Back behind coverage lines

University of the Philippines students line up to vote at the College of Arts and Letters library on Feb. 26, 2010, during the campus's second automated student council vote. Photo by Roehl Nino Bautista of Tinig ng Plaridel

UP students line up to vote on a PC. (Photo by Roehl Nino Bautista)

While old generals fade away, “old” reporters just keep coming back for more, so signed off an industry icon.

I’ve fought in those trenches four years as a student, and have since retired–or rather, was forced to. I just had to see how the new troops were faring.

A comrade called this effort a “revered tradition,” for our team started it all: the concept of real-time, multimedia coverage of a campus vote.

It was unoriginal as far as elections go. But at the student level, it was innovative. And with blogs and social networks gaining ground, opportune.

As UP pubs released irregular issues and campus radio tapped a tiny audience, our team from Tinig ng Plaridel (TNP) decided to partner with other student media and focus on where its print counterparts did not.

First on the Web

Frontpage of Tinig ng Plaridel's post election issue for 2009

Frontpage of TNP's 2009 post election issue

TNP first posted online the lists of the university and College of Mass Communication (CMC) council candidates who won in 2008, the last these polls saw a manual count that lasted till after midnight.

Editors working with dzUP radio also went on the air first with the results from various colleges.

The blogged updates lacked the pomp of Inquirer.net, abs-cbnNEWS.com, or GMAnews.tv, but that year they served as the instant source of election info for UP students online.

It made a mark that Months after, the other major UP papers imitated applied the real-time format to cover the first instance Iskos voted on the fate of the next Student Regent.

TNP then combined forces with these pubs for “Halalan sa Diliman ’09,”

hoping to coincide UP’s first automated polls with faster, wider, and meatier reporting.

The coverage highlighted the limitations of UP student media. Of 20 plus colleges, only a handful had active publications for want of funds, support, volunteers, or interest.

They still delivered–but thanks more to the papers’ attempts to step up their own news gathering over each other rather than deliberately contributing to the joint project.

This year we who experienced it feared its happening again. It did.

Coverage case studies

Franz dela Fuente, TNP editor in chief and Katherine Elona, TNP writer fighting the online battle on election night 2010

Franz dela Fuente, TNP editor in chief and Katherine Elona, TNP writer, fighting the online battle on election night 2010

Much like the national one, covering elections in UP Diliman tests a novice’s skill and highlights the veteran’s expertise.

Election reporters battle time, distance, competition, academics, inaccuracy, mobile signals, and laptop batteries to break news first.

The eight newbies of TNP’s 2010 staff–in place for only two months–were said to have been left on their own too early to face those factors. Their output supposedly turned out half-baked, despite all-out and commendable efforts.

This batch though had more laptops and wireless connections to blog, Plurk, FB, and Tweet updates than previous ones.

Each pub again fared on its own, TNP and the Philippine Collegian working full time. Plus, few bothered or succeeded in putting out deeper, more provoking content. Nothing improved from last year.

A UP Linux Users' Group (UnPLUG) member monitors the electronic election.Election registration at the UP College of Mass Communication. Photo by Roehl Nino Bautista

Voting at the UP CMC (Photos by Roehl Nino Bautista)

Such pieces that asked and tried to answer how and why went out online, but through FactCheck UP Diliman, a month-old Multiply blog.

It broke “exclusives” on party activities, asked “the crucial questions” on issues, and added comment. An anonymous group professing various party biases and colleges sourced stories from unidentified students.

They did cause a stir, much for highlighting issues the campus papers either forgot or bypassed.

These traits that made the site stand out were its liabilities. Being produced incognito and fading out soon after the vote, it seemed its sole purpose was to add ferment to the polls.

Next time

Tinig ng Plaridel staff 2010 on election duty Tinig ng Plaridel 2010 staff on duty during UP election day 2010

Election duty: On a caf or on the floor

FactCheck’s success is still a slap or comment on the publications supposed to do that job.

The culprit, then and now, was lack of planning. Money was never an object since the battle was waged online. The pubs waited for each other to initiate plans and then failed to follow through.

Few reporters were trained to cover the campaign or oriented on UP elections and politics. And few noted or addressed the issues that matter in UP’s changing student landscape.

For 2011, pubs please learn and pioneer ways of telling stories and delivering news.

Look back. Provide more background on matters like voting histories, party stands and performances. Feel the students’ pulse, and then guide it.

Make partnership deals early. Involve more students a la Boto Mo iPatrol Mo.

Wars, indeed, merit intensive training.

Things now are stirring in a bigger field I will be deployed to in May. Let’s see if my skirmishes in college prepared me to cover the elections that will determine the fate of the nation.

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4 comments on “Back behind coverage lines

  1. i guess it’s funny that being journ majors we at TNP should have been prepared for the elections, considering we are studying at one of the country’s best training grounds for wannabe journalists. but like any beat, any coverage has its peculiarities, and it isn’t a one-size-fits-all mold we can adapt to instantly. it really did feel like braving the warzone in jogging pants.

    anyway, thank you so much for keeping an eye on us newbies and we honestly hope next year that we could deliver the things we missed this year. here is where we start packing up for the next battle and we know you will be our strategic consultant.

    haha, sorry for keeping too much with your battlefield metaphor. love it. thanks much and see you soon!

    • I wouldn’t begrudge you the lack of experience, but it’s more about the wealth you’ll get after the experience itself. Right on–soldiers in jogging pants!

      That’s what I like about our field–no coverage is really the same. The “diskarte” you do and come up with for one wouldn’t match even if it were the same event next year.

      Glad to be of service, and glad you liked the battlefield metaphor. It best captures the election coverage feeling, I believe. Hope I could help the next time. By that time you guys too will be training the next platoon. There’s always room to improve, and I’m sure TNP will lead the next level up.

  2. “It made a mark that months after, the other major UP papers imitated the real-time format to cover the first instance Iskos voted on the fate of the next Student Regent.”

    hi anjo, the collegian coverage on the student regent referendum was not an imitation of tinig ng plaridel’s coverage on 2008 college elections. ask toni tiemsin, he’s the one who thought of a real time coverage on the sr referendum because we thought na it was too big and important an issue that it warranted regular updates. thank you. hindi nga din namin alam na may 2008 real time coverage kayo noon so good job. 🙂

    • Hi JM. Noted and thanks. If that’s true, then good thing you guys also thought of it independently. The real-time coverage stimulated discussion on the referendum. My point still remains of the effectivity of the format.

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