How not to write a news story: Manila Bulletin and “online marites” as source

A recent story by Manila Bulletin illustrates the inanities of traffic whoring by the rewriting-social-media-posts beat. The story amplified a serious accusation – that the artist Moira dela Torre was paid a “whooping” (the amount does trigger a fit of coughing) P5 million for her performance in the Robredo-Pangilinan campaign in Zamboanga City.

But throughout the article by Stephanie Bernardino, you’d read hints that it’s really just bullshit.

The article starts with “Talk has it that singer Moira dela Torre was among celebrities that earned a huge sum recently.” The phrase “talk has it” immediately tells the reader that this is just gossip. The writer repeats the word “supposedly,” which a judge here in Cebu would have described as “escapatory.” (No such word but that’s how the judge described the use of quotation marks – escapatory as a means to escape liability, but I digress.)

The article then leads to the most unbelievable combination of phrases in journalism: “The source? An online marites.”

For the unfamiliar, marites is pejorative for people who gossip – it stands for “mare alam mo ang latest?”

Such a serious accusation from such a silly source.

Notice also the imprecision of “Zamboanga” – I mean these people in imperial Manila newsrooms can’t give some fuck into getting the name of the place correctly. It happened in Zamboanga City.

When you read the rest of the story, you’d find out that the “accusation triggered Moira,” such an inane phrase in reporting. You often encounter this in stories about celebrities and their interactions with fans and “haters” on social media.

The article continued: “She maintained: “Hindi po kami bayad. Nag-volunteer lang din po kami.” The netizen didn’t bother to reply.”

I’ve always thought that the use of the word “netizen” is a marker for lazy reporting – that the reporter couldn’t be bothered to get background information about a subject in the story.

But this isn’t likely a “serious” story. This is tsismis that you read in the tabloids or the showbiz section, where people get away with a lot of things.

The problem with digital publishing, however, is that the visual cues that tell you on print not to take this article seriously are absent online. On the website, silly stories like this one are presented the same way as serious news articles. And thus a social media comment by who knows who is amplified into a full-blown article about a serious accusation. Manila Bulletin owes dela Torre an apology.

This article is an illustration of the pitfalls of churnalism, particularly the reporting of social media activities like comments that “trigger” celebrities. You see this in stories published by the Heart Evangelista beat, for example.

As a journalist, if you come across this serious accusation from someone whom you probably do not know against a celebrity who already denied it, what will you do? The accuser, in fact, no longer replied after the denial. Most people would say, it’s a non-story. But some people don’t let facts or the lack of it get in the way of publishing a titillating story. To quote Super Bobby Nalzro, whom the Cebu media community recently lost, pagka toytoy!

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