Telum Talks To: Priam Fernandez Nepomuceno, Senior Reporter at the Philippine News Agency
Interview

Telum Talks To: Priam Fernandez Nepomuceno, Senior Reporter at the Philippine News Agency

By Halee Andrea Alcaraz

Telum Media recently spoke to Priam Fernandez Nepomuceno, a Senior Reporter at the Philippine News Agency (PNA), where he primarily covers the country's Department of Defence and its attached agencies. He discussed his experience as a journalist covering defence news, the importance of accuracy in this beat, and tips on simplifying complicated defence terms.


How did you start your journalism career?
I started as a Trainee Reporter in November 1997. Initially, I was only supposed to just complete the training because I was not interested in writing for a newspaper. But when I got my first tagline and byline, I got the journalism bug. One thing led to another and here I am, at the defence beat. My career has spanned 25 or 26 years, I think.

As a newswire, how does the Philippine News Agency gather reports?
We still gather news the traditional way. We interview people, we write from documents, we get sources to talk about issues that need expounding. We are currently adapting to the digital trends and we now have an online presence. 

Is PNA open to receiving invites and story leads from PRs? How should PRs pitch their stories?
Yes, but the senior editors and the management will decide who to give those leads. Well, for PNA, the story pitches should be developmental. As you all know, PNA is a government-run newswire. Pitches must be developmental and improve society.

What made you decide to focus on defence news? 
I was not really focused on defence news. As a journalist, one of my hobbies was going about military research, especially World War II, the Cold War, and all modern conflicts. And I have a library collection of World War II books and such. I think I was assigned to cover defence in 2012 and it came naturally. It was basically throwing a duck into the water, so I just swam. As early as 10 years old, I was already reading about defence-related stuff. Also, I have this interest in all things naval. 

What makes defence news different from other beats?
When you write defence news, you have to be very, very careful in writing it. You cannot go a haphazard way writing it because you could cause conflicts by doing so — that's what I always tell my trainees. Be very, very accurate in writing defence stories. You would never speculate on anything related to defence. You could start a conflict or a war.

Also, be aware of the synergies concerning the beat. As you know, defence is the civilian side of government security and there are the services: the Air Force, the Navy, the Army, and the Marines. You must get general knowledge of how these services operate, know the ranks, know the terms, know the lingo, and better yet, get to know the people. Basically, do your research.

How do you ensure that defence news, including international relations, is understood by the average Filipino?
You have to laymanise the terms, but then again, laymanising can only do so far. I think the reporter could do a better job explaining military stories if he reads, gets time to interact with sources, asks why and how things happen. In my case, it's a hobby. Basically, I'm like a duck in water, so it's easier for me. Every now and then, I still get stumped on terms I don't recognise, but then again, I do my research. I would probably waste a day or two or even a week trying to verify a term, then I can write and explain things better, laymanise it so that the average Filipino can understand.

You've been a journalist for about 25 years now, can you share the most memorable coverage you've had so far?
There's a lot, but there's this particular event in 2001. There was this EDSA Tres revolt when pro-Erap supporters tried to overwhelm the barriers in Mendiola. It was very memorable because rocks started flying and we (reporters) were trapped in the middle. I think that fracas lasted around six hours.

Imagine this: there were these huge numbers of angry protesters on one side, the police securing Mendiola and Malacañang palace on the other, and us (reporters) in the middle. That was very memorable — we were trapped in no man's land, so basically we were all flat on the ground trying to avoid the rocks. A lot of media vehicles were destroyed that day. I was not hurt, but I was more of shocked. 

Another exciting part of the job is going to the West Philippine Sea. I have been there, I think, four or five times. This part of the job was about being challenged by the Chinese. Those are the things that make this job very, very interesting. 

Having spent over a decade in defence news, what else is your dream coverage in the world of defence news? (meeting who, or covering a defence-related event)
The Armed Forces of the Philippines has acquired a lot of modern weaponry in the past three or four years. A dream coverage for me would be the live-fire testing of these weapons.

Actually, we had a live-fire in 2018. We tested a Spike ER missile off Bataan. We got bigger stuff now, and I am hoping that I will be one of the journalists lucky enough to be selected to witness such an event.

Right now, for me, everything is still very fluid. But then again, if it's worth writing, it's worth covering. That depends on the orders of my bosses. If they tell me to do this, I'll cover it. It's part of the job.

Telum Media gives journalists a platform to share their experiences in the newsroom and out in the field. If you would like to share your story or nominate someone to be featured, email us at philippinesmedia@telummedia.com

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