Monday ∗ 02 Jan 2012

on (the) line: credibility, the academe, journalism

truth to tell i didn’t care much about this “expose” of Marites Danguilan Vitug because it was a non-Corona non-issue to me. non-Corona, because exposing the lack of a dissertation, the number of years he took to finish the phd, his ineligibility for the honors he was given, point to the fact that this was always a UST issue. the basic question being: why make corona an exemption to university rules?

and i didn’t care for that question because i knew without a doubt that Corona’s phd could easily fall under the purvey of academic freedom and autonomy (as the UST statement has said) — within which of course patronage politics and favoritism and everything horrid you can imagine actually exist. that this was UST’s prerogative is truth. this doesn’t make this an easier truth to swallow.

but maybe we should swallow our egos and admit that as with every other institution in this country, the academe is not one that we must comfortably equate with “academic rigor” or “quality and calibre.” if you are realistic about the academe here, and truthful even to yourself if you’re a member of it, then you’d know that patronage and politics are the invisible hands that put and keep people in power there, and in fact this can get you everything from the good raket outside of the academe to the positions of power within it, or just an easier time at an MA and/or a PhD. what we should be looking at in fact, is output: how many of our degree holders are actually relevant to nation? how many of those dissertations will hold up to scrutiny?

and what did the UST faculty and panel think of corona’s scholarly treatise in place of the dissertation? baka naman brilliant at hindi lang natin alam. for all we know he deserved that phd, because too, UST touches on something crucial to the discourse of the university in this country. UST says that they

can grant academic degrees to individuals “whose relevant work experiences, professional achievements and stature, as well as high-level, nonformal and informal training are deemed equivalent to the academic requirements for such degrees.”

i haven’t heard of this kind of freedom from and within the two universities i’ve been part of as student and teacher. ang galing that UST can award Naty Crame Rogers a doctorate degree because certainly she and many other literary and cultural stalwarts deserve it. not that they need a phd to be productive, but truth to tell Corona didn’t need this either: a phd is not even a requirement for becoming supreme court justice. go figure.  

but Vitug insists questions are still unanswered:

“What UST is saying is that they can flout their own rules because they’re an ‘autonomous’ institution,” says Vitug. 

well, yes. wouldn’t any independent private institution defend itself based on those grounds?

“There is no quarrel with academic freedom. UST should be clear with its rules and state in what instances do they give exemptions. In the case of cj [Chief Justice Renato Corona], a lecture was enough (instead of a dissertation) and the 5-year residency requirement, to qualify for honors, was disregarded,” Vitug also says.

well, yes. and i say, if you demand that UST be clear about the rules it bends, then i demand it of all universities in the country. accountability for all (count the number of faculty members who will be given tenure if we were to be transparent about these rules!). which is still to say this: even the bending of rules based on whether a person deserves something, is totally within the university’s prerogative. again, non-corona, non-issue.

if i were the one who had blogged about this, i would’ve already backtracked and told my readers i had barked up the wrong corona tree, and missed the university prerogative point. but that’s me. and i’m no journalist.

which is really what this has become about, yes? beyond corona, it has become about that UST statement which raises questions about credibility and online journalism, ones that on Twitter and Facebook it seems people would rather dismiss as the questions of the ignorant. ah, but Shakespeare always said ignorance is bliss.

and it is with bliss that UST in fact dismisses Vitug as journalist, because they ask:

“Does <sic> anyone claiming to be an online journalist given the same attention as one coming from the mainstream press?” the statement said. “We understand that while Miss Vitug used to be a print journalist, she’s part of an online magazine, Newsbreak, which has reportedly been subsumed into ‘www.rappler.com.’ What’s that?

i’m sorry, but this was funny to me both on the level of UST’s dismissal but also on the level of  its utter refusal to acknowledge Vitug as a credible figure, period. because for UST where she writes is of utmost importance as they go on to ask:

“Is that a legitimate news organization? What individuals and entities fund Newsbreak and Rappler? Do these outfits have editors? Who challenged Miss Vitug’s article before it went online so as to establish its accuracy, objectivity and fairness? Why was there no prior disclosure made? What gate-keeping measures does online journalism practice?”

these are valid questions to ask, aren’t they? and certainly those behind Rappler cannot claim credibility — or demand we give them that — on the basis of who’s behind it and their years of experience. because if there’s anything we know about writing online, it’s that no matter your history of writing (Angela’s got a CV that will put into question countless credibilities online and beyond, excuse me), you’re only as good as that last piece, your mistakes are for the world to see, your ability at humility and apology crucial.

in this sense it is important that Rappler respond to these questions properly and accordingly, and not brush it off by invoking Vitug’s years as journalist or by saying that they are ” journalists <who> have worked for global news organizations and top Filipino news groups.” certainly if they take pride in being “online journalists” who “promise uncompromised journalism that inspires smart conversations and ignites a thirst for change” they must begin by answering questions on legitimacy and credibility, banking as they do on the names that are on their roster.

of course this will mean drawing lines between online journalism and non-journalism, news reporting and opinion, blogging and tumblelogging and tweeting, but this is a discussion worth having, now better than later, if only because that UST statement is a challenge to make those definitions clear.

if only because given such unquestioning love for the Vitugs and Ressas of this world, we now see revealed the bubble of friendship and camaraderie and mutual-admiration that uncritically exists online.

maybe we all only hate UST for daring to pop that bubble and reveal us for what we are: no better than the mainstream.

Posted in: akademya, bayan, edukasyon, komentaryo, media, middle class, pulitika

Tagged: , ,

20 Comments/Pingbacks

    • katrina
      January 2, 2012 at 11:08 pm

      Hi Seth! i agree with you re UST and online journalism, though i’m pretty sure UST is not alone in being iffy or uncertain or dismissive about it in these shores. i do think that it can be seen as a challenge to define precisely this 21st century field, something that journalists who have moved from print to online have yet to do, and come up with guidelines that are about the questions that the UST statement raises: who guards the gatekeepers? where does accountability lie for those journalists online? how different is print from online, and what changes need to be accounted for?

      these are important questions to ask, ones that have yet to be answered for journalists, online and otherwise. cheers!

  1. Lex
    January 2, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    Why is this a non-Corona issue? Corona was appointed CJ by GMA illegally — are we supposed to say, likewise, well, it was always an issue about GMA, so let’s talk about GMA…

    What makes THIS shortcut a non-Corona shortcut?

    Did you dismiss it as a “non-Corona non-issue” so you can turn this into your rant about Philippine academic institutions? If so, just say it, no need to make heroic jumps claiming this as “non-Corona non-issue”

    And why is it valid to ask about the organization the writer represented? A dissertation is defended before a committee, usually in public, and after the defense, the university library makes it available on request, because it is deemed to be a valid contribution to the field. So the public asks, where is the dissertation?

    Should it matter if, say, the person asking UST turns out to be a non-journalist like yourself?

  2. Lex
    January 2, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    No one said he needed a PhD to be appointed. The point was, if this turns out indeed to be a shortcut taken by the CJ, why is this shortcut a non-Corona non-issue? Like fake war medals, doesn’t a fake PhD (if indeed it turns out to be fake) say something about character? Or are we being too naive?

    I thought Vitug asked a legitimate question: Did UST bend rules to accommodate a sitting CJ? (My reading of UST’s response is, No we didn’t, because the rules say we’re allowed to bend rules, haha, so Bleh!)

    As a non-journalist, you instead (on Vitug’s FB page) zeroed in on UP! That was daring! (Maybe a bit reckless?) As of this moment, people are still waiting for proof from you of UP’s shenanigans. You said you don’t want to name individuals, so you don’t ruin their reputation. Is it okay to ruin an institution’s reputation instead? Can’t you furnish some institutional report — an audit, an assessment, an institutional review, with names of individuals stripped out of course — that substantiates a bit your serious accusation? (Or are non-journalists less accountable?)

    • katrina
      January 2, 2012 at 11:57 pm

      Lex, your question is different from Vitug’s questions re this issue, especially the ones she insists are still unanswered. her finger was inadvertently pointed at UST. yours is pointed at Corona and how he agreed to take this shortcut. your question is a matter of opinion and taste and ethics: a university is making it easier for you, do you say yes, or no?

      i certainly think it was in bad taste to have said yes to doing a treatise versus a dissertation in order to get that phd. i also think Corona should not have gotten those honors. but UST’s got the rules to back them up when it comes to giving people they deem “deserving” whatever academic honor. wala tayong laban do’n. rules are bent and stretched in every academic institution in this country especially with regards notions of who “deserves” positions and labels and degrees.

      what i said in Vitug’s thread on FB was this: “oh come on @Arvin, you might think the world of UP but there are cases of exactly this kind of favoritism and rank and influence moving people forward in their academic careers WITHOUT credible scholarly papers, dissertations and theses notwithstanding.”

      this is “ruining the reputation” of the institution? it seems between your response and your idea that “people are waiting for proof of UP’s shenanigans” what’s more crucial is that UP thinks it is above all criticism, and is beyond patronage politics. if you think the latter, than maybe you too have to be more realistic about the academe.

      • Anonymous
        January 3, 2012 at 12:07 am

        It wasn’t my idea that “people are waiting for proof of UP’s shenanigans”. Read the comments on the FB page — there are requests for “@Katrina’s” proof.

        It is a simple request, I think: you made a strong claim. Where is the proof?

        • katrina
          January 3, 2012 at 12:38 am

          that claim is about as strong as what it was responding to: that in UP things like this don’t happen.

          • Anonymous
            January 3, 2012 at 12:41 am

            Hahaha! Tomorrow morning, read what you just wrote, and try to keep a straight face.

          • katrina
            January 3, 2012 at 12:44 am

            tomorrow morning, maybe you’ll see that this is all beside the point that’s being made here.

          • Anonymous
            January 3, 2012 at 12:46 am

            Where is your proof? A very simple question.

          • katrina
            January 3, 2012 at 12:50 am

            i’ve answered that in the thread where i responded to Arvin Mangohig. do i mention UP at all in this piece? no.

          • anonymous
            January 3, 2012 at 12:10 pm

            You must be getting tired from all the handwaving.

            There are at least two or three unanswered requests for proof, including from Mangohig himself.

            It’s okay if you have no proof, just say so. And ok to subject others to higher standards.

  3. Anonymous
    January 2, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    “it’s valid to ask about the organization because it is SOP”–a bit lame, don’t you think?

    • katrina
      January 2, 2012 at 11:58 pm

      much of what’s standard operating procedure IS lame. it doesn’t make the question of what organization do you work for, what organization do you represent, any less valid.

      • Anonymous
        January 3, 2012 at 12:13 am

        That was my point exactly — why is it valid to ask about Vitug’s organization?

        You are asking publicly a few very legitimate questions about Vitug, CMFR, the academic community, etc. — no one asks about your organization, which I appreciate, as an anonymous commentator. :-)

        • katrina
          January 3, 2012 at 12:24 am

          it was valid to ask it of Vitug because she was asking for an interview with UST, yes? standard response naman yun ng secretary ni Ser: from what organization po? i imagine had Vitug responded that she was an independent researcher or journalist, UST’s response might have not dwelt too much on her online publications.

          actually anyone who asks me about my organization will get the standard answer: i’m a freelance writer.

          and yes, hello anonymous.

  4. GabbyD
    January 4, 2012 at 2:23 am

    ” the academe is not one that we must comfortably equate with “academic rigor” or “quality and calibre.” ”

    i think this is the point of the article. it OUGHT TO BE equated with “quality”. the job of journalism is to raise these questions. hopefully, our educational institutions will rise to the occasion and answer them plainly.

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