the possible. You are a “creative writer,” you may no longer scorn the world of journalism. You are a journalist, you may no longer scorn the world of literature.

The barriers between the two have greatly melted, like polar caps, over the years.Norman Mailer himself, who once vowed never to do a Truman Capote, which was to fictionalize reportage, turned back on his word and wrote the dazzling “The Executioner’s Song.” It takes as much breadth of imagination to write good reportage as to write good fiction. To a good journalist, life must look so terribly strange. To a good fictionist, fantasy must looks so terribly familiar.

You have an awesome respect for your audience, you have an awesome respect for your subject and you have an awesome respect for your craft, you will have an awesome respect for yourself. You respect yourself, you won’t indulge in silly subterfuges. You don’t jerk the audience around, you won;t jerk yourself around.

You’ll just tell it like it is. Or like Nick Jouaquin–with verse in mouth and a beer in hand.

Read the original article here.


About the author: Nonoy


A former musician who branched out his interest in creative writing and the World Wide Web.

He writes fiction on his spare time.


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