“That’s your word ha, not mine,” Pia Hontiveros answered smiling, when we asked her how she is able to keep a straight face and stay patient when faced with bullshittery.
At a lunch hosted by CNN Philippines, where the network announced its new line-up of shows—Newsroom Ngayon, Newsroom Weekend, News Night, Global Newsroom, and Political Insider—we approached the network’s chief correspondent to ask how she does it, especially in these troubled times where everything we believe to be true is being challenged and, ehem, revised.
“We are supposed to be respectful of people we interview no matter where they come from, no matter the views they represent,” she says.
She gave us more helpful tips and tricks that guide her in her job—which can also guide us in these very passionate times. See them below.
1. Bracketing. All through our conversation, the lady journalist kept coming back to bracketing, saying it’s what helps her keep a straight face. “It’s when you bracket your own thoughts and opinions and set them aside. I literally visualize them, my personal biases and opinions, and I put them in bracket and set them aside. It’s almost like a mind trick. You have to control your brain so whatever you’re thinking, whatever is coming from your own personal bias or prejudice, you set it aside.”
2. Study and listen. According to the boss lady journo, this one-two punch is the most effective way to spot BS. “You have to do your homework. You can’t rely on body language to say s/he is lying or not telling the truth because there are many reasons why s/he did not look at you in the eye. So you have to prepare yourself. Study, read about the subject. If the guy you’re interviewing is giving alternative facts, how can you catch him if you didn’t study? And then listen. Listening is so important. If you study and you listen, you can catch anything.”
3. Don’t react too much. “I really try to control my face,” Pia says, “because it affects the person you’re talking to. I mean how would you feel if lahat na lang [nang sasabihin mo] I’m reacting. That’s also one way to show the person respect.”
4. Be nice. “Not all interviews need to be combative,” she continues. “Some of the best follow-up questions are not even complete sentences. Some of them are just amplifying what the interviewee said.” Says Pia, sometimes it’s good to just turn nice and return the answer with a candid, “oh, you’re kidding.”
5. Stay humble. “You know, people don’t care for our opinions and our comments or any commentary,” Pia says, emphasizing, “it’s not your job as a journalist to tell people how you feel. People don’t care how you feel. And I always tell myself that: people don’t care how I feel or what I think. It’s not my job.”
6. Do your job. And for Pia, what her job is, is to report what’s going on, to report the facts, no matter how she feels. “All the more, now is a good time to be a journalist. It’s very challenging, but it is our duty to report.
“But balance it—not with opinion but with context. It’s our duty to [do our homework and challenge], ‘wait a minute sir. Earlier you said so and so.’ It is our duty to throw it back to them. People don’t care about my opinion, but they care about context. So that’s what we give them. Sometimes, people don’t care about the facts, but kahit na. You bring it out there. This is what will mold you as a journalist. Stay the course. Don’t lose heart.”
Pia Hontiveros anchors News Night, the flagship news program of CNN Philippines, which replaces Network News on March 27 at 6pm. She also anchors Global Newsroom everyday at 3pm.
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