Telling ‘people’ stories

Live from Isabela, Day 3

CAUAYAN CITY, ISABELA–Two army helicopters descended on the local airport. Those waiting ran to meet the aircraft and their cargo.

One was a thin 7-year-old named John Paul who arrived with his parents. He sat on the arms of a soldier, hooked to an IV. The boy complained of stomach pains.

A couple of pregnant women also walked out. Cameras and microphones followed. The boy’s mother lamented all they lost in the storm, but said at least her son would now get help.

These were the first human faces we saw of Palanan since it was cut off without electricity and communication due to typhoon Juan / Megi.

No land roads lead to Palanan and nearby Maconacon and Divilacan. Separated by the Sierra Madre range, only aircraft and vessels can reach them.

The choppers flew to the coastal town to bring noodles, canned goods, and plastic tent coverings. Then, they allowed sick residents a ride back.

Our digital news gathering specialist Val Cuenca tagged along with his camera for the ride. Jeff Canoy and his crew had to pass off since President Aquino was also flying to Isabela that day.

Sir Val captured the throng anticipating the relief at Palanan’s airfield. People rushed to get the boxes as they were unloaded. The residents stayed on to wave the choppers off, seemingly looking forward to more help.

Jeff and Co. took it from there.

The President, his secretaries, or the governor did not take the spotlight later on TV Patrol. John Paul and his kababayans did.

(Click to watch Jeff's Palanan report, edited by yours truly)

The case study, the focus, the human interest–it’s called many names, but it is all about people, the strongest element of storytelling. The teleserye bida, to wit.

In news writing, it’s dubbed the Wall Street Journal Formula: close up on a profile, zoom out to the affecting issue, then pan back for a parting shot with the person.

The rationale is people identify with other people’s experiences. You see them laugh, cry, or get angry, and you grasp the impact of a decision, a trend, or a tragedy.

You appreciate the story through their eyes.

John Paul and his mother

It’s probably why crime stories are riveting. They involve individuals, their flaws and frustrations. Also explains our fascination with celebrities–larger than life but fundamentally similar to us.

Jeff says “people” stories are what he does and loves doing best.

They are the stories that stir the emotions most, and evoke action from a reader or viewer.

They can also be the most difficult ones to write without resorting to cliches. After all, a pitfall of constant case studies is that one might tend to stereotype and fail to recognize a person’s unique story.

Jeff & crew reach one of the pregnant women from Palanan

Jeff agonized over his MacBook the night the Palanan story aired. On the word processor were a few sentences in all caps, the start of a story on child miners in Mindanao.

He had to come across as conversational, and strike a balance between his perspective and that of his subjects.

It’s what Patrol ng Pilipino, ABS-CBN’s new current affairs show, wants to achieve.

Jeff’s story airs on its first episode tonight, along with the struggles of Jorge Carino and our fly away team to go live from Cagayan.

I like to call it the TV version of this blog. Indeed, lots of stories can be told from behind the scenes.

From the eye of both the subject and the storyteller, they are “people” stories that help one make sense of the puzzle we call life.

Tuesday nights, after Bandila

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