Occupational Hazard

Last week the editors gathered us interns after the sked for the day was posted. They had us talk about our struggles and experiences as a way to kind of check up on us and our senior reporters. Most of what we shared were pretty common. Uncooperative or disrespectful sources. Feeling completely out of the loop and generally out of place in press conferences. Difficulty finding a newsworthy story in a stubbornly quiet beat (that’s mine). Getting too emotionally invested on a story. Traffic and such. You know, typical news-gathering woes.

However, two of our fellow interns expressed a particularly interesting and thought-provoking experience and struggle. It was the nightmares that came after seeing their first dead body. See, what happened some weeks ago was that the corpse of an old lady was found propped on the door leading to the stairs of a boarding house near City Hall. I heard the story through my co-intern (and classmate) first, he was the one who caught a whiff of the news first. You should have heard his frantic call to us that day. You’d have thought he witnessed the death itself. Not that the story was particularly heavy, seeing as it only made it to the later pages and was merged with another story the next day.

Moving on. They also sent an intern photographer (also a classmate) to the scene and she, too, was shaken up. Though the two did a great job being calm despite what they had just witnessed. The photographer intern had it worse, I think, since she was the one who had to walk up to the body to take the picture. She literally had to get a good look at the old woman and, from what she told me, the corpse’s face was really haunting. The old woman appeared to have been dead for quite some time as her face was bloated. I could only imagine what my photographer friend saw.

The editors were quite sympathetic to this particular struggle since they too had had their fair share of traumatic experiences. One copy editor shared her first taste of the gruesome life of journalists. She had covered the MV Princess of the Stars tragedy as an intern and, compared to my co-interns’s story, that one was a hundred times worse. The MV Princess of the Stars tragedy happened in 2008 where the passenger ship capsized during a heavy storm. The ship was on its way to Cebu but sunk in the middle of the sea, dragging with it hundreds of people. I still remember that news story actually. It’s difficult to forget such a tragedy that left so few survivors.

The copy editor told us that she could still remember the bloated, floating bodies she saw that day. The sight was terrifying, the stench nauseating. But the story had to be written, so she built a wall between herself and the tragedy around her. That’s what she suggested. Not to say that they want us to be completely devoid of empathy… just, not sympathetic to the point where we won’t be able to do our jobs effectively. And, unfortunately, I’ve always leaned more on sympathetic than empathetic. Oh.

Witnessing horrifying sights and immersing ourselves in the tragedies came with the job, we knew that much. But it’s really different from knowing that we’ll have to come face to face with blood and gore than actually facing it, investigating it, and writing it. I haven’t had to write anything even a quarter as scary but I know that I’ll have to at some point or another. If not as an intern then as a reporter (on the off chance that I end up in that corner of the world, I mean).

Anyway, I know it’s pointless to stress over that inevitability since, yeah, it’s going to happen some day, as sure as anything. And I know it’s even more pointless to try and ready myself as best as I can since I doubt anyone could ever be ready for it. I will, however, try to learn to steel myself. Not just from the horror and macabre but from the sorrow and despair that comes with it. That should be… difficult.

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