TUESDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2014
The go-to guys in the newsroom ‘Computers can’t make that perfect cup of coffee for the editors’ By Sara Isabelle Pacia RSARMIENTO. Rabad. Ellantada. Amortel.
They’re words that, at first, make no sense. But ask anyone from the INQUIRER’s editorial department and they can tell you exactly what—or should I say who—these four are. The codenames belong to the INQUIRER’s copy monitors, who—as the position’s name suggests—keep track of all the copies—or the sheets of paper stories are printed on—reported by or sent to the INQUIRER, making sure the editors are up to date on the developments of the day’s events. The current roster of “copy boys,” as the four are often called despite their age (three are already past 50), predates the new millennium. Roy Sarmiento (rsarmiento) was hired as copy monitor in 1990, after his threeyear stint as a security guard for the INQUIRER. Rolly Abad (rabad) followed in 1991 upon the recommendation of Tino Castalla, the all-time favorite driver of the INQUIRER’s editor in chief; then Edward Llantada (ellantada), an INQUIRER pioneer who started out in the circulation department, in 1995; and finally Allan Mortel (amortel) in 1999, after a janitorial stint under an agency. Almost every copy under News is marked with their code names. They are present when the first story is input into the system until the newspaper is put to bed in the wee hours of the morning. They are the go-betweens to the in-betweens in running the country’s most circulated national paper. The position is almost as old as the INQUIRER itself; three of the boys have exceeded the 20-year milestone in the company. But Sarmiento, Abad, Llantada and Mortel can still remember all too well the company’s earlier days.
Days of fax, rolled films Before computer screens replaced dark rooms and trucks that delivered rolled films with the day’s mockups, fax machines—one machine per wire agency—littered the newsroom, each churning out stories up to three rolls long. It was a copy monitor’s duty to segregate the copies into folders labeled by section—local and international news, business, sports, lifestyle and motoring, among others. “When we would arrive in the morning, the fax machines would be full,” Llantada said, recalling that every morning, the floor could barely be seen under all that paper. Arranging the stories made it easier for editors to pick the stories for their respective sections. Even a second of distraction could derail the whole operation, Llantada added. If a machine were not constantly fed paper on their watch, the stories it could have printed would be lost forever. A copy monitor also had to take over for the copy takers, who answered phones and manually jot down stories dictated by reporters over the telephone, when they were swamped. A copy monitor also used to take calls from the INQUIRER’s bureaus outside Metro Manila before a Nation desk was set up. Choosing photos, too, involved more manual labor. Mortel, then a working student, said he would go to the main offices of wire agencies around the Metro to pick up their photos every day after his class ended at 3 p.m. Even if his shift started at 3 p.m., he said, his “lates” would be excused because he would go straight to the office after school. The specifics of the job changed drastically only when Tera—the INQUIRER’s current system used to produce the stories—was implemented in 2002. E-mail replaced the rolls upon rolls of paper. INQUIRER reporters now submit their copies via e-mail, which are then input into Tera by editorial assistants and edited, laid out and proofread on the computer by editors, artists and production assistants. The system is more streamlined, “more organized,” Llantada said. “Now, it’s more high-tech.” Still, Abad said, the essence of a copy monitor’s duties has not changed over time. “Only the tearing of papers off the fax machine had lessened,” he said. “We don’t tear off as much paper as before but we’re still as busy because the INQUIRER is getting bigger. We’re serving more people in different [departments],” he added. That service to the people in the editorial department, specifically—INQUIRER’s employees have ballooned to hundreds in its 29 years—goes beyond what the official
BAND OF BOYS: Rolly Abad (top left), Roy Sarmiento (above), Edward Llantada (far left) and Allan Mortel
title suggests. In reality, the copy monitors’ work is more arbitrary than constant. To be a copy monitor is to be a jack-ofall-trades in the newsroom. The work goes beyond monitoring their three computers that flash the latest stories and the two printers that are never turned off. They are the self-dubbed utusan (gofers) in the editorial department who cater to whoever may need them and do whatever tasks need to be done. What, then, does that entail? Ask Sarmiento, and he’d say work is also printing the summaries of wire stories for the editor of The World. Ask Abad, too, and he’d say work is also pinning the latest front pages of various national dailies—the INQUIRER’s and its competitors’—on a bulletin board to see who out-scooped the other and who had the best layout. And if you ask Llantada and Mortel, they’d both say work is also standing behind editors on duty, always ready to get this story, process that photo, buy this meal, check what’s done and what else is needed.
‘We’re always there’ “The editors are always looking for someone to assist them when they need something,” said Llantada. Today, the four focus on the News sections of the paper, ferrying stories for the front page, the inside pages and The World from the computer to the editors who close the sections and to the editorial production assistants who proofread the final copies. “We [copy monitors] and editors [and other employees] already know each other well, we’re familiar with their personalities. That’s why we know what they want, what they like,” he added, “and we’re always there.” Or so it should be. On Dec. 9, Abad retires after 23 years of service, returning to Southern Leyte province to be with his wife and children. Sarmiento said he was also contemplating leaving the company once his youngest graduates with a degree in architecture. Only Mortel may be left behind next year once Llantada exceeds 30 years in 2016, the mandatory retirement for years of service in the INQUIRER. But whatever the future holds for the four, these copy boys will always be bound by their common beginnings in the company—thanks to various “backers” who provided the opportunity and helped them land their jobs, said Sarmiento—a shared commitment to provide their children a good education and an appreciation of the INQUIRER’s mission and role in society. “[We’re] part of the team that assembles the newspaper. Every day, I think, ‘We (copy monitors) are a part of that,’” Abad said, citing even the rallies he joined to protest the ad boycott by the Estrada administration in 1999. “If I weren’t enjoying my work, I wouldn’t have lasted for 25 years,” said Sarmiento. But pending their retirement after their children finish college, these copy boys will keep doing what they’ve been doing
for the past 20 odd years. Current technological advancements don’t bother them, either, because even if computers have streamlined the process, machines can’t do everything. Like making that perfect cup of coffee for the editors, Sarmiento offered in jest. “It’s perhaps the only [job] left that isn’t high-tech.”
The Philippine Daily Inquirer marks its 29th anniversary today with simple rites at its offices in Makati City.