Day 7

After a week of working, I finally got an article published. Though it was just a news brief I am happy because the Inquirer editors deemed it worthy for publication. What have I learned from the experience? I must not underestimate the short police stories that land on print. Even if they look so easy to write, they are, in fact, very difficult to put together. Asking the police for information is the most troublesome part because they usually don’t have the needed data. For some reason, their blotters and spot reports disappear when media people ask for the names of victims or suspects, time of accident and the like.

My story was about a fire that broke out in a shopping center in Pasay City allegedly caused by electrical overloading. No one was hurt or killed but an estimated P500,000 worth of merchandise was reduced to ashes.

My main source in the incident was the security guard of the shopping center who witnessed the fire from start to finish. He said people panicked when they saw billowing smoke from one of the stalls in the Pasilyo A portion of the mall. When they responded, the fire was already raging, gutting three stalls in its wake. Firemen and volunteers put out the fire after more than an hour.

Several reporters in the Makati Press Office wrote the story which we first heard over the radio. Once more, the fast news bulletins of the medium proved useful to print. Using the cue from the radio report, we followed the story, calling the police for information and for verification.

Like what I said earlier, however, putting the fire story together was difficult because the police refused to disclose information in the early hours of the investigation. It took a lot of convincing and requesting for them to release the needed data. I realized that in practice, transparency is really vital in the exercise of press freedom. Even if we have a free press if the bearers of information refuse to disclose them, the right enshrined in the constitution is still violated.

In the end, I got lucky because of the security guard who gave me inside information on what happened in the shopping center. Though his statement was not official, it was still useful in piecing together the story, especially in answering the question, “What caused the fire?”

It turned out that electrical overloading caused a fluorescent lamp to explode, showering fire on bag items that quickly burst into flames. From a single stall, the fire spread, destroying two other stores and reducing to ashes hundreds of thousands in merchandise.

Earlier, I also wrote another fire story which destroyed a souvenir shop in Paranaque City near the private office of Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. Arson investigators suspect that faulty wiring caused the blaze which started in the carpentry shop of the store. Over P200,000 worth of souvenir items were destroyed. Luckily, like the other fire story, no deaths or injuries were recorded.

I felt more confident with this first story because it was more complete. I even had the opportunity to interview the arson investigator in charge of the case. Getting his personal number was fulfilling because I got to practice my resourcefulness. I called the investigator and had him explain to me first-hand how the fire started and what angles they were looking into. The fireman was very accommodating and was evidently used to journalists asking questions. He knew what information to give even before I asked for them.

I finished the fire story in less than an hour, submitted it and went to write the second story—the one which got published. Unfortunately for me, this first story was not used. I’m guessing the problem was the time aspect. It happened the night before. It’s less timely than the shopping mall fire which happened mid morning that same day. News as they say needs to be fresh. No matter how good your story is if it’s too late, chances are, the desk will discard it.

That’s it for now, I’ll add more tomorrow. 

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