Lito Katigbak’s romance with journalism: It’s the chase…and the telephone

Lunch with the legendary Lito Katigbak. The FilAm photo.

By Cristina DC Pastor

“It’s probably the telephone,” winced journalist Lito Katigbak with a slight tilt of his head, letting his eyes wander as if searching for the right words to complete his thought. I tried to finish it for him. I didn’t like that I was doing it to a man who needed no prodding because he is a consummate and articulate writer, but because I was getting impatient. I wanted to know what was on his mind.

“You mean today’s journalists have it easy?” I asked.

He nodded and began to tell his story. Many stories in fact. How he taped an ‘Out of Order’ sign on a phone booth in Manila so that after covering a boxing match, he had the phone all to himself while he filed his story. How in India he pleaded with a postal worker to use the teletype machine, and in Thailand he approached a stranger at the airport and gave him a piece of paper with a phone number instructing the man to call his editor the minute he arrived in Bangkok and “dictate” his story. To ensure his plan was carried out without a hitch, Lito made the same request to a second tourist.

The ubiquitous mobile phone – with its speed and versatility to crack the most sensitive diplomatic communication — did not seem to impress the journalist in Lito, a retired Reuters editor and possibly the only Filipino member of the National Press Club in Washington D.C. He joined the news agency in Manila at a time when writing for a foreign news agency easily marked you as one-of-a-kind. Your wages were paid in American dollars and you had the opportunity to travel and be posted in exotic countries. Lito rose to become editor at Argentina, a bureau chief at Singapore and later a senior editor in Washington D.C. before he retired 10 years ago. This Vienna, Virginia resident is currently the Washington bureau chief for the Philippine Star newspaper in Manila.

Over lunch with the husband and myself at the Press Club’s restaurant, Lito sat staring at the glass in his hand, smiling as we reminisced about the many things we enjoyed about our jobs: Working for a great mythical editor, traveling, the perks that come with a familiar byline. Journalism has become joyless with the laptops and iPhones making the search for news easy for the reporter and the filing of the stories almost perfunctory.

“It’s the chase,” he said.

The search for stories and that reporter’s tool of the trade was like looking for that one great love of your life and wondering if he or she ever loved you back. You may have a story in your mind or scrawled at the back of a restaurant receipt but if you couldn’t find a telephone, the world wouldn’t know the Americans had lost the Vietnam War or that Ferdinand Marcos had fled the country on an American plane while Filipinos danced on the streets of EDSA.

Lito later chortled as he confessed to being a big fan of Wikipedia. Data at your fingertips. But it’s not data, he said, you’re at liberty to copy or paraphrase, but data a journalist could use to begin to investigate further. He marveled at how much information was readily available on one page and would have taken a reporter in his time days or weeks to accumulate. He would like to give money to Wikipedia to support it and help keep it going, then wondered aloud that Wikipedia probably has no need for his possibly paltry donation.

I may have mentioned how technology has greatly liberalized newsgathering and how information does not emanate only from professional journalists or those with access to a network or a printing press. Lito’s response was a shrug of the shoulder over the concept of ‘citizen journalism.’

“You still need an editor,” he muttered softly.

For lito, the true journalist will always be one who knew how to mine for stories as well as how to find a telephone at the right place and the right time to convey his reporting to the world.

One Comment

  1. […] “You still need an editor,” he muttered softly. For Lito, the true journalist will always be one who knew how to mine for stories as well as how to find a telephone at the right place and the right time to convey his reporting to the world. – The FilAm […]

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