Anti-Social Media: First drafts of history


If it sometimes feels that you’re reading the same news stories across platforms, that’s because you probably are. Not even in the sense that you are reading about the same things, but in the sense that you are probably reading a story written by the same reporter and then reworked by news desks around the country.

Faced with budget cuts and a shortage of trained and trainable people, Philippine media has had to rely on correspondents, the secret stringers who keep the whole media machine chugging along.

Stringers are usually veteran journalists who have taken root at a certain beat but who are not paid commensurate to their experience or lifestyles and so sell their stories to other media outfits for extra money.

That means thatscoop that put a certain start-up news website  on the map was not so much a product of superb sleuthing but of being the first to put it up online. The credit for the scoop actually belongs to a veteran journalist who covers the House, Sandiganbayan and Commission on Audit who works for a small newspaper in the Port Area.

The stringer’s story would not come out until morning, though, so the story was sold, probably unedited, to the start-up news website and to a slew of other media companies. This is a process that happens every day and the arrangement gives stringers, who are usually from broadsheets, a few hundred pesos a day.

It’s a cozy arrangement and not exactly wrong. It gives underpaid reporters a little spending money and understaffed media firms more content.

That arrangement may change soon, though, because of a Bureau of Internal Revenue rule that will require freelance writers and correspondents to register with the bureau and to have receipt booklets printed.

Without the receipts, media companies will no longer be able to claim payments to stringers as expenses. In order to protect the country’s tax system, some media companies have already announced that they will no longer issue payments unless stringers can give them receipts.

If rumblings on social media can be trusted, very few stringers are pleased with the new policy.

Although that will be a hassle for most freelancers, this will mean trouble for stringers, many of whom have exclusivity clauses in their contracts with their employers.

Since the BIR wants taxpayers to declare all their income, that will mean stringers will either have to come clean and tell their employers of their moonlighting or prepare their income tax returns themselves, a prospect that few journalists look forward to.

The Philippine media landscape is about to become a little more desolate, which means editors might actually have to guide their staff and staff reporters might actually have to do some leg work.

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