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In the Eye of the Story

As exciting as it may seem, the life of a journalist is, no doubt, fraught with peril.

In trying to get the information needed for the stories they do, journalists, more often than not, expose themselves to danger, doing things most people would consider irresponsible if altogether reckless.

Where everyone is running away, the journalist will do the opposite: diving right back into the very heart of the danger zone.

When everyone is afraid to talk to or even look into the eyes of a suspected criminal, the journalist would even share a meal or two with them.

Indeed, what we see on TV or in the news is only half of the story. Jim Libiran and Howie Severino are among the country’s most experienced field reporters, distinguishing themselves for having done assignments that some men would have chosen to avoid.

Not that they think themselves braver than others.

For Severino, it is all just a matter of “necessity.”

“It’s our job. It’s an assignment. As a journalist, it is essential for one to know why he is doing it in the first place—to get the story and to transmit them fast,” he explains.

Libiran agrees: “Know why you’re there. You’re not there to be a hero or whatever. You’re there to get the story, period.” He adds that “being brave” is a dangerous notion considering the risk that goes with their chosen profession. “Usually it’s those who think themselves fearless and daring that get themselves in trouble quick,” he says.

Both Severino and Libiran have handled assignments that almost caused them their lives.

Haunting Severino to this day is the killer quake that jolted the summer paradise that was Baguio in the early ‘90s.  “I will never forget the stench of decomposing bodies especially as I, at that time, had never smelled it before,” he says.

Memorable for Libiran was his visit to war-torn Afghanistan as an eager 33-year-old reporter. “It felt like a camping trip at first. I only realized how dangerous it actually was when my group was held at gunpoint in some remote mountainous area. I thought I was done for,” he relates.

Though Libiran and Severino survived these incidents to carve for themselves a respectable niche in the industry and to continue to tell a lot more of other stories, they have learned that complete preparation is a must prior to every assignment.

For Libiran, preparation is more than just about bringing the necessary equipment and supplies. “Prepare yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally, knowing that anything could happen out in the field. The element of luck is a big part of every assignment. Think of luck as one of your important supplies. Make sure you don’t use all of yours up,” says he.

Libiran also adds that one should learn at least one prayer.  “It is very important.”

Aside from doing research, preparing indispensable tools and provisions, another must that Severino recommends before embarking on an assignment is to “leave a  contact information.”

“For when things get really hairy,” he quips.

Libiran concurs even as he adds that, “as much as things are unpredictable, it would help if one tries to be as rational and sensible as possible. Common sense is very useful out in the field. Use your street smarts.”

Severino believes the constant exposure to danger allows one to build a keen sense for possible threats.“The training and discipline allowed by each experience added a lot to my knowledge [in avoiding danger]. It helps me decide if I need to push harder or to simply pull out of any given situation,” he says.

Libiran shares a similar advice—to learn how to be in tune with the signals that our body emits. “One of these is fear. Fear is a body signal signifying a potential life-threatening stimulus. Your heart races, you sweat…this is the body telling us that we are in trouble. One must be able to sense this and take appropriate action.”

As stressful as the job is, Libiran and Severino admit to turning to family and friends as a way of coping.  “The sense of normalcy that family life affords helps me a lot in coping with the stress that goes with the job,” Severino intimates.

“It also helps especially if your family and friends understand the nature of your work. They’d be better equipped in understanding what you go through,” Libiran adds.

Though Libiran had since moved on to film directing, he is not closing his doors on field reporting.“I think of what I do as something similar to my job as a reporter: to tell stories. I’m not closing my doors. Who knows? I might return to TV reporting someday, but right now I’m happy with what I do.”

For Severino, reporting is a lifelong passion that he aims to do forever. “I want to do this till the day I die.”

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