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Does entertainment writing deserve to be labeled gossip?

In the media industry, I can safely say that the entertainment beat is the most maligned, the most marginalized, the least of the news management priority. Yes, even until this very moment when the hardest and the cruelest hit of the COVID pandemic isn’t only the general hierarchy of things, people and institutions but particularly the entertainment industry as well.

When we talk of marginalized members of the movie press we mean that the entertainment media in general is marginalized, too, in the order of the Fourth Estate. Maybe English showbiz reporting or even vernacular movie scribbling of the old school has a special spot in the camaraderie of congenial flock among the so-called hard news—show business stories are classified as “soft news”—press as long as one behaves or toes the line in the most decent and submissive manner to the norms of the hegemonic order of the guardians of journalism.

In my more than forty five years in the biz, how often we have encountered an editorial policy that entertainment news is just for balancing and neutralizing as window stories the heavy if not the sordid headlines and breaking news? How could we classify then the Pilar Pilapil kidnapping and stabbing years back which hogged the front pages as a big, bold top story not only of Filipino newspapers, i.e. tabloids, but the English broadsheets as well? It might be a police story alright but the subject was also an entertainment actor who also deserved column inches in the movie pages which was written as well. Yet how could it be a mere balancer or a neutralizer when it was the chief narrative of the moment? Or maybe if former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the time was deposed or Noli de Castro was gunned down the Pilar story would take a backseat, don’t you think so? Or Pilapil was just a big a name as any politician or public figure because of her bearing and socio-political connections. Of course, the local papers have their editorial prerogatives to determine what’s major and what’s minor in the news feeds.

What we are saying here is the capability of entertainment stories to qualify as thoughtful headline materials not exclusive to full-blown celebrity handbook worthy of analysis and appreciation of the reading and viewing public.   

Or the Barretto sisters (Gretchen, Marjorie and Claudine) squabble last year which involved prominent personalities like businessmen Antonio “Tony Boy” Cojuangco and Atong Ang not to mention the participation of the President himself, Rodrigo Roa Duterte who allegedly acted as pacifier was just an inside showbiz page story. Yet it could merit a headline space in the socio-political landscape of the nation although it was perceived as a trite, gross and merely a gossip. It nevertheless showed the strengths and weaknesses of high profile personalities as looking glass self of and among themselves and the Filipinos given its opening up and fanning in filial conflicts in such morbid time as death in the family. It spoke of the social behavior of people—popular or not in a given situation to maintain one’s hold on the clique system or kampi-kampi in the Filipino psyche and tradition no matter their washing dirty linens in public. Go, figure an ordinary neighbor who bears grudges against a kin about inheritance issues, sibling rivalry etc. and displaying their row—restrained or hysterical—in a funeral wake. Isn’t that a reflection of the same human situation?

Yes, showbiz tales are most of the time classified as gossip. The prevalence and end-result of this mindset culture was the advent of yellow journalism in the West as early as the turn of the century but was widespread before and after the Pacific War. It was adapted in the local shore mostly in the 60s and 70s with the printing of tabloids and sleazy bedtime sex stories and sensational news bordering on scandals among celebs.

Like the Japanese word japayuki—as a direct reference to someone who goes to Japan, nothing derogatory but it has evolved into something offensive like a Filipina who enters Japan simply as an entertainer but later attributed to dubious acts like performing lewd shows or turning to prostitution—gossip has also its root meaning, very wholesome and reliable.

According to American sociologists and anthropologists Jack Levin and Arnold Arluke, the etymology of gossip is godsibb or Godparent which has a positive meaning. It is an Old English which means a social behavior which binds members of a particular society. “…a long way from its modern meaning. Prior to the 19th century, it was used to refer to men’s drinking companions and to the warmth and fellowship between men, not to their talk.”

Too bad, gossip has evolved into a destructive or offensive meaning.

In Filipino, gossip means tsismis or chismis, a term unpalatable not only to journalists but to the readers and viewers alike. Gossip in newspapering is fake news and has no solid proof or foundation to stand as a legitimate report. 

In one of his writings, critic, communication arts professor and Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino active member Roland Tolentino said that “Ang tsismis ay halaw sa salitang Español, chismis. Sa pagbubuo ng kasaysayan, hindi maikakawing ang mga pira-pirasong yugto kung hindi isasaalang-alang ang mga sinabi ng mamamayan na totoong naganap sa kanilang kapaligiran (Gossip—tsismis—is derived from the Spanish word, chismis. In making history, stringing together pieces of narratives isn’t possible if the true accounts in the life of the citizens in a particular society aren’t woven in).”

In other words, there is a grain of truths in gossip. Before broadcasters Gerry Baja and Anthony Taberna, there were rumors or shall we say, gossips, coming from the grapevine that they soon would bid adieu ABS-CBN, particularly its AM station DZBB, citing their DDS proclivities which were caught in their broadcast but they unrelentingly denied them. Later on, it was proven that they truly have transferred to DZRH and their DDS sentiments would soon suffice. Gerry and Anthony’s jumping in to another ship is a move which merits analysis and shared thoughts and feelings from the audience—the public in general—about diverse issues like loyalty, objectivity in editorials or opinions etc. in our ordinary lives.

Or shall we refer to the saying “when there’s smoke, there’s fire”?          



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