The key to sustained consistency in media practice (whether in mainstream or otherwise) is to compete on content and quality — not on narcissistic stunts and attention-grabbing circuses. On the mainstream front, this is how Rappler did itself in — because it made itself the news rather than focusing on just reported it. Of course in the non-mainstream community (bloggers, Facebook posters, and the Twitterati), personal branding is more the rule than the exception and content producers who focus more on delivering important messages of substance and less on drawing attention to themselves constitute a tiny minority.
That said, as the French would say, vive la différence. Presidential Communications Operation Office (PCOO) assistant secretary Mocha Uson may have had a point pushing for the re-classification of Rappler into a “social media entity” considering it behaves in much the same narcissistic way as most social media personalities. However, by-and-large, mainstream news media generally represent the sober adults in a party while the denizens of social media publishing represent the chattering kids pitterpattering about. Even then, as anyone who’s been to social gatherings will have observed, it’s usually the chattering kids who attract the bulk of the photo ops.
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As such, I wouldn’t go as far as dismissing mainstream media entirely. They are still a primary source of reliable facts gathered and vetted systematically and they possess the resources to do that properly. We just need to see them as part of a healthy ecosystem. For that matter, all of us are part of that ecosystem and we each just need to get over our predisposition to succumb to unfounded feelings of self-importance (perhaps, specially those enamored by their own quick rise to rock-star status) and come to terms with the reality that none of us are at the centre of this little universe.
Indeed, when it is clear in your mind what your place is in this ecosystem, good work naturally follows over the long run and recognition of this work comes organically. When you take the easy path and make it all about your number of followers and amount of engagement you get, you lose the argument. You lose small arguments over a long stretch, and those little losses tend to add up and slowly chip away at the foundations of your lofty but fragile personal brand. And, at some point, you lose a really big one, like what we saw the other day when a verbal conflagration between a BBC journalist and a “major” pro-administration blogger erupted in the midst of an event that wasn’t, by a vast stretch of road, supposed to be about them.
Suffice to say, the antagonist in that little drama lost big. Setting aside the abject lack of grace and breeding on exhibit on that occassion, what really did the job was the apparent lack of consideration for the overall importance of the event. Certain people, it seems, cannot help but presume to compete in importance with such events as individuals. We saw this behaviour in that instance, and we continue to see it in the way certain social media personalities presume to tell Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte how to manage his own staff, who he should hire, and who he should fire and even repeatedly remind him who supposedly accounts for his victory in the 2016 elections. As bloggers, we criticise the president. But we never presume to tell him what to do. We also quickly get over any imagined role we had in influencing a big outcome such as a national election and just focus on moving forward. A line was crossed a long time ago. It is only now that we are seeing the consequences of that. The lesson to be learnt here is quite simple:
A person with a big social media following betrays his followers when he uses them to aggrandise himself.
It is now evident that one virtue social media had driven pretty much to extinction is the virtue of quiet achievement. Indeed, in an age and industry where brand differentiation is a huge challenge for every player thanks to the low barriers for entry into social media publishing and broadcasting, it is quite remarkable how few appreciate how different one can be by simply behaving with a bit of grace and quiet fortitude. Everyone, it seems, has adopted the popular style of shrill sensationalism that once was the single biggest class of criticism mainstream media copped in the olden days. The difference is that shrill sensationalism is an even bigger cringe when one is able to put a specific face and personality to a particularly shrill outburst — or a sustained exhibition of unfounded arrogance and entitlement rolled up into a bundle of sad sense of self-importance.
The campaign for the presidency is over. It is time for the Duterte administration to do the actual work of governing a country. Baby fat needs to be shed.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.