Reporting the Number
by Bernadette Reyes
Published in the May-June 2011 issue of PJR Reports
To be the first to know is not always a good thing, especially when people don’t want to hear what you know but you have to let them know it just the same.
My work as a business reporter in GMA Network, one of country’s largest TV stations allows me access to relevant information ahead of others. The prices of basic commodities such as rice and bread and oil price adjustments reach me before everybody else. Some see it as a privilege; I look at it as a responsibility.
“Tataas ba ang gasolina ngayon (Will gas prices go up today?),” an officemate would always ask. The anticipation on his face is a reflection of how everybody else looks as they watch for news of another oil price hike. In the Philippines, prices are adjusted weekly to reflect fluctuations in world market prices, so it’s no exaggeration when I say monitoring prices has become part of my daily routine.
This year, local pump prices have gone up 14 times, bringing prices up by more than P10 per liter. The series of upheavals in the Middle East and parts of North Africa have led to speculations among traders of a possible supply shortage. As the unrest went from bad to worse, prices climbed to an all-time high.
Reporting oil prices in TV is nothing like writing a news article for dailies. I used to work as a business beat reporter for Today Independent Daily News where I had the flexibility to write more information and include background details to support the story. In TV we are limited by airtime. Two-minutes of broadcast news equivalent to 300 words more or less is all we have to get the message through. The challenge lies in getting the most important information out.
An interview could last 20 minutes, but no more than 20 seconds of that will make it to the cut for broadcast. Which gets aired and which do I leave out? Strong statements such as “prices are likely to go higher” and explanations to support them are likely to be aired.
It takes a day to produce a two-minute news package. I have to schedule interviews long before my shift starts to make sure I book them before their schedule is filled. Scheduling one interview after another may seem easy, but an interview set for 11 AM in Novaliches and another scheduled in Alabang at half past 11 seem unmanageable if not at all impossible. But since I have to get both, I look for a way to work around the interviewees’ schedules and to get them on-camera.
There are also those days when no one wants to talk or nobody is available. But there are also times when everybody wants to talk. How do I give each a fair share of airtime? Take for instance, representing the side of transport groups in a story about another oil price hike. In Metro Manila alone there are hundreds of transport groups that have their side to tell. My experience has taught me to sift through the list, getting only those who have immediate concern and making sure the others get their turn to be heard the next time.
It takes about another hour or so to shoot supporting materials for the news package. Getting man on the street soundbytes or MOTS involves racing after jeepney drivers along the busiest streets and terminals. The task is made tougher by my usual outfit of blazer and slacks paired with three-inch stilettos as a business reporter.
There are also those days when my news report was ready for airing, but I when I had to rewrite the script and rework the process upon receiving an update on a price adjustment. I have to make it happen and to make sure it makes it to the top news. It helps that people in the industry are always helpful to give updated information and eager to get the news out. If one contact won’t respond, another would, to confirm news of a price hike or rollback.
Reporting oil price adjustments gives people the flexibility to know when to gas up and how to plan their trips. It also tells people that the government is doing its share to alleviate the situation.
My job as a business beat reporter is far from the glamorous assignment others would suppose. But I feel a sense of accomplishment each time my story airs because no matter if it’s good or bad news, I know I did my job, I know I have been able to inform the public so people can make informed decisions.
Bernadette Reyes is a business reporter of GMA-7